life is messy
black vintage cashmere coat
is a messy thing
not neat and tailored /clean
like a calvin klein jacket
this mess cannot be absorbed by
is sometimes menacing
is constant work
is a guessing game
would it be too much
to want to tell time
want it to slow
the turns in the road
see the terrain in
(instead of falling
when the textures
to want to be time
when it tells—
and already know
yellow 40s vintage sweater $40
black cords $20
grey and white saddle oxfords…priceless
got on in a force-field of
bose surround sound funk
with a residual factor
swag like he had taken a bath
reaches up your nostrils &
makes your eyes lock
in your head
this poem is dedicated
kickin my butt
after a particular rider
gets off the bus
and before his friend gets on
the processional funk
hits the air
and then there’s the
that smacks u in the face
and it’s the champ
no matter how you struggle
to get away from it the
smell follows you
so i discreetly smell my clothes
‘cause this odor is so close
i call it clandestine funk
it wants to make a rendezvous
and we can’t forget
u don’t know where it ‘s
but u smell it
and i know
this isn’t the
george clinton definition
this brand of funk is
but here i sit
to take my mind off the stench
that isn’t on a slave ship
(or is it?)
[whole “nother” poem]
but at the end of the ride
desegregation funk kicks in
you don’t know
one funk begins…
and the other ends…
It happens most
when alone in the car
I stop jabbering at myself;
when the road seems to drone
backward into an extended moment that loops onto
itself just long enough for me to recognize how badly I want to be
so so muscularly,
so symmetrically of wing
because I am missing something
I know in those moments
achingly their fragility,
like a sneeze either spent or swallowed.
The closest I might come on the drone road to
the hum of quintessence
is with the sudden yellow light and its subsequent
preciously thought-empty seconds before
I must choose
a divergence of myself
into irreconcilable dimensions,
into either jolt-forward braking or the rash gamble against cross traffic.
Either loses me the long moment of missing
and that folded duality that makes me elongate and malleable.
That requires, I am becoming more sure,
much more of me concentrate
into a singularity.
I am doubly unstable; time too robust.
I do not know if I am just old or bored of the breaking,
but I increasingly linger
just a little longer at each light
in that perfect-pregnant limbo
at least if not stayed for my wing, lets lapse
something like a hum
flexing across my chest.
What is Barren?
What is barren? Not I;
I am the yield of my years
Spent stunted in the tundra
Of hush and bathroom tiles.
My womb: a mermaid’s purse
Washed up amongst the brine
Of some dark, Atlantic swell;
That grey-sanded stupor
Of kelp-strewn cemeteries, the throb
Of shoreline amnesia -
Mourners come, expecting poppies
For their fallen; I disappoint them
And there are souls in every vessel,
Stricken and disturbed; I cannot rally
Them towards the motherland;
They can scarcely march onwards.
My tongue is a glacier, words
Freeze and thaw upon its floe,
Apologies stick and are wrenched free -
They leave me raw and wincing.
There was the mother who sat cross-legged beneath the holes in her roof when it rained. She licked the droplets from her forearms when they fell.
And her child brought in found things from the beach, carrying them in a cloth like a tattered swing. A brittle starfish with a missing arm, curled carapaces that smelled of baked crustacean, the hardened lens of a fish’s eye, a rare shell that still had both its halves – which purpled on the inside at the point of connection.
The child crawled into the mother’s lap and showed her every one, but the mother shook her head at each and let the water fall on her child’s ashen face. She wrapped her arms around him and tucked his head beneath her chin so he dissolved into her embrace. She sat in the pool of mixed green and blue and gray and sang, “To the sea, to the sea, sea things return to sea.”
Tracing the wrinkled edge of the purpled shell before snapping it in two, she breathed into her child’s hair: “Bring me a skin as gray and wet as the ocean.”
There was the father who said he found his wife in the sea. He loaded slick silver fish into a barrel and carried it on his back across the beach.
And his child gathered found things on the shore. The sand echoed pale pink in the light of early dawn, but it seemed to turn gray in the child’s hands. He said, “Mom likes the colored sands, but she likes the fish more.”
The father held out his hand for the child to take. “That’s because the fish are from the sea; the sand is near, but it isn’t from.”
The child slipped his hand into his father’s. “Tell me about when you found Mom.”
The father laughed. “I got her during a storm. Hadn’t intended to. She was rolling in the
waves and looked just like a fish, so I cast the net and caught her up. Cut it open, and she spilled out. She’s been mine ever since.”
He stroked his beard with his other hand. “Maybe you’ll catch one of your own
someday.” His footsteps sounded wet as he continued to walk.
There was the child who found his mother’s skin in the soles of his father’s boots. It was gray the way the ocean is during the winter and glossy with the shine of forgotten water. Somebody had stitched it in there, so it was hard to pull out, but he persisted since he knew it was right. It was the skin like the ocean, like the wet back of a seal.
