Saturday, April 30, 2011

This Is How It Is

The last ray of sun before blindness. The last
raindrop before drought. The Libyan desert is
nothing now but the sound of smoke and starvation;
the sound of a child with no hands standing before
a feast spread across a vast
and beautiful table,
a slow exhale when faced with dead parents
in a burning home,
the slow march of refugees who leave their dead
for the sandstorms to bury.
“This is how it is,
these are our customs. If there is
something to eat, we will eat it together.
If there is nothing to eat,
we will have nothing together,”
said the Tunisian to the reporter,
embracing the refugees within
the four walls of his words.
Words that hang like lanterns
in the smoldering dark of this desert.
Words that say more than
this poem ever could.

Friday, April 29, 2011


One cloud dances in the blue like a teenager alone in her room.


Thursday, April 28, 2011


I learned to tell the truth in kindergarten,
where my first teacher
taught me with a wooden shoe.
She showed me how,
if you tie the bow on your shoe
correctly, you can’t help but tell the truth.

We practiced, Tommy and I,
tying bows on a paper cut out that we
had to then show the teacher.
I couldn’t figure it out so Tommy
tied mine for me. The teacher though
had that wooden shoe.

Last night, I stood on the sidewalk
in a line around the block waiting to
get into a concert, and I had to tie my shoe.
I put my foot on a flower pot in
front of the house by which we were
waiting, and the pot promptly fell and
shattered on the sidewalk.

I rang the front doorbell at the top of the steep steps
and a woman with a baby in her arms answered.
I explained about the flower pot
and offered to pay for it.

She smiled: “Don’t worry about it
but thanks for telling me.
I was going to get rid of it anyways because
it was already broken.”

The baby smiled at me, and I looked at
her Mother with a dumb smile,
while the entire line of people,
who’ve been eavesdropping to this point,
suddenly burst into applause -

as if our honesty was
the end of the first act
in a two act play, and the audience,
having a little trouble following along,
was glad for the chance to duck out
during intermission.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011


The last time I saw my mother alive
was in the lounge
of the Glenwood psychiatric hospital.
Lovely view from there.

She was there
due to a certain difficulty, as my father
described it, with alcohol.
She sat in a white plastic covered chair.
I sat across from her in the other
white plastic covered chair.
Both bolted to the floor.
While patients shuffled around us
looking this way and that
like pedestrians forever crossing the street.

When I rose to leave, she said
“I love
as if balancing
her words on a very long tightrope
over a center ring filled with red sawdust.
She looked down at me from that
high wire
as if i were a net.

Days later, when she fell and landed
in the front seat
of an idling Cadillac
behind a closed garage door,

I was a spectator
in the stands,
with cotton candy and peanuts,
as horrified as anyone
at her misstep. But relieved,

despite the tears of a child,
that the circus,
and all its sideshows,
was finally leaving town.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

All Of Us

You who tell the poor to live on one cup of rice
while giving two warehouses to the hungry war machine.
You who heard Jesus say “The poor will always be with you”
and hear “You need do nothing for them.”
You who quibble over the feeding of Women, Infants and Children
while kissing the feet of those who profited from the destruction
of the American dream.
You who stand on the bones of the poor.

Be ashamed.

You who ride in sleek ego machines on the dark highways of lost America.
Who would lift your face before you lift up the poor.
You who would never turn the other cheek.
Who have no empathy once the child is born.
You who blame the homeless for your deficit.

Be ashamed.

You who drill the land to pain the skies with oil.
Who need the oil to power your electric kites.
You who have never, ever, scrubbed a dish.
Who build empires of flesh.
You who turn a blind eye to destruction.
Who seek to own what belongs to everyone.

Be ashamed.

You who launch rockets on Ramallah.
launch rockets on Beirut.
rockets on Tel Aviv.
on Benghazi.
You who broker arms to child soldiers.
Who broker false peace.
Demand other peoples’ sacrifices.
Believe the ends justify the means.

Be ashamed.

You who forgot Rwanda.
Who left the Cambodians.
Deny genocides.
Applaud Uganda.
Support enhanced interrogation methods.
You who say that she was asking for it.

