The Modern Oz

The modern Tin Man is fueled by

snake oil,

having given away freely his

heart

for an Amazon discount

and a podcast peacemaker of

conspiracy theories.

The Scarecrow has lost his brain

in a broken trade deal,

having pawned it off to pay for

tariffs

while he stuffs the breadbasket with

soybeans,

laying down,

at long last, beneath his

thresher

to return to a simpler time.

The Cowardly Lion roars

with hashtags on Twitter,

Instagramming a fierce photo

while, between posts, shuddering

in the dark of his

lock-down apartment.

The Wizard sits on a

golden toilet

behind the puppeteer curtain,

vociferating loudly

like an orange talking head

to distract from the sounds he makes as he

drops another turd in the swampy toilet bowl,

refusing to flush it.

Dorothy, meanwhile, has been picking fights

with the little people,

accusing them of being

illegal immigrants

while she ignores the tornado of

historical currents

that had brought her to this golden city

upon a hill.

And the

Wicked Witch of the West

sips Tea Party tea,

caterwauling as her flying monkeys busily

troll online,

copy/pasting disinformation for

a ruble a post.

And poor Toto is nothing but

roadkill

splattered along the Yellow Brick Road.

(Non bene pro Toto libertas venditur auro).

Editor’s Note

A good editor sacrifices the
author
for the story,
castrating the pride and ego
with an impassive scalpel
to sterilize the dominating old bull
so easily misled by his crown of horns;
a good editor
culls the herd
and promotes more virile progeny;
he
brings down the
slaughterhouse hammer
on the bullish head of
stubbornness,
letting the author’s vanity die
so that his stories may live, lest the
juggernaut rampage,
trammeling newborn calfskin
under haughty, overbearing hooves.

Holly Folly

An orchard of holly trees,
thousands unto thousands,
countless,
bejeweled with red berries,
each a crimson drop
of sacrifice,
each a
generation of Man
spawned hitherto
since before Man was Man.
Strolling among the shade
I wonder why we are so
poisonous
as we grow among paradise.
A chill wind blows,
signaling Yuletide’s approach.
They like to say Christ died for our
sins,
but, if so,
why are the berries
still so deadly?
Why do we grow so plump
in our hearts
with a brimming poison?
Christ may have changed
water into wine,
but could he refine the deadly wine
of this bitter berry
into benign water
so we might wash away our sins?

Two Poems

His Prayer
He prayed with his thumbs
crossed,
throat brimming bile,
spittle spraying from snarled lips,
forearms flexing like the forelegs
of a panther in pursuit of prey,
hands straining to the tendons
with an eagle’s grip,
veins pulsating rapidly
with quickened blood;
he prayed with thumbs
crossed,
a vengeful garroter
strangling his exwife
or his chuckle-head coworkers,
his estranged, ungrateful children;
prayed with his
thumbs crossed,
choking the whole world
until only the sound of his
grinding teeth
remained.
He prayed everyday
breathlessly
to a god of death,
his thumbs crossed
around the bulging cords
of his own empurpling neck.

Firm Grasp On The Matter
His painter’s hand had been ruined
by the relentless teeth of age,
crippled in the grinding gears of
arthritis, and so his grasp enfeebled
by a sacrifice to Art and Beauty
yet
he painted such Beauty into the world
with his gratitude for life—
even as his body fell apart around him
he could paint the world with his
gratitude
and none could paint better
than the workaday wonders that he saw
in the passing of routine things
juxtaposed with the inevitable finality
of death’s imminent grip
so close at hand.

Desperation

Gripping as desperately as
the fist-clutched roots of a tottering elm tree
among the dead leaves of yesteryears
while the relentless rains fall
to pummel the soil
in which it slips and slants
beneath its own weight,
I hold onto the eroding past.

Turn-Styles

Trimmed Excess
As a bonsai tree
trimmed of cluttering branches;
so, too, poetry.

