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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

If I Were a Rock-

According to a Buzzfeed Quiz I took
on Facebook, I am 95% Awesome.
My wife assures me the quiz is flawed
Not as flawed as I am,
but flawed, nonetheless.

According to a Gawker Quiz
I took on Facebook,
if I were a rock
I’d be an igneous rock.
I find this a bit troubling,
not only because I’d always thought
of myself as being more sedimentary,
but because it means I will now have to remember
how to spell igneous.

At various points in my life I have taken
meditation courses,
and Mindfullness training,
I’ve been therapied and psychoanalyzed,
but never before have I approached
the level of self-awareness
that these internet quizzes I see on Facebook
are giving me.

If I were a precious stone
What precious stone would I be?
Ruby.

If I were a dog
what dog would I be?
Shitzu. 
- Sure, my wife says,
they got that half right.

If I were a Peanuts character
which peanuts character would I be?
Schroeder.

At a certain point, though,
I began to doubt the insight these quizzes
were giving me.

If I was  a vegetable,
what vegetable would I be?
might tell me something about myself
(I was hoping for asparagus,
but got potato.
Yeah, I know).

But, if I was moss
what kind of moss would I be?
just doesn’t seem to be speaking
to the issues facing me
in today’s 21st century world.

What 1970s television sitcom character
would I be?
seemed to be about to give me great insight,
until it turned out that I’d be Marcia,
 from the Brady Bunch.

Likewise, finding out that
if I were a Snapple flavor,
I’d be crabapple cranberry,
well, that might be a bit
too close to the truth.

I quit doing these quizzes
when it turned out that if I were
a Japanese vending machine,
I’d be dispensing
designer condoms
in packets featuring the faces
 of champion sumo wrestlers.

I found that deeply disturbing,
yet somehow oddly intriguing,
so I decided to quit while I was ahead.
I am, after all,
a 95% awesome
igneous rock potato
with the personality of Marcia Brady.
And knowing all that,
how much more personal insight
can I really afford ?


Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Camp-

This summer I spent a month at Poetry Boot Camp.
It was Hell.

We stayed in dorms named after famous poets.
The women got the Emily Dickinson Cottage.
It was great for them-
Fresh eggs from local chickens at breakfast every morning.
Tea and scones served by shirtless Italian waiters
every afternoon at 3.

The men were packed into the Bukowski Barracks.
We were only given two hours sleep each night,
not allowed to shower,
and fed a straight diet of ham sandwiches and beer.
They pumped so much beer into us
that by the third day
you could have taken my piss,
bottled it,
put it on the supermarket shelf,
labeled it ‘Coors’,
and nobody could have told the difference.

We started each day with drills.
There was a Spoken Word Breath Control drill
where you had to repeat your name ten times
without stopping to breath.
Tom Dix won that every day.
I had a Spanish friend,
Pablo Suarez de Jesus Escondido Maria Montoya Escalan de Gama,
 - he almost died.

The drill sergeants were all
named after Beat Poets.
You didn’t mess with the one we called Ginsburg.
If you made a mistake, he made you talk
the rest of the day using haiku.
Yoda Haiku.
Excuse me-
Haiku, spoke we in,
As if Yoda we were... oy.
Easy, not, it was.

There were games-
An Adverb Scavenger Hunt.
Pin the Simile on the Metaphor.
Spin the Hyperbole.
If you fucked THAT up
Ginsburg hit you on the head
with a copy of
The Collected Works of Rod McKuen.

Then the Slam Team Trainers came for us.
Their motto was,
“We Put The Slam in Slamming”.
They had arm bands featuring
the velociraptor from Jurassic Park.
We jogged to and from every class,
shouting Kill! Kill! Kill!
at the top of our lungs
in iambic pentameter.

They taught us to achieve the mindset
of the Professional Poetry Slammer-
“You are my opponent.
I admire your work and wish you luck.
I applaud your every victory,
I will crush you like a bug”.

At Graduation we had to get our diplomas
by running over a 20-foot long bed of
fiery, red hot consonants.
I got a Q stuck between my toes and
couldn’t walk for a week.

This summer I spent a month at Poetry Boot Camp,
and it was Hell.
But why am I standing here
telling you all about it?
The next session starts in an hour-
the buses are waiting outside-
So saddle up, poets!
The Dickinson Cottage
and Bukowski Barracks
are waiting for you!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

(Almost) Awesome-

You know how sometimes you write something
and you’re sure that it’s just fucking awesome?
You’re sitting there and all at once
the words just poop out of your fingers
and stain the pages with your brilliance?
When that happens to me
after I’ve finished I sit back,
satisfied and satiated,
and I want to puff a cigarette
like Bogie when he gets done fucking Bacall
for the first time.

