Wednesday, October 31, 2007


THE GRUESOME GET-DOWN
"Speak King's English!" sez the Narrator. He is wrapped in fine muslins and is blind as an oyster.
He is speaking from a transistor radio. He is

our next-to-best shepherd, he retains that faint,

hot-sand glow of a prophet, or a forgotten, two-bit sultan.

He gets paid by the hour to wear that thing on his head.

He is evangelical, or at least that's what it said on his calling card.

He operates out of the dead sea, out of the late-night static waves
we clutch to our ears like a conch shell as we shuck and jive over a municipal bridge at 2 AM, wishing we had our own music.
Why do you insist on listening to that son of a bitch?

We could have that much more silence if we counted him out.

As it is, we do the dance of the forty-ounce, hump the city's hypodermic sky-line, think of pigeons as doves and list
the automobile as this country's best approximation of the slaughtered lamb. I think we turned too-old just yesterday. I can't even pretend I've got anything left to rebel against. Just this dirty music of the forked-tongue and knife set,
the shine stolen from the glaringly obvious,

the salt poured from the salt mines onto old wounds;
anything to keep them in business.
I come from a region where it's all right to hate yourself.

I drive the highway, looking for another happy accident.

There are a thousand songs that could be labeled
appropriate for this occasion, but I'm giving up the safety net.
I've played the juke-box like a gas pump, and now I'm asking

for one, just one, just a straight-up, mournful melody

to call my own, just anything to drown out the Narrator

who's telling me this one's already been sung.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


SUSPENSION


I look down and find my hands are play-things. They seem
frivolous, I can get by without them. One tired fact convinces
me: If I can't make myself better, I can make myself worse.
In that, at least, the results are readily proven. It's funny, but
hearing the same words so many times, the vowels seem to
widen, you can step right inside them. Suddenly, I've never heard
anything as lonely as, "House." Pour me some medicine,
I can barely see you in the dark, just the hurried glint of your eye-
frames. I begin to get the idea this might be a wake, that
we are sitting here, waiting for something. An elevator drops
near-by, hush of suspension. This could be a murder, a clumsy
frame-up, or the tail-end of a business convention. I never saw it
so clearly before, that we are the ones who hand out the knives,
who mouth the word, "Victim."

Monday, October 29, 2007


NEW MATH


I have told many lies from the middle
of these monkey bars, and will continue
to tell them, as long as I have an audience,
and do no traffic in the gossip of competing theories.
I dose old photos in sepia tones because
in that way memory has a cut-off.
I like time-lines, you can point them.
If you've got a wheel, forget it. I don't trade in that.
I've got Early American exit-wounds, cannibal train tracks,
the coarse, blond trellises of the first woman ever in distress...
Yeah, now you wish you'd been listening.
There's music, and then there's what I'm selling:
And Europe, that's a cosmetic I can apply liberally.
My arms flap like malaria blankets, my hand-jive is ugly,
like doves fed on sawdust and shot by the magician
who couldn't stop hunger. My pockets are full,
I could be angel, because everyone else stinks like carcass.
And you've got a mouth on you, I can't shut it.
Till it gets this simple...You never opened it to begin with.

Sunday, October 28, 2007


BLESSING


Even in their blue hallways, the red sign

shrieking, "Exit." Even in dark arches,

eyes creased with pantomime of sleep.

Even the crooked elder testing garbage lids

takes a small walk toward forgiveness.

Even the butter-knife spells disaster, relief.

Saturday, October 27, 2007




ANOTHER SKIN

I stretch the plastic to a perfect sheen
split it along ridged teeth, enough
to wrap the slivered half
of my bermuda onion, so I can forget it
behind the eggs, find it weeks later
a withered yawn of wrinkles
toss it out; so much
plastic for such a little thing

Up the street the
"All-Star Poly-Bag" factory
stitching and stitching through the night

Vagrant scraps slip from garbage lids
scuttle beneath street lights
run with hunger toward its humming
All tatters searching out the mother skin

I have a skin I wasn't born with
A scalded robe melded to my own

A botched mask
A corpse flag
A gasp which tightens

I dream of floating in silent orbit
with the oxygen I know
no one else has tasted

I reach for you and find
something I can't break

A shroud, a light
dust of static and whispers

I think, "I've always had this"

Friday, October 26, 2007


MY WARFARE

There is war out my window tonight.
The lights of the city flare and pixillate;
sirens, a lone shout quickly doused.
I am beyond vaccination.