Be ashamed.
You media preachers who claim to know what you can’t possibly.
You who are children of God, but advertisements for hell.
Who would deny another’s prayers to God.
You. Don’t. Know.
You don’t know, you can’t, not in this world.

Be ashamed.

You who are not sinners.
Who would decide who is worthy.
You who would decide who can have the love of a child.
Who dream of killing queers, gay and straight.
You who believe your right to divorce is sacred.

Be ashamed,
all of us, for we are complicit.

For driving the getaway cars of the rich.
For giving them the keys
and then buying them back.
For pointing the guns at the hostages.
For pushing them out of the lifeboat.
For believing Ayn Rand.

Be ashamed,
all of us, for we are complicit.

For strewing the landscape with burnt out hulks.
For being junkies and demonizing junkies.
For talking smack.
For hating.
For sowing the land with destruction that will not heal
even in our great, great grandchildren’s lives.

We are complicit.

For acting as if we care.
For acting as if we got where we are all by ourselves.
For acting different when no one is looking.
For acting our lives instead of living them.

For the prayers we offer in public but deny in our hearts,
let us hide our faces.
For we are complicit.

And let us be oh so very ashamed
that everything, in all the years since the Confederacy
went into hiding, since King was gunned down,
since the War to End All Wars, since the liquidation
of the Warsaw ghetto, since the Enlightenment,
since Hiroshima, since the Bill of Rights, since the Tet Offensive,
since the founding of the UN, since the Dust Bowls of the Depression,
since the Beatles,
everything is different,
and yet everything, every single goddam thing
is the same.

Be ashamed, all of us,
for we are complicit.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Five American Sentences

1) Grace is a small town pastor eating a bright red apple in a pew.

2) Loneliness rests on my shoulders like the threadbare snow cloaks the ice trees.

3) Last night’s snow dazzles like small time criminals robbing a candy store.

4) Magic barks at the snow storm but it keeps coming down like handkerchiefs.

5) Those who would feed the rich with rice from the poorest are bastards for sure.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

For The Pelican At Carlsbad Beach

The pelican breezes
along the expressway
of the the wind, looking
down on all of us,
and thinks to himself:

"If only I had hands,
I could build a castle in the air
with many stairs.”

Then wheeling to the right
and looking down at us
again, he thinks:

“If I had proper legs,
I could climb to the top
of the castle's bell tower and look out
for hours at my kingdom
of clouds."


Friday, April 22, 2011

Handkerchiefs of My Father

Bleached white handkerchiefs,
fresh from the dryer, warm like toast,
are piled in the green laundry basket
sitting on the red chair
next to the ironing board beside the couch.

You spread each one carefully
as if measuring linen bandages
for soldiers wounded in the war
from which your brother never returned.

The iron’s hot metal advances
across waves of wrinkles,
while you frown in concentration
at each imperfection in your life.

Starched and folded, the handkerchiefs
slowly stack up on the sideboard
like sandwiches for guests
who are quite late.

Walking through the room, my father
takes one, palms it into his back pocket, let’s his
suit coat fall back over it, picks
up his briefcase and walks out to the car.

You watch him drive away.

Setting the iron upright,
a steaming, blunt little rocket,
always prepared for landing,
you take the folded stack in your hands,
undecided, then toss them all into
the green laundry basket sitting on the red chair
next to the ironing board by the couch.

You smooth your dress,
sit down with your eyes closed,
and listen to the kitchen clock,
down the hall and around the corner, ticking
and ticking and ticking.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Last Supper

It will be a long night –
this feast of fish, olives, wine and bread;
their sweet aromas mingling with
the smoke of the flickering candles.
Good to sit with my brothers.

Jesus, our holy fool, is on his knees
gently washing my worn, tired, dirty feet.
I do not know why he emulates Mary.
He dries them as if there were nothing more precious.

The meal is amazing. I do not know who
baked this bread, but she must be celebrated.
Assuredly it wasn’t Mary, Jesus told her
to stay away this evening.
Some of us are glad for that.

