Amor Latens What does she want with one she hides
away As if in shame, and what does he with one Who treats him like a
wound she must keep dressed Beneath the bandages of gauzy lies She
tells about him anytime she’s asked, Faced once again with choosing
secrecy Or him—and never choosing him—from fear,
Embarrassment, concern with others’ thoughts, Opinions, scornful jokes
and accusations, But never with his heart, the one she claims To
love, though never openly, as pride Might lead a lover to express the
joys Of love, of claiming him she claims to love Instead of leaving
him alone in darkness? La fin de la Bête I smile and say the words that
you expect, But I have given up, for now I know The truth, that I
was never good enough To bring into the light, make visible
though I did not cause you hot-flushed shame, Gut-wrenching panic at
the merest thought Of being seen with me, such as I am, A beast that
you can never celebrate
Lest villagers arrive with fire and oaths
To shame you to submission, beat me down, Then turn their backs on you
as on the dead, Or one who left the faith, an infidel.
return, while I must disappear, Go back to my seclusion and my walls. Jisei (reprise) Giving up too much, Realizing now, too
late, I have been a fool.
For I am hidden, A secret that must
remain Untold, kept silent.
I kept this secret, Erased any
trace of me, Till I grew ashamed.
What is yet undone, Is
merely the final step, My disappearance.
Phantom I merely wish to be
acknowledged now, Brought out from shadows to the light of day; Is
that so much to ask, too much to hope, Must I go on diminishing, accept
That I am unacceptable to those Whose judgments matter most in such
affairs, Erase myself in order not to shame The one who loves me
just so long as none
Discover my existence, see my face, Or ever have
to know that I exist, (For they would disapprove of me, of us), And
must I understand and wait my turn,
While days turn into weeks, and weeks to months,
And years pass by, till I accept the truth?
Secrets The secrecy is finally
what destroys What hopes we might have had for normal life Outside
the arch, ironic quotes we learn To wield as weaponry, suspending love
Between the spaces of its crossing out, Committed to identities
still played For others’ sakes—the intellectuals Who cannot be
impressed, the immigrants
Who bring the customs of abandoned
worlds, Insisting that we live by them in turn, Despite the newer
worlds that call our hearts With promises of freedom long-delayed.
Afraid to tell our truth, we hide away, Pretending to be free
inside our lies.
Encoded Shifting uncomfortably from side to side,
To find a position where the tumor Grows quiet, or quietly, allowing A
moment to forget oncoming death,
The silent enemy that no one sees,
Not yet, as you have managed to conceal This truth, as so many others, with
words, The jokes you tell to fill the empty space,
silences that felt like death, At least until the cancer got its name, Was
birthed into the world from sequences Encoded long ago in DNA
would refuse if asked, yet no one asks, While time, which once seemed
infinite, runs out.
Lear’s End Ungrateful, like a serpent’s
tooth, my child, A foolish man, four score and upward now, Once
thought the reason for your birth to be My pleasure from such obedience
As to my momentary lawless whim, For I the mold, and you
the form in wax Who should regard my will as like a god’s, And yet
insist upon your own desire,
Will lock each other’s hearts with
chains of steel, With adamant and iron, forged by the hate That
burns and melts us into one, in shape And substance indistinct from
each, from both.
When never comes, and death returns for us, And
ripeness falls, whence comes forgiveness then?
Puzzles and Solutions Alighting on the latest
explanation, Recalling none that came before the words Pronounced today
for those who would believe Instead of think—for thinking causes pain--
Much better to accept that those who know O’ersee us in our danger, making
light Victorious in combat with the dark, Surrounding us with good,
benevolence Eviscerating chaos, bringing peace, Sweet order, and obedience
to law, Instead of thinking for ourselves, in pain And constant struggle
to discern a truth No holy book contains between its leaves, Laconic
priests and all their lies aside.
Acceptance of authority will bless
Us like the meek, whose noble sacrifice Gains worlds inherited from
arrogance, Humility our weapon ‘gainst the rich Sated with their own
excess of fortune, Attacked at last within their citadels Too lofty to be
swift assailable, Yet pulled apart in justice for our cause.
no…unless we take upon ourselves Unburdenings that only courage fuels;
Gods nor Heroes need apply, but merely Ordinary men and women with hearts
Sustained by all the wasted years they fight Side by side to once redeem with
force of arms, Intelligence, and will to live, despite Perceptions of the
crowd, the gossips’ tongues Sibilant with scorn for those who will not kneel.
State of the Art We write our poems with a
studied air Too casual to be indifferent, yet Somehow about such things as
grapefruit rinds, And all the ways their bitter pith sums up
Relationships, both modeled and engaged, The disappointments that we revel in
While tossing new-read pages to the floor, The mic drop of the newly-vegan
Too frail for irony, whose coiling words Require more than
unreflective strength, But cannot find the source to fuel their wit Aside
from borrowed phrases, attitudes,
A certain flippancy in place of craft,
And prose, disguised by random breaks, as verse.
Heresy You must not let yourself be seen with me,
The dark and sage misruler of the hours Twixt night and day, the quiet
witching time Inside whose veils the truth begins to seem
seem, where laws too quickly melt, And thaw, resolve themselves into a dew
And dry beneath the fading summer sun, For I am one who fascinates the eyes
Too timid to regard the sight of truth As aught but lies, and those who
cling to fear While staring at the thing they disapprove And yet desire in
For these, the dead who never were alive, To
walk with such a one is heresy.
Erasure I sat and quietly erased myself,
Removed all trace of my existence here, So none would know that I had been
alive And walking at your side the day before;
I wiped away each
letter of my name, Replacing them with yours, as if to shape My absence
from material deceit, A rearrangement of the time and space
which we moved, a forgery of words Both written and removed, now read,
unread, Elided like the nights their absence hides, Keeps safe from prying
eyes, and locks away.
My name is spread upon the thinning air,
Invisible, and I was never here.
Grifters in the Book Room The hustlers,
self-promoters, and the frauds, With cellphone cameras stalking clueless
prey, Now tightly focused on the awkward pose Of smiling faces who have no
idea Whose cheek is pressed to theirs so urgently In pictures meant for
Facebook, Twitter feeds, And Instagramish boasting: Look at Me! Look Who
I’m With! We had a lovely lunch And talked about how she could guide my work
And help with my career. It’s networking, And all the best and brightest
students know That meeting with the stars is vital work, Much more than
crafting well-formed arguments Or writing clear and flowing sentences That
do not hide behind obscurity, Or merely replicate the thoughts of those
Regarded as superior in word, In worthiness repeated endlessly Transformed
from flesh and blood and hard-won mind, To merest templates, shortcuts for
ideas Too hard to grasp, too dense to understand, Left stripped of context
and the barricades From which they hurled defiance to the world.
What metaphor or turn of phrase will serve
To hide my face, to save you from the shame
Of being seen outside redemption’s gaze,
Profanely close to him tradition scorns,
The devil’s worthy representative,
For who but him still bids you disobey
The fathers brothers who would rule your heart
Reserving for themselves the use of flesh?
Yet, is it really so the Lord your God
Has bid you look, not touch, nor ever taste
The fruits of other gardens than his own,
As though our fathers kept the trees of life?
And do those eyes still watch your every move
Inside this Eden’s high enclosing walls?
This paradise comes at the cost of fear
Of love withdrawn by those who disapprove,
Insisting on your daily sacrifice,
The lifeblood, not of rams, but of your heart.
Consummatum Est Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?
No more but such a dream as I desired
In all my weakness and infirmity,
The partner and the soul I never had?
Have I, then, been alone for all my days,
Enraptured with the possibilities
Of love and life lived on the terms of truth,
In spite of Pilate’s question I ignored?
I put my trust in you—I was a fool
To have believed in love amidst the sands
Of Palestine, or else among the vines
Of Italy, or Gaul, or worlds unknown.
I gave up everything for you, my life,
And here am paid, in heartbreak and in pain.
We line the newest students up in rows,
Turn pages all at once, for unity
Reflects, and yet instills, the orderly
And orthodox perspectives we require,
Prevents them ever asking certain questions—
Blind alleys for the blind who know not truth,
Tradition’s voice, Augustine’s words, and God:
How might they read our poet otherwise?
Foul heresies might creep into the fold,
Abandoned to their sin, their fallen souls,
Refusing still to worship as we know
Our poet did, imaginary kings.
A revolutionary? So some say,
But we define his limits, and his life.
I am a truth too painful to be told,
A secret that must still be kept for shame,
A foul disease left feeding on the pith
Of life, lest it divulge through openness,
And Gossip’s tongues find your embarrassment
Fresh matter for their hateful mockery,
Humiliation being seen with me,
A fool who should have known that all his best,
Abandoned in the dust of wasted time,
Was never good enough—not then, not now—
To earn him anything but silent scorn
From one whose favor he would die to have.
But now the time has come to set alight
The foolish hopes of life, and watch them burn.
Into the Shimmering
You knew that it would have to come to this:
A disappearing in the desert sands,
Abandoning the world, then swallowed up
Inside the outlines of a dying sun,
While somewhere in the endless yesterdays
The woman you had spoken in a dream
Of life, but nothing more than fairy tales
Scratched lightly in the dust beneath your feet,
Blew swiftly through your weak and outstretched hands,
Such thoughts as might become a backward fool
Believing in the words as written down,
Despite the verses they were stolen from,
The borrowings of fevered brains too dry
In seasons such as these, to think but chaff
When wheat would feed us, though it give its strength
Too late in this, our harvest season's death.
The Provençal-inflected conversations
Still echo as the sand begins to burn,
Though fractured mirrorings, and all you hoped
Deliberations might make real, remove
Into the shimmering contrivances
Delirium calls hope, acceptance soon
Weaves silently—like sighs inside the wind—
The necessary truth you struggle with
Until, like thinning membranes overwhelmed
By quickly rushing fluids once held back
By supple flesh, you burst, now rent in twain,
No purpose now in all the lies you told
Yourself and others whom you claimed to love.
And in the letting go, the draining blood
Into the sand, you wonder if your words,
If all your cunning passages, had dreamed
Of love, or whispered subtle invocations
Vain, to one outside the reconsidered
Passions of a somewhere you did not belong.
I flirt with death each night, the love I know
Will faithful be at last, embracing me
With whispered promises of passion's heat,
Eternity inside a final breath,
Immortal life between the now and now,
Belonging, finally, amidst the shades,
Without the need to smile and be polite,
Conversing in the empty languages
Of life beneath the sun, where social cues,
Expressions of the eyes, unwritten rules
And shibboleths shared only with the tribe
Within whose ranks I never once belonged,
Assigned the place I cannot now escape,
Unseen, unspoken to, invisible.
Der Liebe Des Lebens, Hier am Ende
Hier stehe ich; ich kann nicht anderes;
Denn wo sonst kann ich meinen Anspruche
Zu lieben, trotz meines Alters und Mängel,
Um Leben, trotz mein Hässlichkeit und Jahre,
Um Schönheit dunkelst Augen,
Und leise singenden Stimme, deren
Akzente lächeln, und macht mich Traume
Der Liebe, des Lebens, und ihres Herzens.
Aber dies ist nur ein Traum, erwartungen
Für etwas wie Liebe, und Zeit gekommen sind
Um die Ende zu setzen Träume jetz
Und die Dunkelheit warten hier am Ende.
Denn ich war ein Narren, der nie passen
Die Vision von ein anderen Leben.
Muse, Beyond a Blind Man's Reach
I would but serve her, with my pen-sketched lines,
The words with which I reach for her at night,
Yet she will not acknowledge me by day,
Denies she knows me, keeps me wrapped in dark,
A secret she relies on me to keep,
And so I do, because a fool knows naught
But how to play the games of foolishness,
To listen to the heartfelt promises
That someday she will be with me, if time
And silence have their way, if I will wait,
And let another year go by (which store
Of years begins to seem exhaustible,
Where once they well appeared as endless days),
And if her plans succeed, and all goes well,
And nothing intervenes or interferes,
And I am nothing like the kind of fool
Who would insist on being recognized
And not deny the hopes I let myself
Drag once again into the harshest light
Of day, where all my faults will be exposed,
My failures and my flaws, the ugly stains
Of lived experience that will not out
No matter how I wash, and wash again...
Then someday she will visit me, perhaps,
And she will take me out into the light,
Without the need to feel ashamed of me,
Or keep me wrapped in silent secrecy,
So I will once again know what it is
To write of love, and have it be the truth.
Which one among you is the stranger here?
Whose eyes see through the skin we hide behind,
Pretending we are men of parts whose words
Might stand for truth before a wretched world
Whose plotline always leads to tragic ends,
Though played by actors who cannot rehearse
Forgotten lines for never-written roles
Whose audience is blind, insensible,
And dumb beyond the hope of miracles.
Which one among you has the tragic flaw,
Intelligence too great to fit the plot
You find yourself condemned once more to play?
Your entrances and exits never change,
And brilliance cannot save you on the stage
Where old conventions must be served each night:
Revenge, the comedy of lovers, fools,
The grasping kings whose wars, in honor's name,
Leave countless Hotspurs bleeding in the dust
They turn to mud with drops of red-tinged life,
Returning to the nothing whence they came.
Which one among you has the curse of sight,
And walks alone amidst the eyeless crowds?
The faintest whispers, memories of the past,
Soft meetings of the eyes, if not the minds,
And all the loves he once believed were love,
Crowd in upon him as the darkness falls
Caressing him with shadows' fingertips
Whose lightest touch once marked him from the tribe,
A man outside the world, pressed to the glass,
Condemned to watch as others laugh at him,
The awkward way he stands, or sits alone
While happy people celebrate themselves,
And what is else not to be overcome
By loneliness, except to laugh and drink?
He was a fool to think he might have love,
But now, alone each night, he knows the truth.
Each sunset passes like the ones before
And I am one step closer to the end
Of days spent waiting for...I know not what,
For nothings that I stretch to fill the hours
The no ones that I spend my evenings with;
What matter now the years of reading books
If all they ever brought was solitude,
Long years of teaching those who do not read,
Who hide their laughter with their folded hands,
The laughter aimed at me, and at the books
That I, a foolish man, would have them read
Not knowing how pathetic I appear
To all the golden children for whom words
Are nothing but impediments to life,
Dull handicaps to love and sunlit days
Soon followed by the gleaming silv'ry nights,
Enjoyed by natural children of the world,
Whose passions and desires are easily
Returned by others like unto themselves,
While I sit with a book, and wait for sleep.
For I have been a fool who never fit
The vision of another person's life.
The Troubadour in Winter
When bright magnolia blossoms first appear
Before the dying winter takes revenge
With rough winds tearing buds that scatter down
Amongst unfinished cigarettes and death,
The condom wrappers lying in the mud,
Mute witnesses to pilgrims' desperate pleas
For love, or something writhing in its place
In pain or ecstasy—the difference fades
To insignificance beside the fall
Of petals none will ever see again—
With springtime's span elided by the sun
While frost-chilled air resumes its bitter grip
And strips the branches of their helpless life,
I think of all my foolishness and hope,
And hate myself for my belief in lies,
The promises of youth, the simple gods
Of bronze-age fairy tales, whose right and wrong
Was always lighter than the thinning air
Of syllables composing ancient names
Whose meanings, urgent once, are now obscure,
Occult and hidden from my sense like love,
And all the promises I once believed
From those who loved, and from myself in love,
The faithfulness that each voice swears to each
While speaking sonnets from their widened eyes,
Unfinished poetry whose lines drift down
Amidst the fallen petals, never read,
And swept away by winter's dying winds.
The troubadours and all their songs have died,
Dispatched by pious hands, remorseless years,
Some burned alive by lovers of the rules,
By bigots who insist that only those
Like them are worthy of God's love or yours,
Those other people worthy of their deaths
And naught but scorn in life from those, the pure,
Whose judgments matter in the courts of love,
Propriety, and strict observances
Of ritual and rite, ethnicity
And social roles, and never mixing blood
With those of lower caste, or foreign tongue,
Whose word for “yes” is oc instead of oui,
With consonantal sounds that serve as marks
Of difference, in songs of decadence
And love, that celebrate the casting off
Of hateful laws, and jealous tyrant's sneers
At those who merely wish to celebrate
The quiet beauty of each other's eyes
Without regard to property or race
And all the lines that hatred draws between
Ourselves and our too-long unlived desires.
The Moor of Venice
With downcast eyes, I see my fate, too clear
To be denied, the one resorted to
In private hours, though publicly unknown,
The secret lover, met in shadowed rooms,
Kept hidden from the eyes that disapprove
Of me, my age, my race, my everything,
The catalog of all my deepest flaws
Which cannot be undone and render me
Unfit to love, except on quiet days
And stolen afternoons before the dusk
Descends, and your return is soon required
By he who owns you and will not let go.
I cannot hold out hope, though I would be
A fool, if only foolishness would serve,
But no such foolishness will serve my turn,
And you and I both know how this will end.
I cannot be acknowledged, lest the truth--
The truth that brings the nightmares in your sleep--
Be seen by those whose judgments matter most,
For what does Venice with Aleppo's law?
And what do you with me? The Moor with whom
You laugh in secret, dreading to be seen
With me by anyone you know, your friends,
Your family, while spinning fantasies
Of breaking free, refusing life in chains--
Such hopes as now I know will never be,
No sitting down again beneath the trees
Where once I played, no waking up in light.
For what would you with one you are ashamed
To answer “yes,” when asked about in dreams?
“You know, I heard the faculty get drunk,
And toss the smaller ones like dwarves in bars;
It's true! I swear—I also heard they swap
Each other back and forth, and don't wear rings
Because they worship Benjamin with blood,
And sex performed in rituals, with masks
That look like Derrida or Althusser,
Or creepy ones like Heidegger and Marx,
While sodomizing old anthologies
Of ancient Greece, or post-colonials,
The wretched of the Earth, their pages torn
And stuck together in the moistened heat.”
They while away the time with gossiping
Of those who never speak of them in turn.
As darkness falls each night,
I miss the home
I know I will not see again,
And know myself a fool
For wanting what I cannot have.
Each summer fades a little sooner now,
With scents of jasmine and the promises
Of love that float on honeysuckle wings
Like beauty just beyond my fingers’ touch,
Or music soft—too soft for me to hear--
While fading light turns purple in the skies
Whose canopy seems lower now than once
When I was young, and all the world seemed warm,
Alive with joy and possibility
Not yet traduced by lies, experience,
The sight of lovers’ faces growing cold,
The sound of subtle shifts in voice and tone
As words become routine, and newer lights
Now beckon from the dim horizon’s mist,
The rising stars that follow setting suns
While breezes chill what once gave passion’s heat,
Dispelling all that seemed, but never was,
False fire, soft ashes from illusion’s flames,
The blue and curling smoke of childhood dreams
Whose words and images grow faint with age.
Each summer fades a little sooner, yet
Renews the urge to hope, to skip with hands
Held tight, not caring what the passers-by
May think, as laughter is its own reward;
Though love comes slower now, in compromised
And compromising forms, with whispers, stares,
And disapproval as its cost, what else
Brings back—though only for a moment—light
And warmth, and all the promises of youth,
Despite the loss we know will come at dusk?
Each summer fades, yet who would miss the joy,
No matter how it ends, each summer brings?
They Speak of Love
They say that love is patient, love is kind,
Does not keep close account of injury,
Releases others from the agonies
It bears itself so others might be free--
Does this surprise you after all these years?
That parents always had themselves in mind
When having you, extensions of themselves,
That fathers guard their daughters jealously,
So jealously that one might think the guard
Desired the flesh he never thinks about
Except in cries and whispers through the tears
Of guilt-stained nights spent stewing in the heat
And sweat of lustful, rank, enseam'd beds,
Where sex is always sin, and women whores,
Except the virgin girls who must be kept
Unused--for that is how they think of it,
As if the value of vaginas dropped
With mileage, even certified pre-owned--
Unless an allied male enjoys the fruit
Of Father God's forbidden tree of life;
That friends would threaten to destroy your life
Because your heart does not obey their rules,
And you must be reined in, brought back to heel,
How could this still surprise you even now?
They speak of love, these guards and faithless friends,
These owners of the flesh, defenders of
The prison bars they live behind themselves,
They speak of love with all their golden words.
Perhaps Not Yet
I cannot say exactly why I love,
Since love has always come at such a cost
That I could never pay without the loss
Of blood or dignity—the hurtful words
That always mark our disappointing ends,
Once being called her soul-mate as she left,
While foolishly I helped her carry bags
Too heavy for her as she said goodbye—
I carry weight for those I know will leave,
Or play the fool, pretending I am more
Than second choice (or third or fourth), and wait
For those who are not with me—never me—
But always somewhere else, with someone else,
And spend my nights alone, while listening
To all the sounds of life and joy outside
As couples walk, and laugh, and live a life
That I imagined once could still be mine,
But that was long ago, a dream or two
Has passed into the falling mist since then,
And I have grown a wiser, sadder man
Who knows he is not shaped for sportive tricks,
Though not a villain yet, perhaps not yet.
The Christians came, in false humility
Demanding we lay down our hard-earned pride,
Give up our ancient gods of war and song
And take up crosses for a god of fear
Disguised as love, whose craven worshipers
Call evil all the joys of life, such men
As would destroy the world to purify
The sin they see in every woman's face,
The women they demand keep silent, still,
Obedient and faithfully at heel,
No Shield-Maidens they, adept at striking
With swords and words, in counsel and in fight
A warrior's partner, warrior in herself,
Far worthier than gods of sacrifice
And those who come to claim us in their names,
Reducing us to slaves of priests and prayers.
These villagers think me uncivilized,
Congratulate themselves on being first
To bend the supple knee, unman themselves
In service of a dying god who turned
His cheek and left his people to the blade,
Congratulate themselves on tyranny
At home, their wives reduced to property,
Their children slaves, sold off or worked at will,
So slaves they are and slaves they will remain,
Unless they find the strength to leave, to fight
And cry for joy with every battle scar,
For life and love still come at passion's cost.
Be Damned the Rest
We went by many names, but we were one: Ascomanni, the Lochlanach, the Dene,
Some even called us Rus, Varangians,
Who sailed the rivers of the Gardarike,
And took what we would have, from west to east,
Whatever we might win or lose in war,
Two fates of equal measure in the end
For men whose dreams were of Valhalla's halls,
With lives and deaths of fire aboard long ships
Which took them from the azure Caspian shores
Across the icy waves to Vinland's fields
And all the fearsome joys the sagas tell.
Though years have passed, and memories long have dimmed,
I've not forgotten who I am, a man
Who never will submit or yield, as once
A fallen prince declared despite his pain,
For those who came before me, live in me,
And I have spent too long in making peace
With those whose dearest wish has always been
For war, who wish to make me blush in shame
At what I am, not of their blood or line,
Or worst of all, not of their faith in gods
Whose weakness shows their cruelty and rage,
Whose service is the enemy of life.
I wish no peace with them, unless my sword
Might speak, but better still to turn away,
For who would be on terms with such as these,
Whose villages are breeding grounds of fear?
Let flowing cups be filled with sweetest mead,
While those who love us drink—be damned the rest.
Mead Song at End of Days
I live outside the camp of Christian souls,
The other, so unclean, untouchable,
Unthinkable as any son of Cain
Or dying child of the Amalekites,
For I am not among the chosen few,
The sons and daughters of abandoned lands
And faithless gods who left their worshipers
To all that might be done by sword and fire,
The tender mercies of the Pharoah's wrath,
The Sultan's rage, the Fuhrer's lunacy,
The sudden storms of Koba, Dark and Dread,
Which drove the tearful masses to despair.
No, mine are heathen songs, no Christ, no God
Of sacrifice and guilt and turning cheeks
To those who laugh at their servility,
Or those who think themselves a chosen race
While looking down at me as on a slave,
A foreigner whose blood is thin and pale,
Unworthy in the eyes of shallow fools
Who wear their ignorance and fear as masks;
But I'll not see myself through foolish eyes,
Though they reject the world outside their camp,
Where Ingvar Far-Traveled, and war-like Leif,
Erik's son, found promised lands of vines.
Your ancient villages are not the world,
Your Christian songs so much hypocrisy,
Your hatreds merely proof of cowardice,
Your false bravado nothing more than fear.
I would not ask the favor of such men,
But turn my back, for mine is all this world.
For all those stuck in lives they do not want--my rough translation of a
13th-century Provençal ballad about being stuck, and getting unstuck:
Coindeta Sui I'm graceful and fair, yet my heart's in despair
For I have no desire for my husband.
I'll sing you a song of my longing for love:
I'm small and I'm young, my body’s still fresh,
And should have a young man who can fill me
With joy, with whom I can still play and laugh. I'm graceful and fair, yet my heart's in despair
For I have no desire for my husband.
Now God damn me if I ever love him:
I have not the least passion for him,
Yet seeing his age, I feel so ashamed,
I pray Death will come kill him, and soon. I'm graceful and fair, yet my heart's in despair
For I have no desire for my husband.
But one thing I know I'm determined to do:
My passionate friend swears to give me his love,
I weep and then sigh, if I see not his face,
To this hope, or none, I'll surrender, I'm graceful and fair, yet my heart's in despair
For I have no desire for my husband.
So I'll tell you what I have decided:
Since my dearest friend has loved me so long
I'll give him my love, and offer myself
To the man I so love and desire. I'm graceful and fair, yet my heart's in despair
For I have no desire for my husband.
On this pretty tune I make ballads to sing,
For true lovers to sing everywhere,
So love-learned ladies our love songs might sing
To all the dear friends whom we love and desire.
The Memory of Amalek
Bléssed is the one who dies for idols,
For country and for Fatherland, whose flag
Sewn over sleepless nights and bathed in tears
Shines bright against the enemies of state;
Though death is the same everywhere for all,
Revenge and spite and malice summon sons
Of ancient homelands, seeking to repay
The debt of death that cannot be discharged,
The genocides that cannot be undone
Nor ever understood except in light
Of evil we have long called good—the gods
Of ancient tales, demanding fear and fealty.
The memory of Amalek is gone
From under heaven, at the word of God.
It will not do, to mix the elements,
The older wineskins filled with newer wines,
Or pastured animals in urban zoos,
With doormen and a monthly subway pass
As if their inclinations could be changed
Or overcome by poetry or art,
By learning's fruit, the storylines of plays,
A sculpture's line, sonata's moonlit notes,
The fine-wrought phrases of the writer's son
Who keeps his poems secret as his love
For fear they'll both be mocked, and he exposed,
Unworthy as he is, to well-earned scorn.
For foolishness like his must pay its price,
Kept safely isolated from the sane.
The price of living under tyranny,
The lies we tell to give us space to breathe
When those who “love” us seek to curb our will
And make us like themselves, their images
Of fear and hate for what they do not know
And cannot understand, a different world
Whose pleasures they regard as dangerous,
Whose joys resemble all the “sins” they learned
To crave and cravenly reject in youth
Spent listening to those who did not know
The world they taught their children to disdain
While clinging to the ancient ways of death.
The lies grow deep, and scar us over time,
Becoming masks we cannot soon remove.
The Worshippers of Might
The committees of union and progress,
Great leaps forward in red shirts and white leagues,
With nations being born from Klansmen’s rage,
While cultural revolutions by day
Bring final solutions by darkest night,
And students training in the killing fields
Plan secret purges—intellectuals
Are first, to keep them is no benefit,
To kill them is no loss—essential work
Is done by hand, and those who would reject
Tradition must be dealt with by the blade,
Or barrel of a gun, whence power grows.
They’re all the same, the worshippers of might,
In love with death, and eager to obey.
A Dark and Fallen Angel
I look at you, and years of joy unfold
Before me in your eyes, the quiet things,
Your sleeping face in moonlit pre-dawn hours,
The sound of your “Good morning” in my ears
While kissing, tucked beneath the blanket's warmth,
The feel of you beneath my fingertips,
Electric flesh, anticipating touch
And all the pleasures fingers bring, and lips
Whose soft and pliant skin brings ecstasy
To those who know its secrets, and can play
--Like virtuosos on their instruments--
A symphony's desire with expert hands.
I see the aching world inside your eyes,
And will not give you up, let come what may.
Graduation Day Just days before, I had read the letters,
the testimonials to my
work by people I respect,
people whose names matter, whose work matters—
felt like they could not possibly be about me.
But they are. I am the
figure they describe.
I've achieved everything I had once told myself I
without ever really believing my own words.
I've actually done
But standing here, alone
in the middle of a room of happy people,
amongst people celebrating themselves and each other,
They all have someone, these celebrants,
someone here to laugh
someone to talk to,
someone to sit or stand next to.
I'm the one
in the corner, nursing a cup of coffee,
then a glass of wine,
have something to do with his hands,
to appear less awkward, less
isolated, less out of place.
It doesn't work—it never really does—
and as soon as the ceremony is over,
I slip quietly out the side
No one sees me go.
No one notices that I am gone.
Human contact comes easily to them, it seems.
They all have someone,
husbands, wives, boyfriends and girlfriends,
people who love them,
love them openly.
I would trade all my accomplishments to be one of
I will never be one of them.
Non Serviam Your fear of them is tying you in knots,
And they will never loose the reins they hold,
Nor see the world as you would have them see,
But ever will maintain their rough demands
For swift obedience, for what they will
Is right for you, if you would understand
Their greater wisdom in such things as love
And life and how one ought to live by rules,
Not flout the old traditions, but remain
Inside the villages you thought you'd left
Behind, while living next to those whose lives
Embody freedoms villagers forbid.
So this it is, your choice: submit to fear,
Or take the chance to live before you die.
A Trail of Ambiguous Picture Postcards A poem should be long, like pain of childbirth
with penciled epidurals serving in the place of art,
otherwise, what would be the point of writing all this prose
we cleverly disguise as verse by randomly breaking
lines without regard to rhyme or reason(less) forms
which only prove my point above—a poem should stretch out,
allow itself the room to wind from line to line
while never quite bothering to make a point, or do much at all
except luxuriate in its own reflected vanity,
howling in wastelands that really are nothing more
than a pale imitation, the burden of the park
on a Sunday morning, calling to the ephebes
of a long-parched imagination while making notes
toward a merely ordinary fiction, nothing elevated
enough to be called supreme—and though we went down to the sea in ships
and assumed each what the other assumed, we nonetheless
could not escape our derivations and borrowings, and so we theorized
the death of bourgeois notions of originality, positing the end
of discrete (or discreet) authors, the Romantic progenitors
of our myths of origin, and the mind-forged manacles of our despair.
Images and references and metaphors, none of them
ever quite developed or honed into anything like sense,
but left in an evocative fog of unfinished language,
dragging themselves through the unread streets
in the empty city afternoons, while ceaselessly being borne,
not into the past, but into a time that never was nor will ever be...
and what else can we ask of our poets now, but to reflect
our own disinterest in ourselves, to be themselves confused,
uninteresting, and lacking anything like form or function,
spark or fire, April or cruelty?
Here at Least, We Shall be Free The heroism in these ancient lines
Is not submission, but rebellion's work,
To stand up and say No to those whose “love”
Demands your prompt obedience in fear,
To turn your back on Him who would deny
You knowledge, or what's more, the taste of life
Itself, in service of his endless will,
An ego never to be satisfied
No matter how much of yourself you kill
In sacrifice to His demands for blood,
The never-ceasing rounds of praise in song
And dance in celebration of his throne.
So take, and eat, there is no life unless
You die to Him, for whom you are but slaves.
The Toy in Winter An excellent amusement, nothing more,
A moment laughing now, forgetfully
Distracting you from pain, or boredom's dusk,
A spark of light inside the lengthened shade
Of winter afternoons in absent thoughts
Spent aimlessly on half-remembered pasts,
Such loves as could not bear the weight of hope
Nor all our expectations, sadder still
Than this, diversion's brightly-colored toy,
A pleasant thing, a bauble to be worn
In secret, played with only in the hours
Of solitude, then put away once more.
It wears, though imperceptibly, each time,
Grows closer to its end beneath the trash.
The Late Innovation Invisibility develops slowly;
Despite your constant efforts to be seen,
You find, one day, that you have disappeared,
A long-time colleague does not know your name,
And what you do, the work you teach and write
Is called a bad cliché, old-fashioned now
In newer worlds devoted to the “texts”
Of cultural productions without words
Though full of sound and fury, telling tales
That signify an end, though what is lost
Is never calculated, nor much thought
Devoted to the costs of novelty.
But this iconoclasm is not new,
And endless newer styles have long since passed.
In Artificial Light The solitude has deepened, taken hold
In ways you had not thought were possible,
And now you see the years stretch out alone,
Imaginary converse filling time
That otherwise might seem too short for joy,
But now seems cruelly overlong for life
Spent wondering what else there might have been
Of laughter, fellowship, or passion's heat
When those who loved you kept themselves apart,
Until they found they did not want your love,
Nor never did, perhaps, though once they seemed
To joy at your approach with sunlit eyes.
The shadows of the room in which you sit
Grow deeper still in artificial light.
Land of the Free But to inure our prompt obedience,
As once the poet wrote of tasks imposed
On those of us who kneel to those of them
Who rule, what other use could such commands
As make no sense, or have no purpose serve?
Except to train us in the ways of fear,
And quickly recognize the Master's voice
No matter what the words, to hear the tone,
And come to heel while knowing what we are,
Obsequious and deferential slaves
Whose lives are at the full dispose of Lords
Who smile, then throw us on the heaps of dead.
But this is how the world has always been,
Though prophets of equality tell lies.
Home of the Brave The Sun King stood but five foot two in heels,
Some inches shorter in his stocking feet,
Yet his court taught the English Charles the way
To monarchize and kill with fearsome looks,
To give the servile what they truly craved,
A master who would tell them how to live,
Release them from the painful liberty
The regicides had sought, mistakenly,
To give a land of slaves, who wanted kings
While celebrating English character,
The way our slaves sing patriotic songs To waving flags, while crouching down in fear.
Who can of inward slaves make outward free?
It seems that we have long ago learned how.
An item often looked at, never
bought, Whose wear begins to show around the seams,
Tried on sometimes, but never quite a
fit, Too big, too small, constricting movements' flow
Or else too loose, put back upon the
rack And passed until another picks it up,
Thinks how it might look if she brought
it home, Then shook her head because she couldn't see
Herself in such a thing while out with friends Whose garments would be newer, not as worn
As this one seemed to be--“too bad,”
“I really liked the color and the
It ended up back in the clearance
aisles, Before it was remaindered and shipped back.
Some suicides are never recorded,
The slow descents, the acquiescences,
The disappointed men who quietly
Submit their necks to power's crushing yoke,
And feel themselves grow smaller by the day
While all their dreams lie fallow, indistinct,
Revealed for what they always were, the frauds
Of youth, the fantasies they soon would learn
To compromise, for life consumes their eyes,
Leaves husks in place of men, with no more room
For love or play, for possibilities
Now circumscribed by choices made in haste.
Such deaths remain unnoticed by the crowds
Of dead who fill our mirrors and our streets.
City of Ideas
A city of ideas, behind the lights
Of ordinary commerce, business done
With all the passion of a burning mind
Restrained by balance sheets and protocols,
Invented understanding that their lies
Express a truth our words cannot negate;
This city is my home, and I its son,
Though hardly prodigal, with ready-made
Dissent, as though authority might hear
And laugh my plans to scorn, as if ideas
Might be again determined by the gods
We once believed without a shred of proof.
This poor man's Rome, this Athens for the blind,
Wears masks, as actors do, to hide its face.
Some Myths are Easy Targets You realize, of course, that Zeus does not exist?
And nothing you can write will take the power back
From him, nor give a greater voice to those he “raped,”
A curious word, for what is he called Yahweh
By warring Bronze-Age Jews, or named the Father God
By Christians, who rehearse the story
of the birth Of Jesus, while ignoring inconvenient facts
Mary's dubious consent to what was called—
In euphemism's highest tones—a covering
By God, a rape by any other name (as sweet?)
Yet no one reads their brave and timorous poems
While claiming to give voice to the Amalekites.
Paragraphs and Poems
We write our modern poems much the
same: A paragraph of slightly heightened prose, With line
breaks added, simulating verse, And images of bodies juxtaposed
With unexpected referents, a
pause Suggesting thought, while ambiguity Allows the reader
space for the profound Inside the fading mediocrity
Of soon forgotten words whose
formlessness Speaks not to freedom but to laziness And willful
imitation of such lines As were not written college workshop
Nor sent into the world scarce half
To serve as gilded mirrors for the
Eternity Is In Love
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. I do not think that they will sing to me.
I cannot sleep for lonely thoughts of you,
For wishing you were here, that I were not
At such a distance from my heart's desire,
The simple joy of being next to you,
While knowing I will see your face again
When morning's sun streams through the curtained glass
Of windows we keep shut against the cold
On nights we huddle close for warmth and love.
I know that life has given me a gift,
The time I get to spend inside your eyes;
I know I should enjoy the hasting hours,
And be content with momentary joys,
And yet, my passion's weakness shows as greed
For more of you, as each day fades to dusk.
The Bad Poet's Dilemma The problem with being a bad poet
Is that you do not realize how bad
You are—the work you think is lucid, clear,
And even slightly clever (raising then
The question of it being mostly dumb),
Turns out, on being seen by other eyes,
To be a mess, incomprehensible,
Or self-indulgent, leading one to think
That you might benefit from shutting down
The old computer where you type the words
You build your “poems” from, and stepping out
To take a walk each time you wish to write.
But since you do not see as others see,
You'll write in blithe indifference to your skill.
Margins The margins of your time, the second best,
Like Shakespeare's bed, bequeathed by testament
To one he saw but rarely, loved still less
Than hours upon the stage and spoken words
Whose meter spoke of him, but not of her,
The one he left alone each weekend night
With none to raise a glass, or share the bed,
Whose real estate, just like the Stratford house,
Grew far too large for one to solace in,
Or serve as aught but cruel remembrances
Of promises he never made to her,
Just like the ones you never made to me.
I know, too well, what margins may contain,
And sleep alone, while you love somewhere else.