In our small, cramped armistice, I stretch
arms gone numb, loops of blood
useless, busy forgetting.

You can rest your gun in the funeral
stone of my mouth, you can call my slashed
red ribbons the first sign of Spring coming.
I don't care. You can say anything. My warfare
is the all-night news station, eggs hot off the plate,
the heating element a lover engraves
into his palm to prove he's beyond pain.
I say these things because such spaces
yawn between them.

I hum along with owls extinct on telegraph wires,
waiting for the last signal to be complete.
I am the Undertaker's Son
after a horrible accident: Grey-tied, rubber-gloved.
Give me your coupons, they are your face
trapped beneath glass.
Give me champagne and Dramamine
and I'll dish out last moments like flash cards
just before the crash: Hands Held, Fire, Regret.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


MOTIVATIONAL


There was an incident at the border of my memory. Whole areas were suddenly shut down, parking lots stretching out, rain-wet and empty. While the young guards looked on, nervous in chain-link shadow, certain conclaves held protests by torch-light. They were ignored, their words reduced by official radio to proper grunts of the forsaken and obnoxious.

Entire regions have been named off-limits. I couldn't reach them even if I had the proper papers. Several verdant fields are being torched under the cover of night; it is thought the ashen-lunged stubble left behind will be less aesthetically compromising. There will be relatives I miss on the other side, friends whose faces are even now becoming little more than phosphorous smudges, fingerprints wiped from a used bar glass, to be filed away only as evidence.

A list is being passed hurriedly around, written in a thick, blunt monotone of capitals. I am sure once it is cleared, I will be allowed to read it.

I count the minutes, which seem larger now that there are less of them. There is something to be said for this, this feeling. They are calling tonight a clean-sweep operation, a mopping-up, and it is true, I feel cleaner. I have shed countless fevers, doctor's visits, nauseous rendezvous, distended pronouncements of love, when all I felt inside was a vague terror.

It is true, I look in the mirror--there is less of me, and so I see myself better, every detail sharpened in the burnt air of absence. It is for my own sake this being done, I am told, as I wait with passport and raincoat, as rifles crack through the mist in the distance. For the sake of my body, something must go:

We are not speaking for ourselves,
we are speaking for the body.
We are speaking for ashes and glory,
and the hallowed things.
We are saying, your kingdom must be settled,
accounts wiped clean.
We are saying, thy will must be done,
thy will is everything.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


AMERICANA


Once, I liked to recite
the place-mats from diners:
Rob Roy, Tom Collins, the dead
medicine of 1930's cocktails.
Now I don't bother smiling
when old radios play old songs,
when the crumbled Italian cobbler offers
a gulp of olive oil to boost your hard-on.

The great wars are over.
I know nothing of food rationing,
of headlights painted black
to fool U-Boats along the dark coast.
No dead soldiers washed up on my holiday shores.
Only a salty taste, sand grit bathing suit,
my disconnected howl from the back seat
as I learned to read from billboards,
saw the Moon Launch between cartoons on a Saturday.

Oh, black-finned Cadillac,
body of angel and hearse, bring lovers
to the dripping resin of young pine trees.
Do the Twist 'n' Shout
while missiles moan in silos below.