Jesus is reminiscing about his father,
telling some story or other,
the wine makes it hard for me to follow.
All I know is we are preachers, poor as dust, followed
by rabble that would not know a Torah from a sandal.

Down the table I see Thomas nodding off.
James and John are arguing about that
damnable Pilate. “Rome did us no favors with
that buffoon,” says John, draining his wine and
reaching for the bread.

Judas is petulant - looking like he wants to smack Jesus
for those crazy words of betrayal.
The next time I look, he is gone.

Still smarting from that crowing cock crack,
Peter sits sullenly by the fire.
The musicians have left. The servants as well.
The dishes will be cleared away tomorrow, I guess.

Jesus puts his cloak on and announces we must go
to Gethsemane.

We grumble. Why we have to go to the garden
in the middle of the night is anyone’s guess.
“Decent men should be in their beds,” says Thomas.
Outside it is dark and cold – and no one can find Judas.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bury Your Dead

The snow that fell full from the hidden moon last night lays like paper
waiting for a pen on the deck we painted red last summer,
before your brother died.

And by that I mean, snow melts, blood clots, bodies blow in the wind.

And by that I mean, we breathe with the dead when we forget to melt with the snow.

And by that I mean, you can’t put winter in the freezer.

And by that I mean, seriously, take your aspirin.

And by that I mean, bury your dead.

And by that I mean,



Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Summer does not open
its arms here
so much as strike us
across the face.

The trees are ready
torches in the dry heat
of these mountains.
With shooting star
unpredictability, lightening
explodes them like
cheap fireworks.
Snakes its inspiration
around mountain peaks,
sparking, spurring
on the flash mob
infernos that descend
into the valley


The tall grasses are almost
as bad; lying
in wait
for any excuse to
the houses squatting around the
mountain’s base like children
shooting marbles.

Why lightening?
Why does fire come a mob
against our village?
We are new in this valley.

There is no Frankenstein


Monday, April 18, 2011


Slumbering in the garden
like misplaced torpedoes,
we’re startled each morning
by how much you have grown.

Your skin is the color of spring leaves
just after dusk, but cut,
your pale flesh glows with moonlight,
tastes like mint would
if it wasn’t mint.

Gathered in bushels,
my mother-in-law, blessing
you with holy vinegar and sugar
and proud garlic,
weds you and the summer,
then hides you in the cellar

until those short winter days
when we need a reminder
of melted August afternoons
when we longed for ice.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

In The Beginning Was The Word

There is no meaning to their precise order
in the same way that there is no meaning
to the precise order of tombstones, but they each
had their lives as did those dead. Words, I mean.
Words are born and apparently die.
The Oxford English Dictionary contains 47,156
"obsolete" words, which means “dead” the same way
“senior citizen” means you’ve more
or less been written off.

The King James Bible contains 14,564 separate words
in a meaningful order of 788,258 total words
while the Oxford Dictionary
contains 171,476 separate words in a precise but
terrifyingly meaningless order;
like the tombstones aforementioned.

The dead have their secrets and they
could all be found in the Oxford,
if it’s words were properly instead of precisely ordered.
The explanation of the Trinity (both Holy Spirit
and first atomic weapon).
Why certain people are idiots.
The recipe for Coke.

For example, for a set of four simple words:
“God raised the dead.”
there are twenty-three additional orders
“The dead raised God.”
and twenty-two additional orders
“Raised the dead God”
and twenty-one additional orders
that likely mean nothing to you
but perhaps have great meaning to the dictionary,
God, and the dead.

With a set of 171,476 simple words
instead of only four,
the number of possible orderings
is transcendent. In the beginning
was the Word, which is in every word,
where God and the dead
read all their lives and the lives
they might have led,
the world and worlds that might have been,
and all the creations for which there
are yet no words.


