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Category: My poems

POEM: dead pigeon

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Based on a recent New York City experience.

dead pigeon

dead pigeon on a gray sedan
gray sedan under a dead pigeon
dead gray pigeon sedan
gray dead sedan pigeon

heads turn, shake, pass
passing heads, shaking, turn
shaken heads pass, turning
shaken heads, turning, pass

soft feet slap pavement
soft pavement feet slap
slapping pavement, soft feet
slapping, soft, feet, pavement

head bleeding slow trickle
bleeding head trickle slow
slow bleeding head trickle
trickle bleeding head slow

gray dead sedan pigeon
dead gray pigeon sedan
gray sedan under a dead pigeon
dead pigeon on a gray sedan

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POEM: First Night of Summer, 2010

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First Night of Summer, 2010

At the Mobil station on the corner of Quail and New Scotland,
an obese man in a tank top delivers a lawnmower from the trunk
of his NASCAR-stickered beater to a young man in the latest

summer fashions. The obese man plops back into the driver’s seat,
reaches an arm through the open window to haul the door shut,
cranks up the radio, loudly injecting a surprising R&B track

into the first night of summer. Did the Indian or Pakistani or Sri Lankan
cashier in the Mobil station ever imagine himself here?
Did he play soccer or cricket as a child back home, dreaming

of the night when he’d sell Cheetos and Double Chocolate Milanos
to another obese man in dirty shorts, while R&B blared
and nervous SUV drivers stopped on the way to the suburbs?

Did any of us dream of this night? We sat on our mothers’ laps,
had our backs rubbed, dreamed of being paleontologists
or marine biologists or superheroes, not of schlepping to the gas station

to buy crap before the Red Sox game. In case you hadn’t guessed,
I’m the Second Man, one before Welles and not that many pounds off,
selling no wine before my time, plodding past the young and beautiful people

at the bars to get to the late-night sanctuary of those with no place else to go.
How the fuck did this happen? Where did the dumpster in my driveway
come from? Who put all those memories in there?

I want my mother, or at least the possibility she represented.
I want to go home, but I’m already there, and there’s a dumpster
in the driveway, and in a few days the men will come and haul it away.


POEM: Separation

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This poem was inspired by a tweet by trombonist Jeff Albert. His message became the first line of the poem.


The MacBook Pro’s headphone out does
not have clean stereo separation.

It cannot effectively separate the
left from                  the right.

Nor can it color-code cull the allowed from
the illegal.

Or sit at the base of the wall in the cold
desert night, waiting for what the coyotes bring.

The MacBook Pro’s headphone out sends
a steady stream of sound

straight to the bones inside your ears,
causing tiny vibrations that your

brain magnifies then translates into
language you can understand.

And yet, left                  and right
will not be properly separated. Will mix

inappropriately, causing some in the room
to murmur their disapproval.

Are you murmuring your disapproval? Casting
a sidelong glance, perhaps

catching the eye of another partygoer, who
responds with raised brow or a


of the tongue?

Tsk. Tsk. Tsk.

Can you separate
left                  from right?

Do you know where you bread is buttered?

Do you want to wash the dishes?


POEM: McLemore, Fabricatore & Buttonwood

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McLemore, Fabricatore & Buttonwood

started out across the grassy plain

ate buffalo meat on the shores of Lake Erie

learned new languages & wooed exotic birds down from the trees

were of sound mind & body, were of sound body & mind

encountered the Kraken & debated the pronunciation of his name,
only to discover that he was a she, & really quite wonderful at chess

were undaunted in the face of adversity

sat beside the wine-dark sea, telling lies & braiding hempen ropes

signed their names in the guestbook at a hotel on the edge of an active volcano,
the ash settling slowly about their shoulders

could see the valley below, but could not state its true name

sailed across the ocean blue in a hastily built marshmallow canoe

were rescued from certain death by a one-legged man who knew whereof he spoke

are as real as you or I

exist purely for our amusement
do not exist at all

McLemore, Fabricatore & Buttonwood
will be back soon, will demand answers, will show slides of their trip
to an uninterested audience in the local library

will realize that the road is better than the rest stop & will start out again
across the grassy plain


POEM: deepwater horizon

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BP chief Tony Hayward. (Photograph: Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters)

deepwater horizon

ironic, choosing a name
implying distant vision
when the one thing you
can’t do is see

white belly bobs
pointing at the sun
like the face of a flower
or a tree seeking nourishment

but the sun has set
on this day of days
the long night has begun
under a blanket of oil

the Cayuhoga burned
at least thirteen times
oozing not flowing, said Time
magazine with its barrels of ink

the word “gulf” comes from
kolpos, a Greek word meaning
bosom, the chest, the repository
of emotion and intimacy

now we surround the heart
of the world with the heavy ooze
of consumption, the debilitating murk
of driving by yourself with the radio on

nineteen million barrels
each and every day
seven hundred ninety-eight million gallons
each and every day

and that’s just one country
one nation living the dream
the chosen people of a god
who created the dinosaurs

solely to power our factories
propel our cars, fuel our
wildest fantasies, a pornography
of petroleum delights

you can’t get it off unless
you scrape it off with a tool
something no bird can manage
no fish can finagle

it’s like napalm without the fire
smothering, covering
a deadly skin that can’t be shed
can’t be burned off

in Los Angeles, in New York,
in New Orleans, in Chicago,
in towns you’ve never visited
in towns I’ll never see

a man, a woman, a kid with
a new license
looks at his sneakers, her bike
the bus schedule

and grabs the keys instead
turns the engine over
hears the oil-fueled explosion
then turns up the radio


