Skip to content →

Category: My poems

POEM: Guilt

Listen to this poem using the player above.



The scientist created a machine
that could look back into the past.
He called it Guilt.
When activated, his invention
could whisk the temporal traveler
off to days gone by:
the job left unfinished;
the lie told; the lover jilted.
True, this form of travel had a limited
appeal in the marketplace, but
it was a must for the connoisseur
of despondency, the rueful explorer.
The scientist kept his creation
secured in the topmost room
of his falling-down house,
far from the notice of the
established academic community.
Those who wished to take
a journey into the embittered past
were carefully screened to keep
out the crazies and the masochists,
for he intended his machine to be used
by the pure of intention, if not the pure of heart.


It was on Tuesday last that the scientist
heard a light tapping on his door.
He thought perhaps he’d forgotten
to let the cat in, but when he opened
the door he was surprised to find
a young girl on his front porch,
hair exactingly braided and white socks
pulled up just so. “Mister,” she said,
“I want to take a ride in the machine.”
He refused, of course, although his
interest was piqued. How could this
child even know of his invention?
“My dear,” he said, “there is nothing
for you here. Run along home.
Someone must be worried about you.”
She took one step forward,
hand on the doorjamb, eyes fixed on his.
“Mister,” she said, “I’m going to take a ride
in the machine.” There was something
about her, an emanation, an aura,
and before he knew it, the scientist
had stepped back to allow her to pass
into the living room.
“Where is it?” she asked, taking in
each feature of the sparsely appointed room.
“On the top floor, my child,” he said, pointing.
“But you must go alone.”
She nodded once and began climbing the stairs,
holding the railing with one china-doll hand.


The scientist sat down to wait, sipping the tea
he’d been preparing before the girl’s arrival.
He could hear her on the top landing now,
and then the soft creak of the door as
she entered the room where he kept the machine.
Ah yes, there it was, the throaty rumble
as the machine began to work.
Was that a whimper? he wondered,
straining to hear every sound,
every nuance from the top floor.
Eventually, he could no longer resist,
and began to climb the stairs.
He knew this was a breach of his
standard operating procedure, but this,
this was a special case.
As he neared the open door, the deep note
faded away, disappearing like a ghost
through the wall.
He stepped into the room.
It was empty, save for the chair
and the machine. But then
something caught his eye,
a white flutter under the chair.
He stooped to retrieve the piece
of paper. Written on it, in the assured
script of an adult, were two words:


(SAYERSVILLE) – Firefighters
responded to a blaze at a house on
the Sayersville-Freedom line Tuesday
night. The house, owned by Dr. B—-,
a researcher at the university, was nearly
consumed by the fire when the firefighters
arrived on the scene. They focused
their efforts on stopping the blaze from
spreading to the nearby woods. No
human remains were found in the wreckage
of the house, a no cause has yet
been determined. Police say Dr. B—‘s car
is missing, and he did not report to work
at the university this morning.


Buy my book!

My first collection of poetry, Unexpected Sunlight, is now available. The poems talk of love, family lost and found, music and musicians, and scenes from everyday life. These poems were written between 2006 and 2009. I’m thrilled to be able to share them with you.

The book is now available in the store.


The book!

Me with copy #1 of Unexpected Sunlight, my new collection of poems from FootHills Publishing.

POEM: Muse, Inc.

Listen to this poem using the player above.

This was prompted by a small contest over at the Poems Out Loud blog.

Muse, Inc.

Nothing happened.
I mean it, nothing.
I’d put my blank pages in
the Amazing First
Book Creating Machine
and pressed POETRY
on the display. I’d
driven to this bowling
alley in Duluth – all the
way from Plano, Texas –
because I’d heard that
Ginsberg and Olson
and Creeley and Ashbery
all used to bowl here
once a year. Scholars
always wondered, why Duluth?
Why bowling? No one ever
thought to check the Out-Of-
Order stall in the men’s room.
No one until me, that is. And
there it was. The machine
they’d all used to create their
first books. Howl, Le Fou,
Call Me Ishmael, Some Trees.

They’d all come out of this stall.
But when I put my pages in,
nothing happened. I mean it,
nothing. Maybe the machine
was broken?


POEM: Strings

Listen to this poem using the player above.


Perhaps Beethoven was wrong.
This may not be the best method
of organizing groups of tightly
wound cat intestines.

Or aren’t those used anymore?
That would be foolish —
there are certainly
too many cats.

Everywhere you look, they stare
at you with disdainful eyes
before turning away in disgust
to lick their own assholes.

There are too many people, too,
if we’re being honest. Of course,
most of us can’t lick our own nether
regions – we need help for that.

But we’ve each got 25 or so feet of
intestines. We’re each like our own
string quartet, just waiting
for someone to play on us.


POEM: Lottery

Listen to this poem using the player above.


