It was exciting at first.
I would strip down naked
and sneak into the women’s locker room
at the YWCA or into the changing rooms
of fancy dress shops uptown.
That got old after awhile
so I took to playing practical jokes,
bumping into people
and spilling their drinks,
making rude noises
while standing next to someone,
watching them squirm
as they tried their best to look innocent.
I tired of that too
and started to feel bad
at the cruelty of it.
So now I wear this long coat,
these gloves, this hat.
I smear greasepaint on my face
and paint my lips. I put on
these dark glasses
and walk around among you
hoping I won’t be noticed.
Leaping Larry Chene’s pile driver
has The Great Mephisto against the ropes.
Larry begins running, bouncing off the ropes
on either side of the ring, building speed
for his most famous move,
the flying head scissors.
The crowd is ready for it,
chanting for The Darling of Detroit.
But Mephisto rallies and,
just as Larry goes airborne
like a working class Baryshnikov,
the villainous dog ducks out of the way.
Larry lands hard on the mat,
the wind knocked out of him.
Mephisto rolls on top of the helpless Larry
in an unexpected reversal of fortunes,
pinning him to the mat. The referee
smacks the floor. It’s over.
The crowd erupts in boos and catcalls
as Mephisto goes into his victory strut.
Now Mephisto gets a little too proud.
He launches himself into the air,
slamming his full weight onto the still struggling hero
but the blue-collar champion has a surprise.
He kicks his legs high into the air
putting Mephisto in a choke hold
between the bulging muscles
of his enormous calves.
Mephisto struggles but can’t escape
Larry’s python grip. Slowly,
slowly Mephisto’s body goes slack,
his eyes rolling into the back of his skull
until only the whites are showing.
In unison the crowd jumps to its feet
spilling beer and popcorn over the arena floor
chanting, “LAR-RY, LAR-RY, LAR-RY!”
The ref may have called the match for Mephisto
but if you were in Grand Rapids that night
you saw how good triumphs over evil.
The noise of pages turning
In the library is deafening
Despite signs everywhere
The romance section is filled
With non-stop sighs
Of the starved-for-love
And sweet smell of jasmine.
From mysteries there is the crack
Of a revolver and from behind a shelf
A woman’s scream.
Travel is a cacophony of train whistles
Boat horns, jet engine sounds,
Jangle of busy porters,
People in a hurry.
From history, the sound of clashing swords,
Acrid smells of black powder, flashes
Of heavy artillery beyond the horizon
Like heat lightning, horses
In the throes of death,
Mourning of widows.
In religion, calls to prayer,
Odor of brimstone,
Moans of the damned.
But in poetry, where both
Love and death have come to read,
Only the sound of leaves
Falling on water.
I rescued them from a dumpster
Behind the discount clothing store
Where they had once modeled
Woolen dresses and coats in winter,
Shorts, tank-tops and sandals in summer.
I brought them home
Where I sat them in comfortable chairs
In my living room where their
New jobs are to listen to news
On the television and act as though
Nothing is more important
Than the cold cups of coffee
I placed on a small table in front of them
Like theatrical props
In a play by Tennessee Williams.
It’s never too much for them.
All day they sit, without conversation,
And listen to news of war, violent crime,
Political scandal and religious bigotry
Of one kind or another
With the same faraway look
In their large painted eyes,
The same secret smiles
On their lovely broken faces.
Every now and then
I rotate their heads
So they can look at me
In my chair by the window,
And, once I have their undivided attention,
I may read them a poem or two.
The web is not delicate to the spider
who, like the roustabout in a circus,
hauls on heavy hawsers of course rope
constantly taking up the slack of life,
tying the loose ends to the most secure anchors available,
knowing that tomorrow she may be starting all over again.
This poem is a cheap hotel room,
the eye of a black and white television
staring at the stained sink.
The air conditioner in the window
that looks out over a vacant lot
puts out more noise that cool air.
The hooker in the room next door
has tossed out the last john of the night.
The pipes bang when someone
on the next floor flushes the toilet.
Outside there is a fight,
fists at first, then knives,
now sirens. A bottle breaks.
A cleaning woman shuffles down the hall,
babushka wrapped tightly around her head.
It appeared from nowhere
in a dream, I think,
a large house four stories high.
I live on the first floor.
There are many rooms,
perhaps more rooms than I need.
On the floors above are many more,
all furnished but with no one
living in them. They are mine too.