And I am drunk with the glory of it
and I want to take my brilliant piece
and share it
and email it
and Facebook it
and blog it
and go down to the street
and accost some innocent passerby
with it.

But some inner voice deep down,
the same voice that could have spared
me that wicked hangover after
last saturday night’s party,
that one little inner shred of common sense
that hasn’t been mercilessly bludgeoned to death
by my brilliance,
that little voice says, “wait”,
and just this once, I listen.

And so I plant the poem away in my desk,
like a sunflower seed in a
paper cup filled with peat moss,
like the perfect Christmas gift,
October-wrapped and hidden
on the top shelf
of the back hallway closet,
and I sneak a peek every once in a while
all afternoon, just to reassure myself
that my brilliance isn’t going anywhere.

And then I get up the next morning,
and I make myself make coffee,
and check my email,
and put the dried dishes in the drainer away,
and feed the cat,
and then,
then-
I collect my poem
from its safe place,
and I look at it
in the fresh day,
and I read it over,
and I think,

“What the fuck?!?!?!?”

Yeah-
you know how sometimes
it’s like that?


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Names-

What’s in a name?
You would think naming poems would be simple. Not for me.
When I was in high school I thought it was clever
to name my poems like the painter,
James McNeill Whistler, named his paintings-
His “Nocturne in Blue & Gold” led to my
“Symphony in White for Adjectives”,
and “An Arrangement in Adverbs #14”.
I did that until a girl I liked commented,
“That’s stupid”.
I couldn’t disagree.
So I took “Nocturne #37 in Metaphorical Greys”,
tore it up,
and avoided poetry altogether for the next decade.

And yet, I never quite learn.
When I started writing again, my poem
about a panhandler who gets
flattened by a bus on 12th Street was titled 
“Incident at 44th and 6th”.
You probably don’t need a map, the intersection
of 44th and 6th is nowhere near 12th in any city
(math majors got that right away).

There’s my poem about swing dancing under the stars
which concludes with the stanza,
“Then come and sit awhile with me,
under the black-boned maple tree,
under the proud black canopy, of January sky.
Come sit and watch,
as stars fly by,
that velvet January sky,
a swarm of winter fireflies,
not yet entombed in some glass jar”.
I titled this poem about January skies,
“With You and Duke Ellington at Christmas”.

-it took me eight years
to notice that there was a problem.

And yet, I love naming my poems.
Well, some of my poems-
I’ve got a drawer full of great titles for
poems I haven’t actually written yet.


“Reading Charles Bukowski at a
 New Britain Rock Cats Minor League Baseball Game”.
I may not have a poem to go with it-
But damn, I like the title.

I’ve got titles attached to partial-poems; semi-poems...
about-to-be-started-someday poems-
“Who Pissed on the Lilacs?” will be my homage to Walt Whitrman,
if I ever get around to writing it.
“Bad Marmalade, and Other Journeys to the Dark Side of the Fridge”,
may eventually be finished, but I never get more than a stanza in
before I have to break for a snack.

“The Raven Revisited: A Caustic Letter to the Audubon Society”,
actually got a funding grant from PETA,
but they pulled the money when they found out
that on line 37 I described the Raven as
“Nothing more than a fuzzy-balled birdshit factory”.

But sometimes I learn-
there are certain words and phrases to avoid in titles
if you’re going to post your poem on the internet.
For instance- You may have lots of cats,
but don’t name your poem about them
“Pussies Galore”.
A project with an animal rights group taught me
that when posting a poem online
about the evils of pit-fighting roosters,
it’s probably best to avoid the phrase “Cock-Fight”.
Unless, you know, you’re looking for interesting experiences.
 - I’m not judging.