Ida plays the lottery every day
walking slowly to the pharmacy
next to the pizza shop

she hands a worn sheet of folded paper
to the Pakistani man who
pushes the numbers into the machine

then she sits next to the display
of walkers and canes,
painstakingly checking the ticket

7 24 23: Eddie, her oldest brother
he always dreamed of being an actor,
until that day he hit the beach
and it never stopped raining metal

11 19 24: That was her. She was
the only daughter, Mama’s pride and
the light in Papa’s eye. She was the one
her brothers looked out for

12 24 26: Walter, born Christmas Eve
the same year they’d had to move
because Papa lost his job after Mr. Monroe
skipped town with the receipts

3 13 46: The war was over, she and Tom
had moved into their bungalow near the
rail yard, and along came Edie, named after
the uncle she’d never meet

7 1 49: That was Joe, the quiet one. He
didn’t say much, but he didn’t miss much
either, and she knew one day he’d
be there to lean on, and he was

10 14 74: Joe and Liza got married
at the old church. It’s a set of fancy
condos now, next to an espresso shop
that used to be Gianelli’s bakery

6 30 76: Edie was a June bride, thirty
year old. She and Tom had given up hope,
figured Edie’d be living with them until they died.
Then Edie met Leroy at a church picnic

5 9 77: The day of the accident,
when Edie wouldn’t stop crying.
The policeman said it was nobody’s
fault, just fog and a slippery road

1 17 80: Her grandbaby, James.
She loved her children, but she’d
never known anything like the shiver
in her stomach when that baby smiled

10 5 91: She’d been holding Tom’s hand
when the time came. Everybody was there,
and Tom was peaceful. She slept
on the couch that night, Joe close at hand.

Ida plays the lottery every day
the same careful numbers
she doesn’t play to win, just to remember


POEM: Amputee

Listen to this poem using the player above.


“don’t you miss it?”
that’s always the first question

for so many years
that metal was part
of my body, wedded
to my fingertips

I would wiggle my digits
and the conjured spirits
would wail and cry

“not really” I say
fixing my expression
to sell the lie

I’m an amputee, still
feeling the ghost limb

my appendage sits in a case
that the cat peed on
in the room where
I record the voices
of women and men
who would never dream of
allowing the doctor
to complete the operation

they would leap from the table
shove past the nurse’s grasping
hands, trailing the ends of
their open hospital gowns
and screaming “not that!”
as they plunged through the
double doors into the street

me, I catch sight of it
out of the corner of my eye
feel my fingers twitch


POEM: This pervasive inequality that we call choice

Listen to this poem using the player above.

I enjoy the visual work of Joanne Johns, whose blog I highly recommend. Today’s offering is in that spirit. As for the text: When you include multiple links in a Facebook status update, a window pops up asking you to type in two words to prove that you’re human and not a spambot. I’ve been saving those words for a while now, and this poem uses all of the words I’ve saved, plus some others thrown in for good measure. The title of the poem comes from a quotation from Melissa Harris-Lacewell, whose work I respect very much.

Click the image to see a larger version.


POEM: Another Song For Occupations

Listen to this poem using the player above. The music is “Down By The Salley Gardens,” performed on tin whistle by Jason Crane.

Another Song For Occupations

Walt didn’t mean invaders
he meant good work, done well
not camo-clad crusaders
turning Gaza into hell

not Kabul and not Baghdad
or next to Kandahar
a mother or a granddad
when is the bridge too far?

Walt thought of driving carts
of crossing on the ferry
hat doffed to gentler arts
eating, drinking, merry

not strafed by chuckling guns
the toys of discontent
not being forced to run
or tortured to repent

Walt never dreamt of walls
cutting parent off from child
obscuring blood relations
casting friends into the wild

although he’d been through war time
had soothed the soldiers’ pains
he’d thought that there’d be more time
to reap those hard-won gains

but now the jobs he spoke of
are gone, sailed overseas
Walt’s song for occupations
has faded on the breeze


POEM: Comedy Gold

Listen to this poem using the player above.

Comedy Gold
(for Jeff Vrabel)

laughter is the energy, compassion
the generator, a limitless supply
impervious to disruption
like the golden sun that permits flight

it’s a super-power, being liked
not everyone has it
some folks are more Kryptonite
than hoped-for hero

you don’t need the phone booth
although you’re always near it
when the call comes, ready
to rip buttons and leap

gold isn’t the right metaphor,
either, because gold is too soft
you can put marks in it
with your teeth, like a marshmallow

steel is more apt, or maybe iron
something that carries the idea
of strength, durability, conviction
you can throw what you will

at a steel pole or an iron bar
and it will be there when you’re done
scratched, maybe, but otherwise
just the same as when you left it,

no matter how long ago that was
that’s a promise on which no price
can be placed, to which no value
can be attached; it just is, thankfully


POEM: Spring Robins

Listen to this poem using the player above.