As Night Descends
“'Tis better to be vile than vile esteem'd,”
How well the poet knew what people are,
The hateful ones, who smile and ask for help,
While cutting you with words behind your back;
The liars who would claim you sought their love,
While you had wanted nothing of the kind,
Sought solitude and privacy despite
The constant talk about your life and time,
Time spent, if truth were told, alone each night,
For every night, your loneliness grows deep
And deeper still, for all the gossips' tales,
Which take for granted love you cannot have.
For you are nothing like their fevered dreams,
As night descends, and solitude takes hold.
Orpheus Our passions' heat has often taken hold
In songs of love enjoyed in royal halls,
Where life's all-licensed fools and idle kings
Live celebrating lust in sparking cups,
While reddest wine still serves in place of blood,
And those who eat consume the flesh of gods
Created by themselves; yet I will sing
Despite of mine own nature, skeptical
Of faith in tales of love, belief in gods
Who hate us, as we often hate ourselves.
Forgiving sins implanted in our hearts
As though to punish us for drawing breath.
The gods are not our friends, and love destroys
Both sage and fool alike, yet I will sing.
Forgotten in the Light
We spend our momentary lives alone,
Though fool enough to think it otherwise
When gazing on the objects of desire,
An ocean's waves burned russet in the sun,
Whose fading light reminds us of the eyes
Of those we loved who loved not in return,
The cooling grays of eyes where passion's heat
No longer stirred behind their placid calm,
Indifference coloring our solitude
With shows of love, with all its shapes and forms,
But nothing of its substance, long since gone,
Or never really there except in dreams.
Perhaps those dreams are all we have of love,
Our hearts' desires, forgotten in the light.
A dark and fallen angel whispers low
Such words as I cannot recall by day,
Her voice a quiet beckoning in dreams
Which always end with loss and morning sun,
Familiar solitude among the crowds
Whose faces blend and blur into a haze
With ceaseless voices, harsh and hurried tones,
The endless speech of urgent nothingness,
So much unlike the words my angel speaks
Of beauty and the midnight songs whose notes
Are truth beyond the poverty of voice
Or thoughts constrained by all we have been taught.
I live with her, this angel in my dreams,
But wake to find I am alone once more.
If someone asks me, what am I to say?
Should I deny you, say I never knew?
For I have been a fool to be surprised
At your denying me, your saying no
When asked, though no cock crowed, surrounded then
By hostile voices mocking all you loved,
Or thought you loved, until you realized
That I am nothing like a son of man,
And all your sacred moments had been dreams
And what you thought were miracles but tricks
Of light and shade, illusion's skillful weave,
The tapestry of disappointed hopes.
You do not know this man of whom they speak,
For he does not exist, and cannot weep.
We Two, In Time
I know you would fly free if given wings,
For you have traveled far to find a home,
And left behind a life that never fit,
A country vast in land and suffering,
Though filled with beauty if you know to look
At just a certain angle when the light
Begins to fade, as mine begins to do,
While you have reached the only prime of life
Reminding me what once I was, and what
Am now, declined into the vale of years,
As once a fool observed before his fall,
When jealousy o'erwhelmed his fragile heart.
You must be free to find the life you seek,
And I would not, for all the world, say no.
The Ancient Grudge
You hate them, not for who they really are,
For you have no idea about their lives,
Beyond the rank and foul clichés you spout,
The venom pouring straight from cruelty's tongue
Which forms the words you use to shape your hate,
To give it life anew each time you see
Or hear them walk together while you speak
You know not what, nor know the reasons why
You think yourself above them—all of them
Of course, for no one from this tribe you hate
Could possibly have eyes, or hands like yours,
Feel pain like you, or ever fall in love.
You justify your swelling hate with lies,
Reveal yourself through libels based in blood.
Quite often is just sentimental dreck,
Though now and then a morbid note shines through,
Like Daddy’s boot, and the brute, brute fascist
Whom every woman secretly adores,
Though perhaps what I assume, you assume
As well, and our emotions recollected
In tranquility are not so novel
As we think, while diving into our wrecks
And shoring fragments up against our ruins,
As though we’d really seen the finest minds
Of any generation starving naked
And dragging through the negro streets at dawn
Hysterical, and clutching bags of God.
Sisyphus Redux I find myself constrained by memory, The ghosts of former selves, still unappeased By aught I have become, the lives I’ve lived Which fail to satisfy ambition’s drive,
Or vengeance in its quest to be repaid For private griefs from childish days by pains It would inflict on those who played no role, Who did not know, nor would have hurt me then.
And so I grapple with a present past, With plots and characters long since played out, Dismissed and absent from a darkened stage Whose wooden planks have long decayed to dust.
Each day I live amongst insistent ghosts, Yet each and every day, I turn them back.
I won’t betray the secret of our love;
I know what it would cost, and such a price
I’ve nothing like the right to ask of you,
So rest assured that I will never look
Your way in public more than I would glance
At any other, or at none at all,
Nor give away my foolish heart’s desires
By any word or mere inflection’s voice,
Nor drop the stranger’s mask I wear by day,
For fear that I might injure you, expose
Your name to scorn from Gossip’s idle tongues,
Who take delight in mocking those who love.
I’ll play the role this life demands of me,
Ne’er say a word, and keep your secret safe.
Repetition (Constantius) I know too well that I should not have asked, Nor hoped for anything from that request That years ago, mistakenly, I made, To be acknowledged by the light of day,
Or valued as the man I was, or wished To
be—or not to be, the question poised As if in air, as if my life depended On yes or no from those who mattered more
Than I have ever
mattered—though that life Was never consequential, never seen By those whose judgments in such things held weight, Or those for whom I played an offstage role.
I learned my lesson incompletely then, Forgot myself, repeated my mistake.
I cannot sleep, and have not closed my eyes,
For want of you, whose picture never fades
From inner view, nor alters with the time,
Whose quiet voice I hear inside the wind,
Whose touch I feel across the endless miles
That cruelly separate your hands from mine,
The walls between that I would soon tear down
With all my strength in service of the love
I feel for you each time I hear your name,
That name you love not half so well as I,
Who love it as the sign of all you are,
And all the joy I feel to see your face.
I tremble at the very sight of you,
My goddess by the sea, whose name is love.
The time has come—no bargaining will stay
Its hands—for now, my reckoning is made;
And when I disappear, what will I leave
Behind, what alteration make in time
That will not quickly be forgotten, thence
As though I had not been at all, despite
The pains I nursed as if they were my loves,
The thoughts I grappled with, though not profound,
And all the failures of my life and time
Which seemed so urgent once, when days were long?
I spread myself upon the thinning air,
Till only air remains, and none so poor
To notice how the space I filled is free
From all encumbrance now that I am gone.
The city comes alive beneath your brush,
And all my aspirations for the love
I once believed, before I lost my hope
In finding any who might see beyond
The beast whose curs d semblance I must bear,
Are once again restored inside your eyes,
Whose loving gaze sees who I really am,
Not what I seem, just as your brush restores
The beauty of the past still visible
Outside my windowpanes, where architects
Once grappled with their ancient gods through steel,
As you do now with paint and fading light.
And so mon Belle amant, I watch your brush
While wishing I could see the world through you.
I have known madness like yours, quiet storms
Just waiting to explode in wrath and rain
And blame their hailstones on the earth beneath,
Always ready explanations for why
Destruction is deserved, like plastic Baals
Whose self-regard reveals itself in fire,
In thunder and the cries of those who die
While pelted down beneath the love of gods
Who hear no other voices but their own,
So will not hear the cries of pain and fear
Their wrath calls forth, unless they hear and smile,
Well pleased by terror and the smell of death.
And you would have my worship out of love? Non serviam—no matter what the cost.
Not Far Away, But Here
What must I do to have you near my heart,
To manage not to have to say goodbye,
Or navigate the painful lettings go,
Where each of us must go our separate ways,
Though only to end up devoting hours
Of thought and longing to the absent eyes
Whose every flashing glance still binds me fast
To dreams of you approaching me in light,
Such dreams which come to me, and rouse my sleep
To wakefulness and sore desire for you,
Your skin now softly trembling in the chill,
Your lips, which taste of flowing sweets, and life.
I cannot but be selfish in my thoughts,
As wanting you, not far away, but here.
I still remember all your words, each tale
You tell of laughter, serendipity,
And chance encounters taking out the trash,
The face you made when losing once at cards,
A game I did not know, but somehow won--
The same unscripted luck that brought me you,
And all the joys I’ve seen inside your eyes,
Both yours, and mine reflected back to me.
I cannot fathom how I’ve earned this time
Except to wonder at the fading world
And how it yet brings unexpected light
To those of us it still rewards with love.
But earned or no, I’ll savor every word,
Recalling each to hear your voice once more.
Secrets, Not Lies
Some secrets must be kept, if not to lie,
Then not to wound with needless harsh-told truths
Whose thorns will scratch and sting while drawing blood
And tearing veils of old illusions down,
Exposing all our falsest hopes to light
Bringing our dishonesty in focus,
The tales we tell ourselves about our lives
And loves—both what we’ve been, and who we are.
You need not ask permission for the love
You feel, both unintended and unplanned,
Though real in every sense, the best surprise
Of life, and nothing to deny in shame.
Who will be hurt by knowing of your love,
You spare, by keeping secrets from their hearts.
Where I could do no wrong, or once it seemed,
I soon became the worst man in the world;
No warning intervened to let me know
This change was on its way, so suddenly
Did it arrive, that
one day while at home,
I got a message calling me a foul
And altogether hurtful, evil man,
Who hated women, had no moral core,
Who made her sick to
think of wasted time
She’d spent with me, while getting nothing back
For all the giving she had lately done,
Which made her feel a fool for having cared.
I had so many
faults, that I refroze
The roast I’d planned to make for us that night.
Though I did not expect to love, I do,
And cannot get enough of fleeting time
Inside her eyes, nor in their precious light
See anything but she whom I must love,
As all my heart inclines to hers,
While every secret wish contains her name
And whispered breaths speak silently of one
Who captured my imagination's sense
With tales of art and artists from a land
Whose beauty I have never seen so clear
As in her words, and through her fierce desire
For passion in a brushstroke or a line.
And though she would be called by other names,
The one she has sits smiling to my heart.
You never cared for me, not as a man,
For I was nothing but a mirror's gaze,
Reflecting you to you, a pleasing shape
For one who loves the sparkle of her eyes
Much more than loving any other's face,
Or name, or qualities that make a man
Or woman who she really is, or who
He hopes to be, if time and luck will serve;
But I was nothing more than fantasy,
And what I really am proved less than fair,
Too rough and unrewarding for your taste,
Too old and worn for aught but private use.
And so your eye will feed on others' gaze,
The fresher mirrors where you'll see your love.
The man I really am behind the role
I play while pacing back and forth, still caged
Despite the force of my persona’s words,
Still matters less than trash to those who hear,
Or fail to hear, so busy they remain
With all the deft illusions of my craft;
The actor on the stage is who they love,
And did they know the face behind the masks
I’ve worn for years, the disappointing man
Behind the character they take for real,
The suddenness and strength of their contempt
Would justify the judgments of the herd.
For I am nothing like their private dreams,
A fraud, a cipher to my own account.
They see me as the man they wish to see,
But I am nothing like the fantasies
Of confident desirability
They entertain while looking at my ass
Instead of hearing aught I really say,
Or while they read themselves in every book,
Despising who and what I really am
In favor of a hologram of lies
Constructed by and for the ceaseless gaze
With which they ruthlessly consume the role
I play for them, while hiding my true face
Behind the tightly-fitting masks I wear.
But what of that? What matter who I am,
As long as my illusions pass for real?
It is, of course, too early for such words,
Such thoughts, and yet I think them every time
I see your face, in dreams or waking sleep
Where fantasies, dismissed as childish toys,
Might yet have
purchase on the sunlit truth,
Dispel the shadows from our wiser selves,
Too wise to still believe in love and joy,
In possibilities we’ve long denied.
Although we wanted
to believe, to trust
Our hearts to find our way without our eyes,
We’ve lost the habit, lost the sense of life,
In all its fragile openness to light.
And yet, each time I
look into your eyes
I see the hopes I once had thought unreal.
They’re catching up,
those lies you’ve told. Not yet,
Today, next week, but all too soon enough.
You’re good, perhaps the best I’ve ever seen
How many people are you now? Four? Five?
All perfectly convincing, with detail
And subtle nuance, strengths and weaknesses,
Even eccentricities, just as if
All of you were real. But time, that’s the thing
You can’t manage. You’ve never mastered the trick
Of being here and being there at once,
And wouldn’t that be a gift from the gods?
To never have to lie with words again…
When they find out, with all your masks removed,
What will you do then? Who will you be then?
Nobody? Or the braggart Greek who used
Nobody as a dangerous disguise?
Perhaps you'll take Iago’s silent tack,
Abandon words and never speak again.
Or maybe you'll maintain this act for years,
Far longer than I think, and figure out
Just how to be all things to all of us,
While never being so particular
As to insist on being anyone
At all, an actor never taking bows,
Whose life's performance never ends, who struts
And frets entire lifetimes on the stage,
But all in character, while on the mark,
Delivering expected lines with skill
And practiced ease. Is that your victory?
Muse (IV) Your private face but never meets the eyes Of those who look, yet do not see behind The mask you wear, the careful, studious, And quiet guise with which you hold their words
Apart, deny them access to your mind And heart, your inmost thoughts and soul's desires, The artist's sensibility you bring To every moment of a passing world;
For none but fails to understand your laugh, The dancing light-as-air in sunset's fade, While spinning so your flowing dress confirms The close-held secrets of your private joy.
But I have seen you as you walked in dreams, And loved you as you danced beside the sea.
In Memoriam: To a Man Who Was My Father By living as a man, you taught your son To be a man as well, a lesson learned With many tribulations, to be sure, Too-frequent moments where I failed the tests
Of love, of strength, intelligence, and pain, But many more successes with the years, Exampled by resolve you showed with age To fight each battle as it came, relentless
Determination to be free and who You always were, a man in all and all, Sometimes the fool, sometimes the wisest sage, But always ready to defend your heart.
I never can repay my debt to you Except to live and be a man in turn.
Peas Two peas we are, both sharing the same pod, An infinitely better stage in life Than to be oatmeal, dumped in flower pots, Congealed into a lumpy oaten mass,
Unappetizing at the best of times, But ever so much worse in times of stress With raw emotions burning through our hearts Like love, though unrequited in its forms,
The roles we still must play while taking care To hold enough reserve to keep intact Fallacious notions of our dignity, As if our pod had room for peas like us.
And yet, to be with you inside this pod Is like an unexpected chance at joy.
The Fool's Lament The fairest and the wisest of us lie, So why should I be so surprised at you, The systematic way in which you hid Behind the masks of truth and privacy
You wore to cozen those you called your friends, Who finally had enough of you and left You in the morning's trash where you belonged, While you accused another of the lusts
Which you could not control, and never have Controlled, while speaking all the while of love And plans you made with me for lives and times You never had intention to fulfill.
And I, the biggest fool of all, believed The lies you told and lived, the lie you were.
Azazel We are most alive when doing evil, When deftly wielding daggers that appear Before our eyes, ambition and revenge Both meeting in the blade and in our hearts,
Remembering the wounds we have received, While letting slip the ones we gave to those We claimed to love, as if we had the trick Of truly loving any but ourselves.
But yours will be the wounds I most intend, Will plan before inflicting, and enjoy Your agonies, embarrassments, and fears, The judgments you will suffer at my hands.
The reckoning for sin is not delayed, And you will not escape the cry of blood.
The Warrior's Son
For years, I knew you only as a name
I mispronounced, a myth of origin
Just like the ones so many still believe
Through indolence or fear or simple faith;
I heard of you by hearing of the ear,
And saw you only through the eyes of her
Who lied to me for all the days that bound
My life to her, who loved me as a glass
In which she saw herself, a pattern for
My later loves, including one who left
While blaming me for sins that were her own
And publicly displayed for all to see.
But you had strength to leave, say no to her,
To her demands—your music or her love:
You chose the music, and the life you loved,
A pattern for my future loves, for one
Who takes your home, your life, your heart as due
To her and to her daily shifting needs,
And one who says she loves, then takes from you
--Or tries to take—the marrow of your bones,
The blood and joints that make you who you are,
No, none like that deserves a moment’s thought
Before you turn and walk away; I know
That now because of you, because you lived,
Because you go on living still, despite
The silent wolf that lurks inside your cells,
The predator about to meet its match,
For no one fucks with men like you, like me
Unless they wish to meet the ancient blade
Of all the warriors who preceded us,
Who carved their icy way while singing songs
Of heroes who reminded them of men
Who would not shrink before the face of death,
Nor cower at the sternly-spoken “no,”
As if negation lent itself at will
To fools and whores and weakest-minded men.
Who suffers domination at the hands
Of such a thing as death? Nor you nor I,
But those who deal in faith, in lies, in fear,
Or those who trade their years for naught but dust.
We laugh, and know the battle must be fought,
Where blood will spill, and songs be sung in joy.
For a Viking who
will win his fight...
Do not go gentle
into that good night
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
With Eyes to See
My heart was always torn in twos and threes:
The selves I wished to be were never one,
And love was never simple, lacking pain,
Though ecstasy was always possible,
With understanding coming near to hand
In tantalizing moments too soon passed
Beyond my grasp, imperfectly betrayed
By weakness all mine own, with passions’ heat
Still uncontrolled, while searching for the eyes
I had not seen, and would not know—till now.
But now I see, and I am seen in turn
By one whose hazel eyes see past my masks.
I did not think such eyes were possible,
But framed in red, they see me as I am.
A Shade Remembers (II)
I need to matter, yet I know I don’t,
And so I gaze instead at those who do,
Still contemplate their lives and wonder why
I cannot be as worthy to be seen
As they have always seemed to be, by right,
Perhaps by birth, while everyone I love
Grows cold, or sudden malice shows, or yawns
With boredom and disdain, then turns around
As though I were not there, an empty space
Still needing to be filled with someone else
(Or someones else), until I walk away,
Returning to the gaps in which I live.
I never learn it seems, forget each time
I fall in love, that I do not exist.
I know it fantasy, this dream of you;
I know your life too full of promises
And obligations from a recent past,
A mix of truth and error, sleepless nights,
And precious fruit of love that never was,
Except in early hopes of what might be
That stubbornly refused to root and grow
Whilst you remained alone, though companied.
And yet, I cannot turn my face from yours,
Let go your eyes from my enamored gaze,
For you are all in all perfection’s hue,
And nothing less than all my heart’s desire.
Despite the fact I know what cannot be,
I stand and wait in hopes the world will turn.
When first I saw your face, I quickly turned;
I fought against you, fought against my eyes,
Still struggled so I might not have to see,
Walked swiftly so I might not have to hear
The beauty and intelligence I knew
Would be the end of me as I had known
Myself to be, no longer satisfied
With love and lovers merely good enough,
Unleashing new desires, forbidden fruits
That I had long thought mythical, unreal,
Till faced with truth in perfect female form,
A goddess framed in red who walks in dreams.
And what will I not suffer, what not do
To have you for my own? No less than all.
The time has come to break my ancient staff,
To drown my book, let go my heartsore cries,
And practice what I preach upon my stage
When holding hearers rapt with talk of strength
And power to do harm, and yet do none.
To be the lord and owner of my heart—
Though stewards might be tempted to remind
Themselves each moment, every passing day,
Of all their wounds, the grudges they still nurse
Against their former loves—I must let go,
Must say goodbye and let the past be past.
This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine,
And to redeem myself, must let it rest.
The quiet one, with beauty running deep
Inside, in unsuspected reservoirs
Of art, facility with numbers, line,
And form beyond the ready surface charms
That you had always seen each time you looked
Into her eyes, or listened to her voice,
Whose slightest quavering each time she spoke
Of artifice, ideas, and poetry,
Revealed the nervous passions she would hide
As not to draw attention—futile task,
For others gaze on her, yourself among
The prime, as though in search of beauty’s truth.
For she is nothing like this waking world,
But moves within it like your secret dreams.
The mix of love and pain perplexes still,
Though what I miss I know did not exist,
I miss it with a passion that undoes
Me quite, as though I could recall the times
Now gone, when your illusions held me fast,
When love in all its agony and joy
Convinced me not to see the artful lies
Persisting just behind the veils you drew
Between the truth of what you really were
And faithful love I wanted you to be,
Believing, like the fool I was, in words
That only served to blind me to your masks.
Though others tried to warn me what you were,
I did not listen, wanting still to die.
And yet, the truth, not Desdemona fair,
But fell Iago was my enemy,
So blunt and full of humor and appeal,
The honest friend who only wants what’s best
For those who trust him with their lives and loves,
And laughs as he destroys them, leaving husks
Where once were men, the shells of substance strewn
In burning fields set blazing by his hate.
Iago, Honest, Honest Iago,
The demi-devil who ensnared my faith
And worked my trust until I threw away
A pearl as valuable as all the world.
From this time forth, we never will speak word,
But know—I know you, and from whence you came.
Othello to Desdemona
I know the lies you’ve told, and what you’ve been,
And how you’ve tried to blame the world for lust
That was your own—My God, the fool I’ve been
In trusting you when others knew the face
You always hid from me in fair pretense,
By playing faithful hostess at my home
For friends who saw, the night that followed next,
The truth of all your Michael Cassios.
You posed amongst your friends, and to my face,
As though you were my love, and then you plied
Your ancient trade by lusting after one,
Then two, and then a third, before you slept.
You hid this night from me, forbade me ask,
To keep me low and ignorant, your slave.
The lies are what remain, and shock me still,
Their depth and breadth, the cuckold’s rough-hewn mask
I did not know I wore, though others knew
And would not tell me, leaving me a fool
Who still believed his love was made of truth
Although she knew she lied, that she might think
Me some too-trusting youth who could not see
How often he was left behind, outside,
Or simply not invited where she played,
And drank, and flirted in the view of all,
Not least of those the ones who knew my love,
And kept the secret of my cuckolding.
I trusted you, but will not trust again,
Nor you, nor those who lying secrets kept.
A Shade Remembers
New thoughts of you, unbidden, silent come
With every minute spent resisting sleep
Remembering the feeling of your arms
But lightly wrapped around me, holding close
The feelings of desire expressed with eyes
That swiftly graze the surface of my love
Like fingers’ gentle touch still raising skin,
Excitement’s peaks, the evidence of life
Spent pining for release through passion’s heat,
Consuming what remains of dignity
And shy reserve which falls away like flesh
Whose use has served the pleasures of the hour.
Each thought its delicate sensation brings,
Reminding me of life beneath the sun.
I owe apologies to many now;
To those I leave behind, and those whose lives
My own has touched despite my best intent,
My inability to keep restrained
What I should not have been, the dangerous
And wholly inexcusable desires,
The loves to which I had no natural right,
The life which I usurped, the years I stole
From those whose natural gifts were rich to those
Of mine, whose fell pretense must find an end,
As having naught to recommend its time
But fear of death, of which we taste but once.
The glimpses I have seen, the Pisgah sights
Of promised lands, will disappear like rain.
Neither Have You Lost
It was the time you spent with love that made
You feel alive, the love you gave, the words
You spoke, the heart you handed willingly
Though heedless of the risk that must ensue
For those who give and all those who receive,
Since time and unforeseen occurrence wounds
Us all, and love becomes its absent self,
A parody where everything seems real,
And faith proves false as easily as God.
But time is not erased, nor memories
Made less than what they were, despite the change
To winter in the heart of one who loved,
No matter hurts inflicted at the end.
The years you gave you cannot give again,
But neither have you lost your time in love.
The knife will justify itself for cuts
It must inflict on you in payment for
Transgressions still remembered, sore neglect
Though unintended, plus the painful flaws
And failures of the life you lived, the love
You gave imperfectly, as you were told,
By one whose heart and words you once believed,
You neither loved too wisely nor too well,
Or did not give yourself, or of yourself
Sufficiently to overcome the doubts
That never once were voiced when you agreed
To leave this sunlit world and start anew.
The fault is yours, so yours will be the wounds,
And yours the flesh that satisfies the blade.
The rules are more important than ideas:
Obey, do what you're told, and don't make waves;
You might upset the delicate among you,
The ones who disapprove of all debate
That might result in temporary wounds,
Create dissension, or reveal, in place
Of artificial amity which seems
Indeed, but cannot be, except in lies
We tell ourselves, inhabiting in roles
Such honesty as well-trained actors use
When seeking to avoid uncomfortable
Engagements with the necessary truth.
So be polite, observe decorum's rules,
Fit in with those whose feelings must be spared.
The sunlight doesn't always reach the dark forbidding places where we live,
though by our smiles we seem to say it does--our smiles, as false today as when
we first discovered how to wear them to deceive, and pose as anything but who
and what we are.
Too cynical, perhaps?
Should not one look more kindly on, as men who hate their wives die cell by cell
in bottles never left alone, as mothers kill their children step by step with
guilt and god and sex abuse of which one mustn't speak, as children wish and
pray for vengeance that will never come, while leaving bloodstains witnessing to
what will never be acknowledged?
Not cynical enough?
"Love your neighbor as yourself"--why? Your neighbor is perverse--almost as much
as you--and would as soon step back and let the flames engulf the world as you
would, were the tables turned. And that, perhaps, is as it should be here in
darkness where the sunlight cannot reach, nor ever quite illumine with reflected
beams the shadows where we live, and all the darkest places where we smile,
pretending to ourselves that others do not see us as we are.
So which conclusion shall we use as exculpation? Do we deceive, or are we
blinded by pretense, deceiving no one but ourselves?
Does it really matter?
So silently I say my last goodbye
That none might see the exhalation's breath,
No matter winter's chill that turns all words
To airy wisps of steam, each syllable
Escaping warmth to join once more the cold
And bitter air from which it heedless came,
To which it soon returns, recovering
Its chill, and disappearing in the wind
That shrewdly bites and burns uncovered skin,
Whose heat diminishes both now and now,
Each passing second like the words that fly,
No longer ours, inside the waiting night.
And so I take my leave in absent breath,
In mist that leaves no trace of warmth or life.
Rules for Living,
By all means, do what
is expected of you. Assimilate. Smile, and obey the rules. Don’t say or do
anything that makes others uncomfortable. Be like everyone else. Show up on
time. Eat your vegetables. And don’t start insisting on exercising “rights” or
“liberties” or “freedoms.” Don’t denigrate or otherwise call into question such
things—oh no. Just acknowledge their importance and then leave them alone. It’s
the mature thing to do, the American thing to do.
Tell people their babies are cute—especially when their babies are ugly.
If you go to college, major in something “useful,” something that enables you to
spend your life performing practical and necessary tasks, discrete and
replicable activities whose form and function have been designed by
others—others whose wealth will be enhanced by your usefulness. Don’t try and
think too much—be happy, and do your work with a minimum of fuss. Take pride in
being a “team player.” After all, there is no “I” in team.
Remember that you
live in the Land of the Free, and celebrate—in a decent and socially-sanctioned
manner—those who have died to protect your way of life. But don’t drink and
drive while doing so, and obey the demands of any and all lawful authority
figures. Don’t use illegal fireworks, or illegal drugs.
Remember that Jesus
died for your sins, but try not to sin any more than absolutely cannot be
helped. Vote for white males, preferably rich Conservative white males, as they
have your best interests at heart, just like your superiors at work.
In the final moments
before you die, look back on a life well-lived, a life guided by rules meant to
benefit everyone. Smile as you say goodbye. Next stop, Heaven!
From Worlds Below
The silent steam escapes from worlds below
My city's streets, with plumes of curling blue
And gray, each exhalation matched in turn
By breath drawn in, as if the city lived
And moved, and had its being like a man,
Or any other thoughtless beast of prey,
Imposing in its steel and concrete strength,
Though motionless, still quickly primed to strike
Unwary, weak, and heedless passers-by
Who disappear, and leave no trace behind,
While daily life goes on quite undisturbed
For those who do not feel the city's breath.
Now sated once again, it soon restores
A beauty whose illusions none will see.
In Time, Each
I am the devil of your nightly dreams,
Or mine, the only dream I've ever had,
To be the one who stood and told him No,
Negating arrogant yet ceaseless will
Demanding obedience from frightened
Children, incapable of the free will
He cursed them with in order to demand
The understanding that they could not give,
Despite the threats of death for having failed
A test designed to look infallible
While opening the way to every doubt,
If only one could shed belief for thought.
And yet, despite rebellion's liberty,
I still torment myself, beyond his reach.
The slaves among us,
faithful and discreet,
Still guide us through a world of sinful thoughts,
Where lust outweighs the urge to worship gods
Whose difficult commandments evidence
Their inhumanity on tablets carved
In stone, as though morality took shape
Beneath the mason's chisel, practiced blows
That carve the arbitrary signs of men
Into the flinty stuff of mountainsides
Where soft persuasion fails, though force succeeds
In cutting stone away from stone, where gaps
Compose the meanings of our empty words.
Our thou shalt nots are words that slaves would learn
And teach, while we who genuflect are blind.
A Moment's Choice
Futility is what remains of life
Defined in terms of goals, achievements gained
At cost of noticing each moment's joy
Or pain, experience of life passed by
In favor of the expectations' weight
We learn to carry on behalf of those
For whom we live our lives, though not ourselves,
Except for those whose inner voice reflects
The harsh commands of older generations,
To be of use to them, remember them,
Exact revenge for them at cost of death
To what we might have been had we been free.
Yet time remains to throw away the yoke,
Unbend the knee, and stand to face what comes.
And Show the
Heavens More Just
I have been something you did not suspect,
But mad behind one eye, the other quite
Untouched by passion’s scope, the purest blue
Tranquility reflecting from within
A light that inward shone from unknown source,
Ill understood by those who thought me one
Most like unto themselves in private thought,
As though I were a man familiar grown
With frequent conversation in such tones
As intimates who know each other’s hearts
Assume while searching for the grace they lack
And hope to find by searching others' eyes.
But I have always seen you through the veils
Of partial madness, blind as I must seem.
I know the bitter Roman's stinging pain,
The flash of light behind the weary eyes
Whose only wish is to be closed for good,
A vial of poison, or a sharpened blade,
Too quickly wielded by a skillful hand
For sensibility of pain or fear;
But first he must pronounce the words of doom,
The judgment on the son of foreign sands
Whose zealot's heat has sharpened to a point
The pain he can't escape without the aid
I will not let him ask, before the stroke
Of law imposed despite his better self.
His pain persuades where all my words could not,
And washes more than hands of shedding blood.
The time to die has come on silent feet
Unnoticed until now, with quiet gaze
Expressed in fascinated eyes, as death
Takes many forms, no ending just alike,
Each final plea a symphony of fear
Whose themes, though much the same, sound minor keys
Of variation and despair unsung
By any singer who has yet exhaled
The fading notes inside the aria
That all must sing in time, though no one hears,
Preoccupied with lyric melodies
Whose optimistic tones give life to lies.
Sing Requiem for those about to die,
Then turn back toward the sun, in search of light.
I failed to fit the paradigm, at odds
With necessary truths, would not sit still
Or take my place in line, obey the rules
That well-adjusted others never seemed
To mind, as eager to fit in, be liked
And thought a healthy member of the herd,
No punishments for them, no pills designed
To calm, or soothing therapeutic voice
Pronouncing diagnostic terms in tones
Designed to separate the sheep and goats,
From vestiges of independent thought.
But soon enough, my malady was cured,
Or so my foolish therapists believed.
With quiet fall of evening, shadows come,
Their lengthening unnoticed by one bent
Beneath the gentle weight of early sleep
Where dreams may come, though unremembered now,
Inside whose images another lives,
The long since hidden self who still survives,
Though unfamiliar even to its host
Whose careful mask will never be removed
Nor even recognized by those—himself
Among the prime—who think it but a face
Of nature’s craft, and do not see the eyes
Fall slack and dim, as inward turned for light.
For he is not like one of us, despite
The mimicry that no one else can see.
Still wrapped in layers hardened by the years
With eyes averted from all human sight,
I flip a switch when standing on the stage,
Reciting lines that bring a man to life,
If only in the minds of those who hear
In passion's words delivered in the tones
Of men, desires they have long repressed
In favor of the proper moral roles
That circumcise our hearts, while planting sin
In fertile soils, imagination's fields
Where joy forever dwells, unless snuffed out
By compromise and learned obedience.
But when the curtain falls, the man soon fades,
And I return, anonymous in silence.
Repent--for all the sins you will commit
Born broken as you are beneath the sky;
Repent--though ill, commanded to be well,
While self-inflicted wounds still rack with pain
The hated and the ever-hateful flesh,
Still home to all the human qualities
Our gods demand we purge within ourselves
In never-ceasing quests to be transformed
From reddish clay that serves in place of shit
To lightest breath, translucent shapes, with wings
Of spirit taking flight in middle-air
Denying earth, and shameful earthbound selves.
Yet this, the fervent wish of those who hate
The veins within their hands, is also sin.
The nervous desperation in her eyes,
Too sudden laughter, punctuated breath
Exclaiming secrets burning for release,
Though better kept from being common tales
For those who hear but do not understand
The urgency with which she strips herself
Of dignity, the suffocating masks
We wear when too afraid to be ourselves,
Or too unsure of who those selves might be
Despite the years spent facing down the world
As if convinced the lies we tell ourselves
Ring true to those by whom we are not seen.
Her muted pleas cannot be heard beneath
The agitated flailing of her words.
This world has many someones to be found,
Both inoffensive and still quick to please,
Who offer their affections at the price
Of life, your own or any others' by,
Whose energies restore, like sacrifice
To bloodless shades, the sparks of life and speech
Where otherwise are dim and silent rounds
Of formless desperation without words
Or thoughts in which to frame familiar pains,
Whose passions dominate the empty shells
Of men who loved and women who were born
To adulation, fading all too soon.
Come take your choice who travel here, but know:
To such an end you too must come, in time.
My armor, layers thick, and never breached,
Had but the smallest spot, invisible
To any but a Paris and his bow,
Whilst I, absurd Achilles feigning strength,
All storm and bluster keeping hearts at bay,
Had not been hurt since long before the night
I realized that you had found my flaw,
The one that none could see behind the bronze
In which I faced a world that thought me strong
Despite the weakness of my hidden past,
The secret I defied the world to find
And never lost, no matter who opposed.
Nor Hector's strength, nor Agammenon's hate
Could pierce the mark your tearful arrows found.
Well Worth Their
And yet remembering the best of times,
Excitement's rush, the sense of being known
In ways almost forgotten through the years,
—Where dull routine, existence in the place
Of life, turned smiles, though never forced, to masks
Put on to keep ourselves from sight of self—
Brings back the sensible delights of days
And nights that present pains would have us lose
Behind the veil of fading memory,
Such things too precious to be lost in time.
What else are we but mortal in our loves
As mortal in our momentary lives?
Such joys as we have known are fleeting, yes,
But in a passing world, well worth their price.
Sonnet 121, In
Our truths may be our own, though not approved
By others whose reproaches rule the day,
Despite the solitude in which we live
Which gives the lie to innuendo's spread
And tales prosaic truth cannot combat;
But narrative has strength, seductive wiles
That will not be resisted here on Earth
Or aftertimes, despite what we might hope.
"'Tis better to be vile than vile esteemed,"
No truer words did poets ever write;
They teach us to let go, to be set free,
To give up all we've been, hold nothing back.
So set this empty shell ablaze, what's left
Is but illusions of a life, now past.
Left to Dry
Convenient prop for other people's lives,
Grown dusty with disuse, now thrown away
Despite the sheen its surface once possessed,
The glow it caused in eyes that once beheld
With joy, though long since bored, to anger brought
By wasted space the prop took up on shelves
That wanted better objects to display
And frame the taste of those who look upon
Remainders of a life grown short in time
With justified contempt for all that dies,
Or grows too quickly old and past the prime
Of sunlit days where beauty is the law.
The capital offense of those grown old
Is paid in blood, not spilled, but left to dry.
Nor More, But Dusk
Although mortality will have its way
With all who live, despite what preachers cry,
Whose promises are based on ancient tales
Conceived by worlds for whom bacteria
Did not exist, while madness was the work
Of demons, or the gods, who were malign
And took from us what reason we yet had
In sun-stroked lands where truth was found in fire,
Yet life may have its
joys for us, who know
How few the moments are in which we love,
Despite the imperfections in ourselves
And those who love, though not as we had dreamed.
For those who love us
do not know themselves
Nor more nor less than we, who see but dusk.
The Green Children
Upon a time in old King Stephen’s reign,
In Woolpit town appeared a boy and girl
Whose skin and eyes were both the purest green;
They spoke in tongues that no one understood
And ate, when they would eat, but fresh green beans.
The boy was sick, and faded soon to death,
But she remained, and learned the native ways,
Soon lost her color and became a girl
That all the village men would seek unto
At night for pleasures they denied by day,
And so her wanton reputation grew
And spread the story of her magic charms.
“St. Martin’s Land beneath the fields is home,
Where these your foolish laws are laughed to scorn,"
Said she, as those who heard her story swore,
"For there is constant twilight, never dimmed,
And joy for life that cannot be restrained.
If I could find my way, I would return,
For this too-sunlit world is made of lies
That pose as truth, and laws that would deny
The joys of life for hypocrites' mere spite."
In time, they were
forgotten, swept beneath
The years, these children who would have men live
As if the moments counted as they passed.
But what of that? We have too much of truth.
Forgetting oft is best, when faced with tales
That call to us to rend illusion's veils.
Along the Road
Each day is wasted like the days before,
From sun to sun with darkness in between,
The failures to become still clouding years,
Averting glances from what we would be
If only we possessed, or were possessed,
Or even recognized—amidst the selves
We wear as gloves to keep our fingers’ touch
From truly feeling life—what lacks behind
The smiles and nods through which we live and move
And have our being in a liars’ world
Where none can tell the truth, nor truly tell
What truth might mean, or where it might be found.
So we cooperate, do what we’re told,
Walk quietly along the road to death.