Friday, April 15, 2011

At Sunset

High in blue mountains, a bridge
built by strong hands, weighs across the gorge.
Lovers lean on its steel railings, gossiping and laughing,
dropping wish after wish
to the river, waiting far below,
who catches them in his slow hands,
and carries them in bottles of blue and green and gold
to the far sea, where they ride cresting waves
in schools of clinking laughter before
sinking fathoms deep.
Neither awake nor asleep,
they lay cold among the kraken
until warmer currents tug them to shore
and cast them against black rocks
that have waited for this breaking.
Dashed, they tumble, tide
over tide, in the fine roughness of time
until they are smooth palms.
A storm that broke boats and cottages
abandons them, glowing like dusk,
in the white sands south of the timbered dock.
Lovers, as new as the last wave,
hand off these lost and founds
to a beachcomber with crinkled blue
and frizzy grey, who strings them like music
into the bauble of blue and green and gold
clinking on the wrist of the barefoot child, I see
dancing down the beach,
in the sunset’s fading.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Good Night's Sleep

We spent yesterday lying in beds.
This plural is not a mistake.

“We need a new bed so we can eat cookies
better together,” we laughed,
and headed off in the red truck
to obtain one.

The salesman appeared to have
had a good night’s sleep;
I'm guessing your resume can’t say
in the mattress business.
His pillow voice of somnolent
accent made us want to lie down
on his wares.

Voyeur and exhibitionist,
laying first here, then there.
Waiting for some other couple to finish
on this one then that, this side then not,
miming the tosses and turns of a sleepless night -
but with no refrigerator with milk
or cupboard with cookies,
it was less than perfect performance.

We imagined tickling them with applause anyway.

After much false napping, bickering
and goldilocking,
we settled on one just right for night;
taking on faith
that it would be a good thing for that thing
most pleasurable in bed:


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

How To Be A Poet

Some people visit graveyards
to make rubbings of the gravestones they find there;
usually those of relatives.
They do this by putting a piece tracing paper on the stone,
then rub across it with charcoal or a pencil,
until they’ve reproduced the words of stone.

To be a poet, you need
to hold up a really big
piece of tracing paper to your life,
then rub it and rub it and rub it.
Then tear it up. Then burn
it. Then throw the ashes
into the air. Then watch them settle on the flowers,
the bodies, the blood, the dead,
dreads, red cars, blue lies, the
people you love, the one’s you
the pies, the cakes,
lust, sweet whiskey,
envy and ivy, cop and carpenter,
grocer and barber, barista,
Sandinista, the jerk in the next car,
the girl you loved, the pine trees,
the bumble bees, and, at last,
the fast flowing river of spring that
carries them all far
from the sun.
Then, you must gather
the ashes back somehow,
and make pencils of them. Yellow
pencils that, when carefully
sharpened, you can use
to write down your life,
word by slow word.


Monday, April 11, 2011

world unseen

It has been decades since
you sang with plaintive
hope about a world
that you could see,
but didn’t exist.

I wish
I could tell you
it had come to pass. Still,

we do have a field, not far
from where you were forced
from this world,

where we lay with eyes closed,
in cool grass and warm sun,
and imagine

how things might have been.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

small extinctions

One day
we wake up,
and there’s a
that has never
been heard.
Like the buzz
of the refrigerator
gone quiet
in the night,
but that
bumble about
has gone missing?”

We see
the flowers
nod sagely
to each other
that theirs
is the last

panicking, we try

to bring them back
with swollen,
pollen covered lips
that we brush through
their petals
of fading scent,
too late
to ever matter.


Saturday, April 9, 2011


burning charnel house libraries
spread their ignorant stink
across suburbs of plasma eyed
and broadbanded dead
who slurp intravenously at the acrid acid
of unmediated media raining down
in radioactive clouds
from billboards, cell towers
and bulldozing antennas
throwing signals foiling
the tin hats of commercial fools
pushing shopping carts on freeways
searching for the best deal
on lies they can believe
while on their knees
praying to bankers with cankers
eyes wet with tears of joy
from the wind blown ashes of
burning burning libraries.


Friday, April 8, 2011

angel of salt

The universe provides us
a planet on which to live,
but salt! Salt is the crux,
the lightening in our eyes, the
taste of birth. It played a sadly
unacknowledged role in Genesis,
for it must have been salt water
over which the Spirit hovered
in the formless empty.