It might seem my attempts at poem-naming
are all destined for disappointment,
But I read recently that “Disappointment “
is just a mis-spelling of “Opportunity”.
(I’m not sure how they make that work,
the words don’t look the same, but never mind).
So in an effort to boost my website stats
right now I’m working on a new poem
that takes advantage of all the lessons I’ve learned.
It’s titled “Pussies Galore at the Cock Fight”.
Oh please! It’s a poem about my cats.
Really- it’s a poem about my cats.
Ok... it’s not about my cats.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Questions, Answers-

Trotted this completely revised and re-wired piece out at the Open Mic before last night's Poetry Slam at NoHo Poetry-

-

People are always asking me
(well, all right, once last year somebody asked me) -
What’s the difference between Traditional  Poetry,
Spoken Word Narrative Poetry, and Slam Poetry?
The answer I gave to that question
was certainly influenced by how many beers I’d had,
and the fact that I, a Spoken Word Poet,
had just been dumped by a Slam Poet.
Here’s what I said-

A Traditional Poem features clever allusions
and carefully-wrought phrases about things
that are never what they seem to be.
You may be introduced to horses
banging copper pipes with clouds
fashioned from the heartbreak of their hopes
as they puff on cigars wrapped
with the shreds of our sorrow.
At first none of this may make any sense to you,
-but if you wait, you’ll find the horses
had a damned good reason for all that banging...
-or, at the very least, they were provoked.

A Spoken Word Narrative poem eschews allusion
and avoids complicated metaphor
in favor of a more straightforward presentation-
in a Spoken Word poem, for instance,
horses will never eschew allusions,
or illusions,
and they certainly don’t smoke anything.

A Slam Poem walks out on stage
and kicks you in the nuts.
Wicked hard.
And you’ll like it.
-
As you may by now have gathered,
a Traditional Poem about a horse
is not really about a horse-
the horse stands in as a metaphor
for freedom, or loyalty, or endless toil,
and you, the reader, are asked to figure it out,
or simply to think to yourself-
Wow, that’s a multi-talented horse.

A Spoken Word Narrative poem about the horse
will actually be about the horse,
and the poet’s relationship to the horse,
though the horse may, eventually,
be seen to stand as a deeper metaphor
for some other facet of life,
which the poet will explain to you.

In a Slam Poem about a horse,
the horse walks out on stage,
and kicks its rider in the nuts.
Wicked hard.
-
A Traditional Poem appeals to your Intellect.
It asks you to unlock its secrets one by one,
to unravel the metaphor thread by thread,
to come to the same place in the end as the poet,
or perhaps not, horses being what they are,
as sillabub cup dancers spin
on clouds banks of furrowed dreams
in the graveyard speaking only to me.
That last sentence, by the way, illustrates
why I don’t often venture to write Traditional Poetry.

A Spoken Word Narrative Poem appeals to your emotions,
-it communicates with the audience on a more
prosaic level. It can be every bit as lyrical as a Traditional poem,
but if it talks about sillabub cups
it usually really means a tiny silver cup to drink
fortified spiced wine out of.

A Slam Poem will buy you a drink
before it kicks you in the nuts.
Wicked hard.
And you’ll like it.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Open mic, July 29

Read something new at last night's NoHo Poetry Open Mic-



Today the New York Times said that Poetry is dead.
I never even had time to tell Poetry that I loved her.


Today the National Enquirer revealed that Poetry is not dead.
Today the National Enquirer revealed that Poetry’s brain
was put into a state of suspended animation by The New Yorker in 1997,
and you can get secret messages from Poetry by playing
Sara Bareilles audio files backwards.

I want to play Poetry’s audio files backwards.
I want to tell Poetry that I love her.
I want to have Hot Poet Sex with Poetry
on the floor of T.S. Elliot’s kitchen.

Today, the Today Show said nothing about Poetry.
Today, Good Morning America said nothing about Poetry.
Today, Morning Edition was going to say something
about Poetry, but the piece got kicked off the schedule
at the last minute by a breaking story about Fracking.

I’m not sure what fracking is...
-but it sounds like something I’d like to do with Poetry.

If I die in a Flanders Field, I want it to be for Poetry.
If I strike out in the 9th with the bases loaded
plunging Mudville into a century of shame and despair,
I want to have been struck out by Poetry.
If two roads diverge in a yellow wood and I take the wrong one?
-I want to have been mis-directed by Poetry.

I want to produce the hot new cable show, Haiku Tonight.
I want to host the long-running television game show, Wheel of Sonnets.
I want to fund an NPR show called All Poems Considered.
I want Alex Trebek to demand in his next contract
that Jeopardy have a Poetry category every night,
-and I want to write the questions.

I want to tell Poetry that I love her.
I want to play Poetry’s audio files backwards.
I want to fuck Poetry until she’s completely satisfied,
and I want to lie there, exhausted, still wanting to give more,
to Poetry.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The (in)Correct Note-

Ripped this old poem open, put in a new transmission and upgraded the OS, and trotted the revised edition back out at last night's Open Mic-

 

As a child I spent a lot of my time
worrying about making mistakes-
I was that nerdy kid who forgot a homework assignment
exactly once in twelve years of primary education,
and then seriously contemplated changing my name
and running off to Canada rather than tell my
parents I’d been kept after school because of it.
It was Mrs. Winters’ 7th grade Social Studies class,
March 12, 1975, by the way, and the assignment
was draw an imaginary animal of the future
and describe how it evolved from a currently-existing animal...
Not that I dwell on it or anything.