I am tired of it. Lay me down. Take me over.
Let me sit as I once did by the kitchen table,
split from the womb at the World's Fair,
fingers stuffed with prayer.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


HARD FORMULAS


Upon your silence, I come crashing.
I am lost salt and siphoned minerals,
I am your accident.
Let me take a light shaving from your bones,
a tangled grey snarl of hair.
I will taste something tonight of who I am.
I wish for the hard formulas binding me to you;
stitched red calligraphy, the spider-light of veins.
Let me touch the stem of iron still gleaming in you,
because I know I will find through this I am only
a deduction, a nub, a glistening sea-root that broke for air.
Inside, each of us carries a portion of the first ocean.
When you break, what will be left?
Only your scrubbed, grey shoals.
Only me, gripping like lichen to my own bones,
a scattering of rocks and calcium,
my blood running rich and dark as tar
to mark the lasting burn of your deposit.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


TALK OF DUST


You go through several stages in the acceptance of dust:
Revulsion, a vague, feeble want of escape.
This settles into the mind at last as a kind
of terrible glory.
What vibrates in our lungs
could be the final, desperate filaments
of Napoleon, Thomas Jefferson, Jimi Hendrix.

Look! The late afternoon sun blazes with dust,
gold motes lit up like a decaying consciousness.
But the awful science is always behind it--
That dust is just our sloughed-off spores of abandon;
bone-shavings, hair and skin, our umbilical cords
murdered worms, burned as medical waste in New Jersey.

There is no life without dust.
Nothing can be said without
the low murmurs of the dead behind us.
We're alone, yet we know that is not the end of it.
My last lover still here, gathering her ashen beards,
her spider's nests beneath the radiator.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


GODDESS


Whoa, I said. That sounds like you saw a goddess.
That time you took too big a hit off a joint
at your friend's place in Philly, started coughing
your lungs out, got a really bad head rush
and sat back in the spindly, second-hand easy chair
to close your eyes, and let the black come funneling in.
That's when you received your particular vision,
or hallucination, or whatever you want to call it,
of a real Fifties-style house wife in white dress,
all cool, immaculate moon-strung flesh,
who waved her arm like a game-show girl
at a painting in dark Rembrandt oils
of sausages and various kinds of sandwich meats.
Oh yes, I said. She might not have had
many arms swirling in helicopter-blade embrace,
she might not have had a dun-colored bosom
you could have been drawn up into
like the beginnings of deepest ocean.
But yes, certainly. She was a goddess, none-the-less.

Friday, October 19, 2007


FRAGMENT

Who among us is up on the latest theories? You once thought time
was portable, sensuous, like the molded pink plastic transistor
radio, so cool in fifth grade, that now sits on your shelf, a
truncated muscle, a side of beef sliced from the prom queen.
Remember your theory on nuclear holocaust?
How outmoded is that? And who was contaminated?
The boy who peered through the dreary summer screen door
at dusk? There was a glow to him, like the sulfur of smashed lightning bugs, the screen door stretching like a net to catch some specimen. When did fear of others become a guilt you couldn't get rid of? You can't hold onto these things, there's nothing in them except the overwhelming urge to go under. Why keep returning to your hometown, just to note how the building goes from neighborhood movies to porno theatre to born-again church? Who can keep time with the shift of dove-grey rubble? Who can stand such restless breaking, and still hold a voice?

Thursday, October 18, 2007


SLOW NUMBERS


How easy it is to think my parents have pulled up to the curb
in their silver Hyundai to kidnap me. I have been bad. I have squandered their money, drank their liquor, burped up vomit at 1 AM. There must be a resort somewhere that will take me. Some silver trees, empty egg-shell fountains, a few dead ferns reminding me toward piety. I could almost beg for the Venetian blinds shut against afternoon heat and starched white lab-coats crossing their knees, tricking me into saying something so familiar, I never heard it before. If you asked me now, I could already fill in the questionnaire from memory.

I enjoyed the train ride here. Someone told me they still shoot stray dogs, out beyond the scrub-brush fence posts that mark the edges of this county. Someone told me the cafeteria is terrifying, but only after it is closed and the dishwasher is running. Someone told me that the band here only plays slow numbers, no matter what your request.
I get to work with a scalpel, whittling away at the alphabet. I send a telegram asking for the Sultan's head and a quart of whiskey and am surprised to have it answered. At the weekly auction, I do my best, try to stand still, keep my place on stage. But always, I lose myself to the beat of slow numbers, click my fingers, start to sway.
They picked me first before the lights went out.