Then there is
the matter of God
and dark matter,
who, as a tag team of elusive,
invisible and unmeasurable partners,
make up most everything.
Scientists and theologians, one equally
mystified by the other, have tried in vain
to capture this duo;
if duo they be.

Salt, though filled with God and
dark matter, makes up hardly anything
but is apparently everywhere
from meteorites to mars; its existence
confirmed by the taste of blood.

The cosmos is a babushka
down to her last quark:
a different universe for
every elemental particle.
A combination lock
made of every electron;
where a single change in sequence
across the universe from star to galaxy
to the Lipton tea and sodium chloride
in your kitchen cupboard
unbolts new heavens.
Spin it! Again and again
and again.
Open every lock of every heaven
that God already knows.
While we know nothing
except how to make a nice cup of tea.

Through the Old Testament
flows a vein of blessed salt.
Jesus salted his disciples. Paul
called for salting our conversations.
Allah bestowed the four blessings
of fire, water, iron and salt.
Shinto, Hindu, Jews, Holy Water,
the Tridentine Mass are all sprinkled
in salt. 

In New York, Terence Koh
created a performance piece with
several tons of solar salt
arranged as an austere cone
consecrating a bare concrete space.
From 10 to 5 for five weeks, Koh crawled
on his knees around that perfect mountain,
prostrating himself every half circumnavigation.
His circular liturgy a submission
that salt may be all that matters.

Though to the person who
has since finished his tea,
and is now, even as you read this,
strapping on explosives,

salt matters not at all.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Time I Woke Charlotte in The Middle of the Night to Look at the Moon

The moon filled the sky abundantly.

From its alarming largeness,
the trees shied away like spiders.

But the fish in our small pond
were mesmerized.

For a long time,
we stood there in the garden;

our breath slowing
as the stars faded.

While all around us,
the day washed in

on the moon’s languid tide.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Blood red trees.
          Trees along a street.
Street with an odd name.
          Name of Persia’s king, Xerxes.
Xerxes outraged Babylonians.
          Babylonians lost to Persian furnaces.
Furnaces that melted their golden idol.
          Idol of Bel, not Xerxes of Armenia.
Armenia’s king who was assassinated.
          Assassinated as is my heart.
Heart wounded by numbers.
          Numbers of the faithful.
Faithful who pray for harsh salt.
          Salt not of the covenant but salt,
Salt sown in the earth from skies.
          Skies filled with death.
Death from wounds.
          Wounds self-inflicted.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

seventeen syllables allen ginsberg would have gracefully counted

Sun on clouds, moon in trees, nothing in this world is beautiful alone.


Monday, April 4, 2011

Anywhere (for my sister Kathy)

The beige rotary wall phone tied you
to the kitchen counter, your shoulder holding it to your ear
while you stared at your parents talking over
Cronkite’s black and white delivery
of the news from Selma.
Confronted by the plainness of your life
in all its glory, you longed to be in New York City,
read at the City Lights Bookstore,
or raise a pint of ale in Devonshire;

though you knew not what ale was,
who was drinking it, what was being read,
why it mattered or what stranger you would
make love to the East Village.

You only knew you wanted
the cynosure of anywhere,
longed for it, heard rumors of it
in music and from that teacher
all parents rightfully distrusted.

Until after years of retreat,
when you could no longer abide
the estranged languor, the flatness,
the sheer absence of madness,

you gently laid that beige phone
on the countertop, let it fill the room
with the sound of bees,
and went in search
of anywhere.


Saturday, April 2, 2011

On Learning Of My Mother's Suicide

The silence of God
is a terrible quiet.

A restless wind grown still
in trees encircling

an abandoned house.
Love seeking itself

in a mirror shattered across the floor
- a forsaken archipelago.

A plaintive room with a
chair and an open book.

The house across the way,
lights on, front door open,

the phone ringing
and ringing.


Friday, April 1, 2011


in your body

light through veins

each cell pregnant

with an unraveling

no rage can change


the way water


into the earth