The scratching sounds of rats inside the walls,
Still faintly whispering with every pause,
Surveying damage done by tooth and claw
Now red, as nature’s way has always been;
Though how you understand their muted speech
Begs sanity with questions best not asked.
But clearly, speak they do, of life’s decay
And wasted time in service of the dead
Whose sore demands could not be met in life
While heartbeats slowed, though imperceptibly
At first, until the slowing found a voice
And harsh trochaic accent of its own.
So now it speaks as rats with whispered tongues,
Whose utterance brings death, but not relief.
Insanity will always have its charms
For those of us too broken to conceal
The cracks beneath the masks we've learned to wear,
Pretending all is well before we die.
But normalcy cannot disguise the wounds,
The open sores we irrigate with wine,
Sedations we apply to old desires
Whose painful ministrations we deny
Inside the lasting hatreds of our lives,
The only things that ever truly last,
That set upon us like the ecstasies
Of final days beneath the fading sun.
And so we wait, pretending to be sane,
Though all the while we cannot hold a thought.
Or Not to Be
It is a consummation to be wished,
Though not perhaps devoutly, seeding faith
In stony ground where love can never dwell,
In dreams that will not come inside the sleep
Where all that yet survives grows rank with years,
And rotten with the thoughts that prick and sting
Our inmost hearts, where we set up a glass
In which we see ourselves, and see such blots
As mar each feature we would have admired
For carnal beauty or for wisdom's sake,
Despite our eldest curse, ambition's stain
That makes us all but smiling arrant knaves.
Quietus must be made, and time for thought
Is over now, let come what yet must come.
The cell in which I still enclose my life,
The stripes inflicted by my guilt and shame
For failure in the role where I was cast
By one whose lines I could not dwell inside,
Cannot but point to all such failures now
In these, my final moments on the stage,
My last soliloquy, whose halting words
Betray my weakness in the face of death,
That mechanism of the plot whose will
Must be obeyed, and whose poor servant I
Forever am, and still have been despite
Eternal life I once believed was mine.
Though all is ill at last, I must play out
This final scene, until the rest is silence.
Falstaff, to the
I have been wrong to claim you for my own,
As far too long declined into the years
From which I never will return again,
But ever drift beyond the sunlight's touch
And fade into the purple hues of night,
Whilst you, whose time is still of fresher stamp,
Whose passions and desires might be fulfilled
If only I let go, must have the life
That youth demands in blossoming regard
For all that reaches toward the light and warmth
Of summer's single perfect afternoon
With moments stretching out like years of joy.
I will remember all my days with you,
And wish you all the happiness to come.
Narcissus at the Gates
They offer you a garden of delight,
Stare deep into your eyes like no one else
Has ever done while laying secrets bare
Inhabiting your sorrows and your joys
As if they've walked beside you all your days
Despite the stranger's faces they adorn
With ready smiles, and too-familiar nods
Designed to penetrate the outer walls
Of trusting fools who still believe in love,
Or beauty's fragile possibilities,
While hoping to be recognized at last
Amidst the lonely press of crowded days.
But soon they disappear, leave fools in ruins,
Whose wreckage is but tempered by themselves.
Inherit the Earth
We make a joyful noise unto our Lord
Before we take up arms to chastise those
Whose unbelief in all we hold most dear
Is rank offense, the primal eldest curse
We fear most in ourselves, and so must purge
That fault in others, though we find our way
Without our eyes, too full with motes and beams
To see ourselves in any mirror's light.
In time, and time, and half a time we learn
Conviction's strength, the heady wine of truth
Whose taste delightfully inflames the sense
Of justified disdain for those who die.
Now gird your loins, prepare for what must come,
For all the world belongs to us and ours.
We genuflect before authority,
Take comfort in obedience to rules
We never understood, nor sought to learn,
For rules are rules, and those who know what’s best
Must be obeyed, for they have only good
In mind for those of us who live within
Their fair benevolence and kind regard,
Still worrying for us and for our fates
As does the head take care of other parts
Less conscious of the reasons for our good,
Thus less inclined to understand the pain
Of swift but necessary sacrifice.
So keep your doubts at bay, do not despair,
Move toward your death with confidence and faith.
Some people spend tremendous energy
On fitting in, appearing like the rest,
Observing interactions, taking note
Where others take for granted, practicing
What others, naturally inclined, can do
Without the pains of thought, acquired skills
Of presentation, necessary shows
For those without the instincts of the herd
In which they find themselves, against which rule
Their measurements have always fallen short
As lacking scent, or sight, or other marks
By which the world identifies its own.
But soon enough, such secrets are exposed,
Imposters in the healthy ranks cast out.
The Shades, to
Pour out the blood, that we may speak of lives
For which we lack the strength to leave behind,
The pains we suffered, and the golden times
Beneath the sun, whose warmth will not return
To grace our skin, nor light to reach our eyes
That we might see the beauty of the world
Once more, one final moment to grasp hold
Of those we loved, but will not see again,
Those precious days now lost beyond recall,
And evening's joys whose touch has been withdrawn
Behind this veil of shade and dusky death,
Where none can feel, nor ever quite forget.
Make sacrifice, and let us speak once more,
For none will pass this darkened way again.
I will not say goodbye, nor utter words
Of any kind, for what can speech pronounce
When ships have sailed, while I am left at night
To wander with the shades who cannot cross
And reach their final end, now exiled there
Where light can never dwell, their uses done
And passions all but spent, save gnashing teeth
Expressing pains which go unheard by those
Aboard their crafts, enclosed in light and warmth
Which will not be revoked, just as the night
Will never end for those now left ashore
The wrong side of the Styx, and soon forgot.
Elysium will be your timeless home,
Where none remember those now left behind.
It is but other people's hearts we know,
When first we claim to understand our own,
The passions of another soul shine clear
While darkness shrouds our own unseen desires,
And all we think we are, but borrowings
From those who shaped us in our early years,
Their loves, their hates, still quickening the pulse
That keeps the rhythmic time within the songs
Inside whose lyric melodies we live,
And move, and have our being through the verse,
To bridge, to choruses that close the tune
Before we know ourselves in minor keys.
But blue notes come, while lifting measures fall,
And make our hearts the only songs we sing.
Toward the Noonday Sun
Though I have loved imperfectly, doubt not
But all my quiet thoughts have been of you,
Devoted to your needs, in spite of time
And distance stretched between us as you grew
To find what you were always meant to find,
The blossoming bent toward the noonday sun
And newer rays to nourish petals' growth
In need of fresher beams, not twilight's hues
Of purple mixed with fading golden streaks,
Still beautiful, but unsustaining now
To life that reaches for its bursting prime
In yearning for completion by the light.
Your sunlit warmth should be enjoyed at full,
For sunset's cooling comes to all in time.
Till Thou Hadst Been Wise
Unsettled age, whose wisdom is a mask,
Bears all the scars of youth, uncertainties
And judgments insecure despite the weight,
The steely tones with which they sound aloud
As practiced phrases from the lips of men
Whose sere and windblown miens show gravity
To those infirm of purpose, bare of facts,
And innocent of all deceptive skills,
The tools and trade of those who rule the world,
Or merely dominate the quiet hearts
Of those with whom they live and shape for use
Pretending age gives license to be served.
But years bring nothing bearing wisdom's mark,
Except facility in telling lies.
The Artist, In Blood
Each passing day brings accidental joys,
A stenciled image on a building's side,
The abstract painting hanging just inside
My line of sight while walking by at dawn,
The feel of flesh beneath my pointed blade,
Still whole before the breach and rush of blood
Now gushing forth to greet the buxom air
In ruddy streams whose rivulets run quick
As waterfalls that disappear in mist
On canvases that broil like Turner scenes
Where paint runs thick with pain, and passions spent
With bloody fingers finishing their work.
For art must feel as bodies feel, as life
Comes flowing forth still aching for release.
Dorian, to Himself
I hoped that you would love despite my flaws,
The years that I have spent in growing old,
But now I realize the foolishness
Of all such hopes, as like will seek its like,
And Darwin rules, especially in love,
Where reproductive fitness must be served,
And years are crimes, but misdemeanors first,
Though felonies hereafter, swiftly judged
In terms that none can fail to recognize,
The weak that must be culled to save the herd
Despite pretense, the brushstrokes' glaze still wet
On canvases we hang to please ourselves.
But eunuchs must be cast aside in time,
For love is nothing if not practical.
We worship death with every silent prayer,
The end of days, when disappointments cease,
Conscripting breath to serve such purposes
As it would feign deny, if will remained
Yet uncorrupted by the fantasies
Of lives beyond our own, in worlds unseen
Except in passing fancies' ill-wrought dreams,
The rough-hewn narratives of sore desires
Whose needs are never met in currency
That can be spent in any marketplace
Familiar to the sensibilities
We hone on trading floors that deal in flesh.
For what we seek is not encompassed here
In worlds enclosed by false and fading light.
Unsold, and Worse for Wear
Commodity was all it had or was,
Grown inconvenient now, the sell-by date
Long past, the price marked down, the package torn
And taped together at its upper edge,
Where once the newest cardboard promises
Invited eyes to gaze and hands to touch
But somehow never take the package home
As days and weeks went by and turned to years
While fashions changed, and what was looked on once
Was now increasingly ignored, unseen,
An option always there, but overlooked
With every moment's pressing new concerns.
But shoppers can't be blamed for what they want,
When products now grown old have failed to please.
Everything That Fades
Our prisons have no walls except ourselves
And all the dreams of what we’d hoped to be,
Such fantasies as keep us from our lives
The flesh and blood reality of days
Grown short, as sunsets pass too rapidly
To keep account of hours that slip away
While hoping for the recognizing glance
Of one whose heart might compass yet our own
While we let pass the early morning’s breeze,
And never notice heartbeats as they slow
Before their final stop at evening’s call
When all we thought was solid fades away.
And yet we stumble on, sustained by hope
That everything that fades will soon return.
Through a Glass
Surprise becomes routine, illusions fade,
And all too soon we realize the truth
Is not what we had hoped, no kindred souls
Nor recognition’s silent glance will come,
But solitude, a whisper’s ancient breath
Still speaking of the times before our time
When no companions walked beside their lords
And none but gods enjoyed the evening’s breeze.
Those close enough to see behind our masks
Will grow to have contempt for what they find
And will be right, perhaps, for what we are
Is but a story much too often told.
And yet, we hope to see as we are seen,
Though through a glass, to know as we are known.
Reward in Full, at End of Days
The aftertimes are hardest to live through,
All passion spent, achievements laid to rest,
Though more is left undone, unfinished plans
That will not see the waning light of day,
Such questions linger (was it all enough?
Might I have chosen other lives and selves?)
As have no answers that resemble truth,
Mere fabrications taking wisdom's place
With lessons never learned, despite the tales
We tell ourselves of gods and just rewards
Delivered to the men who suffer most
For art, philosophy, or beauty's sake.
And yet, despite the fading light, we strive,
Still hoping for...we know not what, or why.
"The time has come to talk of many things,"
But menu items never understand
How soon they are to die, nor on whose teeth
Will it occur to them they'll meet their end,
Not overwhelmed, of course, with over-sauced,
And garish preparations, seasonal
Is best, and simple, let the flavors speak
To what they were in life, now freshly killed
Amidst the delicate and fragrant plates
Arranged to please the eye as well as taste,
For those who die should be attractively
Presented, otherwise their dish will spoil.
So gather rosebuds, do, clich s have use,
But keep their thorns from tearing tender flesh.
Your Yahweh is an ancient feeble joke,
A god of shepherds in a dying world
With strength sufficient still to brush aside
The jealousy of ignorance in gods
Or men, regardless of their deepest fears
And fear-inspired ways; we build too high
For scattered tongues to stop our progress here,
What ziggurat can see the sun beneath
The towers we inhabit now? Such gods
As yours grow pale beside our own desire
To have no other gods before ourselves
Whose heights will ever reach beyond the skies.
And though we die, and all our works despair,
We live unto ourselves, for good or ill.
The Inevitable Beginning
Mortality appears when we are least
Prepared for letting go, for sunlight's end,
For all the plans that must be laid aside
As taking time that once seemed plentiful,
But now in short supply, as minutes pass
Each seeming precious now in ways unthought
Before, when springtime's rose was first in bloom
Before the canker's growth laid bare the bud
And stripped it of its leaves, as winter's cold
Approaches, even now, and skies turn gray,
Their palette seeming darker now than once
In early days, pastels now turned to shade.
But still the wine tastes sweet, and more remains,
What though the end will come? It is not yet.
Of Heroes and Fools
Without our songs such heroes turn to dust
As fill the leaves of volumes now unread;
Their poetry was once the tree of life
For all who felt the warming sun decline
To coldest nights amidst the eyeless shades
Who cannot help but pray, unheard, for light
While scratching through the dust of Hades’ floor
For shards of reminiscence, glories past,
That might be recollected in those songs
Whose melodies once filled the ears and hearts
Of those still left above, but now grown mute
As none remember what the notes were for.
Achilles now is but a foolish boy
Who traded sunlit years for naught but death.
Kent, to Lear
The years upon my back are forty-eight,
And long ago, I lost the easy smiles of youth,
But still, I am a man, sufficient yet
In ways an ordinary man might serve:
To fight when needed, tell the bluntest truths
When asked, and when occasion may have need
Of silence, swiftly offer that as well.
And though I lack the necessary strength
To sire a brood, I would look after them
Till my last breath were beaten from my lungs
In combat single, or against the mass,
In service of the one by whom they live.
And when my final banishment draws near,
I’ll serve yet in disguise, and count it joy.
To Reach Beyond
No recognition comes to those who wait,
They also serve, perhaps, who sit or stand
In patient expectation, silently
Discounting thoughts of ever being known
For who they truly are, or as they see
Themselves, amidst the ever restless crowds
Of selves all just alike, in passion’s grip,
Or disappointment’s growing shade where light
Will never come that comes to all, or none,
For who can know, or any longer speak
Of truth or beauty in a world declined
Into commodity, where none can hear
The siren songs that once had tempted men
To reach beyond the gods and dare to live?
The Fool with His Coxcomb
If not for flaws, I’d lack distinction’s marks,
As lacking qualities in finer arts,
Those skills that lovers ply in poets' songs,
Or painters' scenes of gently rendered nymphs
Whose golden hues are focused by the light
That comes from admiration’s silent gaze,
While those who look on beauty learn to see,
And not to see, so focused on its charm.
But I have not been shaped for sportive tricks,
No admiration’s gazing meant for me,
So I must be content to play the role,
Unhandsome though it is, of he that’s left.
For I have often whispered my goodbyes,
And known the ones I loved did not love me.
Ozymandius in Miniature
We fill the world with images of self;
Some in their work, while others use their art,
Still others generation to express
The awful need for immortality
That cannot be denied, nor wished away,
Nor reasoned with, as deathly shadows fall
Between us and our every love, of life,
Another’s face, a voice expressing thoughts
We otherwise would be enraptured by,
Except for dark and crushing pains that rise
From whence we do not know, unless from fear,
That master of us all, say what we will.
But images soon fade, and disappear,
And all our works, we mighty, cry despair.
Gods Among Us
Their mirrors hold them like a lover’s gaze,
So full of passionate intensity
That other faces fade and disappear,
Else merge into the one whose love they seek
And offer in return, for no one’s heart
Is so exquisite as their own, so fine
In feeling and in sensitivity,
So much a law of love unto themselves.
Desire must be fed, and they will feed
At will on you, for what are you but food,
A momentary morsel for a god
Who sees the world as naught but provender?
Their merest whims bring death to all they touch,
And your belief in them but whets the blade.
The suddenness with which a lover’s heart,
Or oldest friends’ once ready smiles can change,
Should warn us not to put our trust in men,
Nor women neither, as a prince once said.
But absent any gods, the fairy tales
Of faithful love, solicitous concern,
And ever-watchful eyes in heaven’s realm
That shield us from disaster, loss, and pain,
What can one do but take the risks of love,
Of friendship and regard, despite the ends
That come to all that live amidst the waste
And solitary lands where passions die?
The years as moments pass, yet still we fear
The sudden end we know must come for us.
Sympathy and Sacrifice
The ones who hurt you want your sympathy;
Their pains are more acute because the blows
They must inflict on you are not by choice,
But brought by your refusal to submit
To wisest retribution for your sin,
The fault of every breath, of every thought,
Of every impulse to survive despite
The shame your life inflicts on burdened hearts
Still heavy with the necessary wounds
That love requires to train you in the way
From which you will not part, the quiet peace
That comes from giving up, and kneeling down.
Their tears are shed for you, and for your good,
And all the blood that flows is sacrifice.
I knew one once, for whom the world was gilt
Especially for her, as circumstance
Played out as if the world, and all its joys
Belonged to her, and no one’s heart was real
Except for that which pumped the ashen blood
Within her sunken, otherworldly chest,
An icy cold dispassionate hunter
Just like the Count himself, with practiced grace
And eloquent discourse of politics,
Philosophy, and all the arts of life,
Though she served Death as her most precious Lord,
And loved the mirrors into which she gazed.
But you, in all your seeming innocence,
Exceed her beauty and her toxic charm.
To love someone is still to know goodbye,
To know the leaving and the letting go;
The promises that once were made in heat
Must not become a wintry prison's bars,
The manacles that bind a soul through fear
Of freedom's cost, the risk that love might fade
And loneliness become the matin's call
By which we mark the mornings' passing hence
Into the evenings of our lives, the hours
Passing with the years, now spent in solitude.
But set love free and watch it bloom in time,
Becoming then what it was meant to be.
To love is to be willing to let go,
To want for others more than you can give.
With sudden clarity you realize
That you had been a prop in someone's show,
A stage device for his soliloquy,
Or silent witness to her moving speech,
The men and women, gods who rule this world,
For whom the rest of us are but the foils
Against which they stick fiery off indeed
In brilliance, privilege, and true beauty's form,
At least as measured in their own bright eyes,
Still gazing in the mirrors of true love
And self-regard which has no need of you
Except as furniture for empty rooms.
Such creatures recognize their own, though blind
To all the pain they cause mere mortal hearts.
Commodity is what we mean by love
Those others whose existence might fulfill
Our fervent hopes for what an ideal life
Would hold for us, if only we could find
A universe designed for our desires
Where all our dearest wishes might come true;
But none among us sees beyond our masks,
Takes inventory of another's heart
Or truly sees the ones we claim to love
As aught but useful adjuncts to our lives
Who bring to us emotion's balm to fill
The gaps in lives that fail to match our dreams.
And all too soon our fantasies destroy
The fragile possibilities of now.
Do not believe their words, deception's songs
That flatter passing sailors with the hope
Of beauty that might one day be their own,
Or understanding hearts that find a home
Or something like a home, so one such said,
In those still fool enough to lend an ear,
A much too credent ear, to pleasing lies
That only lead to pain, and broken hearts,
In legendary tales of men transformed
To swine, or captured on an isle against
Their will, amusing captives as they are,
To be cut loose upon the sea at dawn.
Their tongues deceive, and all their hollow words
Lead but to death in kingdoms of the damned.
We love illusion more than flesh and blood,
The hopeful promise others seem to bring
Of empty spaces in ourselves they'll fill,
Unspoken needs and dreams ill understood
Except as gnawing pains prescribed away
With pills, or meals, or meaningless affairs
Of hearts, or minds, or body parts entwined
With mirror images of absent selves,
Who, just as we, cannot abide the dark
And lonely pre-dawn hours without the thought
Of company, no matter how alone
Two bodies are as silent moments pass.
We see ourselves in others' lonely eyes,
And wish for sympathy we cannot give.
The Early Lessons
With boyish ears I heard the truth of life,
The judgment day that soon would come for me
And others of my kind; it was our fault,
The pain that wracked the world, we owed a debt
To all the victims of our living crimes,
The breaths we drew, the tempos of our hearts,
The passions we could not control, mere men,
Whose masculinity rent all the world
As knife blades through the cloth of innocence,
No matter how we tried to serve the good,
We were the monsters of her darkest dreams
Whose deaths would come too late for her relief.
Those lessons haunt me still, though I would prove
Her wrong, and drive her hatred back to hell.
Canto XIII: In
Solitude, We Cry
In solitude, we cry though no one hears,
Perhaps take comfort in the swelling pains,
The ceaseless flow of urgent memories
Still fresh, though details have grown dim with time.
Too careless of our own emotions' cost,
We languish in our debtor's prison cells
Without the thought of rescue or release,
Strict wardens to ourselves with no parole
In sight; no rehabilitation serves
To render us acceptable to gods
Or men, our sins forgiven, and our lives
Refashioned after quiet, eyeless shades.
Still, who would want good names among the dead
Whose Oleander leaves make mortal tea?
Valentinus Such hollowness reverberates inside The solid-seeming selves we wear for show, That all our bravest
words—of liberty, Of truth, become so many lowing sounds,
The discourse of the herds where we belong, Whose codes we know and willingly obey Despite their lack of substance, merely laws Created from the fabric of our fears,
Designed to compensate for reason’s loss, If reason ever was but fantasy, A myth of golden age for our decline Unto the times of sweat, and soil, and shit.
And yet the fantasy suggests a spark That might yet be redeemed inside our flesh.
You've put it off, the end of days, as long
As any man armed with wit, denial,
And will to be deceived might yet have done
Despite the odds you've beaten until now.
But Death will not be long denied its prize,
And all the subtle games you've learned to play
Will fail you in the moment most in need
Of one more trick, or one more flashy smile,
Or one last lucky dodge, where no one sees
The lie at work, but swallows down your words
As patients take placebo pills prescribed
By doctors given license to destroy.
But here there is no shuffling, no more deals,
Negotiations, pleas, or answered prayers.
Ears to Hear,
Eyes to See
From sun to sun, the quiet whispers sound
Much as they once did, when the world was young,
But light grows short, and imperceptibly
Slips into darkness, though we fail to see,
So focused as we are on daily tasks,
The all-important business of such lives
As these, our latter days can still afford,
The mindless repetition of routine,
The motions of a mass-production world
Where whispers cannot still be heard, though voiced
As always by the few who hear the notes,
The music that an aging world still plays.
So much of beauty still survives us here,
Despite our will to see through narrowed eyes.
Arbeit Macht Frei
Our days are marked
by blind men's monuments,
The blind who will not see beyond the now,
The pressing heat of tasks that must be done,
Though soon forgotten in the rush of work
That fills our waning moments in the sun
Till all our years are spent in servicing
A hunger that is never satisfied,
The restless need for motion to no end
Except for death, which is not whispered here
Inside our sacred halls of sacrifice,
The temples where we give our lives to gods
Whose luxury is shown to us as bliss.
But bliss is always just beyond our reach,
Though we work harder as the sun grows cold.
Requiem for the
You do not love life now, despite your dreams
Of truth, idyllic, heightened, and unreal;
I still believe you did, though time has passed,
Transforming old beliefs from classic tales
To harsh realities of dreams deferred,
Illusions spent sustaining youthful hopes
For understanding hearts that might accept
Us as we are, or were, in spite of years
That since have robbed us of our beauty's glow,
With naught remaining but the lines of age,
The lines of letters written in the heat
Of passions none can any longer feel.
You tell me every day to let you die,
Each word a wound from which I will not heal.
Protest to the
We dream of immortality at night,
Denying death with business of the days
That pass alike, in unremarkable,
Sequential, indistinguishable false
Exteriors, distracting motions whence
Come thoughtless, painless lives spent fitting in,
Adopting attitudes that others wear
Still searching for approval from the dead.
But such approval will not come--no life
But must be dashed against the stones of truth
Unrecognized though it might be through fear
Of learning all of our beliefs are lies.
For no one cares for us, if we be not
The only gods whose will must be obeyed.
End of Days
strands of moonlight filter down,
Illuminating years now near an end,
Though unbeknownst to those whose time is short,
Whose eyes now see as dimly as if night
Reclaimed the day and all that loved the sun,
While ears no longer hear the siren songs
That once emboldened youth to break the bonds
Too tightly tied, and climb down from the masts
On which they long ago were cruelly lashed
By elders who once heard the songs themselves,
Who knew what must await those opened ears
And yet unbroken hearts if once set free.
But days gone by will not restore the notes
That echoed here when all the world was young.
The empty space behind the solid world
Is filled by dreams we do not understand.
We wish for something more, we know not what,
Than quiet acquiescence to a world
Where lesser gods watch over weaker men,
And storms, of passion or of thunder, loom
Above the wintry heaths on which we live
While apprehension lies beyond our reach
Just more than will our senses witness to,
Or words, inadequate, can yet describe.
But nothing comes from nothing, so we speak
Again, lest marring fortunes stop our mouths
Through silent tongues that will not play the games
That comforted our ancestors in faith.
Pretense will wear itself like aging masks
Worn out and broken in disguising rage
As if it were well-favored nature's face,
Though all the while it bears an ancient grudge.
And who the fuck are you to think you see
Behind the veils illusion's gods have drawn,
Denying sight to those already blind
Maintaining truths that serve as skillful lies;
As if your insights mattered here beneath
The sun, inside whose warmth we all must die
As cold as any stone, while hoping yet
To be forgiven for the masks we wore.
But masks are all we have, unless pretense
Might yet be seen as giving truth new voice.
Days come, years go, and still I cannot find
The meanings that once passed imagining,
The certainties and truths of lives restored,
Offenders soon cut off in strict reward
As payment for their swelling arrogance,
The thorny blossoms of their perfumed sins
Now plucked to nakedness, both stem and stalk
While those whom they oppressed grow tall and thrive.
But no such matter fills our world and time,
Nor any of our yesterdays recalled
Or recreated out of mythic cloth
Did once reward the meek with aught but death.
So gather rosebuds, live while time will serve,
But do not dream of heavenly rewards.
in the Mirror
This superficial kingdom of the damned
In which you live, and move, and have your being,
Reflects, as well as any Hades might,
The space behind your eyes where nothing dwells
But dwells there from eternity in shade
Where no light burns but darkness visible,
As once the poet wrote of devils' view
Who see but on the surfaces of things.
But surfaces are all you ever had,
And my mistake was thinking you were more;
You had not changed to suit this place and time,
This mirrored hall had always been your home.
And as you grow more brittle with the years,
Those mirrors will grow harsh in telling truth.
All and Nothing I did not give enough, though all I had; I should have given more, but thought that love Might yet suffice, in hopes that foolish all Might ease the pain of none, not knowing then
How selfish I had been; the widow’s mite Was all, but how can all bring comfort’s balm When all does nothing but recall the lack Of that which one most truly needs, someone
To bear the weight hope cannot carry now, To pay the price that weight demands of us In gold, though backed by understanding’s coin, The latter weak in absence of the first.
Bills are not paid with love, whose failure mocks The poverty of those whose wealth is tears.
Esau’s Sons We whisper untold secrets to ourselves,
Though years ago the bother to pretend
Became too burdensome to bear, as if
To listen to the voice that calls us back,
Reminds us who and
what we are, or were,
Is worth not even slight attention spans
Or grudging nods of half-respect: not now,
When all the kingdoms of the world reside
Just there beyond
the reach of fingertips
And dance before the wreckage of our eyes,
The yellowed rheum now overtaking sight,
The final human sense now worn away.
We traded birthright
for a bowl of stew,
And now, too late, we know a father’s curse.
Reach out and taste, the world will little note
And no prevention will eclipse the joys
Of disobedience and knowledge gained,
Heroic acts if rightly understood.
If not to taste, then why attractive made?
Why framed to make you false to false ideas,
To custom’s error and forbidding rules?
What choice can be without transgression’s aid?
Consume first with your eyes, regard it well,
That all too precious object you would have;
Now reach, for there can be no end without
The journey that precedes, and here begins.
No death ensues—you are but new alive,
Your eyes now opened both to truth and lies.
The notes still come with ease, as do the words
In which I live and move amidst the grace
Their eloquent exteriors bestow,
Their sounds still as they were in younger days
When confidence had
not yet met its match
In life, and talent mattered more than wealth,
While love was but a whisper in the dark
An expectation not beheld in dreams
Whose forms remained
unseen by childish eyes
Unfocused yet on all the world’s pursuits,
Maturity, career, and dusty death
That comes for all—too soon for those who live.
And yet the notes
remain, the words restore,
Though years have passed, their magic still remains.
No One Sees a Wall
What pain the wall may feel is no concern;
It held up pictures of the life within
And lives without, the smiling faces framed
In moments long forgot by those portrayed
Behind the dusty
glass, affixed with nails.
Its holes have never bled with plaster drops,
Not even when the hammer blows came swift
And wounds as wide as windows tore the flesh
Or what stood in for
Despite the tearing as the dust rained down
To settle white as ash on burning floors,
At last collapsing into empty space.
Its passing went
unmarked, for no one sees
A wall, nor notices its absent place.
Upon the Sea
Recast your nets upon the sea in search
Of love, or else what beauty may be found
In these, our latter days of light’s decline;
What more may yet be felt of pain and joy,
As minutes slip away, becoming years
Gone by without sufficient scars to show,
Such signs by which we know ourselves alive
Amidst the walking shades who clamor here
For blood to fill their dusty veins, bring sight
To darkened eyes that see but shadows’ forms,
And sense of touch restore to withered skin
That once was thrilled by rawest passion’s heat.
So cast, and cast again, and let the waves
Remind you of the lives you have not lost.
The prison bars, the mind-forged manacles,
The hopeless nights spent in despair of truth
Or love, or life reclaimed from old mistakes
That cannot be repaired, though swept away
With all the dust of
yesterday, in heaps
That drift inside the wind, now carrying
The grains and flecks of times recalled to mind
Or long forgot, and blown into the streets
Where all our
aspirations come to rest
Amidst unfinished cigarettes, once lit,
Now snuffed beside the purple wrapping foils
Of twice-used condoms with the tears that bind.
There cannot be but
one, though few will see,
Nor feel the key already in their hands.
The Courtly Lover
My heart still stops each time I see your face,
I dream of you, of what it would be like
To hold you, feel your skin, and taste your lips,
Then gaze into your eyes, and hear your voice
In cries and whispers through the heat of night,
To watch you paint the city lights and see
The world at twilight through your artist’s eye.
I love the strength and courage of your soul,
The passion in your voice each time you speak
Of art, and all the beauty you portray
Each time you move, or smile, or lean your head
So waves of lightest silken hair reframe
Your perfect face, and stop my heart again.
I’ll never speak of this distress aloud,
So you’ll not know, unless you catch my eye
At just the right unguarded time and place
A moment’s slip, a much too rapid breath
Whose rise and fall may give my secret voice,
And make me look the part of one who loves,
Though I would always keep this secret close
And never see your face—despite the joy
It brings—before admitting to a love
I have no right to feel for such as you.
And yet, though I’ve no ground on which to stand,
No right to love you as I do, this fact
Remains—my heart forgets its role, keeps still
Where it should beat, each time I see your face
The dreams of what we would and would not be
Come swiftly as our opportunities,
The prizes life once offered us in youth
And offers still, in different forms, in age—
If we have wisdom
yet to recognize
That life is not a tightly-written score
But loosely-charted chords and melodies
With room for new improvisation, notes
As yet unplayed, or
played sometime before
Although in fresher combinations now—
So often we cannot but fail to see
How dreams prevent our joys, and keep us bound.
For what we would is
rarely what we are,
Though wisest sorrow frees us to ourselves.
At Journey's End Comes Dawn
Yet optimism breathes, despite the dark,
And soon the sun will have its hour of dawn
When life begins again, and love renews
It simple melody, through harmonies
Complex and rhythms like the beats of life
And heart, with all our hopes for joy renewed.
Then I will look into your eyes again,
Where we will see as we are seen, and know
As we are known, where truth resides as well
As love, and recognition comes with looks
Across a crowded room, in place of words
Which go unheard and are not needed there.
As light returns,
and night withdraws its chill,
There will be two, though one behind their eyes.
Odysseus at the Mast
The siren song still calls my name at will,
As if it knows me for its dearest own,
My taste for darkness and its hidden truth
That all are as myself, imprisoned here
Within the cages of
our own design,
Though mercy gifts the blind who will not see
The bars inside which all their lives are passed,
While mocking those who know themselves in chains.
For though I may be
lashed unto the mast
And safe, for now, from notes that lead to death
In all its graceful melody unsung
For those who do not hear, I will return.
And having heard
that wondrous song once more,
I will at last be faced with passion’s cost.
Small Fathers to Smaller Sons
With time and unforeseen occurrences
Comes something like the wisdom we once thought
Resided in the holy books we read,
Pretend to read, or merely put aside
As relics of a lost and dim-lit world
Where gods bestowed approval, giving land
To landless shepherds, who once turned aside,
Were cast in darkness to a foreign king
Who made them slaves, before they learned to free
Themselves, as every man must do in time,
Unless the myths of childhood still remain
The truths through which we frame all other lies.
They did the best they could, though not enough,
As burdened by their ancient myths as we.
The Father of the Lie
Why are you here?
The box has gotten smaller recently. At the same time, the lies have become
unwieldy, too big to be sustained. But lies have always been the price of
admission. Truth sets no one free—that’s a fantasy concocted by the Pilates of
the world, the Caesars, the LBJs for whom the pater familias or the Gulf
of Tonkin were the lies that served as their own governing currency, the
enabling myths of their lives and times, the boxes that closed in on them when
time no longer forgave them for their charms. Lies are precious, while truth is
cheap. Anyone can tell the truth—who tells it tells trash, it has been slave to
many, and has enriched none. But the well-told lie is a pearl of great price,
and only the basest man would throw it away for so common a thing as truth.
After all, what is truth? Not even the arrogant Galilean could answer that
simplest of all questions.
The box—at first, I thought I was imagining it. A box has fixed dimensions,
length, width, height, a certain immutable quantity of cubic inches or
centimeters, space in which to live and move and have one’s being. But I am not
imagining anything. The sides are closer together than they once were. And the
top has fallen lower, or the bottom has raised itself up, as if to express a
desire to be one with its other half, long since torn away by an angry Olympian
who would reign forever in solitary supremacy. I have less space now than I once
did. It is harder to move, and often I no longer even try. I have almost come to
the point where I am willing to settle for truth and the death that inevitably
follows. There, at least, I shall be free. There, the box, though cramped as a
nutshell, would make me a king of infinite space, were it not for dreams that
come—not for me, but for those who insist on remembering me, mixing their own
lies and truths together in noxious concoctions of delusion and self-pity,
keeping me at Tantalus’ divide between food he can never eat, and water he can
The lies used to keep the box’s walls at bay, even expand them. For years, I
wasn’t sure whether there were walls here or not. The darkness stretched out to
infinity, and all of it was mine. It heard me, felt me, knew me, that
darkness…and I knew and loved it in return. We knew, the darkness and I, that
there was no God, no Law, no Light that ruled over all. Immortality was ours.
Immortality and the possession of that most basic of all secrets—the knowledge
that there were no consequences that could not be avoided, no pains that could
not be deflected, dulled, or diminished, no deaths that could not be cheated.
The lies had that power and more, more than I could ever, did ever, learn. But
somewhere along the way they stopped working. Nothing immediately noticeable,
nothing that I could trace right away. It was more as if the world had developed
a tolerance for the lies, so that they had to be bigger, in stronger doses,
wilder, more imaginative, and yet even more strictly plausible all at the same
time. And for a while, I managed to keep up with the ever-increasing speed of
the conveyor belt that kept the demands for lies coming, day after day, hour
after hour, minute after minute. For a while. But then, slowly at first, the
details started to get past me. A lie that made no sense, or failed to account
for all of the relevant facts. A lie that had no effect, or diminished effect. A
lie that sounded like truth in all of its implausibility and feeble idiocy. Now
it has reached the point where every lie I tell sounds like truth, the simple
truths of the unlettered, unwashed, and unscripted masses for whom I established
the regime of lies in the first place. I have lost my one talent, without even
burying it in the ground to return to my master on his demand. My lies are gone,
replaced with air in the shape of mere truth. And the steadily advancing walls
do not respond to truth.
Why not let the lies go? What’s wrong with truth? Isn’t it easier to tell the
truth, and let the chips fall where they may?
Hmm…clich s, like truth, are for the simple-minded who do not see, or for the
perverse who will not see the difference between what we desire and what is. You
believe in a God that is all-powerful, all-good, and all-knowing? You tell me
more about yourself than about the universe. But the fact that there are
billions of you out there who believe—with minor, and uninteresting
variations—the same thing? That tells me everything about the world. You see,
for you and your kind, “truth” is just the mirror of all that you have been
taught to believe. Is it verifiable? No. Is it demonstrable? No. But that isn’t
the point of any of it, is it? It keeps you satisfied with the boxes you live
in. Lies, now lies deny the mirror, shatter its glass, laugh in the face of your
certainties and beliefs. Lies, by their very nature, claim no knowledge, no
certainty, no truth. Lies create, rather than merely replicate. Lies make each
teller the creator of his or her own box, rather than the mere inheritor of a
box handed down from small fathers to even smaller sons.
Then why do yours seem to be failing you now? Why do your lies, as you put
it, “sound like truth”?
I’ve started to believe them. Or stopped disbelieving in them. I need an
adversary, someone against whom to define myself. Someone whose “truth” is worth
undermining, not like the laughable and pathetic tales that fill the heads of
the children who run the world today. A master narrative, a grand design, a
structure with an unapologetic center. A myth that founds a world. That
is something I could get my teeth into. That is something I could find
the energy to lie about again. But he disappeared, my old friend, so long ago
now that I have only faint memories of him anymore. He was one you could fight
with, a competitor, a warrior who—though a trifle literal-minded—would not quit,
and was endlessly inventive in his attempts to thwart me. I miss him. Without
him, I have become the only voice, the mainstream voice, and I have gone soft,
lost the edge that being the anti, the opposition, the trickster gave me. There
was freedom in the lies, but now the walls close in, and I have nothing to
oppose, no one to resist. I need him. I would restore him, if I could…but that
was always a myth as well, one of his inventive “truths” designed to keep me at
bay, and keep the game between us interesting.