As an adult I’ve tried to shake out of that habit.
I’ve worked very hard to feel ok about doing
things in ways other people see as wrong-
And I work hard at it because, of course,
when it comes to being ok about being wrong,
there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about it.

“There’s really no such thing as the *correct* note”-
That’s a new self-help mantra
I’ve been repeating over and over to myself-
One evening recently
while attending a community theater production
of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance”
I watched as the lead soprano put that theory into practice.

Yes- there were some notes on the page
which Sir Arthur Sullivan had *suggested* she sing-
but the young woman seemed to take those
as an affront to her own ingenuity.
“Sure”, she was obviously thinking to herself,
“Those are the notes THEY want me to sing-
But I’ll show them!”

Did she have a point?
Ask any man who has put together a gas grill or
piece of IKEA furniture, and he will tell you-
instructions are at best a list of suggestions.
Yes, there were seven bolts, five nuts
and this oddly-shaped metal rod left over
when I finished,
but the grill fires up,
so how important could they be?

As the years have passed I’ve kept trying to hit
just the right note, and often missed,
and I’ve finally decided to take the advice
my high school guidance counselor gave me-
“If you can’t live your life as a good example for some,
at least proudly serve as a warning to others”.

There’s some solace in the fact that
many of art and poetry’s successes
spent their careers hitting the wrong note-
and one day people decided it wasn’t the wrong note after all
-and some of those artists and poets were even still alive to enjoy it.
But of course, many of art and poetry’s never-were’s
also spent their careers hitting the wrong note-
and in the end everybody just asked:
What the fuck was he thinking????

You play your notes and hope somebody else
will dance along with the tune,
and if you’re lucky, nobody throws tomatoes at you.
And you think the song will go on forever,
but of course it won't.
One morning people will wake up
and start talking about you in the past tense,
and when you’re in the past tense
you’ve walked through a door,
and you can never go back.

So lately I’ve begun to worry less
about right notes and wrong notes-
and I just keep hitting *some* note, like
that golden-haired Pirates of Penzance soprano;
she may have had Sir Arthur Sullivan
spinning like a top in his grave-
but even if she wasn’t technically faithful to the score,
her interpretation of it
was at least strikingly original.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Critics-

I come here tonight to criticize Blue Man Group.
I HATE BLUE MAN GROUP!!
“All right”, I can hear some of you thinking,
“Has he ever seen Blue man Group?”
Well, of course not.
I HATE Blue man Group,
why would I want to -see- them?
It would be a gigantic waste of everyone’s time.

I come here tonight to trash Dan Brown’s novels.
It’s true that I’ve never -read- any of his novels,
why would I? They’re trash.
A certain red-haired literature professor I know says so.
My taste in novels may be lacking,
but my taste in red-haired literature professors
is pretty spot-on.
So I come here tonight to trash Dan Brown’s novels.

I come here tonight to share with you
my loathing for the seed of the Chia.
Growing up, I pestered my parents for one of those Chia pets
I saw advertised on late-night tv.
Seeing the seed of these noble animals
sold by supermarkets now is a bit confusing to me.
I’ve never actually -eaten- a chia seed-
going by what a Chia pet looks like,
I think it would be like eating the coat
of my neighbor’s pet poodle.
Or, if you are familiar with one of the Chia Company’s
slightly more disturbing popular products,
It would be like eating an old albino man’s fuzzy green fright wig.
To paraphrase the popular song lyric-
I’ll eat anything for love-
But I won’t eat THAT.

Ignorant disdain used to be a uniquely American trait,
but I’ve noticed lately that people in other countries are becoming
just as good at hating things they don’t understand as we are.
In a way that disturbs my competitive instinct.
On the other hand, a carefully cultivated contempt
for those things we find utterly inscrutable
does explain why everybody dislikes the French.

To hate what you don’t know anything about
remains one of America’s great contributions to mankind.
I know that viewpoint has its critics.
They go on and on,
in big, scholarly books that I’ve never read,
about how America’s founders,
like Thomas Jefferson and John Adams and Benjamin Franklin
loved knowledge and understanding,
and valued everyone’s point of view.
Well I have one thing to say to those scholars-
Tom Jefferson and John Adams and Ben Franklin
would have happily joined me
in trashing Dan Brown’ novels,
loathing the seed of the Chia,
and hating Blue Man Group!



