YOU, REALLY

Would it surprise you to learn
that like most writers, I
have spent more than a little
guilty time trying to imagine
what you look like, what you know
you should be doing
while you are reading this poem.

And I do wish I couild see
your face as you read it, knowing
it is a conversation where
you want to speak, to tell me
that you like my work, that
reading me is a complete
and utter waste of time,
but you cannot, so I will
conclude that you do like
my work or else you would
not be reading this in the first place.

REAL TIME

Reality is clearly something to be avoided
to be dressed up in tattery, tied in ribbons,
perfumed, yet its fetid stench
is always lurking in the background
waiting to pierce your nostrils
in an incautious moment until you retch
and bring up the bile that marks
the darker moments of your life,
the kind that lingers in the throat
which no chocolate can erase.
Reality is often ugly, so we ignore it
or hide it behind masks, or offer it
willingly to others, a gift in surfeit.
It sneaks up on you, and sets its hook
periodically, and thrashes you at will,
the barb tears through new flesh,
setting itself deeper, intractable.
You and I are dying, as I write,
as you read, an ugly thought
particularly lying in bed
staring into darkness,
no motion or sound from your spouse,
mate, paramour, friend, significant other
or teddy bear, where God
is too busy to respond at the moment
and sleep is perched in the bleachers,
held back by the usher for want
of a ticket stub, content to watch
the game from afar.
I cast ink to paper, an offer of reality
as though the divorce from the words will erase
the little pains and anguishes of our
ever distancing marriage, while
holding vainly onto the warm and sweet,
the far side of the Mobius of reality
(the skunk is at once ugly and soft and caring).
We write of pain, of ugliness, of anger
at terrible lengths, or weave tapestries
of words to cover the flawed, stained walls
of our minds, like so many happy endings,
requisite in the script. Basho
knew only too well that truth of beauty
should be captured in few syllables.

First Appeared in Chaminade Literary Review, Vols. 16-17, Fall 1995.

EMERGENT

When I least expect it, one
may unfurl wings and lift
into a clouded sky searching
for the hidden sun, or

it may wander off, a child
momentarily free of parents
off to discover the real world, or

it may retreat back into
the pen, unwilling to be seen,
objecting to its misuse, or

it may sit in front of the TV
and watch soap operas
and game shows, not caring
what is on the screen, just
escaping from the damned page, or

it may sit still, be tucked away
and hope one day to be accepted
for all the world to see.

WRITE ON

The problem with too many
songwriters these days is
that they either pose a question
but demand answers, or only
partially answer their own question,
leaving the listener to guess
at the balance of the answer.

You are atop my list, sadly,
dear Alanis, for when you ask
if it is ironic, for most
of your examples I must
respond that it is not so.

And Paul, nice song, but
would you care to tell us
the other forty-five ways
to leave your lover?

But in the spirit of giving
to Michael Stipe I say
I spoke to Ken and we
agree it is 88.5 MHz.

ARIA

After years of embarrassment
I have finally come into the light.
It isn’t that my writing has improved,
although I surmise that would
be a narrow space to fill,
or that I can now draw things
that were once stick people
and animals and things.

What has improved, and
improved significantly
is my singing voice, once
a three note range, and one
not known to music,
but now I carry complex
tunes to near perfection.

If you ask how this
is possible, I will let
you in on a secret, it is
all in the audience,
and mine is now limited
to those stone deaf.

NOT EVEN CLOSE

It was Salvador Dali who once said:
“Have no fear of perfection,
you’ll never reach it.”
It might have easily have been
my creative writing professor
in College, although he would
have added, “and in your case
I doubt you’ll ever get close.”

Well over time I have
certainly proved Dali right,
although I’d like to think
the esteemed professor
missed the mark, but
as Cage said, Nicolas
not John, “Nobody
wants to watch perfection.”

INSTRUCTIONS TO MY ENGLISH LIT CLASS

First, read the syllabus
and buy the books we will read.
Note that I have carefully selected
works for which there are no Cliff Notes
or their equivalent, so if you were
counting on that consider yourself screwed.

When you write an essay, do not ever,
let me emphasize EVER, begin by saying
in my opinion, for if I wanted
an opinion on a great writer’s work
I would as soon stop and ask
my multigrain bagel what it thought,
although I admit its Everything cousin
did have some amazing insights into Hamlet.

Do not bother plagarizing quotes
from things you find on the internet,
for they will either be wrong or
you will have found them by using
Google or another search engine
and I discovered those when you
were still in diapers. And finally
if you ask for more time to write
a paper, I will give you a strong
recommendation to take my friend’s
Intermediate Composition class,
the one you tried to duck
by taking my class instead.

DARE I SAY

Few will dare say it, but I
have always imagined myself
among the few at most things
so I suppose it falls to me.

The lifecycle of the poet
incises an arc and there are
recognizable nodes along its path
from beginning to end.

The first poem published in a
journal, no matter how small,
then one in a publication others
have heard of, if never read.

Next you are in good company in
the Review you could find
on the shelves of your bookstore
in the deep past when bookstores existed,

then onward to the self-published
book or chapbook, and maybe one
by a noted press, the apex
for almost any poetic career.

But gravity takes hold, the descent
will be sharp and often ugly, marked
by the poet believing the blurbs
on the back cover of his book.

EMPTY SACKS WILL NEVER STAND UPRIGHT

There are nights
when the song
of a single cricket
can pull you away from sleep.
She says that she has heard
that not all Angels have wings
and neither of them
is sure how you would know
if you met a bodhisattva.
He searches the mail
every day, for a letter
from unknown birth parents
but none of the credit cards
he ought to carry
offers to rebate his dreams.
Each night they lie
back pressed to back
and slip into dreams.
She records hers
in the journal she keeps
with the pen, by the bed.
He struggles to recall his
and places what shards he can
in the burlap sack
of his memory.

First Published in Where Beach Meets Ocean, The Block Island Poetry Project, 2013