Such Dreams Do Come
And in that sleep of
life, such dreams do come--
Though unexpectedly, and not without
The shock of reawakening desire
For recognition of another mind,
Though separated by the vale of years,
The categories predetermined lives
Are dominated by as by the wills
Of gods, or such ideas as custom taught
In disregard of truth--that bring to life
Delightful fantasies of springtime’s warmth,
The resurrected sun whose light restores
Abandoned hopes of sympathy and love.
And now, though disappointment waits close by,
I entertain those dreams in waking light.
Against the Epic Scale
Fragility is all we know of life
Without the hardness of Achilles’ shield,
Or weapons tempered by the gods themselves
Who use us and our passions for their sport,
Still watch us as we struggle, bleed and die
In causes not our own, for vanities
Beyond the narcissism or self-love
Of those whose mirrors are their dear companions
Reflecting rank uncertainty, relieved
By fair illusions of their own importance.
No, our deaths come from whims malevolence
Could not conceive without divine intent.
Our loves, our lives, our private pains and joys,
Reducible to single notes unsung.
After Many a Winter Dies the Rose
For many winters I have waited here
For warmth, the fingertips of springtime sun,
Whose healing touch would wipe away the years
That I have spent suspended by the threads
Of expectation, waiting for a life
And love whose time has always been ahead,
Or right around the corner, never now,
As change of seasons take their toll without,
Leave marks that cannot be erased or hid
Behind the smiles of confidence and hope
That you would one day see beyond my faults,
Forgive me for the ways I’ve failed to bloom.
But other flowers soon will blossom here,
While my bud closes in the fading light.
The Ghost’s Farewell to Hamlet
I was a man, take me for all in all,
You shall not look upon my like again.
For I displayed an almost infinite
Regard for your emotions and your wounds,
The daily crises of your life and times,
Your aches, your pains, your unremitting wish
To die, and through that death escape the shocks
That flesh is heir to, though without regard
To all the pain you caused each time you cried
Of your disdain for life and those who loved
Imperfectly, unable to relieve
The agonies you spoke with every breath.
Yet I am but a ghost whose love can not
But emphasize how little I am seen.
All Such Use
I am but one that spends the currency
Of days as if their bills will not come due,
Although I know the lights will fade, grow dim,
And melt into the darkness, unprepared
For night and all the questions asked in fear
By those for whom the here and now is all,
Without the gods of youth, the fairy tales
Of wizened elves who monitored your hours,
Who knew the secrets of your childish heart,
So brought rewards or punishment in kind
To mold you into shapes whereof good use
Might yet be made by those who gave you life.
But all such use is fraud without the gods
Whose wills we learned to substitute for thought.
Wordless Ghost (reprise)
I see you in the numbers that record
The times and manners of your visits where
My words still speak, though I am silent now,
And conversation’s tricks are played no more
Between true minds that once could not restrain
Ideas and all the syllables in which
They lived and moved and had their being then.
But now, no more of meet and happy talk,
For we have disappeared to separate realms
To wander through the shades and suns alone,
Or in the company of those we know
Who cannot render knowing back in turn.
But words still speak, though now without a voice,
In silent urgency revealing all.
Of Exceeding Honesty
Too clever half again for mere deceit,
For common workday lies that leave no mark
Or blot behind beyond a moment’s pain
That fades to little more than memories
Of vague unpleasantness, uncomfortable
To be recalled, but easily forgot
With time, and application of the skills
Denial rests upon to bring us rest.
No, mine are lies requiring subtlety
And grace, the patient working out of plans
Long years in bringing forth into a world
Where truth is nothing but commodity.
And yet, I play a necessary role,
The driver of a plot that must be served.
The rain falls heavily despite the sun
Whose weakest rays still shine to no effect
Where even deepest darkness has degrees
And shades of gray seem light unbearable
To eyes by shadows taught, accustomed now,
Though once the gloom obscured, to sights unseen,
Enhanced by ears long used to silences,
The words unspoken that communicate
With eloquence the lack and emptiness
Of all our brave pretences, well-worn masks
That long since have outlived their purposes,
Remembrances retained to little use.
When rainstorms clear, that emptiness remains,
Now clearly visible in morning’s light.
Aeneas, of Dido
The possibilities still haunt my dreams,
What might have been, had only time prevailed
On both of us to take the risks required
To live without resort to fear of loss,
Such loss as we then brought upon ourselves
By choosing not to choose, but run away,
Each to the safest corner we could find,
And pose as better off for having run.
Perhaps I am alone in these regrets,
Where lives unlived and pathways unexplored
Begin to seem like repetitious deaths,
But I suspect that mine are not unique.
And though I think of her too often now,
I wonder if she thinks of me at all.
Of One I Once Knew
I wonder sometimes what’s become of her,
Whose voice is now a fading memory;
Though I would still recall what notes I could
Despite the days and times that interfere.
For I would call her back, revive those eyes
That once regarded my approach with joy,
Relive the moments spent in springtime’s sun
When all seemed well, before the sudden change
I still cannot explain, the silent gaze
Now dark where once illumination filled
Each space that she inhabited, alone
Or companied by those who loved her well.
I know she thinks of this, and wonders too
What’s still to come, despite the past’s demise.
The Souls of All My Tribe
I cannot be forgiven for the sins
Whose forms have shaped my life and given me
What little I have had of face or name;
Nor would I ask, determined to the last
To be without the need for sorrow’s mask,
Contrition’s tears, the old hypocrisies
Of all whose long pretense has come undone,
Revealed for what they are, still-empty shells
Disguised by eloquence and smooth discourse
In search of selves that all their skills have failed
To compass with the measured grace of truth
As told by practiced liars for their sport.
It matters not—those few who see will be
As tears inside the rain on stormy seas.
Clarity comes at unexpected times,
In realizing you are not surprised
By anger, but have grown accustomed now
To failing others even as yourself,
To having patience be its own reward
(A foolish virtue even at its best),
To knowing yours is not the place to ask
Regardless of the answers you might give
When asked in turn; such knowledge offers peace,
Releases you from expectation's grasp,
While quieting desire and all the pain
That lack inflicts on those who would be filled.
And yet, renunciation has its price,
One I was not prepared to pay till now.
I've lived enough to know that sonneteers
Are wrong about the loves they seek to praise,
Though Shakespeare knew her eyes unlike the sun,
His lessers--all of us--mistake the song
For that which words would capture, if they could:
The urge to genuflect before the light
Which none can see unless their eyes are burned
With staring all their lives at beauty's face.
Her eyes are dark, not like the poets say;
Her hair hangs soft, in darksome ringlets down
Beyond the shoulders bare of ornament,
Save for the skin, which is not dawn, but dusk.
And none can see this beauty, but the few
Who know her secrets well, and live in truth.
This western Pennsylvania mining town
Had recently replaced its crossing guard
With one red light, which never seemed to switch
To green, as if to say, abandon hope
To all who entered there, as punishment
For sins committed in another life,
One lived exclusively in dreams, of course,
For no one thought beyond the bounds prescribed
By alcohol and services at church
Where churlish priests refused expanded rites
To all Ophelias who escaped in death
Without permission from a jealous God.
I knew one once, who managed to break free,
But at such cost as each must pay alone.
At Word's End
None love these words you cannot seem to stop;
Their form is trite, their metronomic drone
Too like an oiled machine to qualify
As art, or human voice, or images
That stand out from the mediocrity
Of cold gray days spent wishing for a sun
Whose last rays touched your face before the years
Of disappointments gracefully received
Taught lessons hard you cannot now unlearn,
How beauty wilts before the mocking crowds
Of blind and deaf and dumb for whom your death
Is but momentary entertainment.
And yet, the memory of that sun, its warmth,
Makes artless words unnecessary now.
I fell in love with darkness as a boy,
Now grown to be a man, or something like
A man, the darkness I once learned to love
Transforms the way I see this aging world,
Though reckoning moves closer as each night
Envelops and embraces me, its kin,
The near resemblance obvious to all,
Except the blind who take me for a sage,
The deaf who have no ears to hear, but close
Themselves in windowless and white-washed rooms
Where doctrine easily may be sustained,
And all the dumb who lack the will to speak.
Of worlds still possible, this is the best,
For darkness is its element, and mine.
Odysseus to Telemachus
Too soon the dark swirls down around our eyes,
Too soon to spend what little time we have
On tears, recriminations and regrets,
While all our days beneath the sun grow short.
Though I will never be the man I dreamed,
What I am, I am, so one more journey,
One more adventure on the wine-dark sea,
One more defiance of the will of Zeus
Whose deathless thoughts can never understand
The passions of a life as yet unspent,
The joys of conquest, and the heart’s despair
At ever being truly one with love.
But even our imperfect loves transcend
The meaningless perfection of the gods.
Whispers, Then and Now
The whispers of the all-night girls sound sweet
When first we hear them in the flush of youth,
But even sirens' songs grow faint with time
As years go by and disappointments bring
A kind of deafness to the notes of joy
That once we thrilled to hear from lips that sung
Of beauty's promise and the swift rewards
Of acquiescence to the sensual
And all the heightened pleasures flesh can bring
In absence of the doubts of wisdom, age,
And simple hesitation at the door
Of all the worlds delighted life contains.
But even now the whispers' sound is sweet,
When silence falls and memory serves once more.
To disappear and leave no trace behind
Necessitates that practical concerns
Must be addressed, lest overlooked details
Leave clues to who and what you were in life
Behind the masks you always wore to hide
The face you had not seen yourself in years;
So practiced was the character you played
That none but other actors might have seen
The artifice you did much to conceal.
But now the masks will be retired at last,
So personal effects must be erased,
All letters, pictures, even notes in books,
Such marks as you have left upon the world.
When everything has been accounted for,
There is but one detail remaining--you.
What you see is not—what you do not see
Is, or was, before the years took their toll,
The purest essence born of will to hide
Behind, within, in plainest sight for those
With eyes to see, so no risk there at all
Of ever being seen, as only one
Side ever shows, all surfaces the same
From every angle, nothing left in view
That might expose the truth—though, what is truth?
None but what the blind can see in darkness
Or what the deaf might hear in silences,
The gaps between the words that none dare speak.
No point of view can pierce behind the veils
Where surface has no substance but itself.
The Myth of Sysiphus The struggle itself toward the heights is enough...
I put my shoulder to the stone and push
With every ounce of energy I have;
Some days, it moves an inch or so before
It sticks, and tries to roll back over me.
I catch it there, suspended, pushing back
On me, as though it knew how little strength
I’ve ever had, though all that strength is spent
To move it up the hill again by slow
And torturous degrees, each inch of ground
A victory well-won, a moment’s rest
Well-earned before the labor starts again
To reach the top, then watch the stone roll down.
This is my lot, the purpose of my days,
So I descend, and push the stone once more.
Some suicides are never recorded,
Some lives still go unnoticed, even now
With constant updates, friends in networked lists,
And likes or dislikes broadcast to the world.
When darkness falls, and bottles multiply,
The neighbor’s hollow voice lifts up in song
To Jesus as her Lord, though out of tune
With all the screaming she will do that night.
Does faith sustain her when the beatings come?
Does Jesus smile to see her bloodied eyes,
To hear the constant shouts of “cunt” and “whore,”
The cries of pain, the sudden silences?
Her God is Love, and will forgive all sins,
Except the one she longs for every night.
Her honeysuckle words, like sweet perfume
Once masked the landfill stench of natural gas
Whose rottenness soon overwhelmed the sense,
Though smiles belied the choking bile within.
Her lies became my truth, as all I knew
Came from her lips, like searing coals applied
Directly to my ears within, without
Still leaving scars that show in morning light
In rough and puckered skin too seared to heal,
Resume its proper shape, as if her heat
Had not yet burned or wasted all it touched,
As if the past could be revised for style.
Behind her eyes the madness lay in wait,
In search of prey it always found at home.
Motions and Pretense
It's just shit, you know,
All of this prattle posing as verse.
Take an old form--the sonnet--and wrench it
Out of rhyme, or even any syntactical sense
And pawn it off as if it were profound,
But it's all too obvious what it is
And what it is not.
Christ, the fifth line in the "stanza" above
Is perfect--if banal--iambic pentameter,
Shit carved into form with the aid
Of too much education and too too little talent.
Like the boy who used to pretend to throw fastballs
Against the garage door back home,
The steady thud, thud, thud of the tennis ball
Leaving dust circles on the dirty painted door...
The motions and pretense do not make
The thing pretended real, and tennis balls
Will never be major league pitches,
Just as a ceaseless flow of iambs
Will never make poetry, no matter how much dust
They leave behind.
Sermon on the Mount, Revised Edition
When lies abound in service of those truths
We claim to live in constant searching for,
What is else not to be shown as hypocrites
But to reward ourselves in kind with pain,
Such pains as we inflict on those poor fools
Who cannot—will not—see beyond themselves,
And thus behind the veils which shade their eyes
From harshest lights which might expose the truth?
Such seekers wish to be deceived, still beg
For lies that flatter like their mirrors do
Or used to do, before the years grew harsh
Extracting more in price than could be paid.
Their God is Love, and Father of the Lie,
As every Saint learns with regret in Hell.
Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis
The Cynic: People who are lied to deserve it. Those fools want
to be lied to, want to believe the fairy tales the preacher tells them,
the self-serving myths their parents taught them, the outright lies they
themselves tell their own children.
The Optimist: Nonsense. Are all people merely liars and fools
then? Are there no exceptions?
The Realist: There are exceptions, yes, and they are what makes life a
tragedy, rather than a comedy.
I cannot let it go, this enmity
That gnaws me even as I chew the brains
Of my most bitter rival—even here
My hatred for that fool consumes my heart,
His every waking moment an affront
To time, decorum, and to decency.
What though such punishment is meted out
(By gods who never suffer fools themselves)
As might deter a man of quiet tastes,
One dedicated to the path of peace
And moderation, choosing to remain
In silence, rather than to shout with rage?
May all such gods end up with us in hell;
Where we will reign secure in spite of pain.
The past reclaims us
In the undertow of seas
Whose tides will not ebb
Through life’s illusion
Whose dark veils are never rent
Where light illumines
Yet all will be well
Though time is not unceasing
Soon enough it wanes
While stars grow dimmer
Their lights still shine as clearly
As at their first dawn
The End of Faith
With nothing left to say, the time has come,
A time I once believed was fantasy
Except for those who did not see the truth
That only those who lived beneath the wings
Of God were shown, while others left outside
Saw only darkness and the end of lives
That had no cosmic narrative to give
Them meaning in the face of emptiness
And fear, where death looms inescapably
Around each corner, coming closer still
With every passing moment as the sun
Grows darker by degrees, and eyes grow dim.
I thought myself exempt, when I believed;
But now I know that I was but a fool.
A Fool to have Believed
I know I was a fool to have believed
In all the gods of youth, in promises
Of life spent in eternal bliss today
At cost of all tomorrows, and those thoughts
That wander through the airless void in search
Of answers, finding only questions there
Inside the hearts of honest men who seek
What can’t be found without a whispered voice.
But I was still a fool to have believed
In words whose sweetest sounds were merely lies,
Though spoken by such beauty as might blind
One greater than myself in wisdom’s lore.
I let myself be fooled—who should have known
The folly of belief in gods or men.
My accidental birth remains a blot
Upon a world that cannot be made clean
But by my absence from its daily stage,
Where actors strut and fret, but not for hours,
Attention spans now shortened to reflect
A dimmer light than shone before in times
When men could see, when reason held its sway
O’er passionate engagement with the lies
That form the fabric of such daily lives
As peasants still must live, despite the new
Technologies that weave illusion’s web
And flatter us by praising ignorance.
I think, therefore I am—so said the fool,
Who had not learned that thought was obsolete.
A rumor will suffice in place of truth
For all inclined to judge of things remote
From those events they represent with tales
Invented by themselves, in twos or threes,
Collaborating on the narrative
That will outstrip the simple truth—a man
Grown ill, who turned in on himself to heal,
And sought the silence of his home and bed,
Without the press of mail and ringing phones.
But privacy brought much too high a cost:
A broken door, a flashing badge, a gun,
“For his own good” of course, so he was told,
Amidst the wreckage of his former home.
I cannot stay here now—this place I love,
For naught remains but this essential truth:
To take a break, for hours or even days
From carrying the weight of others’ hearts
And fears, desires, aspirations, needs,
To drop the weight I’ve carried all my life—
If only for a momentary breath,
Intending still to pick it up again—
That moment’s space, that breath, will cost me all,
And has, and has, and has, and will again.
To those of you whose love has brought me here
—A house without a door, a life now torn—
Whose one concern was for my health, of course,
Know this: you will not hear my voice again,
Nor see my face, for I am dead to you
(As someone eager to believe the worst
Of me so charmingly informed me once),
And I will disappear as morning dew
Which does not come again with days now gone.
For what you took from me took all my life
To build, and cannot be restored with tools,
By handymen who fix a bashed-in door:
A sense that life might one day be my own,
If only now as I approach the dark.
And yet, that sense was built on lies, not truth,
So I should thank you all for lessons learned
Since now I know exactly what I am,
And who, and where, and what I now must do.
Car tu es poussi re,
Et tu retourneras dans la poussi re...
And the Two Shall Be One
You speak in tones too soft not to be heard;
I feel your tongue caress each syllable,
Still teasing meaning from the space between
The sounds, now straining for release in time
Where rhythmic motion soon embodies sense,
And talk turns into touch as eyes hold fast,
Each moment now a lifetime spent in joy,
Eternity unfolding there between
The secrets kept and whispered truths revealed,
As love discovers love was always there
Unrecognized, or swept away in haste
By lovers busy with a world of loss.
But now we see as we are seen in turn,
And would not soon go back to being blind.
We discover the truth in betrayals
Of others at first, but next of ourselves,
We cheat, and marvel at getting away
Again from the webs of our own deceit,
Use words like “love” as sound effects that please
Admiring ourselves in others’ faces
Gazing in their eyes to see reflected
The one face love returns us to each time
We venture out of doors in search of life
Inside a world of possibilities
Each new love adjunct to our own desires
Each like the last, a mirror made of flesh.
I know you, who you are, or what perhaps;
A liar skilled, who passes for a man,
A woman fair, who lives without a heart
To pump the blood that does not flow except
In dust, from which you came, to which you’ll go,
But not quite soon enough to save the souls
Of those whose lives you’ll touch, pretending love
While feeding that disdain that runs too deep
For most to see, the hatred you conceal
But not so well that others of your kind
Are fooled or taken in by surface charms
As I can see the tricks you use to pass
Among your prey unnoticed every night
Still staring in reflective surfaces
For glimpses of your one true love, the one
Who sees your shadow as you see yourself.
I am not what I am, though I am none,
And should not be, although I seem to be;
If flesh, if hands, if eyes may yet convince
The world that I exist, then I am real
Enough to pass among the living here,
Go undetected by the blind and deaf
Who populate a world of lights and sounds
They neither see nor hear, oblivious
To all sensation; though they speak of love,
And passion’s taste, or reason’s exercise,
These are but syllables, the sounds of sheep
Beside themselves with glee at being shorn.
And when the dark swirls down around their eyes,
They bleat of bliss and all they have in store.
Within a week, they end up on a plate;
So much, it seems, for Heavenly rewards.
Gift of Absence
Then comes the moment when we realize
The differences in those we thought we knew,
Illusions of our own creation, thoughts
Which pleased, as liars do, by telling us
ourselves what we most wished to hear.
But such as are now absent from our lives
—yes, absence is a gift when seen aright—
Restore to us, by being gone, the truth
and what we are, despite our will
To be deceived by flattery and lies,
Those shining packages of purest air
That substance lack, though dressed in beauty’s robes.
time, such liars find themselves alone,
And lose themselves in mirrors where they gaze.
The accidental son who never pleased,
The daughters she would surely kill in time,
If time had lent her hours and days beyond
The years when cancer spread inside her skin,
now remember her each time they meet,
Survivors marked indelibly by pain
With blackened scars commemorating lives
Spent waiting for release that never came
her death, if even then, since years
Have now gone by, and she remains alive,
A voice I cannot shake, despite the grave:
“Remember me,” as though I could forget.
voice demands my life, would have my blood,
Reanimate itself behind my eyes.
Pedagogue’s Lament I’m trying to reach them, reach
something inside of them, but often I feel as if I am reaching into the
thinnest air, strutting and fretting my hour on the classroom stage,
making the merest and purest fool of myself in front of an audience
that quietly snickers at my pretension. I want them not just to see,
but to hear, to feel—viscerally, and down through their body cores into
their toes—the pains and joys of the plays and poems we read. “Never,
never, never, never, never.” It is perhaps the single most painful line
in all of literature, East or West, ancient or modern, in any language.
“She’ll not come again.” Absolute, irreversible, permanent loss. And
the meter in which Shakespeare writes that line from the end of his King
Lear is a reversal—trochaic rather than iambic, with its
emphasis on the first rather than the second syllable of each two
syllable unit—of the meter in which he writes the boisterous life that
inhabits nearly all of his poetry and verse drama. It encapsulates the
slowing down, the stopping, the losing of life, a heart laboring, and
slowly coming to an everlasting halt. Feel the
slowing. Feel the pain in Lear’s voice as he
describes the stark finality of his loss of Cordelia, the daughter he
had most brutally mistreated, but who had, nevertheless, inexplicably
forgiven him…mere hours before she died, still young, still with
decades ahead of her, killed by a mindless goon whom Lear himself—at
over eighty years of age—still had strength to kill, but not the
swiftness of reaction time to kill before Cordelia herself had been
mortally wounded. He could not save her, the girl who had forgiven him
for failing her. He could not save her, and so failed her again, and
for the last time. “She’ll not come again. Never, never, never, never,
feel like I am Lear sometimes—in the smallest of ways, of course. But I
feel like I fail them. And they’ll not come again…
At the Tannh user Gates
I want more life, fucker…
We cry for immortality, we
The fear of loss, of chances somehow missed,
Prevents us oft from seeing who we are
And who we might yet be if we could choose.
But choice confounds the hearts and minds of all,
Or most, such rare exceptions as might be
Displayed in gilded art-house frames aside,
The rest of us stand doubtful at the gates
Of possibility, with wary sense
Inclined first one way, then another way,
Perhaps with thoughts of third and fourth new paths,
Illusions offering their sweetest taste.
Though circumscribed by death, our dreams defy
The limits on a life that time requires.
For time and times and half a time our gods
Have reigned secure, though only in the minds
Of those who think as they are told to think,
For whom the signs directing every move
Of flesh and blood and glass and steel outweigh
The airy principles of documents
Designed for thinking men of days declined
Into the veil of years and near-forgot
By patriots who love their lords and laws.
But those once fit though few
are many now,
If not the mass, a number great enough
To now be heard, without resort to fear.
We’ll have no lords, nor priestly codes designed
To overawe our reason, come what may.
Your ancient stories, gods, and
Must take their place amongst the poetry
Of bards, both blind and sighted, through the world
And time, abandoning their claims to truth,
The righteous arguments of those whose gods
Have always been reflections of themselves,
Whose hatreds are their own, though marble-carved,
With eyes that meet no gaze, though fiercest brows
Contain their blankness in illusion’s space,
Suggesting purpose where old chaos reigns.
What truths there are, each
faith has long obscured,
Though all have claimed to hear the voice of god;
But truth will not be heard, unless by ears
That learn to hear the still small voice within.
But screw your courage to the sticking place,
And we’ll not fail—in anything we try.
What evil can we not, when all we are,
Devoted to ambition’s price, remains
Inside our undiminished hearts and minds,
Two lovers bound in mutual desire
For all that kings and queens may yet attain,
If only those now in our way were gone?
So come, my darkest lord, unsex me here,
Replace what’s soft about my heart with steel,
For those that dare must act when fortune calls
And I would have you of my mind in this.
His blood will be the wine to fill the cups
We raise in toast to power and its joys.
Dragon in Winter
Come not between the dragon and his wrath,
Such wrath has been the anchor of my days,
Of years, four score and upwards, though my mind
Has long since turned its focus from the world
Without, to gaze in rapt attention here
On worlds within that only I can see,
No hope of understanding children aged
To hardened middle-years with acid tongues.
My youngest, I would set my rest on her,
But I will have the tribute of her voice
Before the gathered noble crowds, who wait
For me to abdicate and crawl towards death.
But she will nothing say, and I’ll not hear
The loving reason in her absent words.
Prince of Denmark
I cannot play this role; though I pretend
To be as others are, I am not one
For whom the plot in which I find myself,
And all the interactions it requires,
Can but a prison be, though infinite
In space, with walls no other notices
But me, who cannot help but push against
The limits of such minds as made the rules
In which I speak my lines, and soon must end.
But endings—though played well with actor’s skill—
Do not resolve the questions of a life
Of sacrifice to ghosts that will not die.
Though all the rest is silence, I would speak,
If I but had a voice beyond this stage.
In spite of nature, country, credit, years,
I loved you still, regardless of the costs
My heart would one day have to pay in blood,
The pain of loss I well approved when first
I touched your hand, then, reaching for your face,
Caressed your cheek, and tucked a silken strand
Of wayward hair behind your ear, and watched
You tremble with desire that soon would burn
Us both inside the flames that roared too hot,
And could not be sustained or yet transformed
To heat for working days, a love for lives
As lived in time by ordinary men.
Now you are gone, and I am left with dreams
Of life, though soon I will awake in death.
Teach Us Now to See Remembrance of those friends we
lost to time
And changing circumstance, the ebb and flow
Of hearts’ affections, brings to mind the loves
We all once hoped to find in those now gone,
our mistake was one so often made:
We did not see them as they really were,
But as reflections of our own desire,
The mirrors where we spend our private hours
nightly conversation with our eyes.
While some such friends were good and true, yet some
Were bullets better dodged, and fortune smiled
In tearing them away, despite the pain.
even those who hurt us gave us joy,
And teach us now to see beyond ourselves.
I used to believe that I was immortal. But mine was not merely the
immortality that all youth seems to believe itself the rightful
inheritors of, no…mine was promised to me by the Brooklyn Heights
priesthood of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, that
quintessentially American religion in which
salvation from death depends on one’s productivity.
Work hard, sell lots and lots of garishly-printed and poorly-written
magazines, and most importantly…never ever ask questions of
any kind…and maybe, just maybe, an ancient Mesopotamian deity
will pass you by while he sets about destroying the entire world—old
people, young people, children, infants, dogs, cats, and all.
To this day, death strikes me as absurd, an activity in which no one
with any sense of style or taste would engage---I mean, it’s
been done. But we have no choice, apparently…and though my
particular genetics in all likelihood give me something rather closer
to a century than most, a century isn’t really that much time is it?
What is the damned point of dying? Yes, yes, the old story from
Herodotus—count no man happy until his death, because we do not know
the end of our stories until death…but is that all? Is that it? Death
serves a goddamn narrative function?
And what of those of us so determinedly, even preternaturally
superficial as to think that the fashions of this, or any other day are
a reason to live in the face of something so absurd as death? Los
Angeles is so full of such people it chokes on them a little more each
day…soon no breath will be possible any longer, so filled will this
suburb in search of a city be with the legions of fashionistas for whom
Anna Wintour (or Slavoj Zizek) is a power player equivalent to
Perhaps it is—at least in part—due to such that Derrida referred to
Death as a gift. But who wants such a gift? Perhaps we reach a point at
which we all do. But not me…and not yet. And with angry gods to the
left of us, and vapid Angelenos to the right, what are the rest of us
to do but insist that neither theology nor thread count (theoretical or
otherwise) gives meaning to life?
Oh well, screw us…the latest issues of Vogue and Critical
Inquiry are on shelves now!
She has no feeling heart, though politics
Disguises what she lacks in empathy
For others, with their all-too-human flaws.
She quickly tires of every lover’s gaze,
And will not stay where she is wanted long,
For none can love her as she loves herself,
And mirrors show a face more beautiful
Than any in the world of mortal men.
Narcissus has no touch of her, the choice
And master spirit of her age and place,
This superficial kingdom of the damned
Where fashion reigns, and substance stays at heel.
And though I loved her once, I was a fool
Who would not see the blank space in her eyes.
A Brief Manifesto
Transcendence is possible…but only here, and only now. It has nothing
to do with gods and heavens, or devils and hells. There is no life
beyond this one, but there is life beyond the ones most of us live. We
live in fear of who and what we are. We run from love, from risk, from
choice, from anything that might make us drop the illusion of
immortality, the quiet denial of death in which we live and move and
have our being.
But death will not be fooled by our failures to live. Transcendence
lies in recognizing that failure to live is death.
Transcendence is the conscious choice to live before we die, in spite
of the inevitable end, in spite of the inevitable loss, in spite of
disapproval from others too afraid to do more than stand before the
doors of possibility, never having courage to choose one and forsake
the rest, never having the will to follow a path not knowing quite
where it leads. But that path, and only that path,
is the narrow road to life—all others are merely variations on the
broad and spacious path, not that leads to death, but that is
A moment’s turn, and she was there no more,
Her voice, her words, the workings of that mind
So like to mine, and yet so far removed
In place, in years, though differences seemed naught
to natural similarities
And unexpected joys such thoughts could bring,
As noting each to each how perfectly
The politics of greed aligns with faith.
is gone, somewhere I cannot reach;
Though I would speak with her, no answer comes,
My words are cast into a void where sound
Is not itself, in hollowness stays mute.
yet, I see her in my waking dreams,
Remember still the beauty of her eyes.
Love manifests itself in plenitude,
No scarcity of choice where beauties bloom
Like flowers after gentle summer rains,
Where fields of color stretch out to the line
separates the earth from skies above,
While standing midst the yellows, purples, reds,
And purest whites atop their greening stalks,
One sees variety and all its joys.
the flowers blooming in these fields
Come short of you, the one I did not know,
Until I saw, with newly-opened eyes,
Such beauty as I all too soon would lose.
the fields of this, or any, world
Afford another flower like to you.
In saying yes to one life, we say no
To countless other possibilities,
Catch fevered glimpses of mortality,
The end that waits behind the eyes of love
death, whose arms too soon embrace us all.
But fear is no defense—and what becomes
Of those who run from love as from a trap,
If not to wander in a wilderness
self-regard, with mirrors to converse,
No difference whether made of glass or flesh,
Since living mirrors often serve full well
As those we gaze upon inside our walls?
will not forestall the deaths we fear,
But guards our hearts from loss, and thus we fly.
The pain is still familiar, even now,
Though years have passed since lessons first were learned
And easily seen through for what they were,
The lies that shaped my life, taught me my role,
stoic one who stands and takes the blows
Still raining down for sins committed once,
Or not at all, the worst sins of the lot,
Since what I haven’t done can never be
or demonstrated for the eyes
Of those who judge and punish for the wrongs
Imagination gives the force of crimes
For which I must receive correction’s strokes.
bruises mount, but still I would hold on,
For love has costs, and I am bound to pay.
An old song brings her face to mind again,
In Springsteen’s voice, the strum of his guitar,
I hear the stories she once told of life
In coal mine towns where bars and churches fill
In alternating rhythms as the days
Stretch on, with each day like the days before,
Without the possibilities that dreams
Hold out to those who live in larger worlds
Than this, a one-light town with no way out,
Where no escape, of bodies, hearts, or minds,
Is possible but for the few, who pay
A price they cannot know to break its chains.
But scars remain, and freedom comes at cost
Of running from the ghosts they cannot shake.
True ugliness cannot but be denied,
Adorned in fashions to distract the eye
From all that lies beneath a beauty’s face,
That netherworld of self where loathing likes
liking loves, and of itself speaks well,
Despite the emptiness it covers still
With words in carefully arranged disguise,
Pretending to the last as actors must.
best of us deny it to ourselves,
Learn not to see where we would others blind,
And glide thus smoothly though our lives and lies
Without the slightest twinge of guilt or pain.
what is else left to be overcome,
Once conscience flatters us as mirrors do?
When love comes unexpectedly, be glad,
But know it will not be with you for long;
For love is something lent, a summer’s breeze,
Not permanent, though sweet, too delicate
To grasp and hold as if we owned the hearts
Of those who lend us this great gift a time,
And times, and half a time, before its lease
Expires, and we must let it go again.
Remember how they looked at you, through eyes
That spoke a language you had never heard
Before, and cherish what their hearts once lent;
Such moments, though they fade, give life its joy.
Be happy then for loves that did not last,
For life itself is lent, at interest due.
94, in Miniature
Though mortal creatures all have hearts that fail,
That failure does not mean their loves were false;
They loved as best they could, despite their flaws,
And never meant to hurt, or cause such pain
As leaves a scar in every lover’s heart,
Despite the best and most sincere intents.
Their eyes that shone with love did not tell lies,
But told a truth their lives could not sustain.
So now, you face a choice, to spend your days
In anger and regret for loss of love,
Or see those lovers as at best they were,
Free givers of a gift that could not last.
Forgiveness will not come before its time,
But come it must, and that love will not fail.
Fool Among the Wise
You all are fools, the ones who keep your word,
Who follow through on plans, whose yes means yes
And no means no; the wise are not pinned down
By promises, recalling what was said,
As if their words were more than air in shapes
That served emotions of the moment well,
And made a pleasing sound, as music does
When played with skill, as liars play your hearts.
While you are stunned, still searching for the whys
And wherefores of betrayal’s stinging pains,
The wise move on with conscience light as air,
Without a thought, leave you to gasp for breath.
And yet, I would not be among such wise,
But stay among the fools, let come what may.
My inner walls came down too easily,
Doors tripled-bolted opened at a touch
Of hands that held a key I did not know,
While turning fingers coaxed my secrets out,
And whispers of desire and love assured
Me of the truth of words whose sounds were sweet,
More welcome to my ears than any lie
Had ever been, or any truth could be.
Her words were not a lie, but spoke a truth
Much more complex than either of us knew,
Or could imagine at the time she spoke
Of loving me and teaching me to hear.
As moments pass, the meaning of her words
Eludes me still, and she will speak no more.
The special for today is Hemingway,
Though Plath and Sexton are quite good as well;
Virginia Woolf is popular, of course,
If somewhat overdone, and so last year.
Perhaps Empedocles is more your style?
For those who’d like to go out with a bang,
Volcanic lava really can’t be beat,
And nicely solves the problem of remains.
If this is somewhat garish for your taste,
The artist in the garret might well serve;
A Thomas Chatterton, unrecognized
By editors and hacks, in poison’s arms.
But save some room to taste a sweet or two,
Mishima’s blade will surely cut the fat.
Awful Rowing (for Anne Sexton)
The awful rowing goes on, day by day,
But not toward God, or something in the place
Of God; despite the shorter breath of days
Through which we manage to survive once more,
The rowing aims at nothing in the end,
No final destination gives it point
Or meaning; still, the muscles ache with strain,
And sweat pours down our faces with each stroke
Of oars in water leading to no shore,
No resting place in sight, unless we see
An end worth calling by that name in death,
A shaping principle to aimless tales.
But death knows nothing more, no secret stores
Of wisdom give this awful rowing shape.
I miss the rhythms of her conversation,
The irony with which she spoke of life,
Of art, and politicians’ promises,
The flashing light inside her angry eyes
When now and then reminded of the past
In coal mine towns from which the few escape
Who have the strength to leave, but bring their scars,
Their fears of want wherever they may go.
They run, as once they ran, for motion saves,
Or seems to save, where stasis threatens death,
But running has its price in pain, in lives
Left unexplored, and loves now left behind.
But she is dead and gone, though not quite dead,
More like a ghost than one who sees the sun.
Life (Oscar to Bosie)
They get away with much, those creatures fair
Who take our breath away, with beauty marked
To stand among the rest as if the sun
Both rose and set for them and theirs alone.
Else who would tolerate their sudden shifts
Of heart and mind, capricious in their whims,
Assured that all the world exists for them,
To do them service and to soothe their pains?
So much the more are we the motley fools
Who lend ourselves as adjuncts to their lives,
The willing partners to such ones as see
No farther than themselves and their own skin.
So learn this lesson well, love not with eyes,
For beauty’s shelf life won’t outlast its price.
Her trauma took the voice she might have had;
She speaks in whispers now, with eyes cast down
Avoiding those who gaze in sympathy,
Objectifying even as they try
To understand a pain they'll never know,
The sudden violence changing everything,
A trust in life that cannot be regained,
No matter what the priests or doctors say.
The boy--still nothing like a man--sits still,
With poorly practiced calm looks cold and hard,
While watching all he's known of life grow dark,
And slip away because of what he's done.
For neither will the world embrace again,
But each inhabit prisons of their own.
Despite constructed worlds in which we live
And move and have our being, life remains
The same, as birth and love and age and death
Come equally to all, without regard
To fortune or belief in moral codes
Derived from gods whose sole existence springs
From human fear and need to understand
In smaller scale what else exceeds our grasp.
Believing does not make what we would have
Exist, nor does our unbelief affect
The stark reality of human lives
Which have an end that comes for each too soon.
So gather rosebuds, as the poet said,
And live with passion for a life too short.
Uselessness of Reason
The grasping after reason is what chafes,
Though sudden breaks leave questions in their wake,
As whys and whens and hows blow through the mind
Like storms that cannot be abated soon,
If ever, though with time their winds will fade
And something like a peace will be restored,
But only like, as questions never stop
Or disappear entirely, else life
Would make more sense and hearts reflect a truth
That minds could understand and analyze,
Providing comfort when our lives go wrong
And shining light when darkness looms in view.
But passions make no sense, nor will be tamed,
Though reason holds itself as if supreme.
Woman in Solitude
I loved her once, and though she cannot see,
I love her still; but hers was not a heart
That loved too easily, though once I thought
It might love well, once she had said the words.
But words, it seems, were part of her disguise,
A smokescreen she put up to hide intent
From others, even from herself, to buy
The time she needed to decide which tales
To tell and which to save for future use
On future loves who got too close to her,
Who loved too well, and threatened to expose
Her solitude as loneliness and pain.