POEM: Housatonic Reverie

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I wrote this poem today while sitting on a rock along the Housatonic River in Connecticut. The photo below, linked from this site, is of the exact spot where this poem was written. That seems like a remarkable stroke of luck, but actually this spot is one of few along this part of the Housatonic with easy access from Route 7. You can click the photo to see a larger version.

Housatonic Reverie

This is my river, the Housatonic.
This water flows through my land.
I learned to walk near its banks,
Played on a street that bore its name.

I had to turn around and come back to find it –
give up the illusion of forward motion –
to sit on this rock and hear the water’s voice
singing a long-lost lullaby.

Tadpoles swim in a pool sheltered by stones.
They, too, will learn to walk
along the banks of the Housatonic.
Those, that is, who survive

the difficult road to maturity,
a road whose casualties
line the shoulder
like so many car-struck deer.

I put out my right foot to steady myself,
place it on a rock that wobbles;
a handy metaphor to remind me of the
uncertainty of even the most solid objects.

Down the river a ways, a hawk makes silent circles.
The occasional car covers up the water’s voice,
but its song always returns, summoning me
home to my river, my land, my life.


POEM: by chance and trembling

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The title of this poem comes from the title of one of composer Andrew Durkin’s blog posts.

Image by batega

by chance and trembling

by chance and trembling
he touched her
though perhaps it was
not by chance

a design buried deep
beneath his skin
below the rush of blood
the pounding heart

intricate tracery
coloring his cheeks
as the tips of his fingers
hummed against her pulse

there are moments of clarity
instants when the universe is tactile
when nothing is left to chance
when the trembling stops


POEM: pumpkin

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she’s almost at the end of the poem
when she slips and says

just like that, all those careful years
peel away, she stands
in a flower-print dress her mother made

reading in front of the class
stumbling over the hard words
in her accent the kids made fun of

she spent years silencing that voice
replacing it with the calm, assured
sophistication that befits a woman of means

she catches herself – puts the “p” where it belongs
but it’s too late, everyone has seen
the scared girl behind the sophisticate

the sweat-soaked dress clinging to her past
the voice she cannot silence
pouring from her mouth


POEM: The Truth About Art Pepper

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Art Pepper is my favorite alto saxophonist and one of my favorite musicians, period. I wrote this while listening to Stuttgart May 25, 1981 – Unreleased Art Vol. V. Art’s wife, Laurie, has been on The Jazz Session twice. If you’d like to learn more about Art, please listen to her appearances in 2007 and 2009.

Photo (c) Laurie Pepper

The Truth About Art Pepper

Art’s life is Synanonymous with art, the making of
with the alto saxophone, the playing of
with Ginsberg’s angel-headed hipsters, the slaying of

Art’s sound is a soaring cry that no bird of prey can outshine
he is a misty-morning muezzin atop the minaret calling the faithful
to the temple of pure emotion, architecture without artifice

Art is the inmate released, outpouring pent-up desire
archetype of the madness that bound those bound by the 50s
survivor of the plain old lives that crashed in the purple mountains

Art for Art’s sake, one foot hokey-pokeying on the ledge
the people like ants – aren’t they always? – far below
(although Art was never one to put himself above the people)

Art could play a ballad like he had Cupid’s arrow lodged between his ribs
could play the blues like he’d been struck down on a dusty road
could blaze like the nucleus of the sun, irradiating the audience with love

Art was the original Comeback Kid, cutman in his corner dabbing
his sweaty brow with a towel, handing him a new reed soaked
in the jar of blood and guts beside the ring

Art could take a punch, roll with it, let the kinetic energy of the blow
travel from his gut to his spine, slide up to his brain
there to spark the next invention, the next flight of fancy

Art is beauty and beauty is truth and therefore Art was the truth
he was the news that stays news, the last dispatch from the battlefront
Art could make the shooting stop, could arrest breath and pause time

Art’s most magical reality was that he was purely human
not carved from marble by a holy sculptor with a careful eye
but made from the same clay as we all, gifted with the breath of music


POEM: the ghosts of suburbia

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This is the kind of poem you write when you eat lunch in a cemetery.

