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Category: My poems

POEM: Rough Boys

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Rough Boys

“Remember when Frankie got taken out?”
Three shop stewards are sitting along a marble wall
on Park Ave near Grand Central
talking about the old days.
“You wouldn’t fuck with Nicky Torres.”
They remember heated words in cramped offices,
big men with tattoos from the war
who didn’t take shit off anyone,
no matter how good a college you went to.
“As soon as they found out you were with Nicky,
their whole attitude changed.”
Men who drove in to the office in nice cars
felt their collars tighten and the sweat on their foreheads
as strap-hanging third-generation laborers
let them know how things stood.
“Nicky would raise his hand
and everybody would stop working
until he put it back down. He got what he wanted.”
There aren’t many places left where men talk about the union
like it was an unpredictable beast.
Like it prowled the shop floor, muscles rippling
under taut skin. Like its hot breath
could cause the boss to think twice before mouthing off.
When Frankie got taken out,
it was because Nicky Torres told the plant manager,
“Either this asshole goes
or you’re not gonna have much to ship out on them trucks.”
Frankie left, and Nicky put his hand down.

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POEM: Lights in the night sky

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Lights in the night sky

you must understand
there is no limit, no end
I have waited a decade
I would wait decades more

what is the boundary of truth?
how far from the heart
does the blood flow,
bringing life to all it touches?

in truth, there is no line
dividing one from another
no piece that can be removed
for we are all made

of the tiny lights
in the night sky
the distance is vast
and it is nothing, too

I would reach out
but there is no “out”
I would draw you near
but you are already beside me

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POEM: In Burma, San-Zarni Bo Tells The Future

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For my birthday this year, a friend gave me the book The Best American Travel Writing 2009. One of the essays is “The Generals In Their Labyrinth” by Patrick Symmes, originally published in Outside. It’s a disturbing essay, and it inspired this poem.

In Burma, San-Zarni Bo Tells The Future

he reads ink-palmed impressions
says good things are coming
but stay away from saffron-colored robes
outside the wind is making a liar
of the junta weatherman
and in the cardboard villages along the Irawaddy
no one is going anywhere
no one has anywhere to go
later tonight a killing wind will extract more blood
from a drained people, leeching them dry
even as their homes and shops
fill with dirty water the color of dead sparrows
children will scream for drowned mothers
frantic fathers will search for lost sons and daughters
entire families will blow away, wash away
hundreds of miles away, in a stone compound
at the end of eight lanes of concrete
a bitter old man will chuckle
as he reaches into the empty place
behind his sternum and stirs the acid
with one yellowed finger
but back in his dimly-lit room
San-Zarni Bo predicts the future
says good things are coming
don’t mind the wind, he shouts

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POEM: Lights, Camera, Action!

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Another poem written during my recent stay in Chattanooga, TN.

Lights, Camera, Action!

this town is like a Hollywood set
look behind the storefronts
the buildings that line Broad Street
there’s nothing there
the bricks rise to the skies
joggers clot the river bridge
but the heart has been cut out
Walter Cronkite once said
this was the dirtiest town in America
it’s cleaner now – wiped clean of its history
all the people shunted out to the pavement
paradise, never far from a strip mall
there are historical markers
on every downtown street
they are little more than headstones
marking empty graves, the city’s corpse
long ago merged with the soil
covered with the dust of razed landmarks
“Right where Starbucks is, this is where
your granddaddy built tank engines
to fight the Nazis.”

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POEM: Idaho

Listen to this poem using the player above.

I wrote a lot of poetry during my recent trip to Chattanooga, Tennessee. One of the poems was inspired by meeting bicycle adventurer Joe “Metal Cowboy” Kurmaskie, and reading his first book, Metal Cowboy: Ten Years Further Down the Road Less Pedaled.

With Joe Kurmaskie in Chattanooga, TN. Photo by Lois Chaplin.

Idaho
for Joe Kurmaskie

on this rainy Idaho morning
I give you a name
I tap your destiny
with my white cane

have you reckoned
a thousand miles much?
have you packed a bag
and left all else behind?

with the legs as the only engine
you can hear what is there to hear
the whispering of spirits on the roadside
singing the world into being

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Postcard Poem #4: Jo Lawry & James Shipp

In August, several of my friends participated in an event during which they wrote a poem a day on a postcard and mailed it to someone. They in turn received postcards from other poets. That was all too much for me, but the “poem on a postcard” idea was a good one, so I started writing the occasional short poem and sending them to friends. I sent this one to my friends Jo Lawry and James Shipp:

Click image to enlarge.