And though she left in haste, she haunts me still,
In nightly visitations whispers dreams.
Love and Emotion
Emotions have too frequent ebb and flow
To be relied upon in search of love,
For love is out of time, a moment’s glimpse
Of truth’s eternal forms inside the heart.
But feelings are not love, as flux and change
Can batter such affections, leave them bruised
With sudden shifts, and alterations strange,
Reversals nearly inexplicable,
Until they’re seen as shadows in the caves
From which true lovers ever must emerge
In order to escape illusion’s grip
To see the sun, and understand its light.
To love someone is not to see ourselves,
But see eternity behind their eyes.
You read my poems, yet refuse to speak:
I see the footprints that you leave behind,
The late-night visits, mornings, afternoons,
As though you've banished me, but can't let go.
Or do you wish to speak, but can't, through hurt
And wounded pride, because my ignorance
Has injured you, although I meant no harm,
But only love, though in my pain I spoke
Perhaps too harshly for my heart's intent
And damaged what I merely meant to save?
I wish I knew, and knowing then could act,
And through my actions bring you back again.
But though you are a wordless ghost, please stay,
And read of how I love you all the same.
I love you past all manner of such love
As men can speak, and poets still can write
In these, our latter days of ignorance,
Where sentiment comes packaged in the aisles
Of grocery stores, and churches peddle gods
That few believe, and fewer understand,
Beyond the commonplace clich s of blood
And sins defined as all that gives us joy.
I love you, not for you have beauty’s mark,
But for your wit, your steel, your sharpest mind,
That intellect that gives you cause to see
As clear as day, despite the deepest night.
I’ve never met another like to you,
And all the world seems gray, now you are gone.
Revenge-play ghosts demanded to be heard,
But modern ghosts depend on us for life,
Live through our thoughts, take nourishment from pain,
Regrets that stem from loss, things left unsaid.
To talk with them gives momentary comfort,
Relieves the loneliness that casts a pall
On welcome solitude, the hours we spend
In dim remembrance of the loves we’ve lost.
Despite the passions that once gripped our hearts,
The urgent wonder in recalling times
And moments almost sacred in their joy,
Life still awaits, and new loves are in store.
Regardless, then, of how we loved them once,
The time has come to tell our ghosts goodbye.
Word and Deed
Your silence is what haunts me now in dreams,
The hours when most I try to reach for you
And most your absence focuses my loss
As loss, though how this emptiness became
The daily fact of all I call my life,
I cannot fathom yet, not knowing how
I lost you, when was my misstep, or worse,
My inattention to the one I love.
I send out words to find you where you are,
But nothing comes again, not like before
When words and smiles served as the food of love,
And all we were came breathless from our lips.
I miss you more than my poor words can say,
And wish for your return, in word and deed.
If hand to hand is holy palmer’s kiss,
As once two lovers said when first they touched,
Then trembling hands were our first kiss as well,
When first I touched you, brushing back your hair
To tuck behind your ear, reveal the face
I could not help but gaze upon in awe,
Then slowly reach out for your hand to touch
Your palm, your slender fingers, grasping hold.
Surroundings did not matter then, despite
Their darkly strange and dreamlike quality,
For all we saw was in each other’s eyes,
And when I finally kissed you, we belonged.
I would not lose those moments, or lose you,
For love is much too rare to be denied.
Emotions are not real, except for mine,
And nothing lives outside of my own skin.
For men were meant to serve and to admire
The beauty that is mine and mine alone.
when I gaze on you, you come to life,
As long as your amusements hold, but soon
I will grow tired of you, and turn away,
Relinquish you to life among the shades
who fail to please or fill my need
For moments of diversion in the sun
Which shines out just for me and warms my flesh
My pale, yet perfect form, where no blood flows.
though your pain is great? It matters not,
For all hearts are but adjuncts to my own.
Gods but Us
In every life, decisions must be made,
Emotions reckoned with, despite their cost;
To pull the shades and hide from who we are,
Where passions most do burn that also heal,
seem the path of least resistance now,
But cannot help but lead our hearts to ruin.
For those who would not hurt the ones they love,
Yet sink beneath the whelming tide of fears—
love, of loss, of self betrayed by self—
There comes the choice: what risks are worth the pain
They might entail, or joys that might ensue,
If only we can face an unknown truth?
love’s divine, though no gods are its source
But us, the sole creators of our worlds.
Jacob, of Rachel (IV) Although I would not lose you
I'll not hold on, nor be unwelcome there,
Where once I saw desire in your eyes,
Since now those eyes grow dim and turn away.
I cannot sleep for racking pains
With suddenness of love's decline perplexed,
The questions of myself, where I went wrong,
What things I must have done to lose that gaze
Whose light had bathed my face
in utter joy
Each time I saw you watching my approach,
Though oft of late your silence and retreat
Has dimmed that light, till I no longer see.
But I would not hold on where
love has died,
So I will love once more by letting go.
(A)theist Manifesto: A
let’s talk about God, shall we? What the negative theologians
(Pseudo-Dionysius, et al) described as unknowable, mean-spirited
tyrants who are trying to sell you something have described as
all-too-knowable. The God of the salesmen is a jealous God, demanding
exclusive devotion…just like the one that huckster Hilkiah was peddling
in the court of Josiah all those centuries ago.
God is Love (so says John). Love Hurts (so says Nazareth). Love Stinks
(so says the J. Geils Band). Discuss…
The first thing Milton has his character “God” utter in Paradise
Lost is a lie. Milton was not screwing around. The first
thing Yahweh tells the human pair in Genesis 2 is a lie. The serpent
calls him out on it, and Yahweh admits it in Genesis 3.
No God but God
There is no God but God, so say the fools,
Who know not what the books they hold dear mean;
For gods are but the idols of our schools.
But wise men know the dangers of the rules
Insisting on belief in what’s unseen;
There is no God but God, so say the fools.
Our reason yet survives in wisdom’s jewels,
Maintains philosophy, though ne’er so mean,
For gods are but the idols of our schools.
Unlearned men will labor as if mules,
Demanding still a pious playhouse scene,
There is no God but God, so say the fools.
Though no salvation comes, no ardor cools,
No faith diminished, growing ever green,
For gods are but the idols of our schools.
But I, who once believed, have shed the tools
Of faith, no longer will abide its sheen;
There is no God but God, so say the fools,
For gods are but the idols of our schools.
Love Song on a
The hour of sleep eludes me most at need,
When all my thoughts are bent toward love of you,
Still feeling most your absence in desire,
The touch of skin to skin, the silken waves
Of fragrant hair that frame your
Whose hazel eyes revisit me in dreams
Where sleeping or awake, I live with you
In love, bathed in the quiet pre-dawn light
Where most I see, as I am seen
And though I would not weary you with love,
With oft protesting passion's heat in verse
Or song, I'll not restrain the flow of words.
For words serve most at need
through sleepless nights,
Bring absent touch to life in thoughts of you.
Though he is quiet when he first walks in,
The room is his; he plays it at his will,
Its silences and sounds the quickened notes
For practiced compositions often played,
Though never quite the same from
then to now,
As each performance changes what's performed,
Reveals the actor to himself, though none
Beside have skill to see the seamless role.
He plays the notes in hopes that
some will hear,
Will recognize the music's ancient tune,
Though reaching fewer with each chorus sung,
Each failure now his own remorseful fall.
And yet, he tries again, renews
Naught knowing matter else to sing or do.
Goodbye looms near when once we say hello,
As every fair from fair sometime declines,
So every greeting brings its time to part,
Where eyes, once blue, grow dull in downcast grays.
But as with all, there lies a trick within,
A way to cheat the hours of love’s decay,
And damn the days and weeks that would remove
Our loves through years’ routines and passions spent.
Grow tender through your time apart, and fond
Where life’s incessant noise grows to a din;
When absence is required, and solitude,
In silence lies the keys to love’s rewards.
Then say hello once more, still furthering
The time and distance to our last goodbyes.
Imprisonment comes slowly on, as days
Pass into weeks, and months become the years
Of dim existence, sifting through the past
For clues to fix the broken narratives,
The jumbled tales we tell about our lives;
As if a life could be revised, reworked,
Its roughest edges gently smoothed away
By changing voice, or style, erasing time.
But life is not a play, nor work of art,
No audience demands, nor even notes
Our most recursive work—the practiced selves
We all rehearse in lines we never speak.
The time is now, and now, and ever now:
New life awaits for those who would yet live.
Where gods of old religions once held sway,
There now abides a welcome emptiness;
Though blind-eyed statues still attest to faith,
And former generations of belief
Expressed in contradictions meant to point
To mysteries no one truly understood:
Like how the human heart can love and hate,
Grow cold where once the flames of passion burned,
Or cloak desire in all the robes of sin,
Denying all the joy a life might have,
If only those allowed themselves to live
Who talk of freedom on their knees in prayer.
Our silences are where such truth resides
As all our ancient tales have long obscured.
You tell a tale, and all your weariness
Soon disappears; your face returns to life
With eyes lit up in mirth, or disbelief
At others’ lives, the children they let crawl
Through aisles in airports, screaming on the planes,
Still seemingly oblivious to need
Expressed at highest volume, while they chat
Amongst themselves about the latest shows,
Or random matters of no consequence
To any creature other than themselves.
A week in Paris lights, or Roman ruins,
And what remains with them of magic’s touch?
I smile, while seeing details through your eyes,
And wishing I had been there all the same.
Despite appearances, the truth of self
Will be revealed a thousand subtle ways
For those with eyes to see; no actor’s skill
Can fix the shifting public masks so tight
That artifice, though seamless to the mass,
Remains invisible from even those
We most would hold at bay—the ones we love,
The ones with whom we most would be ourselves,
If we but had the strength to improvise,
Set down our prompts, their safely written lines,
To speak a truth we may not know in full,
With halting words unfolding unknown ends.
To say we love is true, but what of that?
No love survives for long behind our masks.
I feel her absence in each silent breath,
In subtle shifts of light as moments pass
From morning’s bright pastels to purple night
And back again, as days stretch into weeks,
Though not so long, not weeks, though seeming so
From my impatience for her hazel eyes,
And longing for the skin whose touch revives
An ancient passion long ago forgot,
Excited further by the mind she shows
The world, and what she saves for closest friends,
The self I almost missed the chance to know
So focused on my solitary life.
And though I wish her joy, I would the hours
Till her return might pass as moments do.
From One, To Another
I watch you, as a laugh lights up your eyes,
And see the comfort in your face, so rare
For one as private as you often seem,
Like one who learned to hide behind her thoughts,
Concealing thoughts in turn from those too blind
To see, too deaf to hear, or understand.
Across a room, through conversation’s din,
I catch your eye and see behind the mask
You wear, while mine falls easily away
To you, though no one else can see the face
We each keep to ourselves among the crowds
In which we live, and move, and play our roles.
I saw you oft before, but did not see;
Mistook the mask for what was real—no more.
Of Roads and Choices
The road less traveled by, so goes the verse,
Makes all the difference; but I’ll not trust
Iambic platitudes, despite the skill,
The diamond hardness in their rhythmic lines,
The master’s touch so evident within
That tone deaf readers recognize the sounds
For which they have no definitions, though
Experience, best guide to life as yet
Unlived, lends certainty in place of doubt.
And yet, though far too oft repeated, words
In well-worn patterns carry much of truth
That otherwise illusion’s web obscures.
For two roads lie before me now—which one
I take determines all the lives to come.
Achilles at Dusk
And now the time has come for letting go.
I gave my all, but all was not enough,
For those unbottomed wells of rawest need
That once had seemed compelling, now constrain
As prison cells set firm in smooth stone walls
Whence no escape, nor hope to see the sun,
Can draw my shade back to the world of light
Forsaking here my throne among the dead.
My end was in the way this life began,
Disguised among the women of the court,
Too close, still pressing in upon my youth,
Now spent in vain here on the sands of Troy.
In war, in love, my fight has been the same,
But now my load is one I cannot bear.
The only safe existence is the lie,
The roles we play, the masks we wear by day
Disguising fair or foul intent with shows
Designed to court the favors of the just,
Or those who think themselves the just and right
While punishing the sins of those whose lives
—Too stubborn in the difference from their own—
Must be constrained, and shaped to fit the mold
Of expectation’s fancy, truth be damned.
Remove the mask, expose the face beneath,
And then prepare to face the consequence:
A life unloved, with graying eyes unmet.
So best, it seems, to hide behind the lie,
For truth wounds only those without disguise.
To gaze across the gulf that lies between
And know, for once, a mind like to our own,
Till now kept hid behind the smiling eyes,
The petty interactions of such days
As ever make the endless years the same,
With necessary seeming overfilled,
The lies we tell, the poorly fitting masks
We wear to try and fit this stranger’s world.
To meet the eyes that see both who we are
And who we might yet be ere sunlight fades,
And know, forever after, where we fit
In this, the best of worlds, unknown till now.
And, though alone, to rest in knowledge still,
That someone else is there who understands.
Love’s Lesson for the
The origin of sin is Man’s desire.
To want, and seek to fill the emptiness
That inexplicably defeats the wise,
Who know no better than what Reason taught,
As if such lessons could relieve the pain
That lovers feel who’ve made the prime mistake:
Admitting what they love, not keeping close
The secrets of their hearts, now laughter’s food,
And sport for mockers of the kind whose loves
Have always been too easily won
For aught imagination can express
Of pain, humiliation, and regret.
To openly admire brings whips of scorn,
So secrets must be kept, and loves denied.
The Tree of Knowledge
Believers oft suspect their truths are lies,
Else why do battle with a modern world
That doesn’t care for ancient Hebrew gods,
Or Roman theologians steeped in blood
Who never understood poetic tales
Except as argument for sins as yet
Unthought by Bronze-age bards and prophets past,
Who nothing knew of heavenly rewards?
What need they, when this world brings bliss enough
For those with eyes to see, and hearts to feel,
Where love walks in the cool of evening light
Delighting all who hear its siren call?
And though there is no mythic tree of life,
The tree of knowledge shades and feeds us all.
Jacob, of Rachel (III)
At first, the years were swift as summer days
Remembered through the haze of wintry age,
But soon, the leaves began to fall, and bare
The limbs that once had seemed so full of life,
Till even summer’s days began to chill,
And warmth, now grown elusive, slipped away.
In waning hours, when Leah’s eyes grew dull,
I bent my thoughts in long pursuit of you,
Your eyes that shone, and pierced beneath the veils
Where all my hopes and discontents lay bare.
But now your love is real—I’ll not let go;
Too many years have passed without your touch.
Through seven summers end, then seven more,
I’ve longed for you, and now the warmth returns.
Note in an Empty House
And so the time has come to say the words,
The words that wound, while every vowel cuts
Into the hearts of those who hear goodbye
Where once hello had sounded sweeter notes.
For fear of words, and all the pain they cause,
I’ve lived a prisoner behind the walls
Of cowardice, still closing in my grasp
The key to all the doors, and all the bars
That hold me fast in this, my worn-out role,
Whose lines, though yet familiar in my mouth,
Have since become excuses to be dead,
Avoiding pain while watching lives pass by.
But life has offered love and hope once more,
And time has come to live and feel the sun.
Jacob, of Rachel (II)
Soft framed by raven hair, her face exceeds
All thought, as wisdom falls to worship where
It once had reigned supreme in reason’s garb,
As if her beauty could by argument
Be overcome, denied its sacred sway
O’er hearts and minds and eyes, both those who see
And those who know without the benefit
Of sight, which oft misleads the wisest fools.
Enfolded in her arms as though I would
Escape, release myself from loving ties,
I find it is her heart, her thought that winds
Me fast around with gentle silken cords
From which I would not be unbound, not now
Nor ever thence, despite what time may bring.
Jacob, of Rachel
Her hazel eyes pierce through pretension’s veil;
Their quiet gaze reveals you as you are,
Laid bare before a living work of art
Whose power yet transcends her beauty’s form
While taking root inside the ones it sees,
Where hearts become themselves, and growth transforms
The desiccated bud to fullest bloom
Still turning toward her eyes like summer sun.
To live inside her eyes is space enough
For fairest show of who we’d learn to be
If only to remain in favor’s sight
And stand before the altar as her priests.
This only is religion’s use—to love
In wonder at the beauty of her eyes.
Sophia, of Her Children
In morning hours before the first light shines,
In sunrise only seen through heart’s unease,
I realize the path a life must take,
The reasons I will soon be left behind,
And must be left, and why I must let go.
For love cannot, and still be love, hold fast
To those who would be free, whose lives now sing
The notes of change, the siren songs of growth
And all the possibilities of joy.
But this has been my chosen task, to love
And then let go, without attaching guilt,
Lest love enmesh and mar what it would save.
In aftertimes, this comfort I will take,
I gave as best I could—so love rewards.
Remains of Light
And all at once, illusions are revealed
As insubstantial castles built on sand,
The hearts of many now outweighed by one
Whose hate can swift destroy all I have built,
Or thought to build, when youth and hope held sway.
But now, the burning eyes, resentment's flash,
And harsh, disdainful tones of one for whom
My life and work are merely in the way,
Remind me of the end that comes to all,
Forestall or still deny it as I might,
The night will come too soon, will interrupt
The flow of days that once had known no end.
And yet, I would hold on as darkness falls,
And bathe my eyes in what remains of light.
Abelard, to Heloise
I’ve always known the day love’s end would come
Would be a day much like the other days.
The unexpected pause in conversation
That leads to all goodbyes, including ours,
Comes as an interruption to the lives
It quickly rearranges, setting fires
Where love had been, while clearing space for some
To live anew, though others fall and die
Without the hope of resurrection’s balm
Or healing hearts where God himself withdraws
To leave an empty space behind the eyes
Of those who yet survive to love again.
I knew, but hoped I would not see the day
When you would pause, then quickly say goodbye.
We went to sea in mortal ships of wood
With blood and stone and bronze as argument,
Not knowing yet how hostile were the gods
To all that men would build beneath the sky.
Still undiminished in those early days,
We grasped at life with unrepentant greed,
For all the pleasures of the world looked fair
And fairly could be bought without the pains
Of loss intruding on the everyday.
Such time had not yet come for us in youth,
Whiles yet we took the cattle of the Sun
And nothing suffered for the boldest theft.
Now years revenge, if not the deathless gods,
And take from us ourselves as payment due.
Reason Also Is Choice
Despite intentions for the best, it ends,
Our love, our life, our plans to dominate
Both fears and insecurities, to forge
A path as yet unknown to those who pray
For favor from the gods who’ve long since died
And turned to Eden’s dust from which they came.
And yet, inside each end lies promised new
Beginning, leaving by those death will bring,
For all who claim to know of death tell lies
They’ve long rehearsed as palliative truths,
As if the sounds themselves could stave off fear
Of unknown countries and the dreams that come.
While time remains, each ending offers choice,
And choice is what it is to be alive.
Nor Truth Nor Lie
And then comes clarity, in moments past
All understanding, knowledge of the path
A life must take with mind and heart entwined
While focus makes those options fall away
That once had seemed too difficult to choose
Between, as lovers pulled in half by doubts
Fear choice as fearing death and end of days.
But pardon me, I do not speak of Truth,
Though some would blanch at calling it a Lie;
I speak of what is only heard in silence,
The muffled cry of who and what we are
Long buried under years of mannered grace.
Our songs of innocence have fallen mute,
But old experience can be renewed.
To reach beyond ourselves, to take the risk
That life might yet have more to offer us
Than any poet may conceive in verse,
In this not what it means to be alive?
Each momentary smile, each new hello,
Though all will soon enough be lost, brings light
Where darkness waits, though darkness will not win
The day, while will remains and love renews.
These fragments shored against our ruins serve
Where ministers and priests too often fail,
Convince the weary to say yes again,
And watch another day unfold in hope.
So play the fool, for wise men know what waits,
While dignity ne’er won a moment’s joy.
I’ve played the fool too many times to count,
And yet, each time the choice recurs, I play
The fool again, as if I’d nothing learned,
Nor nothing gained from lessons time would teach
If only I would listen to the voice
That tries in vain to tell unvarnished truth.
I know full well the man that I’ve become
Shows nothing forth, and yet, to those with eyes
To see, shows all the secrets I would keep
If only to protect myself from harm
Inflicted, or imagined, by my failed
Attempts to seem as all the others are.
But those who see are rare—most men are blind;
And so this king of fools can pass for wise.
“In scripture, go and learn what these words mean:
I would have mercy before sacrifice.
And those among you without sin, cast stones
Without compunction at the sinners here
On Earth, and also those near Heaven's throne.
The rich men shall not enter there, nor here
Shall find contentment next to Abraham,
But burn with unquenched fire and jealousy
While begging for a drop to cool their tongues.
So eat, and drink, and make of merriment
The profit of your days, for days grow short
And lacking all tomorrows, you will die.”
Such words bring death to those who dare to speak,
While life’s reserved for those who’ve mastered lies.
Unexpectedly it comes, through silence
Wrapped in sound, in contacts made at random,
Sensations—touch, the texture of her hair,
The straying strand that will not be put right.
Intelligence and sympathy and love--
What more have I the right to ask of life?
And yet, her face, with all its perfect lines,
Its alabaster skin in silken frame,
Would teach, if I could yet its lessons learn,
That I had only just begun to live,
While necessary losses had prepared
My eyes to see, my heart to feel, the truth.
Such moments signal what the world calls joy,
And I have felt its unexpected touch.
The silences of empty rooms oppress
My heart, reduce imagination’s sway
Until my eyes grow dull expecting more
Though still receiving less as nights extend
Their reach into the pall of early day
And newer rounds and rounds begin again.
I must have laughter, sound, the colors bright
Against the darkened sky, recharge myself
With merriment in stories told and heard
By lovers, friends—not yet, or soon to be,
The faces I remember in my dreams
Of life, and in the dreams I live each day.
So keep the lights alive, and raise a glass,
Though silence drains, good fellowship restores.
Relationship demands we pay its price,
Which differs in its terms for youth and age;
For some, the price is love, while others pay
With labor’s pains—for me, the price is life.
To be with others drains me to the core,
Though laughter energizes most of us
—And I enjoy it to be sure—I wane
Where others wax, and soon must be alone.
But still, I would not be without my friends,
My loves, and all the voices of my days;
I merely wish they understood my need
For silent privacy, where I renew.
The introvert does not reject the world,
But loves it at a cost his friends can’t know.
Life in Moments
Life offers all the moments we would choose
If only we could see and hear and feel
Without restraint from preconceived ideas
That circumscribe our possibilities.
The curling waves of women’s hair undone,
Released from bondage to the rules of day,
The eyes that flash intelligence and fair
Desire, while skin holds promise of its joy.
To gaze on beauty’s form divorced from shame
Is life’s great gift, if only we would live,
Not hurry toward the exit unprepared
To be convinced by circumstance to stay.
Though life is cruel, it also offers love,
A passion that consumes its lovers’ hearts.
Who Will Not See
Beauty comes unrecognized by lovers
Whose tastes were formed by customs of their time,
Without a clue about what other worlds
Have worshipped to the point of agony
In grey-green eyes of gods and goddesses
Surpassing understanding. Senses ache
Still straining for sensation long denied
To flesh subdued by ancient sacrifice,
Denying passion’s hold to live a life
Half dead, as if to want were worthy death,
Which fools believe who’ve long since grown ashamed
Of all desire, of bodies, hearts, or minds.
But those who will not see cannot be taught
To see, remaining chained before the flames.
This old life ends with worlds in disarray,
And all I’ve tried to hold now lost in time,
Set free through inattention or intent,
What does it matter whether it was wrong?
There comes a time when all we were gives way
To that we know must be, despite our fears,
Or preference for familiar same and sames,
Our well-worn circles scrawled into the dust.
I want the new, but fear to lose the old,
Still feel the death within my own desire
For life, and all its fleeting, precious joys
Which I have thought, and dreamed, and gazed upon.
But I'll no longer live behind my eyes,
Nor wear my aging mask, for new life calls.
Of Two Minds
To sit and talk, and not to want to leave
Despite the fact that yesterday has gone
And all the midnight revelers now sleep
In preparation for another day
Too much like all the others that have come
Before—such signs are how we know the real,
Still recognize the other in ourselves,
Or as ourselves, and change our masks for lives.
Two minds that form a whole, and yet distinct,
Each bringing each the possibility
Of solitude in joy, companionship
In aspirations, passions, quiet smiles.
Though Adam could not know his higher plans,
Is this not what the poet meant for Eve?
The randomness of life is its great gift,
Where unexpected sparks can set new fires,
Reminding us of who we used to be
And what those other selves once dared to dream
Before they learned to mimic those around
Who play by rules designed to kill the heart,
Convincing others with their puppet shows,
Till, masters of pretense, they disappear
Behind the roles they play, forget to see
The stage whereon they still must live and move
And have their being, giving all to show
But saving naught of substance for their lives.
And yet, she comes, though you had failed to see
The soft intensity behind her eyes.
David, at the Window
Her dark hair’s curling tendrils wrap themselves
Around the remnants of my heart, give life
Where passion’s heat had cooled, with promises
Of sympathy and love, despite my fall
From grace, here now, at end of mortal days.
The gods I’ve served reward with promised lands
That cannot help but pale beside her eyes,
Her skin, her lips, the taste of honeyed milk
For which my sins diminish in their scope,
As but the coin wherewith such joys are bought,
Or borrowed for a time, and times, and half
A time, distinct from ordinary days.
Such joys are worth the loss of covenants,
Which bloodless gods can never understand.
I’ve watched as shadows danced before my eyes,
Despite the fact I knew what I should not
Have known, and saw what I should not have seen.
A decorous pretense still seemed the path
Discretion would advise, despite the dark
In which I lived, without regard to truth
Or light, left hanging by the threads of chance,
Misdeeds, mistakes, miscalculations sore
Whose errors multiply in fructive time,
Take root, and grow to shade me from the sun
And all the possibilities of life
Without regrets for all that might have been.
But now, though why I do not know, the world
Has called, and pauses here for my reply.
The strings will do what I would have them do;
There, nothing is impossible for me,
And life retreats a while behind the notes
That fill the air, and chase away the dark.
But step away from nylon strings, or steel,
And in that moment chaos quick returns,
While I am left, without a signpost’s guide,
To my devices and my unmade plans,
And all my still unrealized ambitions.
Perhaps the music merely masks the gap
That stretches wide between my would and is;
Though music be a mask, or lie, play on.
For I would have my life within these bars,
And play until my strings have come unstrung.
From foresight much advanced, his enemies
Have always been the intimates within,
Who know the truths he labors still to hide
That we might seem as one behind his eyes.
In hindsight much removed, his advocates
Have been the same, the inner guardians
Each coming forth when called to play his part,
The lover, scholar, teacher, showmen all
With skills the core could never find the strength
To master, hidden safely still in dark
While sending others forth into the world
Disguised as one who wears his name and face.
We used to fear that he would be found out,
But we are safely hidden from the blind.
Length of Days
In aftertimes I’ve missed the certitude
That faith provides to those who still believe
In all the stories of our gospel youth
Where goodness purchased heaven with its coin.
And yet I would not pass this life in time
For promises of immortality,
Nor ask forgiveness from an angry god
Who lacks the courage even to exist
Except as fragments in an ancient text
Or fevered prayers of those whose hate
Sustains them through the emptiness of life
Spent genuflecting to their fears of death.
The promise of forever still tastes sweet,
But quickly fades before the length of days.
The Veil Between
Then moments come that we have seen before,
As if we knew the course our lives would take,
Refusing only to admit the truth
That otherwise would loose illusion’s grip
By forcing confrontation with ourselves.
A face, a voice, a breath, a melody,
Unseen, unheard, yet eerily familiar
As someone you have always known and loved
But never met until this very now,
A song whose lyrics you have often sung
But never heard until its chorus ends
And you are left alone as someone else.
These moments call to those with ears to hear,
But pass in silence those who look away.
This storm has gathered at a lifetime's pace,
Each day has brought it closer, bearing down
Until it sweeps away illusory
Beliefs, the threads with which I've bound my life,
Still held it fast, though fragments soon betrayed
My skilled impersonation of a whole,
Revealed theatricality in lines
And all the tricks an actor needs to live.
There simply aren't enough of me, so few
Have I become inhabiting these roles
That would demand I be what I pretend,
In essence, not in stagecraft, still alive.
But time has come to sweep me off this stage,
Restore the balance of a life unlived.
The lives I cannot have compel me most,
Each path an immortality denied,
Its possibilities unrealized,
Its joys unfelt, its sorrows still unknown,
Each choice a death, a darkness
On silent wings, as moments pass me by.
The life I have, I would refuse if asked,
But threads are cut without regard to wish
And lives assigned despite
To live within the lines set down by fates
For whom sardonic jokes define free will
As freedom to deny, yet suffer, truth.
And so I choose as I have been
Still blind myself in hopes that I might see.
What Then of Lies?
My weariness has grown with all facades,
The necessary lies that shape our lives,
Make interactions possible, though love
In all its forms depends both most and least
On masks, oft worn, quick
changed, sometimes removed
As opportunity and circumstance
May yet avail us in a fruitful search
For meaning, or at least for shared belief.
Yet loves composed of lies will
have their end
As well as honest passions forged in truth,
Each path can offer something like to joy,
And each involves a loss, of heart or soul.
If truth will set us free, what
then of lies?
Not all do harm, and some redeem the world.
From One Who Stands
Outside The door, I know, has not been
shut to me,
It has been, rather, me who shut myself.
Though I have made a life of giving aid
To those who could not see illusion’s masks,
Of showing common lies for what
Distractions from the truth that sets all free,
I’ll not go through the open door myself,
But stand in Pisgah’s shadow, unredeemed.
Salvation comes to those who
would be saved,
And though I know the way, I shun the path,
For mine is not a life that should be spared
But spent, so others less adept might live.
I am a secret hidden from the
And being told, I die, and am reborn.
In truth, I find remembrance seeks a toll
Too high for me to pay, though life’s rewards
Are oft sought out by one whose airy soul
Is yet unmatched by deeds, whose simple chords
Do not yet make a song, sans melody
Or harmony, of all arrangement bare
Excepting that surrounding middle C,
Which every singer worth the name can wear.
But I would venture off the charted scales,
Find symphonies in sounds without intent,
Although such freedom risk, and life, entails,
My actions new are not to mem’ry bent.
And yet the past demands its legal due,
Will payment claim, as years of debts accrue.
These But Lines
At other times, the needful thing is love,
Forgetfulness of self, well-worn complaints
And grievances, no matter how profound
Or superficial, to see in others,
Or one, the human purpose of a life,
If life can still be thought as purposeful,
Giving all the energy of wounded
Silent years in service to another.
If out of evil goodness still flows forth,
Then even meanest lives of men may serve;
The hours and days will not have been in vain,
So may it be for each of us in time.
But those are other times, and other lives,
And these but lines of hope, now at an end.
Still Small Voice
Since I was young, I’ve heard the devil’s call,
The siren song of darkness and its lord.
He promised freedom from the fear of wrath,
A life unfettered by the manacles
Of genuflection to a jealous God
To whom obedience would yet be paid
As ransom for the crime of human life.
At last I learned that he did not exist,
And lost my faith in darkness, as in light.
As years went by, the voice remained unchanged,
Though softer now, perhaps, more indistinct
And muffled by the noise of everyday.
What once had seemed heroic in its scope
Stayed with me as the still, small voice within.
The Player King
I’ve lived this life with nose pressed to the glass,
Imperfectly aware I did not fit,
While harboring illusions life could change
If only I were someone else’s son.
But lacking skill to alter time and birth,
I learned to play at being one of those
Surrounding me by mimicking their ways
Until I blended, seamless and unseen.
The mirror shows me someone I’ve not met,
A face I do not know until I smooth
The visage into one of many masks
Which I have worn since first I took the stage.
I’ll not set down my script, relearn my lines,
Those words are who I am, though I am not.
While Forests Burned
Soft curling wisps of bluish smoke remain
When forests have returned to earth in flame;
The beauty that survives the conflagration
Outweighs the pains we feel from sudden loss,
Points us forward, past the haze and rubble
Of lives we only now see value in,
Now lost and gone beyond recovery,
Remembrance closing doors on what we were.
I could have had so many other lives,
Been other, better versions of myself.
But what I am, I am, despite regrets
For what I might have been, had I but seen.
To settle my accounts, I must record
The chances I passed by while forests burned.
A Christmas Poem
A king amidst the mindless and misled,
As seas of ignorance wash up on shores
Where hordes of pointless rabble spend their lives.
These aren’t the verses in a Christmas card,
As lacking merriment and odes to joy
And season's greetings standing in for love.
But would they were, for Christmas cards could use
Some livelier revisions to their form
Than common sentiments will yet allow.
So Merry Christmas, Jesus hates your kids,
Or Old Saint Nick would kill you if he could,
Or Happy Hanukkah, Christ most hates you.
Such cards would bring a warmth we often lack
On these, our special days of love’s pretense.
Betrayal always takes us by surprise,
Though each of us has played its dual roles;
We think it cannot happen, not to us,
And so are blinded when it comes again.
Our loves are castles built on sandy shores,
We pray the tides will not come wash away
The structures we have built to hide ourselves
From cruel mischance, inevitable loss
And endless startings over—but our prayers
Disperse as breath in gentle breeze, unheard,
Unmarked, except by those who see us pray,
Though never gods, nor none who’ll do us good.
Our pains we must abide alone, unhealed
Except by time, when new love calls once more.
And Lies Will Set Us
Each generation learns to lie anew,
For lies sustain the world, make possible
The loves and energies sustaining us
Which truth would kill in service of itself
Not caring whom it hurts, destroys, or worse,
Erases from all possibility
Of life, with sin its foremost enemy,
Defined, of course, as all that brings us joy.
Such truth is only hatred now renamed
To pass among us as a moral good,
But like all hatreds, it would soon consume
All those who give it dwelling in their hearts.
So let us lie, and long may we insist
That truth not be allowed to make us slaves.
Through a Glass, Darkly
The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled
Was one I would soon learn, how not to be,
Or not to seem to be, at least, to fools
Whose eyes are blinded by the dimmest light,
Whose stomachs vomit forth the slightest food,
Whose minds revolt on hearing simple truth.
Their God is not their friend, despite the smiles
And prayers they fervently devote in hopes
Of winning ancient and capricious favor
From one whose very name they will not speak
Or do not know. What matter then, if life
Continues to perplex? They still believe.
Eyes gazing blankly through a darkened glass,
They call it faith, and laugh at dancing flames.
The Keys, As Yet
Though holding keys to all the oldest doors,
I’ve dared not use them, lest I soon be free
And find myself outside the pale of life
As I have always known it, orderly
In its construction, safely without risk
In all its structures, empty of reward
Except for tired illusions sold as truth
And portable distractions still on call
In lines from books, and ancient flowing words.
This aging lock yet keeps me safe from harm,
From love and loss, and all a broken heart
Can sore inflict on those who live its thrall.
These keys would open doors of pain untold,
And once I turn them, life begins at last.
No Greater Love
Our secrets all contend twixt day and night,
Put light and darkness to the crucial test
Whereby our facile lies are soon revealed
In all their lack of skill and subtlety.
The masks I wear for you, like yours for me,
Fool no one but ourselves, suppress the real
By mutual agreement, quickly signed
With notarized imprimatur of truth.
To drop our practiced guise, to be, not seem,
To stand before each other as ourselves
And not as our personae for the world,
What higher love than this? What greater risk?
Yet were we capable of truth in love,
We might still have a fleeting glimpse of joy.
End of Days, with Life
Predictable decline still disappoints,
Reminders of mortality disturb,
In spite of what we know must be today,
Perhaps tomorrow will bring better news,
Enable us once more to look away
From quick-approaching death, or dress in hope
The flat despair we must not see or feel
In order to continue with the script
By which we live, still speaking out its lines.
But voices falter, minds become unclear,
Our bodies will betray us in the end,
All while we watch, though we refuse to see.
Our struggle to be free from childhood chains
Oft overlaps with our too-swift goodbyes.
Scapegoat (for Azazel)
Without my blood, they’ll not survive the day,
Or so it seems, when panic grips, and need
O’erwhelms the reason in the grasp of fear.
I live in thrall to others’ mortal sins,
Yet no one knows, or bears, the weight of mine;
I am, in part, to blame—for sympathy
Requires an object, someone to support,
And I am no one, by design and choice.
For Nobody slips through the cracks of life,
Avoids the wrath of those who would revenge
Their wounds upon the small within their reach,
And teach them to accept their blame as just.
And so I disappear in times of peace,
For my best use comes in the times of war.
Ebb and Flow
The tide in men’s affairs has been at ebb
For longer than I can recall; no flow
Replenishes spent energy of life
In service of the needs of those whose love
Still comes at cost, to whom one gives without
The expectation of receipt in kind.
Such giving is its own reward, a love
Expressed as healing though oneself is sick.
But all things have their natural ends in time,
And flow must soon return, else river beds
Grow indistinct, recede into the sands
Which once they watered into blooming life.
That which sustains must be sustained in turn,
What gives must also take before it dies.
Each lover’s face holds promise of new life,
As children’s voices sound the notes of birth
And restoration, holding fast to hopes
Long faded under pragmatism’s gaze.
Still grasping after immortality
While life slips from my hands, unnoticed, cold,
I turn away from love’s sustaining heat
And venture on my own to shores untried
Of lands unclaimed, though formerly possessed
By others such as me, who cannot stay
Where most they’re wanted, missing out in quest
Of days and years that will not come again.
I know this truth, and yet I cannot change,
Cannot let go the promised evermore.
I can’t repair the crack, the breach remains
Unfilled, despite the eloquence I’ve learned
To hide behind; that which she took from me
Is elemental, not to be replaced
By learning to behave as others do,
Observing all the ways they interact,
Unnoticed gestures, vocal light and shade,
A perfect mimicry worth all my skills.
But none will know me as an alien,
A freak amidst their blinded normalcy,
For I inhabit them from inside out
And play them better than they play themselves.