the ghosts of suburbia
(for Bunny, whoever she is)

the woman with bottle-colored hair
locked her car door at the cemetery

perhaps an overabundance of caution
among these long-sleeping thieves
on this false-summer day

like the bunny named on her license plate
she darted from the car to a grave
bent over momentarily and was gone

before the trumpeter playing on my car stereo
finished the first chorus of his solo

this visit was less about communing with the dead
more about checking in
either to make sure they were still there
or to confirm to them that she was

it looked like a visit to a silent parole officer
Sergeant Murphy no longer a desk jockey
now pushing daisies rather than papers
in triplicate, two extra copies to eventually
go to the landfill, as Murphy himself has

a few hundred feet away she stopped
at a second grave, repeated the ritual

apparently her relatives had hedged their bets
against the day when the housing development
next door would expand into the cemetery

they’d spread the family around
to buy the long-term mourners more time

in this oppressive heat their presence
is Bunny’s challenge — a test of her willingness
to leave her air-conditioned Lincoln

she passes the test and is allowed to live
until her next appointment
with the ghosts of suburbia, the spectres

who haunt Lincoln-driving women
with bottle-colored hair

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POEM: The Last Siren

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The Last Siren

you can’t take your eyes off her when she reads
she says it’s the microphone
you say the microphone’s in the way

the word allure comes from the same root as lure, bait
her words dangling at the end of the hook
you can’t resist biting
and then she has you – all of you – not just the eyes

sometimes she pretends not to hear
but only because she’s already been there
written her message in blood on the wall
where it waits for the unsuspecting traveler

wandering in from the night
to a room full of aspirants who hang, writhing
on her every word

she is the last Siren, come from her island
on a boat of pages torn from your secret journal

Jason played his lyre to drown out her song
Odysseus strapped himself to the mast
but still begged for release, screaming
until the ship drifted out of danger

and now here she is and here you are
and she is still singing and no amount
of beeswax can stop your ears
and you can’t look away


POEM: to swing you in the arms of the stars

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A poem dedicated to the jazz musician Sun Ra, written after reading an article by Nate Chinen.

to swing you in the arms of the stars

you don’t need a rocket to get there
there wouldn’t be any there there if you got there

but HE would be there in a long robe
dime store rhinestones a glittering milky way
HE is a high priest with a congregation of everyone

arms lifted to create a horizon, the sun medallion
set into HIS space pope’s mitre
your eyelids are getting heavy, it’s all getting heavy

doo-wop be-bop swing and free
Space Is The Place for you and me
and HE and we and Muhammad Ali

the Black Christ descends from the highest peak
of the Andes, looks around slowly, sees
nothing of interest, climbs back to the summit

for some, it is just too much chaos
but there was order, too, and beauty, and reason
a cover story for those long kept under the great white thumb

isn’t the homesickness of 746 million miles
better than the sickness of a home in Alabama
where being a little green man would be preferable to being what HE is?

sure, HE had a name, HE was her man, her little boy
a baby from a womb not covered in stars
but released in blood and tears like all the rest

pushed into a world not of HIS choosing, HE chose not to be of this world
adopted for HIMSELF a new birth in the undiscovered country
fell from a new womb with the slight bounce of nine percent less gravity

as has been previously noted, we are spinning on a marble
that is whirling around a fire
the hole in the middle of the universe surrounded by black wax

HE pressed grooves into that wax and drew forth sound from the needle
while the tables turned – the polarity reversed – up was down
the black man was a cosmic prince, the king of the moonlit desert

couldn’t Pat Patrick wail over this awakening?
couldn’t John Gilmore swing you in the arms of the stars?
couldn’t HE tell you what your blood knows but your brain fears?

on the summit of the highest peak of the Andes
the Black Christ is clearing brush to make a landing place
for the ninth rocket, the one that will carry him away

we travel the spaceways from planet to planet
humming a tune born of a south too deep to bear
midwifed in stardust and held up in the harsh light of the sun for all to see


POEM: Lark Definitions

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A poem for the Lark Tavern in Albany, NY, which was destroyed by fire in May 2010 and which will return.

Lark Definitions

it’s a bird noted for its singing
it’s a verb meaning to play
it can denote a certain lack of care
but that is itself a trick
a surface appearance that masks
desperate attention to detail
for we do care, each of us
we’ve stood naked under lights
that show blood red on film
we’ve bared all, opened our bone cages
to let fly the nightingales
(also noted for their singing)
we’ve confessed lovers, told
strangers truths no one else knows
all under the watchful eyes
of attentive servers who
notice yet don’t let on
a man in a bookstore asked me
how it feels to be the last
featured poet at the Lark
“I won’t be the last,” I said


POEM: Stand up, Moses

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A poem for Albany-based writer and poet Moses Kash III. The first line is from a poem Moses read at Dan Wilcox’s Third Thursday Poetry Reading on May 20, 2010.

Photo of Moses Kash III by Keith J. Spencer

Stand up, Moses

white people have got hold of all the cash
except Americus Moses Kash the third
he remains independent of their influence
standing tall on bad knees and black sneakers
proclaiming … this word … and … this word … and …
the word, born of life lived with tall vision
he does not shirk his duty, tells it like it is
as he has seen it, felt its sting
captured its image in his lens
boxes and boxes and stacks and stacks
stacks and stacks and boxes and boxes
he still uses the word “mimeograph”
as if time stopped in the 1960s
and maybe it did
can you prove that your heart is beating​?

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Those of us in the bicycling community who have way to much free time are known to write “baiku” (bicycle haiku) from time to time. My latest is over at There are more on that site by various members of Team RocBike. Just type “baiku” in the search box.


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