“Did you say the stars were worlds, Tess?”
“Yes.”
“All like ours?”
“I don’t know, but I think so. They sometimes seem to be like the apples on our stubbard-tree. Most of them splendid and sound - a few blighted.”
“Which do we live on - a splendid one or a blighted one?”
“A blighted one.”
— ― Thomas Hardy, Tess of the d’Urbervilles

As the Day Comes Apart in my Hands

Another day beneath the phony sun
and the fear of it with me like a shadow
the beauty of things is buried
beneath concrete and waste
and I lack the strength to dig
and that thing I used to dream
I must have sold or given away
forgot it on the pillow
of a stranger’s bed
dropped it in the outstretched hand
of an angry beggar
who threw it down a sewer
because all he wanted
was a beer
and every now and then
I see it on television screens
or in storefronts
stripped and broken down
rebuilt into some refurbished sadness
they try and sell to those
poor souls who don’t know any better
and today when I stepped outside
I swear to you there was
something I was looking for
but I got distracted by a woman’s dress
or the eyes of an animal
and now I just wander the streets
with my Roy Orbison heart
turned to 11 and bleeding out
as all the faces plead or turn away
and the day comes apart in my hands.

Bicycle Review #29

The new issue of Bicycle Review is out and available free to read online. It opens up with a piece of fiction by yours truly, and contains work by the likes of John Dorsey, AD Winans and SB Stokes among many talented others. Please indulge.

All That Fire

Eventually you end up
wherever it is
that trouble leaves you

caught like a wounded thing
between all the days behind you
and those still to come

with nothing much
to say for yourself

but that girl
she really knew
how to burn

the thought of her
laughing like she did
in the middle of all that fire

its the kind of beauty
that leaves scars
in hidden places

the kind that breaks you
in ways you didn’t know
you could break

and while even people like yourself
eventually do their best
to forget and move on

her ghost still burns
in dreams and the spaces
between things

and the world is just the ash.

Meat

For a good portion of my life I couldn’t figure out why people liked steak.

I had nothing against meat, I liked meat just fine-
but in my parents’ house, in the summer months,
every Sunday evening we had steak for dinner.

We were to consider it a treat, a delicacy,
something to look forward to.

When I saw people eating steaks on television or in movies
it seemed like a good thing, and their eyes lit up when they spoke of it.

But when my father put the plate in front of me
the slab of meat was always gray and joyless.
It tasted like nothing and each leathery piece took an eternity to chew.

Our steaks were like that because that’s
how my mom imagined they were supposed to be.

My dad would bring in the platter from the backyard grill
and present it to my mom for inspection.

They’re not done, my mom would invariably say, look at all that blood!
It’s not blood, my dad would reply, it’s juice.
We can’t eat them like that, take them back and cook them until they’re done!

My dad would say something under his breath and then take the meat away
and bring it back a while later when there was no more juice or blood.

Then we’d all sit there at the table not saying much of anything.
We’d smother the meat in A1 Sauce and chew and chew and chew.

I’d put ketchup on mine, place it between two pieces of wonder bread
and pretend it was a hamburger.

My mother would scold me, she told me I didn’t know
how to appreciate good things.

At some point at a friend’s house, a restaurant, somewhere,
I had a steak in the manner they were meant to be consumed:
it was seared on the outside, but the thick cube of meat
was tender and juicy and red just beneath the surface.

I was startled at first; it was like nothing I’d ever experienced.
It tasted like all the colors of life and death and the blood and juice
dribbled down my chin and onto the plate, and I sopped it up
with a piece of bread and when it was gone I wanted more.

Things in general suddenly made a bit more sense to me,
and I wondered what else I had been missing out on.

It was then that a part of me first began to understand
that so much of life is spent simply recovering
the basic joys that others, through ignorance or malice,
are forever bent on stealing.

How To Survive Surviving

We wake to the day at hand
like another thing we never wanted
but can’t quite bring ourselves
to give away

outside the billboards
and the faces advertise
the latest version of fear

but we’ve already bought
the deluxe edition
with the lifetime warranty

honey let’s just find a place
where we can rest a bit
and get some poison in our guts
so we’ll be safe awhile
from the things that chase us.

See the world’s no different
from anything else
just another sad thing
trying to make it through

and just like us
some nights it doesn’t sleep
and cries for lost things
and the lack
of what it once dreamed to be

wear your sorrow like a favorite dress
and I’ll sing you songs of no second chances

our only crime is imagining the world
more beautiful than it was born to be

if we met it on the street today
it wouldn’t even know our names

but I swear to you it loved us once
and you can’t buy that kind of thing anymore
not even on computers.

Fuck the Dead

I woke up and forgot how to write a poem
and decided that writing poems was stupid.

I couldn’t think of anything to love
and thus decided love was stupid, too.

It was one of those days when you wake into the world
and can’t imagine a place in it.

All I’d done up to then felt pointless and absurd,
and future possibilities seemed equally so.

I went outside and the streets clanged with loneliness
all the people dulled and drunk with suffering;
some blatantly so, others
going through the motions of hiding it,

and I decided that suffering was stupid because it was useless,
more useless even than poetry,

and I suddenly felt outside it all, bigger than
the living and their suffering, better than the smugness of the dead.

Fuck the dead and the living alike, I thought, what
good are they to me?

I wandered through it all like some stillborn ghost
a thing unto myself, inscrutable and alien.

But within an hour I was tired of that
so I fell in love with the next useless thing I saw
and wrote a hundred stupid poems about it.

Last night I had a dream that I was headlining a poetry reading. It was kind of a big deal, it was a large space, and packed with people. When I walked on the stage and tried to start in, the mic wouldn’t work. Nobody could fix it, so it was decided I would read without the mic. But then they had to tear down the stage, so I could be closer to the audience, since I wasn’t going to be amplified. So I waited around while they did that, and then tried to start reading again. There were groups of hippies in the audience sitting in circles, chanting and singing. and playing drums. I told them they needed to keep it down a bit, since I didn’t have a mic. One hippie girl told me they couldn’t stop, because they were doing it for the “union”. I had no idea what that meant, but I really couldn’t argue. Eventually the hippies quieted down a bit, but when I started to read my stuff, a dog started playing the piano. In the dream, it didn’t seem that strange. There was a toy piano on the floor, and a dog started playing it. everyone was enraptured, of course, and a girl shouted, “Just like a human!” Eventually the owner of the dog apologized and pulled it away from the little piano. People were getting a bit restless by now, and starting to trickle out of the place. I started reading my poems, but they were scribbled on crumpled up pieces of paper, and I couldn’t read them very well, or couldn’t find the second page to whatever poem I started to read. I stood there for maybe twenty minutes or so, just pulling unintelligible crumpled pages from my pockets, trying to read them but failing. I couldn’t make it through a single poem. eventually everyone got bored and left. and then I woke up and had to go to work.

Hungover and bored and unproductive on a Sunday afternoon. And I don’t give a shit about the World Cup. Please feel free to entertain me.

The Things That Frighten Me

She says your poems don’t
make you holy

they absolve you
of no crimes

they don’t make you beautiful
or clean

you’re just as bad
as the rest of us

just as ugly
in the mirror

just as mean

your poems
are just places to hide
from the things that frighten you

you write of life
through the eyes
of strangers

but have no stomach for it
in your own home

I tell her I understand
and know
all of this

but she does not believe
she slams the door

and now
I am here again

I don’t know
where else to go.