ARIA


I'm your star, and I'm singing. How far can that light go?
When radio voices still speak through the static between planets,
nerve endings can be stretched from here to San Francisco;
all the facts of the world fitted on a single microchip.

I will sing tonight as I heard the drowned mistress sing,
on a tug-boat buoy in the open mouth of New York harbor.
It was an aria, but if you wish, I could lay down
a disco beat, or a loping, Big Band swing, or maybe
Country Western would be best.
The category is True American. You take your pick.

You told me by this Spring we will have run out
of new things to say to each other.
I guess there's some comfort in that.
I made up that bit about the drowned mistress;
it seems to have stuck. Everyone's asking me
how many songs she has left in her.

I'm spinning, my nerves stretched from Chrysler to Mission Street.
I'm channeling the Big Bopper as his plane goes down.
It is night, there is snow, but I can see every glossed kernel
of wheat rush up at me. I'm counting all the loaves
of bread that will be made from that silent field,
but those are facts, not miracles.
I'm standing, mouth open,
full of light going black, swallowed whole.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


CONQUISTAWHORES


I have seen the darkened lands
Laid like a stain, laid like a plan
I’ve seen them spread across these shores
The ends meet the means; of course, you’re sure

Here is the fire, here is the hand
What we forge now takes command
We break like seeds, or tired whores
We feed the fire of conquistadors

God and the Devil, hand in hand
They’ve compromised, drawn up a plan
The feast is laid, the wine is poured
The word gets out, a poisonous spore

The Kingdom Come-and-Get-It Plan
Is bankrupt now, you understand
We blame the flame, the need for more
We drink the ash of conquistadors

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


THE HUNGER OF SAINTS


I stop in the park by a fenced-in statue of some Polish saint,
while nearby, a prowl-car sweeps the hedges with its low headlights,
searching out miscreants. From a block of plain grey marble
the saint's head rises up against a blue night sky swollen
with the city's incandescence, and he looks out into it
like a teacher expecting nothing more, nothing less
from an unruly classroom. At his feet, the old women
of the neighborhood have placed a procession
of store-bought candles which pucker and gleam
with the wind, and other, stranger offerings:
a plastic deli container full of pickled red cabbage.
Strange to leave at this altar some semblance of hunger
that has long since left him, given in a mute attempt
at conversation. The old women with their nameless
ointments and swollen ankles wrapped in ace bandages
and their long yellow corridors swathed in the sticky
grit of ammonia, the faulty fluorescents ticking overhead.
I try to look back to the first secrets of their long-given thighs,
of boardwalks and dance halls and the dim confessionals
that came afterward, of their steady eyes as they calmly blanched
a young son's wounds, wringing out the blood
from the washcloth into a dirty bucket.
How completely they have surrendered themselves to the future,
to stop the bleeding and heal the wounds, so that this one
may beget and beget, all the while laying
candles and red cabbage at the feet of the dead.
I ask for the songs their saints have never sung.
I ask for the way these women sleep at night,
heavy, stolid, broken but firm.
I ask for the flare they put to the sputtering wick,
for their careful grasp of the uncertain.
I ask for one small name to say against the dark
besides my own.

THE END OF HISTORY


Oh, the fathers of this country
with their fingers numb
from gripping the wheel,
as if that were the loom from which
they could spin new bread, or pry loose
land mines that never went off,
giggling with dark intent.

Happy accidents.

The war is not over, they said.
The war is still going on.
Victims made fresh daily.

Direct your attention, please,
to the bluish smudge on that satellite photo.
It shows us with our best face forward.
(Company picnics are not what they used to be.)

"Read My Lips.” Such a lonely slogan.
Someone’s father said it once.
Now it can be done from any corner of the globe.

Sign language is out.
Soon will come the Morse code of heartbeats.
Even that can be deciphered.
And the poisonous son claims
all our tongues are tied to his own.

Leave me the fuck alone.
I don't want my moods lying around
for fear of hearing them whistled as a jingle
on some stranger's lips.

Words are like insects, aren't they?
Burrowing through what white spaces
we have left.