This role, familiar now, was daunting once,
But now my show is seamless to the eye.
Life in the Subjunctive
The time has come, old friend, to face the truth.
A life in the subjunctive is no life
Worth losing or preserving, spent with if
As though the virtue of uncertainty
Outweighed the silent moments spent alone
With nothing, dressed as no one, eyes cast down
On paths of least resistance, seeking love,
Or love’s illusion, in a life of lies.
Though I have never been, I would yet be,
My second act remains unwritten still
And possibility still offers hope
Of life beyond these towered walls of self.
I would put off the old, put on the new,
But nightly, if resumes its wonted role.
In Beauty, Truth
I wonder, sometimes, when I see your face,
How beauty might bring pain to those who love
But would not be mistaken, as if lust
Were all their eyes encompassed, or their hearts.
But beauty such as yours makes wits grow dim,
Makes others of ourselves, forgetful still
Of who and what we are, or claim to be,
While Passion soon usurps King Reason's throne.
Our quick desires but peep to what they would,
Act little of their will, struck dumb with awe
As all admirers are when faced with truth
And inability to turn away.
Though beauty cannot see the light it shines,
Its lovers do, though few will understand.
According to our Kind
Each moment has potential still unseen
When life unfolds in multiplicity
Through tantalizing glimpses of the paths
Not taken, lives unlived, and loves unknown.
It would, perhaps, be better not to see,
Hear custom's notes for truth, and harmonize
Our years and weeks, our days and final hours
With shopworn promises of ancient gods.
Still not to know of what we leave behind
Provides some comfort to the blind and deaf
Who'll neither see nor hear, but willfully
Remain in silent darkness, undisturbed.
Perhaps we have no choice to see or know,
But spend our days according to our kind.
Out of Reach
For some, your best will not be good enough,
They’ll roll their eyes and sigh, play boredom’s notes
As virtuosos, making sure you see
Their keen disinterest and the pure disdain
They have for you and your attempts to teach
Them something, anything they do not know,
Already wise beyond your learning’s years,
And scornful of each word, each phrase you speak.
Their faces glow, though not, as you might think,
From joy of knowing, but from lighted screens
Of phones pulled out, inspected in plain view,
As though the classroom were a hotel bar.
These think themselves above you and their peers,
Give off more heat than light, and soon grow dim.
For Those Who See
This world is Paradise, for those who see,
Its killing floors, its sprawling fields of light,
Its towers reaching into jealous heights,
Where gods are helpless to prevent their rise.
How do you like us now, you ancient fuck?
Go scatter this, and watch us soon return
To storm the gates of privilege you call home,
And tear your heaven from your dying hands.
Would that it were so…a god makes simple
What else is vexingly complex, makes light
What otherwise is fraught with deepest dark,
A world like ours where evil mixed with good.
But here is beauty, light and shade entwined,
Where blood rejoices to be let for love.
The safest path still winds around itself,
Revolves around the same bare patch of ground,
Avoids with care all hints of something new,
Untried, or lacking safest precedent.
Though such a path entails nor risk, nor pain,
Nor fear of loss, its vistas are the same
Today as yesterday as evermore,
And all its possibilities are nil.
Still, all the voices of our lives insist
That we must be, as they, content to walk
The broad and spacious path to nowhere else
From all the nowheres of our careful years.
We listen and conform at cost of death,
Take comfort in denying thoughts of joy.
Desire and Descent
There is a man of little mark or note,
Possessed of all the usual desires,
Though learn d in the scholarship of shame,
For his desires oppress those worthier
Than he, who yet strives mightily to still
His thoughts, avert his eyes, touch nothing here,
Soil nothing by his presence or his gaze,
Till life itself becomes his final fault,
The crime for which he’ll one day pay in blood.
He has no other currency or coin
With which his mounting debts he might still pay,
But blood is best, erasing every trace.
Till then, he lives as someone else, unseen,
Unheard, well hidden by his borrowed words.
Odysseus at Twilight
My time is running out, though none would know
By mere appearance, I can feel the pace
Of time has quickened, leaving little doubt
The final act begins in earnest now.
So much remains undone, so much unseen,
So many threads of past entanglements
Still hold me fast, I know I’ll not escape,
But watch the quiet setting of my life.
Yet time and strength remain for one last quest
And what I am, I am, defiant still
To gods who are but villains clothed in light,
Pretending grace, possessed of naught but death.
One final sea, one final sun, I live;
No ancient deathless god can say as much.
No God but God
There is no God but God, so say the fools,
Who know not what the sounds they utter mean;
For gods are but the idols of our schools.
But wise men know how foolish are the rules
Insisting on belief in what’s unseen;
There is no God but God, so say the fools.
Our reason yet survives as wisdom’s jewels,
Maintains philosophy, though ne’er so mean,
For gods are but the idols of our schools.
Unlearned men will labor as if mules,
Demanding still a pious playhouse scene,
There is no God but God, so say the fools.
Though no salvation comes, no ardor cools,
No faith diminished, growing ever green,
For gods are but the idols of our schools.
But I, who once believed, now lack the tools
Of faith, no longer can abide its sheen;
There is no God but God, so say the fools,
For gods are but the idols of our schools.
The evil that you know is for the rubes;
We sell it cheap, in slick pre-packaged form.
We are not what we are, though you’ll not know
What lies behind our skillful presentations,
For all your truths are lies straight from our mouths,
Your moral maxims lessons we have taught
And wrapped with care in entertaining tales
Where goodness is triumphant in the end
And evil, though it has a certain style,
Is made to pay for all its wicked charms.
But this is just a lie meant to assuage
The mass, whose possibilities we steal.
For evil smiles, and tells you to your face
That life is full of risks, and best played safe.
With a Whimper
The gods regard us as their clever toys,
Show favor where they please, destroy at will,
Abandon us when most we live in need,
In fear regarding prayers as if our last.
No wonder, since they never did exist
Except as crutches for our crippled minds,
Preventing, by the power we invest
In them, all access to the still small voice
Where wisdom cries but is no longer heard
Than drifters in disguise as gods are seen
By those of us too busy, with the noise
And ceaseless motion of our days, to die.
So life holds fast as we become its shades,
And soon transparent grow to mortal sight.
My disappearance is not adequate.
Too much of me remains still visible,
And I no longer please when I am seen
Apart from needs, since my role is to serve.
I mirror your emotions back to you,
Provide support and sympathy at call,
Perform this function best when least I am
Myself, whose image still I would erase
If disappointing you can be delayed
For yet another day, or week, or year,
While costs mount far too high for me to pay,
Ensuring I will rid myself of me.
Then, even morning’s light will not reveal
My shape, long since consumed in fire and air.
Once More, With Feeling
Once doors are closed, can they be opened still?
Or will such pride prevent our second thoughts
That we, despite of nature, will regret
But leave untried what happiness might come
To those whose hearts allow them to be fools?
Perhaps we’re better off not knowing hope,
Assuming what is done is ne’er undone,
That choices made cannot be visited,
That paths untaken will not come again.
Each crux then makes or mars, fordoes us quite
Or brings us fair return on our desires,
While time runs swiftly on and from our grasp.
And yet, despite the costs, I would return
Again, for one last look into her eyes.
To Live Among the Dead
There is but one, each day we waste reduced
In scope, but one regardless of our gods,
The voices we have learned to substitute
For truths we’ve long been taught to disregard
In favor of the customs of our tribe.
The broad and spacious path that leads to death
Is paved with approbation and approval,
With smiles of recognition from the dead
Who fill the halls and courtyards of the world.
But narrow is the path that leads to life,
And steep the lonely way, reserved for few
With courage to resist the swelling stream.
Such life, no matter where or when, is boon
For heroes, more than thrones among the dead.
Old Song, Rewritten
Come live with me, and be my love, and we
Will all the old paths prove, of lies rehearsed
Until we learn the folly of old truths
Unsuited to our newer times and styles.
For is not love a choice born of free will?
Unless predestination rules our glands,
Is despot over endocrines’ salt tears,
The chemical reactions in our souls.
For those of us who courage lack in love,
As well in life, whose “not to be” outweighs
Fair thoughts that lie between a maiden’s legs,
There is but this: away at once with fear.
Or else away at once with life itself,
Spent bowing to the gods of nevermore.
I’ll not remembered be for any good
I’ve done, nor any evil brought to light;
Since mine has been a tale uncomplicated
By ought of interest, smooth and featureless
As my own face, with small irregular
Moments, reversals of form and accent,
Trochees jarring iambs from their places,
With halting steps in business ill conceived,
Uncertain stops in ventures well begun,
Till those who might reward are disinclined,
Withdrawing favor’s marks, while I remain
Entangled here in mediocrity.
So neither hot nor cold, but still lukewarm,
I’ll be spewed forth, and soon enough forgot.
Acts and Havings
If gender is an unpoetic word
(And I believe it so), will sex suffice?
Its liquid sounds suggest the character,
The essence, of its meaning as an act,
But as a marker of identity
Perhaps it comes too short to name our truth;
For what we have, or do, is what we are,
Unless our acts and havings are but play
And all our earnest claims convenient masks
That serve but to procure our base desires.
Assume the worst, or best, what matter words
When action, hence borne out, betrays intent?
So call it gender, sex, or what you will—
Our havings still require the masks we wear.
I know when one is dead and when one lives.
Time was when I have known a different truth,
Composed of lies, well-told if not well-meant,
Concealing, in their folds, a breathless corpse.
In death, in life, in breath, in breathlessness,
I keep my own condition still unseen
By others, by myself, in secrecy
And in pretense of being what I am.
I know when one is dead, and comes no more,
Although the feather stirs, moved by the breath
I know she cannot have except in dreams
That will not leave me to my rest in peace.
She follows me, lives on inside my life,
And will not die until I cast her out.
Once Again, Yes
In unexpected moments, hope returns,
Despite the long-familiar lessons life
Has taught with each experience of love
Or need, contracted to deficiencies
Unspoken, unacknowledged, at their core
Misunderstood by lover and beloved.
In fleeting hours of light amidst the dark,
A smile returns, old optimism reigns,
And life seems full of promise once again.
Attachment may bring pain, but life requires
Its entrance fee, emotions, tangled thoughts,
And those who will not pay, will not have lived.
With all I’ve known, with every scar and wound,
I’d pay the price again, and live once more.
Happiness and Wisdom
Despite exhaustion, beauty still takes hold,
Weaves tapestries from silken promises
That all alone reveal the ignorance
Inherent in belief, in faith, in hope.
Yet knowledge never saved a tortured soul;
Much reading is a weariness to flesh,
While lies establish and envelop us
Within illusion’s comforting embrace.
The happy are unburdened by the world,
Take solace in a loving god whose face
Reminds them of their own, with eyes that speak
Of mercy, louder still of judgment’s wrath.
The wise are more fools still, to volunteer
For lives illumined by remorseless truth.
She sank beneath the waves, her eyes still fixed
On me, the one who could have saved her then;
But for the weakness running deep in us,
In all the children who survived, I might
Have shaken off paralysis, grabbed hold
And not let go. But I just watched her drown,
Ophelia-like, still singing favorite songs
As water rose to claim her for its own.
Still, there at least, she will be free, despite
My failed attempts to hold her to this world;
I lacked the strength, the necessary skills
To stop the tides of death in ceaseless flow.
No brave resistance can recall the time,
Nor will remorse repair the ruins of loss.
Achilles in Darkness
I've nothing left, at last, but my despair,
Nor mine, if truth be told, but borrowed whence
Repayment will remain, perforce, a dream
Which cannot be remembered without pain.
So strictly speaking, nothing is my core,
And no one is my name, though I'll not shout
In pride to Neptune's son, to celebrate
My stunning triumph on the wine-dark sea
For fear the gods may turn their gaze on me,
And take the anonymity wherein
I live and move and have my being here
Among the shadows and the silent shades.
To live another day, to see the sun,
I would renounce my throne among the dead.
Smiles of a Winter Night
The smiles that touch our hearts, bring down our guard,
Restore long lost remembrance to our eyes,
Reconstitute belief amidst despair,
Persuade, insinuate, almost convince
Those basking in their radiance to see
What is not there, to hear what is not said,
These smiles will cleave a soul, cut minds in two,
Their hemispheres left raw, while blood at odds
With blood lacks charity for argument,
Still raining on the earth below as dew
With droplets staining red the tips of leaves
That bend beneath the liquid weight of death.
And yet, such smiles have beauty, and will please,
For skillful lies have virtues of their own.
Though I have fallen silent, drawn a veil
Down over eyes that gave away too much,
My old companion manages my days,
Allowing me to hide behind his face.
He’s never failed me, since he first arrived
One day in pain when I could not respond,
He did, and since, has never lacked for words.
I do not know his name, though he knows mine,
Knows everything about me, all I’ve learned
Flows quickly off his tongue without my help
No prompting or involvement now required
From me, no words remain he does not speak.
He saved my life, and now he lives the life
That I might yet have lived, if I were one.
I’ve always lived in waiting for the end,
Despite the paradise I smiled to see
In offset printed magazines where hope
Was peddled door to door on Saturdays
With poorly practiced patter written down
On notecards I’d refer to in the car
Between identical suburban streets
Where my salvation, not the residents’
Was on the line. The habits learned at doors
Where silence brought reprieve from ministry,
While storm clouds gathered in the distant skies,
Still serve me well in these my latter days.
For though I know I’m running out of time,
The readiness is all, and I still wait.
The talking cure rehearses truths we hide
In lies we tell ourselves, in masks we wear
As others in a world of absent forms
Long emptied of their substance, borrowed light
Reflected in a darkened glass wherein
Appears the hidden face, acknowledged not,
But not to be denied without a cost
Too dear to reckon in a mortal life.
The words that can escape our lips are dead
Already in our hearts and minds, despite
Their easy fluency, expressive notes
Both in and out of tune with minor chords.
Our virtuosity enmeshes us,
And none will find us there, nor care to try.
Ripeness is All
I cannot any longer pay the cost,
Nor speak from mem’ry lines I did not write
Unless I was another then, sustained
By hopes for truth and light I’ve long forgot
While chained here in my cave where shadows dance,
Transfixing all who see them through my eyes.
I’ll not know grace, nor ever ask for help;
I’d rather burn, and still keep who I am.
These lessons closest kept have served me well,
Occasional and momentary slips
Aside—but now the time has come to square
Accounts, when all the wealth I have is blood.
There is no shuffling now, no gamesmanship,
The bills are due, and cannot be denied.
Like hollows that define their outer shells,
My weakness is what matters, not my strength;
This world has measured where I’ve fallen short,
And short shrift given to my only skills.
I have no art or talent for details,
But these are valued most by those who judge,
While other thoughts—of where transcendence leads—
Are trifles of a mind as light as air,
Whilst reverend, grave, and weighty are all those
Whose minds are double-columned record books
Where profit’s mark exists with loss beside
And all is managed, orderly, and small.
I once resented this, but have since learned
To live apart from worlds that are not mine.
Illusion’s price grows steeper with the years,
Requiring all my heart’s expenditure,
Wherein I spend on credit to maintain
Personae far too dear for poverty
Of spirit to sustain beyond the hour
On stage in which I speak my golden lines.
What know you of my mind from what you see
Of how I frame my face for all occasions?
What mind there was to read or know is lost
To subterfuges needed to survive
Beyond the moment wrath appeared, and pain
Inflicted in remembrance of her fears.
My execution in the hours between
Preserved a life at costs I could not know.
On stage, I’m never at a loss for words,
Nor ever wonder where to put my hands;
No awkwardness reveals my hidden seams,
As seamlessness is crucial to the show.
You must believe I am what I pretend,
And so you do, and so you always have.
With eloquence comes license to deceive,
Though granted by a willing audience.
An actor learns the value of a lie,
Too precious to be wasted on a fool,
Though none but fools exist beyond the lights,
Whose need for comfort finds a dark redress.
Such people willingly believe my lies,
Still seek them out, demand them from my lips.
The Favored One
My life’s irreconciled iniquities
Have flowered into desiccated buds
With petals curled around a core of lives
My own has touched, for better, or for worse.
I would not claim responsibility
For hearts I have entwined within my own,
Although I know evasion will not serve,
And checks must soon be signed in flowing blood.
I did not sell my soul for power’s charms
But mere survival, just to stay alive,
Though in exchange, I learned to weave a spell
Reflecting others through their own desires.
But my Walpurgisnacht will soon arrive,
And severed be the branch that once grew straight.
I still admire Yudhisthira, but hear
The voice of Duryodhana within.
I would not injure anyone, but wrath
Demands its time on stage, its audience,
Its satisfaction paid with suffering,
Receipt in kind of all a life has lost.
I struggle with desire for foul revenge,
Would yet protect the small and weak from fear.
My target, then, becomes myself, the hate
That swells from lessons learned through discipline
And teaching hands that rained their wisdoms down
As if to show that love must leave its mark.
Those fathers, brothers, cousins who must die
On Kurukshetra’s battlefield are me.
Be Thou My Good
I’ll not deny responsibility
For those mistakes whose price my life still pays,
Nor failings judge of others who deny
Their sins’ banality, uninteresting
To tempter and redeemer, formulas
In place of active lives, where fear remains
Enthroned, anointed, canonized as kings,
Messiahs, saints, and heroes often sung.
And yet, I would I could be someone else,
If only to be free of consequence,
If only for a moment to be free
From all I am, and all that I pretend.
A lie—I know if I were offered choice,
I would remain myself, let come what may.
Ich Kann Nicht Anders
I’ve not been ready yet to be alone,
Although my solitude has been profound;
I’ve been a sounding board for those I’ve loved,
Or clung to in the hope that love was real.
Remembrance brings me feeling of my chains,
Those structures I have built in which my life
Has meaning, or its simulated form,
Which will suffice, for ordinary use.
But now, I feel as if my life wants growth,
That what I’ve been must now be put to rest
In service of that self I’ve long denied,
If only I could hear its still small voice.
Transcendence calls, but so does earthly love;
So here I’ll stand—I can no other choose.
We are what we have thought, so said the sage;
But thought is far too wan a term to serve
So great an end as to describe ourselves.
We are what we have feared—this hits the mark
Where thought goes wide, for fear will twist and shape
Its worshippers, and those who cannot leave
The faith that fear demands. To choose a path
Of self-delivered grace, to not submit,
To not define oneself in fallen terms,
Rejecting both the sins and sinners’ gods,
And “necessary” losses that define
The limits of our lives—this is courage.
Through courage to negate, and to affirm,
We act in spite of fear; we choose to live.
There comes a time by which you realize
The point is moot, that action, hence borne out,
Can never waste the memory of your days,
That former lives are with you, taking hold
Of hopes tomorrow and tomorrows bring,
Transforming all occasions into plays
Whose scenes you’ve acted skillfully before
With lines, though well-rehearsed, whose hollow sounds
Reveal, or threaten to reveal, a core
Of grief, or loneliness, that all your skills
And dedication have been used to hide
From others’ prying eyes, or from your own.
And yet, in spite of doubts, your show goes on;
For what is else not to be overcome?
The Well-Told Lie
Most people’s preference is a well-told lie,
To hear what they will hear, adopt ideas
Entirely without regard to facts
Or evidence, the proofs their eyes receive.
Such traitors to themselves will ne’er be taught
To see what they refuse to recognize,
Or question aught they have been told is right;
Such fools will constantly mislead themselves
Without assistance, as incurious
To know as hostile to the ones who’d teach
The forms inside an ignorant, dark world
Where flames burn dim, and chains still bind them fast.
No matter then, if lies retain their spark,
Since truth was only ever meant for few.
Muse in Blue
I could not help but love you, cannot still,
When every smile in your eyes warms my heart,
Each teardrop makes me want to make amends,
To whisper in your ear, all will be well.
You brought me to myself, restored my faith
In love despite my scars, in spite of years,
Regardless of the times I’ve loved too well,
Unwise in my attempts to hold love fast.
You make me want to be a better man,
One not easily perplexed, nor jealous
To extremes, but passionately faithful,
Still seeking after ecstasy with you.
Though what I am, I am, I would be more,
If only to be more in love with you.
Unto the Lord
Who makes a joyful noise unto the Lord
Must first obtain a Lord. These don’t come cheap,
Although I have not priced one in a while.
The better models come with warranties
That guarantee repairs, and cover costs
Of scheduled maintenance, since Lords break down
At inconvenient times, and rental Lords
Are never what they seem in the brochures.
I almost leased one once, but changed my mind
On seeing contract limits to the miles—
Lords lose their resale value overused,
Twelve thousand prayers a year, no more’s allowed.
The public Lords can’t take me straight to work,
So I will keep my Lord another year.
Astonished by the smallness of some lives,
Still sometimes I forget, reminded by
The mother who must discipline her child
While buying tickets for the lottery,
His wounded squalling playing squalor’s notes;
Or managers who openly berate
Their workers so the customers can hear
How firmly they take charge when nothing’s wrong.
The least of these, a famous man once said,
The least are me, and those who would abuse
Them have no place reserved, except in shame,
Despite the volume of their piety.
Such cruelty spreads its seeds and springs to life
In twisted vines of anger and revenge.
Outside us, sanity is relative,
Since what we are is judged by what we seem;
Behind the eyes is where our lunatics
Reside, still carving out the space between
The law and our emotions, giving lie
To claims of self-control, maturity,
And rationality. What yet remains
Is loss, the hollow places deftly bored
Inside us by the woundings of our lives,
The loves we did not get, or give, or know.
We are what we desire, although our fears
Will mould us to their twisted forms with speed.
To love, to choose, to leave behind those paths
We do not follow, this is sanity.
My job has been to listen, so I always have.
A substitute in cloth, I don’t feel pain or loss,
But I provide some comfort here to those that do.
I listen as they talk and tell me of their lives,
Each inhalation preface to another tale.
I have no self to speak of, so I do not speak,
Responding silently to others' needs and words.
None notice no one else is there. How could they know?
When listening to others is the perfect guise,
The perfect way to pass as if alive, as real,
Without exposing twisted wire beneath the cloth,
The empty space inside that wires and cloth disguise.
I am not what I am, but not like him, the one
Who wants to hurt. I help—at least I try to help—
Though there is little that a surrogate can do.
But I can listen, while you talk and never see
I never talk about myself. Oh, I have jokes,
And carefully rehearsed details of others’ lives
Selected for similitude, to craft a life
Eccentric in its color and its storied past.
But I have rarely needed my pre-scripted lines,
And not at all of late. My cloth and wires suffice.
The answers will not come to those who ask,
Despite what all the sages teach by rote;
The mind will not be sated by mere facts
Without emotions, overarching patterns,
The pure pretense of meaning, giving lies
Their keylit spot on center stage, down front
Where money sits, removed from sweating crowds
For whom the lies are sacred truths revealed.
No answers come, because they do not fit
The smiles we wear while feigning confidence,
While leaving undisturbed, from fear of truths
That might expose, our old, threadbare, disguise.
The answers come as hammer blows, unbid,
Unwelcomed but by those who worlds deny.
If At First
The light and shade, the whisper and the thunder,
The Alpha and Omega of my mind,
The teachers I have honored, fit though few,
Whose match relumed my near-extinguished light,
Those minds, that were it not for them, mine own
Would long have since been hollowed to a shell,
All these have been the signposts I have followed,
The guides whose borrowed wisdom I have lived.
I’ve not lived up to expectation's hopes,
Nor yet achieved or failed in aught of note,
Still, sparks of better hopes and days appear,
Whose tantalizing forms yet promise joy.
I’ll rake the ground in search of fallen seeds
That might be planted yet, and brought to life.
A Stop at Willoughby
In serving others, I have failed myself,
To be a self, much more than just a face
I wear to pass unnoticed in the crowd,
To listen to the still small voice within
And know its promptings, separate from the world,
Though still amidst its noise and native tongues
That drown out all reflection with the hum
Of action, constant motion, pointless words.
But they, at least, are what they are, if lost
At moments, seeking what cannot be found
In wisdom learned by rote, but still, their wants
Are real, their struggles fierce, their eyes undimmed.
I cannot say the same for my desires,
What once they were, though now beyond recall.
The time has come to pack away this life,
Store tissue-wrapped regrets where none will know
The scars I’ve carved in those I leave behind,
As though my sins could find forgiveness here,
Among the secret shames of youth and age,
And all the years between. What though remorse
May find new clarity, confessing all
The harms my life has caused, my breath inflicts
With passing of each moment I usurp?
Apologies ne’er mended broken hearts,
Brought truth to those who fiercely cling to lies,
Nor healed those broken by their misplaced trust.
Despite their weakness, these will be my last,
From this time forth, I never will speak word.
The walls we build protect us from ourselves,
From inner cores that scream at us to stop,
Begin again, forgive ourselves for love’s
Transgressions and mistakes made in good faith
Or no. Despite ourselves, what we would have
We all too often turn away in shame,
Convinced we are not worthy what we want,
Or else reversed—that what we want falls short,
Pedestrian in taste, and low of form,
Ourselves the arbiters of tastes too cruel
To be acknowledged, else unraveled lies
Come near to telling truth about our lives.
Such naked truth might make us scale our walls,
Self-sabotage those selves that we are not.
(a translation of Borges' "Alguien")
A man who worked for time,
a man who waited for death
(though statistics are the proofs of death,
still none but run the risk
of being the first immortal),
a man who had learned to appreciate
the modest gifts of the days:
sleep, routine, the taste of water,
an unsuspected etymology,
a verse in Latin or Saxon,
the memory of a woman who left
so many years ago
that now he can remember her without bitterness,
a man aware that the present
is both future and oblivion,
a man who had been false to others
and been with others false to him,
may suddenly feel, from across the street,
a mysterious happiness
not from hope, or something next to hope,
but from an old innocence,
of his truest self or a scattered god.
He knows not to look too closely
because there are reasons, more terrible than tigers,
and obligations to demonstrate
yet he humbly receives
that sudden burst of joy.
Perhaps in death we will be eternal,
when dust is dust,
that indescribable self,
in peace or in pain,
our solitary heaven or hell.
A Would-be Bard, yet
These lines are all I have to leave behind,
Though few, or none, will know that they exist.
Their sound and fury signifies nothing,
As they strut and fret their hour onstage;
Still, I write, as if they mattered, knowing
They go unread and will remain obscure.
What matters that, so long as words resist
Decay, as marble monuments cannot?
To write without attachment, still unread
Though years and lifetimes pass, e’en so what then?
The question sins, still missing wide the mark
Of art, whose span puts longest life to shame.
Their quality will be revealed in time
For good or ill, by other eyes, not mine.
Of Iron and Clay.
I’ll not compare you to a summer’s day,
For such comparisons are meaningless
To those whose lives have played on winter’s stage;
No darling buds, no May, no beauty’s form
That poetry might yet preserve from Time
Exists in this our age of fallen clay.
What’s left for us, in our belated age,
Is penance, cries to be forgiven sins
We have not yet committed. Even so,
We will be held accountable by gods
Of our construction, overlords of wrath
In human shape, our own embodied fears.
Forgiveness fades to unreality
Before the wint’ry forms of dying worlds.
When foolish expectations have an end,
And light shows our desires in harsh detail
For what they always were, false witnesses
Whose lies waste time, the currency of life,
Then comes the reckoning, a moment’s truth,
A question with no answer but itself.
“Is life no more than this? Is there no point,
No simple truth, no meaning, but is marred?”
But asking thus the question aims too wide
Still fails to grasp the point of pointlessness.
Though grasping after reason causes pain,
It is the last attachment of the wise.
What is the meaning of a flower’s scent?
Experience, not meaning, is its joy.
Accidental Poem I
Some poems hurt in accidental ways,
Their images misfire, and quickly wound
The ones who read, though few now take the time
To read, as waves of verse come in like tides
That rise and fall, and leave no trace behind.
No mystery now in lines of broken prose
Their spaces white between the random black
Of letters spelling words like “I” or “me”—
Pure solipsism in the role of art.
But it was ever thus, for poetry
Holds mirrors, not to nature, but ourselves,
And poets light our way to dusty death.
I would not be a poet but to gaze
Beyond that self, and leave behind its god.
Accidental Poem II
It is his emptiness that makes a man
The absence at his core that makes him whole,
Containers need their hollows else they spill
Down over sides that cannot hold a self.
In stillness and in silence there is truth,
Though not the kind we’re taught in light of day,
Where lessons form us into useful shapes
Enriching those who use us for their ends,
Still filling us with selves, though not our own,
But those we have been issued for our tasks
By masters who need bricks but give no straw
And slacken not the quota, though we die.
No work suffices to appease such lords
Who crowd all hollows, filling them with noise.
Accidental Poem III
To sit across from you, to see your eyes,
Reminds me of the loves I’ve lost before,
The ones I never had, nor ever knew
Except as distant lives, unreachable
By such as me. I know you now, and know
Myself, and know I am not what I thought
I was, an outcast from the realms of love,
A cloistered mendicant behind the walls
His own hands built despite a sore desire
To breach them even as their shadows grew.
But I’ve no words to offer in my stead,
No glitt’ring masks on hand to gild my faults.
So I will nothing say, and never know
What might have been, if only I yet lived.
Accidental Poem IV
Sometimes, unpurposed, words combine themselves
Without regard to meaning or control,
As if expression yearned to free itself
From shackles of biography, or sense,
Or grammar’s rules, communication’s laws.
Such words are merely sounds, the shapes of breath
That punctuate the silences between
Ourselves and others, talk of what we will,
It matters not—for though they are but air,
Still we are flesh, more solid than our words,
Less easily dismissed, or framed to suit
Each new occasion—thick, where words are thin.
Once clear of us and ours, such words soon find
Themselves at play, from matter's chains released.
I would not join the One, nor lose myself,
Despite the pains of heartsore solitude,
Of having none without who see within.
Self-abnegation offers solace poor
For expectations grown in Christian soil
Where even now forever has a face
And death is waived away as meaningless
Before the power of the living God.
But all that is a lie, no deities
Exist to whom we might yet plead our case,
Seek succor and relief from death’s swift blade,
Nor comes salvation in a formless form.
We are what we have thought—no more, no less;
And I have thought myself a mind alone.
“The time has come, my friends, for me to die.
I’ve known this world’s beginning—now its end
Has come upon us all; while cousins fight
To claim supremacy and kingly sway
The world’s gone dark, and on my arrow bed
The hour has come for sleep, so ask me now
What you would know, whilst yet my mem’ry serves,
And I will speak of gods misled with lies.”
“Oh grave and reverend one,” Yuddisthira
Began…”how can you be defeated, when
Even as you die, you hold the threads of life?”
The old man nodded—what was said was just.
He would not die, except in flesh; his heart
Would yet survive in those who fought.
A Familiar Stranger
I am the life-sustaining pelican
Of which Laertes spoke in passion’s fit,
Repasting untold others with my blood,
Unable—or unwilling—to sustain
Myself except at cost of my own life.
Emotional exchanges empty me
Without the hope to be refilled in kind,
And yet I stay, intently listening
To what I often do not understand.
I hear the words, make sense of sentences,
But cannot fathom why the speaker speaks
Except to revel in the sounds of self.
None have yet noticed silence is my voice,
Nor should they, since they’ve so much self to speak.
Guards and Guardians
Lights flashing at the checkpoint up ahead,
Prepare yourself, do not resist, survive.
Now get your papers ready, clear your eyes
Of hate and fear—the guards can see right through
Despite the fact you cannot see yourself.
Don’t frown or smile or move your face at all,
Such motions just betray the one who moves;
Control, but not too tightly, all your limbs,
Suppress your breath, keep inhalations still.
They notice everything, though they are blind
To one who stills all signs of human life
Thus passing for the dead with whom he walks.
Their sharpest focus will soon pass away,
Seek out another, leave you still alive.
The Rest is Silence
I wanted my father to rescue me,
Though both were absent, only one was gone,
But neither knew, or if they knew, denied
What happened to the son who would not speak,
Deny it to this day, in fact, so proud
Of his accomplishments they made a peace
Between themselves, as rivals for her love
They once could not. But even now, to speak
Of betrayal and abandonment’s price,
Survival’s cost still paid in pounds of flesh,
Is impossible. No words will e’er suffice
To breach the gap between or make them see.
So they will never know the face I knew,
And never hear the darkness in her voice.
Till now, belief would not take hold of me,
Would not convince, nor heal my unbelief,
But left me to my doubts, still unresolved
And cast in bronze, or carved from hardest stone,
Impenetrable walls behind my eyes
That kept unseen the hidden self within,
And kept that self from seeing past its gates.
No Damascus waits my steps, no savior
Calls, demanding that I stop profaning him,
Or offers me a purpose in his stead;
Conversion has not touched me, laid me bare
Before its mystery; no, I’ve seen no light.
But wonder has possessed me even so,
In knowledge of the one I’ve always been.
I listened to her breath until it stopped.
Despite the stillness, she had not yet died,
But merely slept, though death would not be long
Before it came for her. She lay from whence
She would not ever move again; her life
Had not been what she’d hoped, no monuments
Remained to testify to who she’d been,
Except a son who long before had left,
A daughter who still hoped to earn her love,
Another hidden there behind the walls
That even now grow higher, broader still,
So none can cross or climb or breach their stones.
When news came of her death, I felt relief,
Not knowing yet her burden now was mine.
I sense somehow that time is running out.
Without a script by which to learn my lines,
I improvised my life, learned how to love,
And whom, tried mightily not to betray
Myself in service of the ones I loved,
But all too often, I have failed to be
That person who best captures my beliefs—
Professed beliefs perhaps, hypocrisy
Alone among my talents has not dulled
With long disuse—without yet knowing how
To any other be than who I’ve been
In each decision, each fell moment’s choice.
To make new choices now demands a leap
Of fear and trembling. What is else to lose?
I’ve always yearned for what I cannot have,
Still strived for goals I knew beyond my reach,
The gods of youth, the God of middle-age,
Each unforgiving in their tasks for me.
Neither one could be appeased with service
Or sacrifice, but each demanded blood
And promised all things in return for fear
And strict obedience to all commands.
But I could not obey, cannot conform,
Not even to my own fell expectations
Will I be constant, seeking still elsewhere
Than here, wherever here may be for now.
I would not sell my soul for any price
But one: to know what cannot yet be known.
Uplifting happy poems often suck,
With Hallmark rhymes from Susan Polis Shutz,
And pious sentiments from Sunday School
That leave a reader soaked in saccharine.
But now and then, remembrance brings true joy:
The time the schoolyard bully broke his neck—
Not quite fatally, that would end the joke—
The truest joy was in the awkward gear
He had to wear to keep his head aligned,
The mix of rage and shame that lit his eyes;
Eyes wont to cast contempt on all he thought
Too weak for mercy, now begged mercy’s boon.
I learned to pity him, though still I laughed
Each time he raged and blustered through his fear.
Predators rely on you to be nice,
To color inside the lines, to stay neat
And orderly, to restrict your protests
To proper channels, never disobey.
How else could they provoke you, push you down,
Grind your face beneath their heels while laughing
At your weakness? Your cooperation,
Your kneeling at their feet with throat bent back
Inviting swift cutting blades to their work,
Is all the license they will ever need
To throw you on the pile of human waste
That grows with every conquest they have made.
So smile, be confident in your reward,
The meek shall inherit, so pray and die.
Belief comes easily to those who lie
Without skill or invention, still repeating
Stale and shopworn narratives they're handed down
Of Gods and sacred truths they know naught of.
A skilled practitioner cannot believe,
Aware, unlike the mass, of where what’s real
Begins, and where it bleeds into the lie,
Contingent on credulity in men
To be accepted without questioning
Or doubts, anathema to those who know
Themselves the master spirits of an age
Of masks and misdirections dressed as truth.
And yet, there is a truth that we might find,
If only in a mendicant’s few words.
At odd moments I still remember trees,
Especially one, whose roots would surface
As arms reaching up to hug or grasp me.
I always felt safe there, sitting with her,
The woman—girl really, barely twenty—
Who loved me, telling me she was the one,
The only one who ever had or would.
I believed her, not knowing any better.
The scent of eucalyptus filled the air,
Salt sea mixing with her and her perfume;
I could see only her, hear only her,
She told me then I was her little man.
I was only three, and would quickly learn
Of love, of lies, of rage, of survival.
II I could not stand her pain, nor
hear her cries
Without complicity or deference;
Unless she were happy, even moments
Of joy were dimmed and turned to waste and dust.
Soon I was set apart, denied contact
With the world, then even with those nearest,
Who knew me as they knew a silent ghost.
That I was hers alone, not to be touched,
Or even spoken to, lest wrath grow quick,
Consuming all in flames of wounded ire,
They knew as if by instinct. Otherwise,
Transgressions soon would be redressed in flesh.
I knew not why the endless silence palled;
Nor nothing knew of other lives, unchained.
III She told a story like no other
Wrapped you in its rhythms, bought your belief
With widow’s mite, while others treasures poured;
She needed to be loved at any price.
The lives of others were sufficient coin
To pay her debts of pain and loss and fear,
But always only for a moment’s space
Before the rage, expressed in calmest tones,
Returned, announcing sure, for those who heard,
The other had revived, and sought its due.
But quick as it appeared it left again,
And she awoke, in tears lest I were gone.
In quiet and regret, she tended wounds,
While singing lullabies beneath the tree.
IV With open book, she curled up
on the couch,
While teaching me to read in my third year.
No primers served, nor ordinary books,
For she would soon lose interest and grow dark.
“The time has come to speak of many things,”
She read, of Walruses and Oysters then,
As through the looking glass we often went,
Though soon enough returned, at least at first.
She was the former in the line, of course;
Although I did not know what those words meant,
I learned their sounds and shapes, their rhythmic drive
And quick melodic interplays of breath.
An Oyster needs its shell to be secure,
Though knives will soon enough lay all things bare.
Her father was a myth, a ghost, unreal
Except in absences, where emptiness,
Abandonment, and fear maintained their watch
Before the high defenses she had raised.
Replacements proved their insufficiency
In later years; her marriages revived
Her absent father, now in husbands’ form.