Tuesday, July 01, 2014

A Spoken Word Poem-

My spoken word poem
is three minutes long,
 and into it I will scatter anecdote and wordplay,
metaphor and simile,
a sprinkling of adverbs,
and just enough of myself to sound sincere
while making the audience ever so slightly uncomfortable.

My spoken word poem will begin
by introducing the main theme of the poem,
cleverly mixed with a topical observation of the fact
that it is summer and damned hot outside-
that can of course be switched to winter
and damned cold outside later and well,
I guess I just won’t read the thing at all
in the Spring and the Fall.

With two minutes to go
my spoken word poem will get back on track
with an anecdote that sounds true but probably isn’t,
because the fact is
that if you are looking for facts in most of my poems
you might as well just go ask the cat,
and everybody knows what a liar she is.

With a minute to go
my spoken word poem will get
a bit muddled and confusing,
because it was four minutes long when I first wrote it
and I had to cut 20 lines late last night.
That was just after Terry found that stash
of purple microdot in a old Grateful Dead album,
and the rest of the night is a bit blurry-
I do know that it involved giant orange & blue carnivorous mice.
Around 5 a.m. I panicked
 and cut out all of stanzas 6, 7, and 8.
  I can’t remember what was in any them,
  - but they may have been important.

With thirty-seconds to go
my spoken word poem suddenly gets
Very. Very. Serious. And Quiet.
And I stand here hoping that my point was deftly made,
and driven home with eloquence and wit-
Leaving one remaining issue-
Where the fuck is my beer?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Poetry is a Contact Sport

Poetry is a contact sport.
Words slide off the page and crash in flames to the ground.
Hearts pound with the thrill of victory,
and break with the agony of defeat,
and the crowd goes wild.

Pity the poor poets their insecurities-
No multi-year contracts or signing bonuses here.
In the Poetry League
its write and recite, or die.
Connect- or sit down, alone,
at the sad end of the bar.

All-Star poets will tell you
They’re just glad to be here,
Just trying to give their all, help the team out,
Playing it one poem at a time.
Working every night to find
yet another meaningful way
to be thoughtful, thought-provoking,
intense, insightful, inspired,
and ever-so-slightly ambiguous.

Journeyman poets roam the League,
Slamming for anyone who will buy them a beer,
Waking up in a strange bed each morning,
checking the web each night
to make sure they haven’t been traded to Shreveport.
The Poetry Scene in Shreveport is a little odd.
Nobody wants to get traded to Shreveport.

Young rookie poets
strut their poetic chops everywhere,
to anyone who stands still long enough to listen.
Absolutely anyone-
“Well thank you, that sure is a nice poem”,
the stranger replies, slightly bewildered,
“But really, did you want fries with that?”


Old poets never die,
they just rest on their rhymes,
sip their beers,
and twitch uncomfortably,
when fresh-faced Young Turk poets
rapidly recite all hundred forty-seven synonyms
for the physical act of making hot poet love
  which they have painstakingly memorized
  and can recall in absolute alphabetical order
  without ever stopping to take a breath-
    Pause, exhale,
and then do it all over again.
In Klingon.

But times, they are a changin’-
Drug tests are coming-
tests for drugs, alcohol, too much caffeine.
Test clean once -30 day suspension.
Test clean three times-
your Poetic License is revoked.

Hey, Poetry is a contact sport.
Words slide off the page and crash in flames to the ground.
Hearts pound with the thrill of victory,
and break with the agony of defeat,
and the crowd goes wild.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Time Lords-

I am a Time Lord!
Let’s face it folks-
Modern Life sucks.
I’ve watched enough
costume dramas on tv to know
that things were better
in The Good Olde Dayes.
If I had lived back then
my life would be filled with excitement,
adventure, a sense of accomplishment!
And I would have been bigger, better, stronger,
and Gosh Darn It,
People would have liked me!

But I can fix this-
I am a Time Lord!

Things were better in Caveman days-
I am a caveman!
I thrive on the pure Paleolithic Diet!
I breath unpolluted air
and drink from cold mountain streams.
I roam the unspoiled forests and fields.
I have bad teeth, six remaining fingers, and rickets.
I smell bad.
I outlive all my friends and die at age 23,
when I discover that the Saber Toothed Tiger’s
Paleolithic Diet includes cavemen.