Spring Robins

I’ve been seeing robins everywhere this season
on the lawn when I leave for work
outside my window at the office
in the yard while I’m playing with the kids

they wander to and fro, looking lost and confused
and who can blame them — it’s still early days
prey is scarce and the bright red gives them away
before they can pounce

I think the main problem, though, is that
they’re longing for Batman
he’d only choose one of them anyway
who ever heard of Batman and the Robins?

the warm weather always brings them out
once it’s clement enough for short shorts
and tights, they don their masks and capes
and head out in search of crime

do you think Batman and Robin were dating
like the Comics Code people claimed?
I don’t — they were too far apart in age, and
Robin was in great shape, he didn’t need to settle

for a much older man with obvious identity issues
that said, Dick did agree to let Bruce
dress him in that ridiculous outfit
he should have been twirling a baton

not swinging punches into the jaws of
painted evildoers and crazies
you don’t keep your boyish good looks
being eaten by a shark or buried alive

if you see a Robin, don’t feed him
you’ll only encourage him to come back
before you know it he’ll be on your porch
looking glum and asking if you’ve seen the Batmobile


POEM: Oh Lord

Listen to this poem using the player above.

Oh Lord

Don’t Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb On Me
When Charles wrote that,
the (magic) mushroom
seemed like a very real possibility.
Like there could be a day
when there were no more days,
when spring would jump
straight to winter
and the switch would get stuck.

Now his words sound quaint and old-timey,
like interring the Japanese
or smallpox blankets
or the city of gold that was exchanged
for dark flesh. Like bomber blackouts
on the West Coast and ships
in Davey Jones’ locker,
sent there by folks flapping their gums.

We don’t worry ’bout that no more.
We have seen the enemy and they are winning.
With friends like we’ve got, it’s just as well
Dastardly Dan leaves that girl tied to the tracks.
She’d better pray the train kills her,
because her insurance won’t cover just
losing a limb or two. That’s an act of God,
they’ll say. The Big Guy doesn’t like it
when you don’t pay your rent.


Two reviews and a preview

I realized today that there are a few things I’ve mentioned on Facebook and Twitter but not right here on the blog:

  1. The Winter-Spring 2010 issue of Blue Collar Review is now available at My poem “Lillian Dupree & The Ballad of Frenchman Street” is in it, alongside a lot of other fine writing about working class issues. Please order a copy and support an independent press that supports working people.
  2. The popular poetry blog TheThe has started to run book reviews, and their inaugrual piece is my review of John Gallaher’s Map of the Folded World. Enjoy!
  3. There is some chance that my new book, Unexpected Sunlight, will be available as early as April 17 during the reading at Dante’s books in Geneseo. That means it should also be available at subsequent events, including my feature at Poets Speak Loud at the Lark Tavern, 453 Madison Avenue in Albany, at 8 p.m. on April 26. Watch this space for more details. Look below for a sneak peek at the cover painting by my friend Bob Anderson.

Leave a Comment

POEM: Origins

Listen to this poem using the player above.


Tell me where you’re from

from the Berkshire hills
from a yellow-brick building
with a drug store in the bottom
from a mother and a father
who gave me love and madness
from firefighters in a flooded basement
and old men with missing fingers
from the daddy longlegs, north-pointing
and the tobacco-scented southern earth
from industrial towns in upstate New York
and the blue-carpeted van
from this school and this one and this one, too
always new, always being introduced
from the haven of my room and
from dreams of the ocean
from dinosaur bones and long words
and pretty girls with the same first name
from 27 houses and apartments
in too many towns and cities
from first cars and first kisses
and second chances and third strikes
from the Irish and the German
from the 17th-century seafarers
from the town cowherd and
a documentation analyst
from a radio host and a typesetter
and the receptionist at England Brothers
from drunks and crazy women
who shouted at busts of Wagner
from the laundress and the waitress
and the jailed superintendent
from fire-red Mustang convertibles
and tickling under the dining room table
from submarines and Thailand
and the Housatonic River
from scalding sauce and icy water
and bandages and tears
from desert sands and bald tires
and cheese crackers and Wendy’s
from Chapel Hill to Lexington
Amarillo to Tucson
from the foothills to the mountains
to a backyard filled with stones
from a Big Wheel to a bicycle
to too many unknown homes
from the saxophone to the microphone
to the studio to the stage
from Citalopram and therapy
depression, bliss and rage
from messy rooms and folded laundry
from turn that down and crank it up
from countless hours of talking
and countless talking of ours
from Furukawa to Yokohama
from Catholicism to Methodism to
atheism to Buddhism to atheism
from selfishness to fatherhood
from one side to the other
from husband, father, lover, cousin,
uncle, friend and brother
from Main and Church, from Plunkett,
Chad Circle and Knapp Road
from Dodge and Tanque Verde
from Aoba-ku and Glendale
from Raymond Street and Kellie Court
from Lenox, Pittsfield, Lanesborough,
Syracuse, Oklahoma City, Rochester,
Potsdam, Hilton Head, Concord,
and more and more and more
from Kurt Vonnegut and Hunter Thompson
and Douglas Adams and Hayden Carruth
and George Lucas and John Williams
and John William Coltrane and Steve Lacy
and Charles Mingus and Paul Desmond
and Nova and Batman and Walt Whitman
and Donald Hall and Albert Goldbarth
and Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac
from doubt and fear
from courage and confession
from harmony and discord
from humor and illness
from long-dormant and active
from diagnosis and treatment
and from all the same places you’re from


Tell me where you’re from