Enochulum
Firstborn in the cold lands of Nod
to a killer exiled by God,
in a place abandoned by love,
forsaken by Father above—
and yet how is such nascent sin
borne by a boy hapless by kin?
Enoch, child from an outcast seed
and guilty by blood of his breed,
whose father envied a brother
for God’s love, more than another;
Enoch, son born to roam the earth
without hope, joy, mercy, or mirth,
who roams through the wilderness wide
beyond the vale of Edentide
and neath a God who should begrudge
Man as made by his cruel judge.

Parasites
Cleptocrats never believe
that they have ever stolen,
by sleight of hand or up the sleeve,
for an empire fat and swollen
on the blood of their employees
upon whom they feed,
never knowing themselves as fleas
on a dog they slowly bleed.
They believe they built the edifice
on their own, and all alone,
blind to the truth, as Oedipus
upon his shameful throne.

Good Jazz
Not that busy jazz
where instruments trip and tangle with
one another
in a confused, rambling clamor
of crazed pedestrian traffic,
but jazz removed from the hustle and bustle,
as slow and moody as the haze
of smoke lingering long after
she has gone to bed,
the ashtray breathing thin
while its sultry plume is aglow
with the insomniac skyline
of a restless city—
while she turns in her dreamful sleep,
mumbling a name
like a wish in the cold blue twilight
of endless longing.
Perhaps piano keys
dripping like raindrops
off the eaves of the somnolent stoops
and trickling along the
black-gloss streets, alight with
the city’s neon blood,
or the steadily pulsating drums
that lull with their thumping ease,
the distant rhythms
of faraway apartment life,
and that soothing bass
echoing up to the ceiling of the soul
like a subway train deep in the
heart of the city
felt at the cloudy heights
of a slumbrous skyscraper.
Nothing is so fine
as sleepy jazz
reverberating in the
dreaming glow of the midnight city.

Another Smattering Of Poems

Panis Caelestis
The strength of his faith was just paper thin
like the bread of the angels, a wafer,
and so he stacked up the toppings of sin
to make an hors d’oeuvre of the bland flavor.

Pride
Pride is as the hard seed
deeply buried in the
hardened earth
and coiled tightly
in upon itself in a shell of
stubbornness.
But how beautiful our
potential
when we crack that shell
and allow ourselves to
open
as the bud unto its
bloom,
presenting sincerely our soft-petaled
humility
to the open sky
and its humbling elements—
to drink from the pelting rain,
to bask in the glaring sun,
to blossom unafraid
of being trammeled underfoot
by living with our hearts
wide open.

Trigger Warning
Stop your crying—
it’s just birdshot.
You’re not dying
from some heard thought.
I’m shooting off
at the big mouth,
so turn and cough
or migrate South.
I’m the kettle,
you’re the hot pot:
while you’re fretful
take your potshot.
I do not care
if the mic’s hot;
free speech, free air—
I’m no robot.
I’ll speak my mind
as I so please,
both fruit and rind
without surcease.
Be glad it’s not
a stronger shell
like some buckshot
or truth to tell.

A Meth-head To His Madness

Eddie was fascinated by flashlights,
as all Meth-heads are,
and he would click a flashlight
on and off
as if sending some SOS signals
to a UFO among the stars
as if he hoped it would
come down and take him somewhere else;
or he would aim the halo at the walls,
dragging its luminous circle
up and down
as if trying to bleach with light
the stained, decaying world clean.
The more Eddie’s teeth rotted out
and the more his skin bled
with cankerous craters,
the more obsessed he was with flashlights,
turning them on and off,
on and off,
being able to turn off the
flashlight,
but never his disease.
All the haloes in the world
cannot save Man from himself
and before the end
Eddie told me of the time
he saw the Devil—
not when he was taking,
but when he was being taken
by his Stepfather
in the old, mildewed shed
while his mom was sprawled out
on the trailer’s living room floor,
high on acid.
“No angels saved me back then,”
he said,
“and none are gonna save me now.
None are gonna save nobody.”
I told him, “That’s why people have to
save each other,”
and he laughed—
a laugh not of madness,
but of insight.
“What do ya think I need savin’ from?
It ain’t the Meth.”
He turned the flashlight off.
“That’s just the way out.”