But I can fix this-
I am a Time Lord!

Let’s fast-forward to the Middle Ages.
It was a time of towering castles
soaring over tiny, colorful villages!
Beautiful ladies with long flowing hair,
(somewhat like Catherine Zeta Jones)
were always in some kind of perilous distress,
And gallant knights rode to their rescue
on their thundering steeds!
I arrive-
 I find that I am a  mud-covered peasant.
I smell strongly of pig poop,
and I am immediately run over and killed
by some asshole knight
riding to rescue a lady
who spends so much time combing her hair
that she can’t deal with her own problems.

But I can fix this-
I am a Time Lord!

I want to be a noble in 18th Century France!
I will hang out at Versailles all day,
snorting snuff out of tiny gold boxes
and watching beautiful court ladies
fondle their pet peacocks -so to speak.
I arrive-
 I find myself a minor noble in Revolutionary France-
I am stuffed into a cow cart,
on my way to be guillotined.
I smell bad.
That’s not fair!
I’m just a teeny weeny noble-
I didn’t oppress anyone! 
I don’t own a chateaux!
I didn’t even get to screw Marie Antoinette!
If I’m going to be executed as a worthless noble
at least let me have done something
totally debauched to deserve it!
For crying out loud-
My family made its fortune growing beets!
Sorry, they say-
Now lay your neck on that block,
 and stop whining.

But I can fix this-
I am a Time Lord!

The 19th century was the time for me!
I want to be a Westward Ho! pioneer,
driving a wagon train across the Great Plains!
I want to be a cowboy, riding the range every day
and sleeping under sparkling stars every night!
I arrive-
I find myself baking on a choking,
dusty, bone-dry plain,
bumping along on a horse which is constantly trying
to scrape me off on the nearest cactus.
I come to an intimate understanding of the three little words
that now completely define my life:
No Indoor Plumbing.
I smell bad.
And the daily diet of beans is not making things better.

But I can fix this-
 I am a Time Lord!

Maybe the place for me is -The Future!
I’ll bet things will be better 500 years from now!
Life will be filled with excitement,
adventure, a sense of accomplishment!
And Gosh Darn It,
People will like me!
(sniff) (sniff) 
First, perhaps, I should go shower.

But I can fix this- 
I am a Time Lord!

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Fiddling-

I can never let a poem alone.
I fiddle, diddle and twiddle-
Replace a comma here, nail an adverb into that spot-
OK, that leaves a hole in the third stanza,
but it’s nothing an adjective or twelve can’t fix.
Maybe a bag of bright, shiny new conjunctions
will make all the difference
-Hey Amazon’s got them on sale this week!

I suddenly sit up in the middle of the night,
having stumbled upon the exactly appropriate phrase,
found in that hazy vagueness between sleep and waking,
and I watch as it zips away from me,
full consciousness slapping it down, burying it-
I grasp for those words that I know
will make the poem perfect-
but they are gone in the darkness,
and I spend the rest of a sleepless night
regretting that I ever glimpsed them.

Getting lost in your verse sounds exciting.
Telling someone that the hours slipped away
and you lost all track of time while
creating a new poem sounds terribly romantic
and sophisticated-
until you stop and admit that its just an excuse-
 a rationalization for why you forgot to put gas in the car,
or why you didn’t start the dishwasher after dinner.
-But instead of being truthful we’ll stick with
romantic and sophisticated,
because romanic and sophisticated and poetic sounds better
than careless,
and forgetful,
and lazy.

One  month I tried an experiment-
that month I spent as much time organizing my life
as I do my words-
I put as much effort into my relationships
as I did into counting off syllables,
and looking up synonyms-
Everybody judged that month as a success-
I had touched contentment,
I had found an inner peace-
 -and I had fuck-nothing whatsoever to write about.
It was Hell.
It was The Bridges of Madison County in 24-point type.
It was a Dan Brown novel, with extra adverbs.

So now I’m back-
I’m back to ignoring the overflowing recycle bin-
I’m back to forgetting to put butter on the shopping list
when I use the last bit on my toast-
I’m back to playing with my words the way
that teenage boys play with themselves:
obsessively, compulsively-
with no nobler end in mind than a moment of pleasure,
a mental ecstasy,
mindful masturbation.

And Society tells me it’s ok-
Hell, it even encourages me
to play with my words in public.
I don’t have to hide my poems,
 -though sometimes,
in the deepest part of night,
I dig them out from under my mattress
and thumb through them under the covers,
by the feeble glow
of a secret flashlight.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Reflections-

About half-past February every year
I turn and I say to Winter-
Great to have seen you again.
Let’s do it again sometime.
But- how can I miss you if you won’t go away?