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Postcard Poem #3: Richard Kamins

In August, several of my friends participated in an event during which they wrote a poem a day on a postcard and mailed it to someone. They in turn received postcards from other poets. That was all too much for me, but the “poem on a postcard” idea was a good one, so I started writing the occasional short poem and sending them to friends. I sent this one to jazz critic Richard Kamins:

Click image to enlarge.

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Postcard Poem #2: Jake Vrabel

In August, several of my friends participated in an event during which they wrote a poem a day on a postcard and mailed it to someone. They in turn received postcards from other poets. That was all too much for me, but the “poem on a postcard” idea was a good one, so I started writing the occasional short poem and sending them to friends. I sent this one to Jake Vrabel, the young son of my friends Jeff and Leeann:

Click the image to see a larger version.

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Postcard Poem #1: Kevin Baird & Jenn Cornish

In August, several of my friends participated in an event during which they wrote a poem a day on a postcard and mailed it to someone. They in turn received postcards from other poets. That was all too much for me, but the “poem on a postcard” idea was a good one, so I started writing the occasional short poem and sending them to friends. Here’s the first one, sent to my friends Kevin Baird and Jenn Cornish in California:

Click for a larger version

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POEM: permanence

permanence

some names are carved in stone
because they cannot be erased

ours are written on paper
which burns

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POEM: Storytelling

Storytelling

telling stories in our hotel room
keeping my game face on
my Superman fights a giant robot
John’s defeats a huge gorilla
Bernie’s Man of Steel takes on a fire monster
he’s tired so he forgets
sometimes his villain is a robot, too
I’m wearing a necklace made of Kryptonite
my powers are fading
keeping my game face on so they won’t notice
never expected this hotel room
never expected the hurricane
and yes, that’s a metaphor
what kind of kit do you pack for a storm of rejection?

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POEM: Life Is Whirling Around Us

I wrote this poem after the Third Thursday Poetry Reading tonight, based on a comment Dan Wilcox made during the reading as the sound of sirens faded on the street outside.

Life Is Whirling Around Us

While we are reading poetry,
an elderly woman in a flower-print dress
is clutching her chest in a kitchen on Hamilton Street
she knocks over the pitcher of cream she’d just poured
for the cup of coffee she’ll never get around to drinking

While we are reading poetry,
he finally gins up the nerve to lean toward her
and she leans toward him and the moment
they both spent the whole night thinking about
is even better than they’d thought it would be

While we are reading poetry,
the passing sirens are responding to a cigarette
left unattended in a bed already stained with cheap wine
as flames lick the newspaper he hadn’t really wanted to read
but had fished out of the trash can anyway

While we are reading poetry,
the newest father in Albany feels his knees weaken
and his heart grow three sizes as the doctor
places his crying daughter in his arms
and the man turns to show her to his wife

While we are reading poetry,
a kid from Sioux Falls is taking his first major-league at-bat
in a city he’s never been to, in front of a crowd of strangers
and back home his mom is wiping her eyes – and so is his dad –
as everyone he’s ever met gathers around the family television

While we are reading poetry,
a housewife is discovering a stack of letters
she never would have found except that she’d finally decided
to clean her husband’s dresser drawers all the way to the backs
and now she’s hunched over sobbing on the suddenly massive bed

While we are reading poetry,
a kid is coming in the door from his job bagging groceries
to find a letter in a fancy envelope from the college
he’d applied to without telling anyone
he runs up to his room to open it behind his closed door

We are reading poetry while
life is whirling around us, depositing the ore
we’ll mine for the next stanza, filling the good earth
with a rich lode of the precious materials we’ll find
with lamps mounted on our helmets, down there in the dark

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POEM: Tennessee Horizon

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Tennessee Horizon

I am a little bit in love with everyone, including you
and this Tennessee horizon will no let me go.

Who is the giver of names for the things we most cherish?
In the dawn light I can’t see you clearly enough

to know whether you are crying or maybe that’s the rain.
It’s raining in everything I write.

I could take shelter in you, if only time is a circle
and I’ll have this all to do again.

Tennessee is a terrible beauty and you are a fleeting gift.
Whosoever has cause why this couple should not be joined,

let him speak now. I loved you in the dim and bright,
in the thick silences and the sticky-sweet mornings.

Sailors always knew the world was round
because ships disappeared over the horizon.

That’s how I knew it was time to go.
I’m still a little bit in love with you and with Tennessee

and with this dawn light and with this rain.
If you let me go, I’ll come back to you

because time is a circle
and the world is round.

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