I can climb the stairs to the second floor.
where I see nothing out of the ordinary
but feel a chill in my spine, some inkling of fear.
On the third floor the inkling becomes fright,
an urge to run. I see nothing but sense
a presence. The hairs on my arms feel pain.
I fight the urge to run and begin to climb
the flight of stairs to the fourth floor.
Half way up I stop, unable to go any further.
There is nothing here but terror,
no reason to go forward,
no choice but to go back.
RELEASE! Book & CD Signing Expo & Variety Show @ Wurst Bar Ypsi - 22 June 2014 (Part 1/4) -
My poetry reading at The Wurst Bar in Ypsilanti, MI on June 22.
Sign on a telephone pole:
"Lost Dog, Mixed breed,
some kind of retriever and maybe spaniel.
Blue collar, shaggy black coat,
grizzled muzzle, ears not too long,
friendly but shy. Answers to Oswald.”
On my way to the bus I watch for him,
any sign of movement in the park or alleys
as I walk by. I wonder of Oswald,
what he was thinking, leaving
people who love him,
feed him kibble in a bowl on the floor
every day at four, give him his heart-worm pills,
clip his nails, brush his fur, share bites
of sandwich under the table.
To lose these things, Oswald must realize,
is the cost of freedom.
Later on the bus I notice an odd looking man
with shaggy black hair, grizzled face, collar
of his blue shirt buttoned to the chin.
His ears are long but not too long.
His face is friendly.
"Oswald?" The man looks startled but doesn’t speak.
He turns away and sticks his head
out of the window, sniffing the air
through his long, sensitive nose.
You’d think the circus was in town.
Clatter of tent poles on pavement,
the artists are here again,
the jewelry designers, the water colorists,
photographers, sculptors in metal,
weavers, the print makers,
and ceramists with their pots, pitchers and bowls.
A man who sells driftwood that he calls
nature’s sculpture, each one
resembling a duck seen from the right angle,
that he sells for fifty bucks and more,
untouched and unadorned.
It’s the hottest week of summer.
The price of bottled water will climb
faster than the thermometer
on the bank at the corner.
Tomorrow the serious buyers will come.
Next day, the tourists, the couples
leading their dogs on leashes,
the mothers pushing strollers
and clusters of school girls
with their cell phones, out to be seen,
as if they themselves were the art,
the reason for the fair.
I found her on her back on the window sill.
She wasn’t moving until I poked at her
with a long fingernail
then I thought I saw her limping her way
across a pane of glass.
I can’t tell if that look is a grimace.
Her face is so small.
Is that expression one of pain
or is she merely depressed?
Her house may be on fire.
Where are her children?
Why doesn’t she fly away home to them?
It was written
in a spiral memo book
five inches by three
so the lines are short.
If you could see the original
you’d notice the curled page,
the bloody stain of a chili dog
from The Clover Leaf Diner
and a small tangle of lint
from the pocket of a blue jacket
too thin for the unexpected turn
of the weather.
Move on. There’s nothing here to see.
Scribble, scribble, slash, slash.
Crumple, crumple, start again.
Slash, scribble, scribble, slash.
Tell me, how do they do it?
These damned poets
And their damned readable poems.
These Frost’s, these Williams’
These Carruth’s, these Ferlinghetti’s.
Even these confessionals,
These Lowell’s, these Ginsberg’s,
These Sexton’s and Snodgrass’s
And the sages of the East,
How could they? These Basho’s,
these Li Po’s and Li Bai’s.
Scribble, slash, scribble, Slash.
Crumple, start again.
Scribble (and again), slash,
Slash (and again)
Crumple, scribble, slash,
Scribble, scribble, slash, slash.
I stare at a tree in the courtyard,
one that did not survive the cold
of a harsh winter. It’s body,
rooted in the soil, is unable to fall.
It will take years and a strong wind
to finally bring it to the ground.
Strangely, birds that come into the yard
do not perch in the dead tree,
as if they can feel death
through their tiny grasping feet.
They all avoid perching on death
but only the doves mourn.
When we lived near the river
I would sometimes drop things into it
from a high trestle bridge.
A sycamore leaf, a gum wrapper,
a stick, a dead blackbird
from the side of the road.
I watched as these things
and out of sight toward
what I thought would be
a better place.
I could imagine them
nearing the river’s mouth,
tasting salt for the first time,
silently coasting past the ships
of many nations and floating
out of the harbor and into the sea
where the whim of winds and currents
carried them on long journeys
of endless adventure.