He rolled it up and placed it in his cloth along with the other found things. His mother stood at the sink in the kitchen, letting the water from the faucet run over her arms and the backs of her hands. He crept up to her and hugged her from behind. Turning around and leaning down to circle his neck with her arms, she whispered, “You smell like salt today. What have you brought me?”
He brought out the smaller things first – the shells, the colored sands, the smoothed black stones, the bits of seaweed and dead animals. She shook her head at each until he pulled out the skin, which seemed a duller gray and not quite as glossy now that he held it in his hands.
She withdrew her fingers from the water, grabbed it from him, and clutched it to her chest. Draping it over her arms, she leaned down to smell it.
“Do you want to come with me?” she whispered against the skin. Raising her head and clasping her hands once again behind his neck, she tucked him beneath her chin.
Water trailed down his back as he dissolved into her embrace. He touched the skin with his fingertip and nodded.
There was the mother who walked into the sea. She disappeared upward until only her hair floated at the top like the wet back of a seal.
And her child had walked beside her, holding his cloth of found things in one hand, his mother’s hand in the other. With every step, her palms grew colder and smoother.
They reached the edge of the ocean, but continued on. He struggled as the chill of the waves reached his neck, so his mother picked him up and carried him in.
There was the father who found his child lying on the sand. The child’s chest twitched with life, although his face was as gray as the water. The father gathered his child into his arms and returned home; the sea things returned to sea.
You ask me if I missed you
on those endless turnpikes,
if I counted the toll booths,
the rest stations,
the truck convoys.
My legs aching in a cramped car,
my head hearing only tires,
shoulders sunk over steering wheel,
eyes seeing reflective stripes,
and how strange, love,
to drive with both hands.
A Sort Of Putsch
My father was a dogmatic man; in our family his word
was law (always backed by the threat of violence). On the
outside, down at his job, meeting school officials, talking
with the priest or the auto mechanic, he was, of course,
The most irksome aspect of his dogmatism was its
spontaneity. He never paused to reflect, to balance one
idea over against another, or to reach even a slightly
diffident judgment. You had only to ask a question or
express an opinion of your own, and his response was
“Yes,” he might say, or “No.” What did it matter? If
his response suited your purpose, then, it was great! But,
if it crushed your hopes, it was equally immutable.
Every now and then, my father would get it into his
head that we had to move. Sometimes, this resulted from
frustrations at work and from his insatiable need to be
right. He would come home, you could never really predict
it, and announce we were moving.
Then I would find myself in a new school, amongst
total strangers again, trying to fend off bullies, on the
one hand, and friendless losers, on the other. At night,
my father would expiate on the virtues of this strange new
town, wherever it might be, how this was just that job he
had always been looking for, and that now we could get down
to the real business of living.
But, the pleasure of newness, for my father, was
temporary at best. It would wear thin as his excessive
expectations were repeatedly dashed, and he would cast
about again for even newer vistas, for an excuse to break
his ties, and move on.
Whatever else one might say about my father’s repeated
efforts to make a new life, it always ended up the same.
Inflexibility would lead to impatience, impatience to
quarrels, quarrels to departures, departures to new
arrivals, and so on. His inflexible will, predictable only
in its own caprice, repeated itself in patterns like
snowflakes – no two exactly alike, but in general all the
My father had escaped from the bucolic atmosphere of
the Iowa village where his father had been blacksmith and
bet everything on a move to the city. I knew eventually,
that I would have to make my own stand someplace, over
something. That is often said to be the secret of life, of
psychology, and of epic drama; progress requires a sudden,
thorough, and dangerous break. The father must be defied
and overturned before the children, so to speak, can be
“Adults,” my grandmother always said, “do not have
So, I suppose I always knew that real change could
only come on the heels of a disobedience for which I had
not, up to then, been prepared.
One otherwise unexceptional evening, my father, who
was drinking beer, suddenly told me that he’d better not
ever hear again that I was running around with Alicia
Howard, a girl I liked. He said (and now I realized he was
drunk) that he knew her mother and that she was a whore!
“You don’t know anything of the kind!” I said.
“That’s really stupid!”
I was terrified by my own words. He rose menacingly
from his chair, walked across the room, and struck me full
in the face with his open hand.
“You will not talk to me that way,” he said, and
struck me again.
“I will go out with anyone I please,” I said, the
sound of my voice coming from far away.
“You will do what I say!” He roared. “Do you hear
“Anyone I please,” I repeated, and he struck me again.
We stood there in the middle of the room, the drunken
father, betraying his uncertainty, and the frightened,
defiant boy, saying nothing.
“Are you finished?” I said.
“What?” He said, not believing his ears.
“Hitting,” I said. “Are you finished with your hitting?”