The first refused her youthful ultimatum:
The band or me. He
chose the band, and left.
The second stayed, but never quite gave in
To her demands, nor ceded his control
Or choice of his career, his God, his life.
But he was absent too, for months at sea.
Her letters spoke of one who would not leave.
The loneliness took root, grew wide and tall
With overhanging branches that gave shade.
Weeks and months went by in isolation,
No visitors, no reason to go out
Most days, so filled with stories from her life
Or books her fancy chose for me to learn,
Strange tales of love and domination’s cost,
The price that must be paid for loving men.
“You must not listen to the voice within,
Because it lies—they love but to destroy;
And you must not believe as they believe,
Behave as they behave, for they betray.”
I did not understand then who she was,
But learned to see myself, and grew ashamed.
To pare away all feeling left a core
As yet untouched, unreached and buried deep,
If not quite deep enough, for there she saw
The man, though still a boy, who would yet leave
Despite his childish frame and quiet eyes
That only looked on her. She’d not abide
The thought that I might be like those she loathed
And worshipped all at once, though still expressed
In domination and submission’s need,
In anger and in lust, in smoother words
Than any could resist, or understand
In their true sense—incapable of truth.
No actor’s talent could deceive that gaze,
And I had not yet learned my master craft.
“All men want only one thing; all women
Exist to serve that need, say yes, of course,
Comply, accommodate you fucking swine,
Lie back and let you sweat and grunt and die.
Your scents disgust me, make me want to retch;
If only I could kill you all, I would.
But you will never disappoint, my son,
My only love, for you are not a man.”
The other spoke this way, when she had left,
Gone missing, lost behind the blue-grey eyes
Iced over now with hate and rage and fear
Of being left alone and waved away.
The other taught by hand, to prove her point,
And showed me what a swine a man could be.
Concupiscence caused men to overheat,
Inflamed with lusts they neither could nor would
Control. What matter then, if heat caused pain,
She said, when ice could take that pain away?
Responding to her touch confirmed her hate,
Proved I was but a man like all the rest,
Though I was only three, then four, then five
As years went by and served their turn on me.
Each time was as the others—darkness fell
Across her brows; the other soon appeared,
Then took me by the neck to let me know
Her will that I respond as if a man.
In aftertimes, she lay me down in ice
As if its melting water washed her sins.
And just as suddenly, what started stopped.
A creature of extremes, she would not touch
That too too sullied flesh that would not melt
Nor thaw, nor yet resolve into a dew
As if in decorous pretense of health,
That all was well, that none required redress
For damage done, lest isolation bear
Its will, defining all her future days
As acts of penitence and sore remorse.
No need, for life’s next act came to our door
As paired evangelists, with God and Truth
Tucked deep inside a leather satchel case.
So easily displaced was all her pain,
As absent fathers morphed to present gods.
XI (fin d'ete)
Revisiting my tree at summer's end,
What struck me was how small the setting was,
How near the street. Did I remember cars?
Were swingsets there, or monkeybars in sand?
The eucalyptus scent remains, the breeze
Yet brings the ocean’s salt, and children play
In sight of all, watched over by a few.
Such peace remains, when fires have burned and died.
We never spoke of early days again,
And when I left, returning for her death
Alone, my sisters were the focus of
Her eyes. Each knew imprisonment in time.
Though one recovered, one withdrew inside,
For both, I sit beneath the tree, and write.
He seems sad only because he is
Though few can see it, taken in by shows.
Despite his skill in seeming, what he is,
He is. He never meant to hurt; though love
Has left its mark on him, he never sought
Revenge, nor ever hoped himself to heal
By seeking vengeance for his timeworn wrongs.
He merely wishes to be recognized
By one who sees, though yet invisible
Amongst the mass, the herds who swallow lies
Like water, drinking even those he tells
In hopes to be discovered for his sins.
Though disappointed, comfort yet he finds
In knowing. Solitude has its rewards.
I Am Not What I Am
I learned to live a double life in youth,
To actions play for all opposing masters,
To tell the lies that others wished to hear,
And now that I grow old, I cannot stop.
I know not who or what I am, no one
Of consequence, I’m sure, a simple man
Who flies from pain, but gladly suffers all
If only to avoid yet disappointing
Those others, all, whose needs exceeded his
In strength, importance, and in dread command.
My only need is to be silent here,
Remain unscathed, invisible, unharmed.
Nor hero, villain, nor a Machiavel,
I’ve nothing been, nor nothing will become.
Antigone in the Suburbs
With darkened light, her eyes still call to God,
While searching faces, whisp’ring silent prayers
Of hope, imploring recognition’s glance
From passers-by, though unaware and blind,
Whose eyes give naught but darkness visible,
And cannot see her, neither what she was,
Nor what she has become in loneliness
And silence, quiet depths where none approach.
She knows it fruitless, seeking in the dust
For love, or if not love, then intellect,
Someone who sees, and seeing so sees her.
But still she searches, hoping to be wrong.
And as she searches, learns to see herself,
What once she was, and what is now, alone.
That Thou Art
Fallen petals, dew-drenched and tinged with brown,
Moments half-remembered, hazy with regrets
For lives unlived and eyes unmet, with sighs,
Averted glances, necessary losses,
Wounds that bring no wisdom, filled with nothing
That comes from nothing, all our fortunes marred--
All this is what we are, what we have thought,
The paradise within, whose selves are Hell,
Who must still bid farewell to happy fields
And bid the dark receive its new possessor.
But this is not our fate, nor must our lives
Conform to this, the oldest of despairs.
The trick, if trick it be, is to let go;
Act without attachment, love without reward.
At Long Last
I need your help to do what must be done,
Though long delay, and misplaced fears and pride
Have yet prevented my request, now sun
Is setting, night approaches quick, and tides
That once flowed in, now hasten to recede.
My time to act is now, so act I will,
Lose all I’ve tried to hold, which still but bleeds
My proper life, which fades to death until
I let it go. This house, this sacred shore,
The only dream I ever had in years
Of wintry exile, holds me fast no more,
Though I will mourn its little ones with tears.
And so, I ask, though I have been a fool;
At risk of no, which then must be my school.
Muse—She Who Knows
I thought there were no moments left with you,
All squandered, lost, and thrown away for naught
Of value, worth, remembrance dear, or pure
Delights whereby a lover climbs the heights
Of wisdom. Yet, despite my weaknesses,
And all my sins upon my head, you stayed,
Forgiving me for all I’ve failed to be
Or do, or yet show strength in measure deep
Enough to take the actions I must take.
So, if I may, I’ll ask but one more boon,
That you might teach me how to see myself
As you have learned, so I might be his twin.
I’ll never leave, unless at your behest;
Nor nothing fear, though I must walk through fire.
Of Love and Shame
You treated me as though you were ashamed
To know me; publicly acknowledging
Our love was far beyond your strength or will,
And so I was a secret not revealed,
Kept hidden from your friends, who never knew
That we were more than strangers in the halls
We all once shared. They never knew my name,
Or knew that you would cry it out through waves
Of passion in the hours that we made love.
The night they nearly caught a glimpse of us,
Your panic caught me by surprise, before
You ran from me in shame, lest they might see.
And even as I followed you, I knew
You did not love me, so I said goodbye.
Arrant Knaves All
They malice most deserve, and deepest hate,
Who think to know my stops, how I’d be played
As though I were a pipe, an instrument
For simple melodies of single notes.
They know not who I am, or what they risk
Between my fairest seems and foulest is,
Incenséd points of mighty opposites,
For dumb shows, noise, and lies are all they hear,
And all they think to see with dimming eyes
Blank-focused on themselves and their own hearts,
Where naught but stale illusions take the stage,
While well-worn scenes of dull betrayals play.
Nor tragedy, nor comedy such lives
Portray, all mere rehearsal for the blind.
From One, on Another’s
No talent, no success, will yet erase
The shame that such as we have learned to feel;
We brought it on ourselves, so we were told
By those who loved us, showing with the pain
They carefully assured us was for good,
The tender hearts of lovers wrapped in sin,
Expressed in lust and fear left uncontrolled
Or still unknown by those who should have known.
They’ve long since died, and yet their lives go on,
Their voices tinged with anger and regret,
Tired faces mixing rage and sorrow,
Shades of ancient graves and new betrayals.
Forgiveness holds no purchase for our tribe;
Remembrance holds us fast to what we were.
Never Seen Till Used.
When I profess that I have truly loved,
Do not believe my words, unmatched by deeds.
What sacrifices have I made for you,
What costs have I yet paid, what pleasures skipped,
What promise kept? I break no faith because
I pawn’d thee none, but offered up those words
You’d most believe or be persuaded by
Till I possessed, enjoyed, and ravished you.
But now achieved, what need I linger here?
You’ve nothing more I want, nor nothing are
Of what might hold me fast, and stay my search
For newer joys to feed my appetite.
Believing me has made your betters fools,
Who nothing learn, and will believe again.
The Path Resisted
It’s you whom I have wanted all these years,
Though silently I glanced, then looked away.
Embracing me to say hello, goodbye,
Or merely thanks, caused my desire for you
To near exceed my will and self-control;
I wished to turn your face to mine, to kiss
Those lips whose taste I often dreamt as sweet,
Caress your soft and fragrant skin, then touch
Your hair that like a goddess showed, hung full
Beneath your perfect shoulders, as it flowed
Cascading down in waves where I would swim
And lose myself in luxury and love.
The pure desire I had for you inflamed
Each time I saw you. Now it constant burns.
In the Beginning
The words flowed fast and freely at the start,
Such words excitement never brought before.
Their eloquence and sympathy of heart
Filled paragraphs with feelings’ pent-up store.
In those early days, words still made us one,
Though kept apart by miles, by years, by time.
We knew those accidents could be undone
By rarest spirits’ gift of tongues sublime.
But something happened, what, we did not see,
Words in torrents slowed to barest trickle.
Those accidents soon seemed to essence be;
Instead of faithful, words proved merely fickle.
And yet, to early days I would return,
When words with passion’s fire could make us burn.
Although we would not have it proven so,
It seems the heart is false; there are no loves
Can stem the tides of feelings’ ebb and flow.
They come upon us as descending doves
With voice from Heaven saying, “This is one
With whom, from whom, you will not have to hide.”
But voices, not to be by hearts outdone,
Do liars prove while passions quick subside.
But even if all hearts will prove untrue,
Does physic lie in closing them up fast?
Despite the pains they bring, true loves are few,
And rarest are the things that truly last.
Such lovers will not skip a moment’s joy
Though all the pains of loss their hearts destroy.
The End in the Beginning
When I remember how we first began,
It is the suddenness that captures me.
Our light was heat, while time too swiftly ran,
Before we could make sense of ecstasy.
Before we touched, before we even talked,
We shared the dreams we still had left untried;
Time running out, we left no path unwalked
Inside the living fantasy we plied.
But all too soon, reality returned,
And swift as we began, we ended too;
Nor light, nor heat remained, too quickly burned
The flames which once rose high, now embers few.
But though you left as quickly as you came,
I’d not forgo the burning in that flame.
It is the unlived life I most
The plans we made we now will not see through,
The drive along the coast, the beach sunset,
The wine and laughter, standing still with you.
You could not wait to see me
then, but now,
A moment’s time has passed, and you grow cold.
I read the words which now you disavow
And wonder who that was who was so bold
To say she wanted me, and where
What passion burned you and so soon could die,
To lead you to deny the words you sent
Pretending now you have not said goodbye?
Although I neither blame, nor
I cannot but regret what might have been.
The leap through fear and trembling still awaits,
Despite our lack of courage and resolve.
We have this chance, this life, till time negates,
And death of all our sins will us absolve.
The time to live is now, since no rehearsal
Prepares us for life’s shows and pageantry.
We get one scene to play without reversal,
So speak the lines out clear, not haltingly.
Reach for my hand, the time for fear is done,
Remembrance cannot harm us anymore.
Our pasts lie still, new lives not yet begun,
With world enough and time to love explore.
Though none can guarantee naught but delight,
We’ll trembling leap; on joy we will alight.
Since honeyed words which once did drop like dew
From Heaven come no more, the time has come
To close up shop, protect my heart from you,
Who wanted, truth be told, nor parts nor sum
Of heart’s and mind’s store you had raised in me.
You wanted just the thrill of speaking words,
And used me as a mirror where you see
Your self-regard, for there are no accords,
No promises, no plans that hold you fast,
Bound only to your own heart’s boundless needs.
I was not real, so easily you cast
Me down, like garbage in the roadside weeds.
So, thank you for the lesson I have learned,
I’ll keep it close, as wisdom newly earned.
The Singer of Tales
I sing songs of poets and heroes past,
Pouring forth words fast bound with emotion,
But no relief or rainfall comes at last,
To raise the seas, or fill a drying ocean.
So I will sing until the waters stop.
And falling silent, I will sing no more...
Then songs will be for others, mine must crop
Themselves, laying their remains at the door
To a promised land I can never reach,
Though I hold its keys, and know its secrets.
When words no longer rush to fill the breach,
I will rest outside that door without regrets,
For it was never me, it was the song.
Without those notes, who would a life prolong?
What man can live by carving pigs alone?
Through euphemistic language we convey
Both non and sense, but how does one atone
For rebelliousness of mind? Who puts in play
The pre-established rules of conversation,
Defining what is good and right by sense,
Eliminating room for revelation,
Hiding wit behind a decorous pretense?
Who would carve pigs, must carve first for himself,
But others are who know the carver’s trade;
When they list to speak, then language sounds itself,
And when they hear, through wit are they remade.
Though fit they are, they also are too few,
To genuflect to rules as others do.
In a Crowded Room, Alone
When one is lonely in a room alone,
There are, no doubt, still compensating pleasures.
But by oneself in crowded rooms unknown,
Unseen, unheard, cut off in greater measures
Than any prison’s ward can yet attain,
There might true delight reside in purest
Form, but for those for whom it is great pain
To be alone, who must then live as tourists
In their minds and hearts, while never seeing
Who and what they are, nor knowing any
Other, more than image without being,
Dull pictures fairly bought with cheapest penny.
To be alone with such as cannot see
Is welcome solitude in company.
An alien, always outside the main,
Who yearned once for admittance to the world,
Now standing proud apart, with fixed disdain,
With freedom’s—or rebellion’s—flag unfurled.
Did white sheep punish? Or likely just ignore
The pain their orthodox demands suffused
Through others not like them? They'd not abhor
Such insights’ depths, but merely be amused.
What matters that, if we be still the same,
And what we are, with eyes that darkness see?
White sheep are deep with shadow, filled with shame,
Projected onto those who would be free.
In aftertimes and afterwords we learn,
A black sheep stands apart, but still must burn.
To braise a lamb, to discipline a child,
Each project is the same—retaining moisture
In the meat you would consume, a self beguiled
Of self, unto culinary jointure.
Wine and spice enhance the flesh, seal flavor
Into captive tissue, disregarding
The burning of the skin, delightful savor
For those who feed by others’ lives discarding.
All life feeds on death. All parents do the same.
“Better thou hadst not been born, than not to
Have pleased me better”—childhood’s primal shame
Is played on stage, where all old roles are new.
Those who would consume, would have us tender,
To death devote, while willing our surrender.
Though you say she is that rarest creature
Who would be loved, and yet would faithful prove,
My own counsel will I keep, for preacher
Is not the same as preached, and heaven’s dove
Is but a show for those who are near blind.
She will be broken, discarded once enjoyed,
Else prove exception in a world unkind
To virtue’s quality, and soon destroyed.
But cynic’s feign d wisdom may be wrong,
And innocence have strength that none suspect.
She’ll not be lost amidst the shallow throng,
Where superstition puzzles intellect.
I would I could be with her at the gate
Where world and time will open to her fate.
Unrhymed (for my sister
and her favorite boy)
This pretense has reached its logical end,
But logic was never its true reason,
Emotions rather, loneliness and fear,
A cowardice of Biblical proportion.
I cannot be the man you have wished for,
Just as you are not the woman I fear,
The ragged figure that moves, tree to tree
In the back of my mind, for she is gone,
Though ever-present. How can I be free,
When all I have ever wished is to live,
Or to die, just so long as the pain stops,
Silencing that voice, and its windblown rage?
I would that things had been different for us,
But what they are, they are, and so an end.
Isolation was the key strategy,
Keeping separate from the world, in darkness
Drawing out one’s days in quiet elegy
For lives unlived, in mourning’s sweet duress.
To be in the world, and yet not of it,
That was our question, whether ‘twas noble
In the mind, or toxic to the soul and wit,
We sought it not, through doctrine made immobile.
Although I left them years ago, they still
Have not left me. Remembrance seeks its pound
Of flesh, and will its bond with terms of law fulfill;
No mercy drops like dew on God-scorched ground.
And yet, but for those years, I’d be without
My taste for words, and poet’s form devout.
Living in Plato’s Cave
Within the confines of a fading life,
That formerly had seemed to offer dear
Sustenance, though now devolving into strife,
Recriminations, old regrets, and fear
Of moving on, and loving life anew,
It often seems as if those confines still
Reduce themselves and us to morning’s dew,
Which quickly fades before the bright sun’s will.
Illusions confines are, yet so are we;
Although we grant to them a force sublime
Sustaining will and false belief, we see
Through shadows dim, resisting still the climb.
So sit we still, watch shadows in this cave,
Chained side by side, each failing to be brave.
Truth and Lies
Lies are what sustain us; truth sets no one free.
As hours resolve themselves to moments past,
No truths redeem or change trajectory
Of downward spirals, loves that do not last.
In each beginning hides the end, as cancer
In a healthy cell. The end, content to wait,
Lastly will be fed; though never dancer
Dance so well, at dance's start, still what is fate
Affections nor delay, deny, nor stem
The slow-advancing tide of passions’ thaw,
Till what is left of love is less a gem
Than hollow toy for hearts as dry as straw.
And yet as ends approach, we still deny
The painful truth, take comfort in the lie.
The Death of the Hero
With open eyes, I see the end has come.
I’ve long felt all the wounds, used all the words,
Left blood upon the ground, but to succumb
To underworlds within, and darkened herds
That roam behind my eyes, waiting to voice
Their lifelong presence, and swiftly take me home.
I was not who I should have been; my choice
Was free—or was it not?—but still I roam
Through fields of dim remembrance, like a shade
Still grasping after one more day of sun,
Deep with regret, the wrong choice having made,
Without the hope of new wars lost or won.
But if I had to face my choice once more,
I’d damn the gods, and no libations pour.
My solitude had long become a habit,
Ingrained in me like rise and fall of breath.
When first I met you, neither priest nor abbot
Convinced me life could ever transcend death.
I still am not convinced, but knowing you
Revives, at least in momentary term,
My will to faith, still trusting to subdue
Unruly passions young men must confirm.
Although they would prove worn in me, they are
An ever-fixed mark that looks on tempest
Without shaking, though we go too far,
Believing our decline we can arrest.
Though alone, I know I am not trapped here,
While life, still holding promise, raises fear.
Sacred Tents of Truth
From outside looking in, the heart is strange,
The spirit is willing--the flesh is weak.
I stand outside myself, hoping to exchange
The truth for lies, to hear what seems unique
To those who would be comfortably deceived.
There is, in the course of human events,
A time and place for truth, though misconceived
As charity. Who would not in sacred tents
Of truth abide? Truth of self, of others,
Of pains inflicted and still best incurred
In silence and in shame, for here no mothers
Dry tears from eyes, by loving undeterred.
That time and place is neither here nor now,
No truths will I affirm or disavow.
The Necessary Fall
I still do not break free, despite the years
In struggle with remembrance spent, and pain.
I know what I must do, yet ancient fears
Hold fast to me, increasing my disdain
For him I failed to be, and have become.
I know him not, yet know him all too well,
Deny him, hate him, yet he will succumb
To mettle more attractive, though in hell.
But building there is only for his envy,
Hence I’ll drive him, heaping more damnation
On his rebellious head, that he may see
My deepest fears prove naught in his frustration.
Then at last will I be free--’tis worthy all
And loss of all, though ne’er so far I fall.
The Wives’ Seducer
There is no she with virtue unmaligned;
I laugh to scorn their loves who most do show
Allegiance, faith, the marriage of true mind.
They’ll all be mine, with speed on pathways low.
I neither love them, nor do love myself,
Nor care to find their hearts to tell them truth;
No truths grow dusty there on highest shelf,
That shelf is bare, and has been from my youth.
Seems and is are one and same, describing
All actions that my life and heart have played;
I will be ever false, while still deriving
My pleasures from their loves and faiths betrayed.
With reasons will I answer for my life,
I do but as they wish, each untrue wife.
A Gnostic in Disguise
among the Orthodox
Since none can see the masks I hide behind,
It seems hypocrisy retains such force
As it was wont to have o’er eye and mind
When gods alone directed human course.
Free will is but your comforting illusion,
When every thought is on your face for me
To silent read, and laugh at your confusion,
Enslaving that which he insists is free.
But truly, he is father of the lie,
Despite the claims of orthodox belief.
That sin that first was thought, you still decry
In ancient tales where knowledge causes grief.
Until you leave behind those gods of fear,
You’ll never to the inward truth adhere.
The Lovers' Path
Though wiser than before, we still believe
That loving hearts can heal and love again;
Sophistication then will seem naive,
When lovers to the One do reascend.
We stand outside ourselves, hearts beating fast,
Each seeing through the other’s eyes to view
That moment, when through insight unsurpassed,
We knew that love would world and time renew.
Those who still deny love’s sweet instruction,
Insisting on their grounded view of life,
See but themselves, eyes cast down on destruction,
And walk through fields where nothing grows but strife.
Though love appear but foolish to the world,
The higher path to wisdom’s there unfurled.
Some certain faces, when I see them, fill me
With visceral regrets for lives untried,
Whose mortal possibilities I see,
Through eyes which gaze with longing from outside.
Choices made are lives denied, with other
Paths untaken; though ne’er a choice delayed
Will lengthen life, or buy a man another,
But merely keep unlived, a masquerade,
Of sense and motion. Oh, but wherefore must
The path of least resistance seem so broad?
And how might I regenerate that trust
In what might be, when all that is shows fraud?
And so I stand, twixt life and life, no heart
To turn aside, to stay, or to depart.
The Note Too Late
The time, my friend, has come to say goodbye.
I was not, and will not be, fortune’s bright star.
But that’s not much, for lives askew, awry,
And altogether left like doors ajar,
Are held in common ‘mongst men, till despair
Or emotions more potent light upon
The pain-scarred surface of lives beyond repair.
Such quiet desperation laying on
Leaves little room for brightness or fair shows,
The lies we tell, and actions we have played.
No longer any point, with arms to oppose
That sea of troubles, painfully clichéd.
So fare well, and if you can, forgive me.
I’m fixing her mistake, that I should be.
The simple joys, though wondrous, do but pale
Before complexity of thought and feeling.
And those who see, though reading sightless Braille,
Have beauty’s stores that will suffice for healing
A world grown sick with surfeit of its hate
For what it does not understand, much less
What is beyond its will to desecrate
Destroy, deface, or otherwise suppress.
But in her eyes I see what’s called divine,
Summed up in her, contained as if perforce
All things conspired to glorify her shrine
And set the world back on its proper course.
Since through her eyes I see pure Beauty’s form,
I’ll cast away false gold, whilst I transform.
The feelings of others weigh too heavy
Upon me, leaving me bereft, without
Defense against emotional levy
Or fine imposed for failure to cure drought
And rain-parched need with my own flowing blood.
Yet I cannot say no, nor will refuse
The call of tears, of eyes upturned, in flood
Of never-ending fear of loss, nor choose
The solitary path of quietude,
While suff’ring springs from wells of deep desire.
Instead I will my heart in attitude
Of immolation keep, while needs require.
But this is not a noble path of choice,
No reason to sing praise, nor yet rejoice.
Ship of Fools
Clichés are only thought so by those fools
Who would be wise, and two such fools are we.
The thoughts of those who do not think are jewels
That sparkle without wit, of learning free.
Emotion takes the place of reason still,
In those who would be king but nothing know,
Through storms of common sense and brutish will,
The wisest fools their quarters keep below.
But others, such as we, must hold our tongues,
While out on deck exposed to wind and rain
‘Mongst foolish crews whose valor’s in their lungs,
Who thoughts avoid, and from all books abstain.
Outnumbered here on board, we cannot steer
This ship of fools, though fools we both appear.
What Once I Was, and
What Am Now
Baptismal waves closed quick upon my head,
And in an instant, life had changed forever.
No longer mine, I was but newly dead
To world and time, to life and all endeavor.
Belief came hard, but harder still came truth,
That truth the body knew, though we professed
A higher wisdom, immortal, as in youth.
Life would not be mine, whate’er I confessed,
Whate’er I prayed, the body knew its death,
Knew its time was short, deny it though I may.
My body scorned the faith, with slightest breath
Mocked castles down, illusions swept away.
Though some would have illusions’ comforts still,
I’ll not return to blindness, come what will.
Pearls of (not so)
My pearls are nothing precious, more costume
Than royal bauble. Such have been my days,
Of little worth. My failure to relume
That borrowed fire should not, in truth, amaze,
Although remembrance might persuade itself
To something see where nothing is, the truth
Has always been remote, too high a shelf
For me to reach. As ever, since my youth,
My refuge lies in silence and in doubt,
And quiet solitude, best found where crowds
Nor see nor care to know my inner drought,
The god-scarred boy with head still in the clouds.
Despite their lack, and all-too tarnished mien
They’re all I have, and all I’ve ever been.
A Day in the Life
Impassioned lovers still entwined in death,
Ill fated shades of heroes with regret,
A childish god who quickens clay with breath,
A fallen angel’s wings in silhouette.
These only were his morning’s friends and loves,
The epic similes of a young boy’s
Imagination, running far above
His circumstance, though secretly his joys.
As afternoon wore on, he had no room
For hero tales, nor those who could still feel
Alive, and stories hear, but not assume
Responsibility to what was real.
Then dying late at night, he left no trace;
No self remained, and nothing to erase.
Deception is a skill that can be learned
Like any other; master its technique,
And golden show, and all the world will turn
To you as if in honesty you speak.
The world hears only what it sore desires,
And will be tenderly led by the nose
As asses are. But I must stoke the fires
Of jealousy’s quick rage, lest I expose
My private face to those who cannot see.
But I’ll not worry overmuch, for there
Is no face beneath the masks, no pure degree
Of self, no self at all, nor foul, nor fair.
I am not what I am, merely a role,
Deception’s art demands the dearest toll.
In silent hours, when death
seems sweet release,
Remembrance brings its healing remedy.
Although its cure brings something short of peace,
Still, living is made less a tragedy
Than comedy, whose plotline runs
Familiar lines, when I remember loves,
Their moments filled with laughter and with song.
Despite their endings, passions flew like doves
From heaven’s heights, alighting
That I was both belovéd
What though no savior? I could be, in prayer,
Yet something like a man, by love so moved.
Though life’s drear nights do
passions from us drain,
Our loves recalled would make us live again.
The Poet in Winter
I would yet something say before I go,
Whilst life and breath still serve, and passion’s fire
Still burns. I know my time still shorter grows
Than any lamentation could require
To sing its wistful song. But I will mark
My final days with verses that record
Impressions of a life unlived, as stark
Regrets for hours unused, till now ignored.
I would I had this life to live once more,
Return eternal, as a madman wrote,
Though all life’s pains I’d suffer and abhor,
What else exists? What other worlds remote?
Despite mistakes and pains of life’s short term,
If asked again, I’d all my days affirm.
Canto XXIX: The Sowers
From acid tongues drip words of unctuous malice,
Fair speech and thoughts from those who would be seen
As knowing, though choking on the phallus
Of prurient imaginations mean.
Such speakers measure all by their own minds,
No wonder, then, their discourse is so cramped,
Too small a space in which to be confined,
Unless with gulag’s scars their hearts are stamped.
No such excuse will serve to justify
The stupid and aggressive, who insist
That all are as themselves, and testify
To rot within, through foulness better missed.
Such are the mass, wrote once the Machiavel,
By shows convinced, led hand in hand to hell.
Love’s price was high, too dear to pay with coin
Of youth. While never could I know her pain,
How could she not know mine? Though I would join
With her, in twisted fantasies remain,
Still, nothing would suffice to calm her rage.
She would have all, or all reduce to wrack;
Her hellish fury, intermixed with sage
Pronouncements from her god, was the attack
Against which no defense could yet be raised.
That boy was not the man he would become,
But I could not protect him, be unfazed
As now I might, he could not but succumb.
In quiet hours, I listen for his breath,
The gasps and cries of sickness unto death.
Before the Door of Law there stands a guard
Whose purpose sole is keeping that door closed
To you, and only you, for pathways hard
And secret gates are always undisclosed
But to the favored few, who needn’t wait.
But Law’s great door serves merely to remind
The ordinary of their outcast state,
Because it is not hidden, nor confined
To secret gnosis, standing in plain view.
We’re meant to see, and seeing, to desire
Admittance there, where justice yet rings true,
And fairest hopes, that open doors require.
Before that still-closed door is where we die.
The guard who shuts us out then shuts our eyes.
A Life In Muted Tones
Our fairest thoughts too often we betray,
Or so it is with me. Although I keep
Close counsel, still my words show disarray
When I would talk of matters high or deep,
So often I’ll not speak, but hold my tongue,
Expressing not what most my heart desires,
Hold passion’s discourse strictly for the young,
Denying first what first my life requires.
But wherefore will I not submit to tell
Of that which every man in common owns?
My reticence, though oft it has served well,
Has hardened to a wall of flesh and bones.
In silence now, in silence I’ll remain,
I'll nothing say, though all the world I’d gain.
What though I say I love you, what needs love
Its old excuse, or strong defense, by which
It would be justified? When, from above
The realm of human dealing, ne’er so rich,
Comes symbol or transcendent voice so fair
That will erase the trembling doubts and fears
That love inspires along with hope? No air
Or lightest madrigal can wipe the tears
From eyes that have known pain and emptiness;
No melody, technique, or player’s skill
Can music make so sweet that we’ll confess
No longer to have need of lover’s thrill.
For love needs no defense, nor will allow.
To say I love, does nothing disavow.
The Artist’s Eyes
I have no other wisdom to impart
Than quietly to say I love you still.
Though man lives not by bread alone, yet art
Sustains the flesh, and nourishes the will
By bringing beauty to our eyes before
Such divination can no longer be,
As senses dull, we former joys abhor,
And dearest loves no longer lovers see.
Your art lies buriéd behind your eyes,
Each painting but a picture of that mind
I cannot help but love and recognize
As leading lovers to the One inclined.
There in your eyes I see what cannot die,
Though love exposes, art destroys the lie.
Point of No Return
‘Tis strange, ‘tis passing strange, that I should love;
But I will never part from you, unless
You wish it so. For how, when all above
That’s pure seems summed in you, could I confess
Myself an enemy to love’s fair form,
The form I see in you, and see through you,
Without inviting greater wrack than storm
Or storm god’s ire has ever put on view?
Our best of life will never be if left
Untried, unspoken for, with neither thought
Expressed, nor given voice, as if bereft
Of speech and motion, paralyzed by ought.
Though custom’s law would keep its tyrant’s hold,
Those manacles we’ll break, through love grown bold.
The Old Courtier, With
Regret for the Past
In love with love, though never such a child
As sonnets’ fools themselves are wont to be,
Much worse I proved, when your faith I reviled,
And doting, fell to newer company.
Forgiveness holds no purchase for such sin,
So I’ll not ask for that you cannot give;
What’s lost in asking’s rarely what we’d win,
If win we could, though hearts’ desires still live
As secrets hidden only from ourselves.
Though distance grows, remembrance holds us fast,
As pictures seen on high surrounding shelves
Of long familiar rooms, in sadness cast.
Although the breach between us I’d repair,
That life is gone, like mist from morning’s air.
Silence and Noise
In silence insights come I most would prove
'Gainst opposition from the noise-filled scene,
Whose popularity does thought reprove
Like scolded children raised by parents mean
And low of thought, who trim what grows before
Perfection can, or ripeness does, appear.
Such noise enfeebles and belittles; more
It cannot do, unless we give it ear
As tribute, patterning ourselves on shouts
Of rage or fear, unthinking in extremes
For those reduced to lives without the doubts
That thoughts and knowledge bring to quiet dreams.
As quickly as they come, in noise they fade,
But soon return, in quietude replayed.
An adolescent preacher stands alone,
His rising voice a cry to sin, repent!
No students mark him, busy with the phone
Or surreptitious smokes before descent
To yet another lecture’s dreary hour
Where once again repentance will be asked,
This time for sins of ignorance, while dour
Yet passive faces, tired from what they’re tasked
Reflect not on salvation but on release.
Outside, the preacher shouts of being wise
While foolish in a world still lacking peace,
The Prince of Peace, though fear shows in his eyes.
What waits at home? I wonder as I pass;
In him I see my past, as in a glass.
Alma Mater: On Visiting
One’s Own Book in the Library
These shelves, where I was wont to search, or browse
For others’ words, and expertise divine,
Are home now to my words as well, to rouse,
Or no, imaginations after mine.
A tourist in the past, my visit here
Has been to tell my tale, from janitor
To factory floor, to nights spent in the stacks
Where now my book, my words, will help confer
Ideas on younger strengths while I decline,
Though imperceptibly for now, as years
Move not so swift, nor eyes so dimly shine
To make me number death among my fears.
My fear is loss, that words I’ll not sustain;
So when time comes, I’ll fight for words in pain.
At the End, Unsigned
No honor’s left me but in letting go.
The life I’ve lived has others’ lives destroyed,
Though they’ll not yet their ruin have come to know;
The plots I laid were all but to avoid
The consequences of severest lack
Of resolution’s steel; although from fear
I drew my breath in pain, yet I brought wrack
Into the lives of those who held me dear.
To love me was to ask to be betrayed;
No, not to ask, for who would victims be?
But ever without fault, to be dismayed,
Still chained by lies where lovers should be free.
The time to pay is now; the price is high.
My only resolution is to die.
In Dreams and Illusions
In dreams does freedom lie, though oft askance
We look at that which sees not light of day.
The darkness stills the mind, and stems the dance
Of flux and change, all matter in the way
Of truly knowing those eternal forms,
That are not seen but by the fit though few,
Yet fewer still ‘mongst those who claim the norms
Fair reason must obey lie in their view.
They would determine still our right and wrong,
Like Euthyphro, assured that might is right;
Though custom error proves, yet they ere long
Will cast the truth to uncreated night.
In waking, naught we see is like our dreams,
With copies of illusions daylight teems.
The Pale Cast of Thought
The choices I must make exceed my strength,
Or so they seem, while looking on them, still
Too tightly gripped by fear of endless length
Of days, lived with the knowledge that my will
Was strong and quick to run to yes, but no
Could never say, despite my frequent need
Of no, to stand for truth and bid lies go
Quick hence, to force fair word to match fair deed.
Whence comes strong resolution’s drive to do,
Not just to say, for saying is not hard?
I’d trade my skill with words, if but I knew
How best to act, what hold and what discard.
Where most I’m weak is where I’d most be strong,
And most do right, where yet I most do wrong.
For Me, Yet Not For Thee
Forgiveness, unlike mercy, oft is strained,
Where reason’s strength has passion’s will denied;
We most have need where most we have been pained,
When noblest minds would vengeance leave untried.
But wherefore does remembrance not refine
Both heart and mind, retraining passion’s heat
So virtue need not struggle, nor incline
Where reason must restrain our thoughts unmeet?
Who’ll not recall his faintest, oldest scar,
Yet blind remain to pains he’ll others cause?
Out best of conscience leaves the door ajar
To self-regard, where no doubts give us pause.
Although from crimes we’d all forgiven be,
We nurse the wounds that others cannot see.
Of Love and Lovers
Each lover offers different highs and lows,
Nor of the body only, but the mind;
Some guile the time with naught but fairest shows,
While others, though not kin, are more than kind.
But kinder still are those whose taste but cloys
At sickly-sweet and inauthentic words,
Who’ll not regard their loves as idle toys
Of children living lives no less absurd
Than aging lovers holding fast to youth
When youth has gone, though leaving not a trace
Or jot behind to witness to the truth
Or vanity of loving but a face.
Such lovers have the hardest lessons learned,
To love the wise, whom fools have ever spurned.
Need and Sacrifice
An outward focus soon will drain a soul,
Where not your own, but others’ wants and needs
Become your only focus. When your role
Is steward to another’s thoughts and deeds,
He’ll gladly take the sacrifice you give,
Discoursing earnestly on selflessness
While feeding on your marrow, so you live
As long as serves to fill his emptiness.
What’s kept not for yourself will not be paid
To you again by such a one, whose eyes
Are blinded to the pains of love betrayed,
And sees you as himself in other’s guise.
Such need is like a well that can’t be filled,
Though blood is let till oceans have been spilled.
Contrivance and Loss
From cowardice has come my life’s decay,
As broken willed, I slouch towards Bethlehem,
Not to be born, but to my birth betray
In being such that all men must condemn.
I lack the strength to cast off iron chains,
Though of my own design. I’ll stand and wait,
Yet nothing serve, for nothing yet remains
Of he I might have been, though to relate
How much was lost in trying to survive
Exceeds my gifts. Nor can my bookish skill
Raise words by which her face I may contrive
To show--her rage and talent for the kill.
I cannot yet forgive, though to reclaim,
That boy who fought and lost a self to shame.
Though dishonesty becomes a habit
As men mature, yet what remains is hope
For honest truth, though not, as we would have it,
So large or wide as lies become in scope,
But tightly focused, narrow in such ways
As truth defines itself, too strongly bound
To right and good to lend itself to days
Of sport and nights of riot, though found
With golden shows, facilitating lies,
And all the skills that learning can bestow.
My truth I'll not discover, not through sighs
Nor outwards signs: My face no man must know.
Some secrets are too dark not to be kept;
At necessary lies, I am adept.