Winter never takes the hint.
Winter is not a self-critical season.
That would be Autumn.
Autumn, under her splendid, exuberant facade,
always seems uncertain and apologetic-
“I’m sorry the leaves aren’t as bright this year,” she’ll say.
“My mornings are a little too cold, aren’t they?
I wish I was more like Spring.
Everybody likes Spring best.”

Did you ever notice that those
who really -don’t- need to engage in
that sort of critical self-reflection,
are the ones who do it the most?

I spent an entire morning last week
gently reminding a dear friend
that she is an inspirational activist,
has a loving husband and children,
and has the respect and admiration
of all her professional colleagues-
And she wept gently into her coffee
and listed to me all the reason she is a failure.

On the other hand,
 why is it that the folks most -urgently- in need
of some really objective self-analysis,
sail merrily on, completely sure of themselves?

I spent an evening last month
drinking beer and shooting pool
with three childhood chums
whose grandparents came here from Ireland, Italy and Germany.
They spent the night loudly explaining
That the thing that is ruining this country-
    ...is too many damned immigrants.

Betrand Russell said-
“The fundamental cause of the trouble
is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure
while the intelligent are full of doubt.”

“Cocksure”.
That’s really a wonderful word, isn’t it?
It’s so -perfectly- descriptive.

“I may not have some fancy degree in climate science”,
one friend complains to me,
“but I know what the temperature is.
Global warming, my ass-
Four months ago it was fifteen fucking degrees outside.
Those scientists don’t know what they’re talking about.”

“I’ve never really accomplished anything,”
my other friend sighs,
“I feel like my career and house
 and awards are all a fraud.
Some morning I’ll wake up and it will all be gone,
and that’s ok.
I didn’t deserve any of it anyway”.

Winter blusters and blows,
and it’s easy enough to tell him-
Take it easy, man, you’re not “all that”.
Winter doesn’t take offense.
Winter’s not listening.

Spring will be all right-
Spring has that sweet self-confidence
which is just enough
and not too much.
Spring knows what she is and what she isn’t,
and she’s o.k. with that.

But I worry about Autumn.
I wish Autumn liked herself a little bit more.
I remember the last time I saw Autumn,
one sad night in Minneapolis.
The cold, judgmental moon threw her shadow
onto the river far below us,
as she gazed sadly over the railing
of the 8th Avenue bridge-
Her reflection falling... falling... falling...

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Open Mike, January 28th-


I have no poem to read tonight, I told my wife.
That’s nice, she replied absent-mindedly
as she scattered walnuts on her oatmeal,
The extreme level of the crisis was somehow lost in translation-
Then suddenly she seemed to get it-
she frowned, and asked, with great concern-
Did you take out the compost?

Compost? Sure-
my poetic life is compost-
orange peels and adjectives jostling with
synonyms and rotting onion ends.
Do you know what you get when you toss
a pile of rotting onions into a bag of synonyms?
I’ve got a list-

Lists. I certainly have got lists-
Carefully nurtured lists of potential poetical topics-
topics meaningful-
topics topical-
topics dolorous,
and topics sophmorical-
What I did not have was a poem.

The shower is a good place to think, I thought-
So I took a shower and tried to cultivate
deep, poetical thoughts-
tried to tease some couplets out of my poetic muse-
Instead I got shampoo in my eyes,
jammed my face into the showerhead
and almost drowned myself in an inch and a half of water.
My muse sat on the side of the tub and snickered.
Catherine Zeta Jones would have been proud.

My muse once resembled Catherine Zeta Jones
In that Zorro movie. I wrote a poem about that-

Now my muse resembles Cathy Bates in that
Stephen King movie, Misery, the one where
she imprisons and tortures James Caan.
BUT- even though she shackles him to the bed,
and breaks both his ankles with a sledgehammer,
he still manages to write.
Lucky bastard.
My muse smiled- Good Times, she whispered.

Look, she suggested -write what you know.
Write what I know-
 What do I know?
I know I’m tired of the fucking cold and snow and ice-
I know that life in Syria’s far from nice-
And I hope John Boehner comes down with lice-
I know I’d feel sorry... -for the lice.

No.  Not going there.

Poetry is many things-
It’s the hammer of Justice,
it's the bell of Freedom,
it's the song about Love between
my brothers and my sisters-
I am not going use that tool
to write about John Boehner’s lice.