And who are you? You’re not the wheel.
You’re not the dry-lipped father with the cold compress.
You can’t break the fever. Your words keep turning over,
back to zero --- the loom is stripped.
Like an amnesia patient odometer, like a car hood flashing
nothing but heat and combustible miles, like a tombstone
blank with glazed fire --- You call that an equation?
You expect me to buy that?
You think you can just add a period
And say that’s the end?

Monday, October 15, 2007


REGIONAL SLEEP
What a strange tune the dial of night is turned to.
Beneath the wind that whips through my window is a larger sound, a low, insistent chorus of trilling whispers that throbs like a pulse-beam in and out of my hearing. If this were the country I'd know it to be crickets or peep-frogs, but this is Brooklyn, so I have to assume its source is sickly and artificial. Some great asthmatic air conditioner unit wheezing from a factory rooftop, some gigantic engine shorn of gears, spinning idly out like an old man trying to make sense of his missing teeth. Or perhaps (and this is the best part) its cause is something darker, more looming and subversive. For all I know, an alien invasion is underway, and this is their mind-conditioning ray making its sweep. I am one of the few left awake to hear it. Most of my neighbors have already lapsed into a numbed and mildly troubled sleep, their dreams spilling into regions of white noise and emptiness as their cerebral cortexes are busily reknit. A lurid scenario, yes, but such over-saturated color schemes seem to fit best this era where, as all the big fiber-optic conglomerates are constantly reminding us, "anything is possible." I for one am shocked at myself that I don't throw on sneakers and shirt right now and run out into the streets, driven by an obsessive curiosity: Just where the hell is that sound coming from? Maybe it was all those air-raid warning drills I went through as a kid, my ears shrieking with mechanized hysteria. You come to accept that the sky is filled with invisible bombers, that the impossible is just another steady constant. So instead of maniacally searching, I shrug and switch on the TV, get ready for sleep, for my own dreams to succumb to a gnawing chorus of white noise. Perhaps the night is inventing for itself a new kind of dark music. Perhaps the wind is being retrained. Perhaps, if I only listened, I could learn something from it. I don't care if this mystery has an answer. Hang up. Refrain.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


PERSONAL AD
So let me start this by telling you a little something about myself. I like to raise skeletons from sunken boats. I like to take the seaweed crusted to their tarnished skulls and comb it over into a variety of hair-dos, starting with classic 1940's styles and moving on up to the present. They say you're as naked as the day you were born, and I can't argue.

I have thrown whole dinner parties for the victims of airplane crashes, thinking how each place-mat might be a map showing them the way home. I am a great believer of etiquette starting in the womb. I have written whole theologies based on this fact.

What I'm offering is a gift. One free waiver to anyone willing to trust my methods without a second guess.

Is this a break with tradition? No. It's a way of shoring up the walls, of cutting to the quick of that overdone modern question: "Are we all really just alone?"

We are never alone. None of us are alone. None of us have ever really been alone. None of us have known a single second where it's been just us, and no one else. We are never alone. Won't you join me?

Saturday, October 13, 2007



OPERATING INSTRUCTIONSBegin at night. The crippled rooster swings
a rusted wing outside your window. Ignore it.
A face, mottled in shadow, looks up in numb
wonder at a highway overpass. This is your subject.
His childhood is rushing through him. Not in memory,
but in a dim impulse toward growth. As if something
were naming him, and the wind, and it was the same name,
and he was forgetting it even as it's made. Approach him
with care. Forceps are too clumsy, tweezers an insult to scale.
Your open hand will do. Turn it slowly. Let him feel
how loose the ground is beneath him. Then close your hand,
make a cupped, hollow fist, like you once did with summer
lightning bugs. Wait for the trapped, sporadic glow to show itself,
until your knuckles flare like pinioned mountain lamps.
There is something fierce in its message, mindless but defiant;
a teletype no one will read. Think again
of the small life that pulses in your fist.
It is not the face of a stranger, or an insect.
It is something you invented.
You know you have it in you to crush it.
How reasonable it is to want such things.