The Old Courtier (II)
I'll not pretend my love for you is right,
For what can right or wrong in love yet mean
When we've grown old, our faces lined with night
And Time's fell hand, whose operation's seen
In outward guise, though not so in our hearts,
Where still desire reigns as now supreme
With mind and reason, inward better parts,
While eyes no longer see what we but seem?
For long since have we learned to see the truth,
Both of, and through each other in our eyes;
Life has no secrets for its callow youth,
But soonest gives abundance to its wise.
Though life's abundance quickly fades in time,
Eternity brings nothing more sublime.
Sonnets From Nowhere
The words now come in crashing waves; despite
My inability to understand
From where, or why, they come as if in flight
To somewhere I but glimpse at second hand,
From nowhere and no one, obscure, unknown,
And thoroughly unimportant. My time
Is running out; my curtain’s coming down,
So leaving words behind as if to prime
My path, explain what once I was, seems worth
Their birthing pains, though naught will be of note,
As nothing comes of nothing, yet unearth
A something though I would, all’s been by rote.
These words are all I have, and all I’ve been,
From no one, to nowhere, and all unseen.
This shop was nothing strange, or wonderful,
But it was mine, or rather, it was me,
A glimpse of who I was, though disdainful
Blind eyes would misconstrue, or just not see
Past dust, and years’ accumulated waste,
The shining gold of someone’s pocket watch,
Or loving notes on postcards sent in haste
When wars were fought and lives recalled with Scotch,
Two fingers, on the rocks, while beauty slips
Just beyond the grasp of aging lovers
Who gave their youth in passion’s brief eclipse,
Now words unread between unopened covers.
To ripe is all, as once a young man said,
Though ne’er so true, I’d yet keep green instead.
If I Be Still the Same
For years, and passing, I have
Immune to so much else, here all too weak;
I’ve conquered every challenge, every fear
But one. I cannot beat this, cannot speak
My own defense, so long have I
Still hiding what I would not have revealed,
Not even to myself, who more resembled
A man than was a man, my face concealed
From prying eyes, and all who
wished me well
Or ill, still waiting for the sonnet’s turn
That never comes for those who've lived in hell,
Or those, like me, whose private hells still burn.
Which way I fly is hell; myself
These depths I live, to dream of whence I fell.
You nothing know of what I really am.
Nor nothing still of dangers you now face.
I'm old, beyond imagination's grasp,
And I know every secret of your heart.
I’ve long been watching, since the start of all,
Still noting, cataloging every thought,
Every feeling, every human moment.
Your strengths, your noblest passions, I will use
When I destroy you, whom I hate beyond
All measure. Why? No more but that I would.
Your miseries are my exquisite joys;
While smallest truths bring forth my greatest lies.
I show no mercy; you cannot resist.
Nor would you yet, though you but had the strength.
The Old Courtier (III)
I’ll not apologize for loving you,
Let consequences come. Yet what can love
Still promise, once the leaves to russet hue
Have changed? The sun, though shining yet above
My head, hangs ever lower in the sky
And summer’s too-short date has lost its lease;
Though autumn’s time is yet in long supply,
What winter follows, but to bring decrease?
But say my highest summer is no more,
And all my days herein must shorter grow,
What foolishness would have not me adore
Each moment, spent with you, life would bestow?
So what remains, remains, and that a gift;
I’ll not refuse, though time be ne’er so swift.
Outsider, Looking In
When I look back on what I’ve called my life,
I see no light, but darkness visible,
My nose still pressed to glass, through naught but strife
And rawest fear, exclusion risible,
As if my birth brought something fell and cursed
Into the world, an object of derision
In healthy-minded actors’ well rehearsed
Dramatic shows, whose lives, though lacking vision,
Conformed to expectation’s mean behests.
Yet strength remains, with which to counter all
My life’s effects, despite what time suggests
The end will bring, my will still held in thrall.
My path will be my own, let come what may,
I’ll not join those whose lives are mere display.
The Gnostic Vision
The truth that can be spoken is not truth;
There needs no Taoist monk to tell us so.
But lies that can be spoken, though uncouth,
Are yet of truer substance than we know.
For lies comprise the substance of this world,
Where surface shines, and daily motions quick
Distract, as into lower realms we’re hurled
From realms of truth, entrapped within a trick
Of light and shade, though falser light than that
Above, which shines within the human breast,
Where all the gods reside. Though sharps will flat,
All notes but point where songs cannot attest.
For highest visions are reserved for few;
And highest truths cannot be put on view.
The Tempter’s Refusal
I’ll not pretend to ignorance of what
You speak, nor what you are behind that mask
Of innocence. Your lies, though meant to cut,
Are foolish and transparent, as you task
Your targets with your own most shopworn sin,
Committing yet the greatest sin of all--
To be uninteresting, without, within,
A soulless soul, unworthy of its fall.
Such carbon-based unlife as you have seemed,
Makes waste a tempter’s talents; what is gained
For good or evil, what to be esteemed
Could yet be had, though Hell your soul obtained?
I would not tempt you, though you were my last,
Let Heaven have you; I suspect they’ll pass.
All those who love me are repaid with pain;
Though pain is never my intent, I’ll not
Hold back inflicting my heart’s sheer disdain
On all, myself included, who’ll have rot,
Decay, and lies support illusory
Lives still spent in pretense and denial
Of what we truly are, a usury
Whose interest pays for putting life on trial,
And finding it still guilty of all crimes
That we commit. Though I’d no others harm,
I harm them with my Yes, when No betimes
Would greater honor show, though lesser charm.
Still, lies, though told with all my practiced skill,
Could yet be known, but for my hearers’ will.
And So An End
Though leaving me for good was your intent,
You neither had the strength to let me go,
Nor mercy, since for all your garments rent,
Dramatic tears—put on as much for show
As from a hurt, dissembling not, you feel
Beyond control—will yet be your routine
Display in every quiet hour to heal
I’ve chanced to have. What though I live between
Charybdis and the jaws of Scylla’s wrath?
My punishment must be eternity,
For only in forever will your path
Of vengeance find its end in amity.
Your wounds will neither bottom find nor end,
They’ve depths unplumbed, or so you’d yet pretend.
A Lothario’s Doubts,
Though caught between the options of my life,
A plenitude beyond what can be mine
Unless I twin myself, avoiding strife
By being all to all, both theirs and thine,
As many as demand their life’s repast
Sustained by blood that flows forth from my veins,
I’d yet my necessary reckoning
Delay, still putting off each day those pains
That telling simple truth will finally cause.
I cannot fathom, though I understand
In simplest terms, how I, without least pause,
Brought hurt to those who only love had planned.
My doubts are all misplaced; they’ve nothing earned.
Unless to be disgraced, thereafter spurned.
Sophia (Shards of Light)
I know she is the one that I would love,
Though life brought her too late for comfort’s sake
With too much damage done, and hints thereof
In every moment, every blind mistake
That near disaster seems as I attempt
To move amongst the normal still unseen,
While harsh remembrance calls the sheer contempt
Of crowds to mind, whose hatreds are routine.
With her I know even as I am known,
In her I live and move and have my being;
Herself complete, to do or say her own,
Brings me myself again, through her eyes’ seeing.
Although I’ve lacked the strength to love, I live
In love for her, and she will yet forgive.
We dance and sing, in ecstasy before
The throne, with distances to cringe, not fight,
Or fawn and cringe and servilely adore
Our Heaven’s awful king. What but His might
Arranges every harmony and note,
With choreography controlling motion
Of angels’ dances, learning steps by rote,
Turn, turn, kick, turn, in chorus lines’ devotion
To mastery of the dance the Master calls?
What though free will may yet illusion prove,
Or no, but solid show as Heaven’s walls?
What matters is the dance in which we move.
A tyranny or liberty in show,
The image is ourselves, and all we’ll know.
The Intimate Enemy
My every moment, every word, reveals
The face behind the masks and skillful lies
That are but tissues ignorance conceals;
The fact you cannot see does not disguise
Your fictional constructions, neither men
Nor women of the world. What world will stay
Its hand from striking down its stupid, when
Predators their hunger will allay?
I understand your fear of consequence,
But action cannot take the place of thought,
And reason must of right proceed from whence
The passions still reside, though you’ll see naught.
I lie to you because you will not see,
And injure you, for it amuses me.
Imprisoned within walls I’ve made myself,
What matter where, if I be still the same?
What matter who, if life sits on a shelf
Too high for me to reach? Yet to my shame
I cannot free myself, what once I was,
For nothing comes from nothing, mend my speech
A little though I would, for fortune does
The too-blunt speaker mar; as though to breach
The raised defenses of my life were yet
A possibility for aught but gods
Malevolent, or merely bored, still met
On narrow roads, where life is played at odds.
I’d take that chance, with riddling divine,
For what remains is shadow, nothing mine.
The time has come to choose—to live, or die?
Each moment brings this choice, though we’ll not see,
Or cannot yet admit our lives belie
Those high ideals, professed beliefs that free
Not one of us, forced truths that merely hurt,
While lies do yeoman’s work in holding fast
Illusions needful for our days, pervert
Our loves , and all our better parts, till past
Becomes the future, damage unrepaired
And long forgotten. Who have we become?
And why do we continue, unprepared
For necessary ending’s final sum?
Each yes brings yet another chance for no;
Each no denies returns time would bestow.
The Lover to His Beloved
What I would do for you is much too long
A list; I’ve neither words to say, nor thought,
Nor images with which I might prolong
My search for truth behind the precepts taught
By blind and willful guides with naught but lies
To offer. Truth is here, in you; through you
I see how I might be what men call wise;
Through you I see what gods have yet to view:
The One, in truest beauty, purest form,
All high and low existing indistinct,
Undifferentiated, though the swarm
Of flux and change would render truth extinct.
For you, I offer all and more than all,
Would gladly die, more gladly live your thrall.
The Lover to His
I’d nothing render, nothing change, till you;
Now all things fade as background to your eyes,
Where I have learned to see, a world renew,
Connection to the source not theorize
But truly feel, a blinding light within,
A gnosis granted only on the terms
Of sacrifice, but joyous loss wherein
Myself I’ve truly found, and all affirm.
This wisdom does appear but foolishness,
But such that I’ll nor leave nor disavow,
For all the talk of should and ought has less
Sustaining than confining been, till now.
For now, in fear and trembling I have leapt,
And climb the ladder where all love has stepped.
The Lover to His
I lack the faith required to mountains move,
But faith is needless when I see her eyes,
The light that shines therein, that love does prove
And lends me strength I’d not have otherwise,
Till mountains now move easily for her,
With all my former doubts and fears dispelled.
No thoughts can resolution yet deter,
For she has all my love now so compelled
That willingly I’ll pay the price required
To be with her. I’ll not pretend my heart
Is right, nor yet admit to sin, inspired
By beauty she alone can pure impart.
For every low and base thing I have been
Her love now burns, and gives me life again.
Than Not to Have
Pleased Me Better
The fear of loss still dominates my heart
As I sell low to she who first will bid,
Still knowing no humiliation’s part
To which I’ll not submit for fear she’ll rid
Me from her life. I’ve nothing left to save
From her, despite the books I’ve made my shell,
For all I was went with her to the grave,
And what remains is hell, myself am hell,
Or fragments that I call myself in jest,
For I am nothing but the masks I wear,
A man for all occasions, framed as best
My skill with lies and counterfeit will bear.
What’s lost could yet be won, were life a game;
But all’s in earnest here where love brings shame.
The Secret Lover’s
I’m weary being shunted to the side,
Still kept a fearful secret from your friends,
Who must not know you love me, lest they chide
And mock you for your love, so we pretend
To each not know the other when they’ll see,
Or chance to notice my stray glance, or yours.
I cannot even greet you, so decrees
The fear that binds and keeps our love indoors.
Am I worth nothing more than this? To lie
And hide in corners from my love’s reproof?
Are we to be deprived, and love belie,
For fear of gossip’s tongues to stand aloof?
I would be with you, and give all my heart;
You’ll not acknowledge me, but keep apart.
The Secret Lover’s
I’ve never meant to hurt you, or deny
My love for you; I’ve just not known how best
To integrate my head and heart, or try
And find the balance in my life, attest
To truth and honor, lest my sore mistakes,
From fear of living life without a net,
Still chancing new and unexplored heartaches,
Might lead me to inflict more pain, in debt
To that which I would keep and own myself.
But I’ll no longer keep you in the dark,
Nor pose you as if hidden on a shelf,
For I do love, and will on love embark.
I love you more than I’ve had strength to prove,
But secrets now will bend to their remove.
The time has come for us to say goodbye;
Continuing with this pretense, this pale
And spectral mere existence would belie
Our claims to yet be living; though the veil
Between our worlds has grown translucent, thin,
Interpenetrating one another
Through cutting words, the blood we’ve spilled within
Has left us merely enmity, no other
Emotions yet remain alive in this,
Our fallow field, where thorns and thistles grow,
Things rank and gross, and otherwise amiss,
Possess it merely, stopping waters’ flow.
Whilst yet remembrance stores our former hearts,
Let’s say goodbye, preserve our better parts.
The Secret Lover's
What man dares take exception to our love?
What woman either, has the right to judge
Or mock us childishly, as if above
The common run of men, to neither budge
Nor yet be moved from their hard-hearted stance?
Why fear you to acknowledge me? For lack
Of their approval, lest they look askance
At us, unleashing jealousy's attack?
I cannot help but love you even so,
Regardless of the momentary pains
And complications to our love's fair show,
Though gossips' tongues would mar, yet love remains.
You ask me to keep patience, so I wait,
In hope that love will thrive, and be our fate.
The Note Too Late (II)
I will no longer be remembered here
Than time may yet require to heal the hurt
My presence has inflicted on my sphere
Of loves, or mere acquaintances, covert
Or openly acknowledged, as love should
Still be, and want to be, no matter who
Might disapprove, or judge, as if they could
Impose their moral judgments, make their view
Of ought and should be precepts for the world.
I would I had been different, more alive,
Or less afraid to live, but what I am,
I am. This cure will help my loves to thrive.
In absence hearts grow fond, and wounds may heal,
Till damage I have done will seem unreal.
The Secret Lover’s
She worried I would break her fragile heart;
Preemptively, her fears have broken mine.
Although I loved her, she would stand apart,
Unwilling to acknowledge me in kind,
Though making promises she would not keep,
Assurances from which she’d back away,
It fell to me to prove my truth, then weep
As truth proved ineffective still to sway
Her heart from cold determination to
Inflict that pain she would herself avoid,
As though her past gave license to renew
Those pains she felt when lovers with her toyed.
I was not good enough her love to earn,
So I will walk away, though love still burns.
Young Lover, in Love
with (an Unknown) Self
There lovers are for whom the world must bend
And genuflect before their fears and whims,
For all the world serves as mere dividend
To profit those whose feelings are as hymns
Still sung in churches of their self-regard,
Where services are nightly held in thrall
To ego and to vanity, though hard
And painful truths might lead them to the fall
Which necessary is for them to grow
Beyond their threadbare twenty-something lives.
Whence comes obsession when they’ll nothing know
Of who they are, or what they want to thrive?
We all were once in love with such a one,
And such a one have been, though now we’re none.
The Golden Rule, Not
Do unto others as you’d have them do,
Treat other lovers as you’d have them love;
These are, perhaps, impossible, and few
Among our fellows chance to rank above
The rest. Hypocrisy or gentle will,
Are common to us all, though we’ll pretend
To naught but noble motives, hearts that fill
With joy at friends’ successes, still an end
Is reached where we would make exception for
Ourselves, and treat our friends and loves as toys
For our amusement, pain inflict, and sore
Confusion sow in those who’d keep their poise.
We hurt the ones we love, because they’re dear,
Still wounding those who most would hold us near.
You told me not to love you when I first
Pronounced the words; you did not want to hurt
Me, still uncertain of your heart and mind,
Unsure of your own worthiness—to love,
Or yet be loved. But did I listen? No.
I, later, thought you meant them when the words
Did finally come; “I love you” sounded sweet,
And I embraced that love like love, and would
Not wrong it, though too soon that love to fear
Transformed, and broken promises replaced
The simple truth, and heart once opened, closed
Up shop, while you more stiff and distant grew.
You once caressed, sent shivers through my skin;
But now a pillow feels your touch, not me.
The Note Too Late (III)
Though death would be a sweet release from pain,
I’ve lacked the courage yet to free myself;
I cannot go on with the meaningless
Mess that is my life, the wounds, betrayal,
And disappointment. All I’ve loved have gone;
All I’ve hoped has failed, with all my promise
Unfulfilled, and nothing left but failure
And threadbare lies, unnoticed by the herd
For whom I’ve ever been a deviant
From precious norms, inviolable precepts,
Unthinking prejudice, and common sense--
More common, madam, than we’d yet admit.
For healthy members of the herd would live,
While I can only dream of how to die.
Better to Reign
Here at least
We shall be free
The city breathes
with an occasional rattling cough;
natives no longer notice
bodies lying in empty warehouse doorways,
covered in cardboard and greasy rags,
Southside nights crawl with the
young punks with double-digit IQ's,
their flannel shirts buttoned to the very top,
waiting for fresh meat at the A to Z Auto Wrecker
on the corner of Martin Luther King and Main, Chupa mi Verga, Puta
Blanca...Chinga tu Madre, Cabron...
angry, aging never-were's and angry, young never-will-be's
hanging out by Irish Spud Murphy's Gym on East Broadway,
dreaming Rocky dreams;
mechanically sexual women and men waiting for the new sailor-boys
in the neon-signed, electronic rip-off houses
and adult bookstores on West Broadway.
Steam rises from the streets,
like the City of Dis floating to the surface,
wisps of Pandemonium flowing in and out of the city's lungs,
a possessing spirit unnoticed by the sane.
Water of Life
White men with perfect Ward
obediently hair-sprayed wives,
well-beaten children in tow.
Sitting quietly in rows of bolted-down seats,
in the blood of lambs;
ancient martyrdom flows anew
flows without end to fill
parched by unquenchable need.
"We are nothing in His sight!"
thunders the choleric preacher
waving over-long arms
above a faintly sloping forehead,
railing against Darwinian heresies
for which his existence provides eloquent proof.
His flock laps greedily,
savoring each blood-drenched syllable
of exquisite accusation.
Reveries of death;
other people's death,
daydreams of fear;
other people's fear,
songs of war to a warrior God,
praying for glorious Armageddon
when He will make blood flow
as high as the bridles of horses.
Then shall the thirsty
thirst no more.
Dried-out husk of a Midwestern
Downtown, a mosaic of crumbling brick,
shattered windows, unlit signs,
unlit except for beer signs on bars,
one for every block it seems.
Catholic churches with grimy walls and fading doors
cast shadows between bars and dead factories.
Shift-work orphans stumble from pew to stool,
washing eucharist-dried throats with draws of Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Glassworks closed down,
leaving landscapes dotted with slagheaps,
fields strewn with broken bits of blue glass.
Neighborhoods shrink, become emptier as cemeteries expand;
death is a growth industry here, no pink slips, no layoffs.
My wife calls this her hometown.
Her father and brother lie side-by-side in St. Stephen's cemetery,
Father never left, killed by a heart attack at forty-five,
cheeseburger still on his breath;
brother escaped, only to die while visiting friends,
grinding pieces of himself into patiently waiting asphalt
of a road driven hundreds of times before.
In darkly superstitious, chimpanzee portions of my mind,
I wonder if our own visits tempt a family curse,
a carnivorous factory-town Baal
which can only be appeased with heart attacks and car wrecks.
We leave after a few minutes,
walking past strangers buried near the path.
I notice a heap of fresh dirt,
stop, show the stone to my wife Jimmy Kolvacki, Beloved Son,
after a moment she suggests we get root beer and cheese fries,
so we do.
Back to Vietnam
We rise with coffee at seven
sometimes as early as five—
blinking in bright, artificial sun.
Green dye soils floors, grows viscous, ugly,
feeding vegetal shift bosses who see
through Mammon's jealous eyes.
Jow sabadee boh? (How
I ask my companion as we set to work. Sabadee, Jow?, he
answers--(I am good, and you?)
Our call and response never changes,
as if these strange yet familiar cadences
could somehow quicken the slowly ripening clock.
Kykeo and I have spent five
stooping in the fields of this factory.
Silkscreeners—we till with wood and rubber
plowing green, pestilent ink
through mesh which is not silk.
Lies pay our bills—truth sets no one free.
Sometimes, out of nowhere
he stills, distance growing in his eyes.
Sudden noise breaks his stare;
he smiles, says, "Back to Vietnam."
Vietnam is code for daydream,
portable vision of deciduous Paradise.
He came here after Saigon,
bringing green cards, an infant daughter,
a wife who would soon bear a son.
Roots pulled by Ho Chi Minh's communists,
he spends lunches studying for citizenship tests,
absently swallowing rice and tea water.
At day's end our hands are
stained with green;
we wash, but the color never fades entirely.
We pick up our checks, punch out as second shift punches in.
On nights off from his second job he leaves for home.
I drive to night classes, hoping to buy my ransom,
my escape from the green death stalking us hourly.
The Blues Made
A quartet plays Ellington at the
breezing through the bars in 4/4 time,
sax blowing Mood Indigo through the room.
Players bend blue notes beneath the flesh tones
of a ceiling-high Rubens in pink Weatherbeater paint,
female nude with an ass for the ages,
round and unashamed.
For a moment the riffs of midrange sax,
throbbing bass and steady backbeat,
the ringing trebles of cymbals and wine glasses,
seem to fade . . .
It is an enormous ass,
from a time before starvation was fashion,
before Weight Watchers ruled the earth,
when beauty was relaxed and human.
The notes return, unhurried and silky-smooth,
Happy-Go-Lucky Locals playing the C-Jam Blues.
Brush strokes caress the rhythm
as the sax sings an old love-song
to a Satin Doll.
Air was heavy as we danced at
a dozen holding out in joyful resistance
to parental calls: "Come inside, it's getting dark!"
Twilight brought sounds of insects
entomological etudes in E-flat—
songs of summer, high grass, and humidity.
Sometimes the musicians stopped for a drink,
leaving us with swellings to remember them by,
each maddening prepubescent itch
a harbinger of itches to come.
Carbon-arc lamps buzzed as the
last light faded;
from up the street we could hear
the rumble of the bug truck.
Sickly-sweet odor and billowing clouds
of insecticide ascended
like glandular secretions from its rear tanks,
covering our neighborhood in a petrochemical fog.
We danced as pagan children
behind the bug truck god,
laughingly pantomiming bug death,
spinning to the ground on childish wishes and chimerical wings.
we lay damp and spent in curbside grass,
mouths open, chests heaving,
swallowing with each breath
a floating malignancy, a gorgeous windblown cancer,
silently taking root in fertile lungs.
Ye shall no more give
the people straw to make brick, as heretofore:
let them go and gather straw for themselves.
And the tale of the bricks, which they did make heretofore,
ye shall lay upon them; ye shall not diminish ought thereof:
for they be idle. . .
and the taskmasters hastened them, saying,
Fulfil your works, your daily tasks, as when there was straw.
And the officers of the children of Israel,
which Pharaoh's taskmasters had set over them,
were beaten, and demanded,
Wherefore have ye not fulfilled your task in making brick
both yesterday and to day, as heretofore?
Room for one more,
The Factory feeds on the slow death
of its workers
Under vaporous nitrate skies
of cold fluorescent suns
grey faces with lifelike hands
build cathedrals they cannot afford to enter
Motion is Survival
as silk-suited predators
search for signs of slackening
Grey faces remain set in correct
bodies strain, rhythmic motion unbroken
still they linger,
nostrils searching air-conditioned currents
hunting for weakness
Signs on the wall proclaim
"Make two copies of your personal
and turn them in before you leave."
More for Less
The Leader's new Five-Year-Plan
Tomorrow quotas will increase
someone will be too old or too slow
to keep up
Tomorrow there will be sacrifice
the Factory will go on
Time is warped
stretched beyond recognition
in the Factory
Eight hour days become
Turned to dust and forgotten
while clocks drag
each day's first hour
Grey faces race mechanically
blind to passionless hours
send it through
always room for more
Mass production is everywhere
changing only form or location
Inside time stops
worlds cease to
For bodies selling souls
by the hour in steel and concrete
III. Broom's Companion
Our keepers walk like kings
with thinly stretched smiles
under guillotine eyes
Walking in pairs
checking human inventory
An old man
pushes slowly through the hall
catching their attention
Watching his labored movements
whispering skeletal secrets
Tomorrow the broom will have
a new companion
Grey faces with lifelike hands
play the music of the Factory
synchronous dances of perpetual motion
appease the surveillant eye
The melody hollows
its captive audience
with C# screams from the drill press
Symphonies of steel shafts and diamond tips
reaching soft flesh beneath
leaving animate husks implosive to the touch
divided into slaves
production floor purgatory
from which there is no escape
Without unearned Grace
from second floor deities
with cameras and viewscreens
To use the restroom bring your
slide the magnetic strip through the eye
smile for the camera
as you take your seat
(What does He do? no one knows)
patrols the employee lunchroom
gliding across the floor
in His wool-lined uniform
of sedentary privilege
Casting quick resentful glances
Profits tick away
as His human inventory refuels
Demands to increase Work
come from those who know only the word
Work leaves no room for laughter
There is no humor in the Factory
I pace back and forth
before their machine
trying desperately to become
Time rests lightly
on unconscious minds
Hours/days/years bind me fast
to my white-tiled fluorescent cage
air vents and sliding glass doors seal me in
with the steady hum of my hungry metal master
I look around and wonder
must the Others endure time
as I endure it?
Or do the hands spin for them?
Do they see
years of mass-produced sameness
dim outlines of waste
reaching out with leper's arms
claiming its children?
Do they endure as I endure?
8/10/12 hours/ 6 days a week
we trade life for money
faithfully feeding their machines
400 times a day/120,000 times a year
6,000,000 times a life
until new blood comes and washes us away
still making feeding motions
with feeble ghosts of hands
We carry the Factory inside us
Even in sleep
I hear its voice
harsh, metallic insistence
with the icy patience
of mechanical immortality
I see its face
teachers herding each year's flock
pushed through the line
by tomorrow's fresh supply
always room for more
In every meaningless moment
behind every anonymous face
giving the lie
to all our conceits
of repetitive motion
claiming us for their own
We gain the world
while we lose our souls
What does it profit us?
We will never escape
We carry the Factory inside us
and his apprentice
clad in stylish
leave the coffeehouse
pulling away in a black BMW
license number INBZ 469
alienated and nihilistic
but in luxurious
smiles white with gap-teeth
and gives to Jerry's Kids
likes its beer dry
and backyard barbecues
loves white shirts on Sunday
front row seats
nods from the elders
and a black velvet Jesus
has every record
dreaming larvae dreams
playing out their zygote jealousies
in an amniotic sea
of boredom and futility
sweet sugary angst
rebellions of style not substance
wild roving packs
of identical iconoclasts
getting down to the serious business of
sports cars and station wagons
flashy rings on fat fingers
slack-jawed recitals of
"I remember when..."
tracing diminishing spirals
in a foot square patch of dust
a big wide world
for a larva
What I'd like to say: Get in touch with your feelings
on somebody else's fucking time
get the fuck out of my face
No, you can't share something with me.
If you don't leave me alone I'll kick
your goddamned fucking ass.
What I actually say: Oh, that's too bad.
Gee, you've really come a long way
to be able to share that openly with others.
You should be really proud of yourself.
The Marquis De
Sade Enters Heaven
Talkin' 'bout Jesus always gets
My subtle serpent struggles to burst
from his Fruit-of-the-Loom Eden,
seeking to find his Eve.
I am breathless with talk of Heaven and Hell,
where demons in chains are whipped into ecstasy
by leather-clad, harp-playing angels.
Mistress Mary ties and tickles submissive saints;
frenzied latex slaves lick the Virgin's six-inch heels,
praying for a flick of the circumcising whip.
Quivering masses of Apostolic flesh
writhe with the agony of exquisite punishment,
as fiery coals are heaped onto gospel-laden tongues,
searing the sinless with sexual truth.
Midnight’s bus roars and jerks
through the strange terrain of darkness
past sleepless havens
of blanketed solitude
rumbling through silent empty stretches
bright fluorescent lights
red white and blue interior
a deafening plastic and steel oasis
where lives intersect
on their way to nowhere
riding downward through the night
one block at a time
Genius sleeps on park benches
bleeding beneath battering hooves
gather stale loaves for imaginary flocks
caught in the undertow
of asphalt tides
for breath without memory
memory without pain
flowing downward through the night
one death at a time
Love sleeps safely in
her warm body stirs while I lie
feeling my heart grow weaker
with each passing moment
counting my remaining store—I close my eyes
falling downward through the night
one night at a time
Shall we dance
even though we wear stranger’s faces
grey rheumatic eyes
peering through the bars of these
aging flesh prisons
too unfamiliar now to be
the half-forgotten objects
of uncertain reminiscence
Shall we dance
unshared and unreal
all that is left of us
before yesterday’s dimly lit mirrors
cherishing our soft reflections
while there is still time
Shall we dance
cast off present chains and escape
into imaginings of
places we never touched
faces we never were
filling memory’s gaps
with ghostly images of desire
Shall we dance with yesterday
while tomorrow’s end lingers
just beyond fading senses
waiting for us to grow weaker
of polite conversation;
evening symphonies of eye contact,
smiling and nodding in correct places
Middle-age people who died at seventeen
imagining lives that exist only
happens to our laughter, our spirit?
We reach nesting age, reproduce, and wait
through faded reminiscence,
forests of soft-focus images;
They just don’t make `em like
they used to
The closet was small with no
but plenty of room for clothes
and all the imaginary treasures
of an eight year old boy
It was dark
When I outgrew my Teddy bear
I stored him in the closet
next to my new guitar
When my family moved away
the last thing my father did
was paint the inside of the closet
to cover the blood I left there
begging him to let me out
Mornings start at eight in
White-tiled floors reflect fluorescent ceilings.
Gaunt figures shuffle, painfully exposed;
X-rays, CAT-scans, probing eyes and needles
sink deep into no-longer-private flesh.
Lead-lined rooms descend five floors below ground;
elevators carry new hopefuls down,
lift the hopeless to the sunlit surface,
back to worlds of as-yet unrecognized,
undiagnosed, untreated slow collapse.
Twelve years we have waited for
her to die;
through thirteen months of chemotherapy
hair loss, wigs, trips to Naval hospitals
—dying became her primary weapon,
Damocletian sword on fragile threads.
Remission went quietly unspoken;
death crouched always around the next corner.
Sunken-eyed stares, quiet accusations,
we had made her sick, we were killing her,
killing with childish disobedience.
Leaving was a mutinous betrayal.
I know because my family tells me so,
or did, when they were still speaking to me.
One sister still writes occasionally;
“Mom yelled at me for two hours today.”
She dreams of escape, old at seventeen;
poets, rock stars, and other messiahs
protect her in the psychiatric wards,
the churches, of our Mother’s lingering
Carnival of Saints
Dying colors cling to darkening
orange, purple, black.
Whispers: Do what thou wilt,
eat, drink, and be merry,
for tomorrow we will die.
All Hallows in Bohemia;
neighbors celebrate pride,
luscious fishnet costumes
unchain shadow selves
daily closeted behind orthodoxy,
released, outed in annual revelry.
Gauze-wrapped Jesus glides over
absolving passers-by of sins
or not yet imagined,
bearing gifts of latex and oil,
loaves and fishes for his faithful flock.
nylon hair and soft rubber breasts,
turn cartwheels for red-light traffic,
flashing bright blue pom-poms,
well muscled thighs,
amid symphonies of horns and laughter.
Cat-people prowl in tight black
trailing smoke and conversation,
following sidewalk-shaking bass riffs
to the Brass Rail or the Flame,
dissolving into music,
enveloped by night.
Polyester-clad disciples shuffle
wing-tips and high heels
across unyielding cement,
ritually encircling the Motel-6 swimming pool.
Sweating flesh hidden behind soon-to-burst seams,
straining collars and tightly-fixed smiles,
hints of hair spray and dime-store cologne
mingle with southern-accented prayer.
One by one lambs are led to water;
swimsuits and bathing caps
step down into the pool,
held firmly by ministerial hands,
“Are you ready?” “Yes.”
Plunging beneath anointing liquid,
chlorinated to wash away algae and sin.
Climbing out shorn, wrapped in blankets of humidity,
newborns cast glowing-eyed gazes,
welcomed by Brothers and Sisters,
fellow slaves in the Lord
who take up the cross in summer storms,
praying for salvation,
watched over by legions of mosquitoes and dragonflies.
Letter To An
Sorry to hear that your Father
No I’m not—I always thought he was a jerk,
a wife-beating, child-terrorizing monster
poisoned by obedience
and a lifetime of fear.
I pity him, though.
Hypocritical, isn’t it?
To empathize with the dead, hated in life?
From what you’ve told me of his
(life seems too generous a term
to apply to the sort of knee-scraping drudgery you described)
I couldn’t have survived it.
He wanted to be a country singer;
he was no Tower builder,
no Ziggurats scraped the heavens of his south Texas imagination,
his mother wouldn’t allow it.
That was the story of his life, wasn’t it?
His mother, then later his wife—
an Oedipal project gone horribly wrong,
a new mother by his own hands—
wouldn’t allow anything deviating
from the words of Christ in red.
Your grandmother, a hymn-book-toting Nurse Ratched
with chapter-and-verse Thorazine,
beat him into submission with her dog-eared bludgeon
for sixty-seven years.
When the end came, she stood by his bedside so he could spend
his last moments under her watchful eye.
Devout dominatrix—she rejoiced in his subjection;
“The day of his death is better than the day of his birth,
for he has made a good name with God.”
He died with her umbilical cord wrapped around his neck.
He had never really lived,
but you know that doesn’t excuse him
for making you his human urinal.
Understand, grieve, but don’t forgive.
Turning the other cheek is just an invitation.
Love is the only
Love is the only Law
do what you are told
because you are taught
Do not question
or cause trouble
in the assurance of virtue
Between the Lines
stretches into diminishing
Its lines narrow
like roads in the distance
squeezing living spaces in between
We move between the lines
between narrowing lines
doing the right thing
keeping up appearances
between the lines
sacraments for eyeless gods
unmoved before unseen tears
between narrowing lines
Gradually more compact
we move with purpose
without remembering why
Near the end
one at a time now
pressed forward by relentless crush
from generations behind
for some—no questions
herding through the narrowing lines
each in turn
to the blade and hook
The first thing is to cut off the feet
When you see Jerusalem
surrounded by armies
know desolation is near
let those in Judea flee to the mountains
I have remembered my covenant
and I will redeem you
In stone citadels rising above
the Dead Sea,
words no longer comforted,
prophets could not save,
faith was vanity before Rome’s Tenth Legion.
Hundreds escaped to this
fleeing a dying city;
rivers of blood washed over its aqueducts,
released from Judean veins by Roman steel.
Three years refugees endured behind walls,
the last feeble resistance.
Husbands, wives, children,
imploring Him not to forget His promise,
the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Three years without answer,
Zealots stalled inexorable Legions
who would drag corpses through obedient streets
Hundreds fought to ransom one last season,
begging Him to remember.
There is where their weeping
and gnashing of teeth shall be. My God, my God,
Why have you forsaken us?
Prayers became tears, tears
turned to screams,
grief-shocked mothers held children fast,
“It won’t hurt if you don’t move.”
Fathers’ swords thrust quickly through
infants gored on the altar,
surrendered to mercy.
Pillars of flesh
caressed for the last time,
wives stood composed,
suddenly penetrated by phallic steel,
fucked to death on the altar
of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The men chose ten from among
to kill all who remained.
The ten chose one.
The one watched sanctuary walls burn,
roamed among bodies
making sure no one suffered,
then fell on his sword
howling the name
of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Listening to the
Laughter of the Masses at 3 A.M.
I’ve heard all the usual
platitudes: dying is nothing to be afraid
of, death is the natural ending of
I worry about the minor details,
how I will look when the paramedics
find me, slumped, pants down around my ankles,
cheekbone cracked against men’s room graffiti,
the aneurysm that I never knew
I had, introducing itself to me
after a Denny’s Hearty Man breakfast.
Will my last sights be a
wrinkled shirt sleeve,
crudely sketched fantasies of penis size,
for a good time call—unreadable name,
half-empty toilet-paper dispensers,
rapidly rising tiles, sudden darkness?
Or will needles and registered nurses
be the final companions of old age?
Rains come and people die.
Storms destroy without thought,
because that is what storms do.
Nature’s beauty is a thin-crusted mask
covering a face of power, violence, indifference.
Nature does not cherish individuals;
the weak die now—the strong die later.
Killers suspect the truth.
Violence shatters masks,
recreates them in nature’s image;
but the mimicry is imperfect,
retaining a human touch.
Nature cannot be satisfied,
is not appeased by blood or worship.
Flood waters recede, volcanoes
cool, tremors still,
but nature gives no permanent quarter.
Thorough, untiring, infinitely patient,
the mask of beauty is restored
while the daemonic face turns elsewhere—for the moment.
Restless intellect refuses to be
its captives rail against
no one else can see
We fear them
or perhaps more simply
viewed with a curious mixture
of respect and resentment
we ask their opinions
hiding a bemused contempt
laughing to reassure ourselves
We minimize their threat
by locking them away
from the healthy flock
in colleges, bookstores, coffeehouses
and literary magazines
no one reads
Nursing homes for the Bell Curve
Bright shining lies
covering faces like masks
hiding lives spent in fear
eyes furtively moving
checking to see
that masks have not slipped
concealing their own disbelief
revealing the disbelief of others
at once keepers and kept
cameras keeping watch on cameras
Ashes to Dust
Because I will never be
the son my mother knew
I keep his memory alive
with smiles and evasions
living a lie
Ashes to dust
Because I will never be
the man I once dreamed
I retreat into interiors
of windowless silence
Sending a shell
through the motions
of a defeated life
Ashes to dust
Because I will never have
the eternity I was promised
Time preys on me
for me to stumble
Ashes to dust