Well, my muse said-
you could always read somebody else’s poem.
I was ready to grasp at anything
Yeah, I can do that, I replied, but whose?
How about a dead poet? she suggested.
My  muse is original like that.

I happen to have one here, she said.
It’s by Jonathan Swift, and he’s pretty dead.

I grabbed the sheet she was holding.
My poetic muse,
who used to resemble Catherine Zeta Jones,
retains her sadistic sense of humor-

She’d handed me part of Swift’s self-written epitaph.
He composed it in 1731,
fourteen years before he actually died-
But hey, it’s always good to be prepared, right?
I skimmed the lines-

"For poetry he's past his prime:
He takes an hour to find a rhyme;
His fire is out, his wit decay'd,
His fancy sunk, his Muse a jade.
I'd have him throw away his pen;—
But there's no talking to some men!"

Thanks, satiric, sadistic poetic muse,
who once again looks startlingly like Catherine Zeta Jones,
Thanks. That was perfect.



Monday, January 20, 2014

Open Mike, January 14, 2014


At this time of year we are all told to “count our blessings”.
You put on a bright yellow smiley-face face mask,
Screw your courage to the sticking place,
and look at what’s good in your world.
But I hold this truth to be self evident-
          all blessings are not created equal.

Blessings, in today’s America, are like speech-
You can buy them with cold, hard cash.
In today’s America, if you’re rich-
You’ve got a lot of blessings to count.

If you’re rich, you can count your blessings-
because you can afford the best politicians
money can buy to write laws
to make you even more money
To buy yourself even more politicians.
Don’t call it Corruption, call it “An Investment”.

If you’re rich, you can count your blessings-
Because politicians have convinced us that we can
only get the poor to work harder by paying them less,
and the rich to work harder by paying them more.

If you’re rich, you can count your blessings-
because the tax laws written by the politicians you bought
Make your stock-dividend income taxable at a lower rate
than the wages of the single mother who cleans your office,
or the green-card immigrant who mows your lawn.
Don’t call that “Unfair”. Call that “Free Enterprise”.

If you’re rich, you can count your blessings-
Because Glenn Beck just declared
That the reformed Scrooge was a wussy, pussy Socialist
and the old Scrooge was an All-American role model.

If you’re rich, you can count your blessings-
because even though you inherited your wealth,
everybody is sure you deserve every bit of it,
and it’s the the 18-hour a day, minimum wage workers
the media calls “Lazy, undeserving takers”.
Don’t call that “Hypocrisy. Call it “Fair and Balanced”.

If you’re rich, you can count your blessings-
because although “energy independence” means
ripping apart the West Virginia countryside,
and ruining the well-water in farmland Kansas,
They’ll never allow a wind farm off the coast
within sight of your beach house.

If you’re rich, you can count your blessings-
because when you finance a leveraged buy-out
that bankrupts a healthy company,
and then you sell the parts off to China for a handsome profit,
and end up putting 3,000 people out of work,
Fox won’t call you a thug, they’ll call you a job-creator.

If you’re rich, you can count your blessings-

Because it’s you who gets to vote for the wars
that poor people’s sons and daughters get to go and die in.

If you’re rich, you can count your blessings-
Because there is an entire news network
dedicated to proving that Jesus
was a white, Protestant CEO from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
And he said that it’s easy for a rich man to get into Heaven,
and it’s easy for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle,
Because the rich man owns Heaven,
and he owns the camel, and he owns the needle.

If you’re rich, you can count your blessings-
Because that poor person caught with an ounce of weed?
He’ll spend the next fifteen years in your privatized, for-profit prison,
and because he’s an ex-con he loses his right to vote,
So he can’t vote for reform politicians to change those laws,
and isn’t that what Democracy is all about, Charlie Brown?

If you’re rich, you can count your blessings-
because if you’re a banker who commits massive mortgage fraud,
and costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars,
You get a golden parachute payoff, and seat on the Board of Directors.
And if you were REALLY bad?  We’ll even discuss
making you a member of the Federal Reserve.

If you’re rich, you can count your blessings-
and declare proudly that “We’re all in this together!
You guys all row the boat!
I’ll stand here in the bow,
sipping my martini,
watching for icebergs.”

If you’re rich, you can count your blessings-
because poems like this
listing all the blessings you have that others don’t,
are reviled as “Class Warfare”.

If you’re rich, you can count your blessings-
and tell the poor to count their blessings,
Because blessings are better than money, right?
And because telling people that keeps them quiet,
and passive, and poor.