In The Field

Poems aren’t always by appointment,

but, like wounds in the battlefield trench,

must be done quickly, without ointment

or sedative, sawing while teeth clench.

It is butchery more than healing,

amputations to stop the foul spread,

sutures applied to staunch blood spilling

before feelings are anemic, dead;

it is a frenzy of clamps and blades

applied in bloody barbed-wire ditches

while bombs fall all around from air raids—

calligraphy sewn like stiff stitches.

Tumbledown

In a small corner of my head
squats a ramshackle little shed
where I place on a cobwebbed shelf
all the dreams I had for myself;
boxes upon boxes of books
all covered in dust—no one looks
at such things, away from the sun,
along with other things I’ve done;
stories…poems…by the hundreds,
like waste that clutters other sheds,
stowed away, unread and unloved,
where doubts and bitterness have shoved
worlds of wonder, flashbacks of days,
where the black mold of Time decays
the flimsy whimsy, each thin page
lost to mildew—that necrophage.
Sometimes I glance in the windows
and see the books there, lined in rows,
but I rarely go in…rather,
I know it foolish to gather
dreams from a rickety old shed
soon to collapse within my head.
So I wait…frown…sigh…shrug…then leave,
forsaking all, lest I deceive
myself with hope that any book
could be saved from that moldy nook.
Yet I return, despite the mold
growing rampant and taking hold
with its toxic odors and spores
permeating the air indoors,
and I read from the books, sometimes,
horror, fantasy, and some rhymes,
unable to leave what I should,
the fool’s hope stronger than the wood.
The shed trembles as if to fall,
yet I remain, each crumbly wall
a part of me as much as aught,
just as each book is my own thought,
and, so, should it crash at long last,
(which it will, the die just-so cast)
I will be among the remains,
among the books and wood and panes,
decaying together, the whole
as always was, body and soul.

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.

Veilluminous

Veil, vellum, luminous

such words may bloom in us

insight, a needful light

to burn throughout this night.

Beneath my escritoire

and the candlelit noir,

shadows darken, bleeding

like these words, quill needing

to carve shadowy ink

to trace the things I think,

scrawling truth with such lies

as revealed with veiled eyes;

to dream awake what is within

dark and light, black ink on calfskin.

Echoes Lost

I.
There was a monk who lived by himself, cloistered in the high mountains. Where the mountains existed does not matter; everywhere, nowhere, it does not matter. What matters is that every day the monk ventured down into the timberline and rummaged for his food— mushrooms, nuts, berries, and dandelions—and every day he fetched water from a limestone well in the cave where he slept. This was how he lived. This was all he knew. It was enough.
The monk was an ascetic in his isolation. The only belongings he possessed were his robe, his straw mat, and the bucket with which he drew water from the well. He lived for decades by himself, nor did anyone deign to visit him, for no one knew he lived in the mountains. His only conversations were with his echoes in the well. These conversations were very one-sided, but the truth was that he was unsure which side these conversations actually took place on. He listened as much as he talked, for the well echoed with his words. It was very much like a form of meditation, for through the echoes he could see how he was, himself, an extension of the world, and see how the world was indeed an extension of himself.
The monk was not a solipsist, but he was a philosopher, and a poet, and the theologian of his own religion. His philosophy was very wise, his poetry very beautiful, and his religion very true. In fact, the monk’s religion was the truest religion ever known upon the earth, besides the self-correcting religion known as Science. The monk could not abide falsities, and so his religion had to be irreproachably truthful. If it had not been, he would not have abided it. He would not have believed anything at all.
Sometimes the monk spoke for hours into the well, lecturing the well so the dark hole could in turn lecture the monk. It was as if the earth itself was revealing its heart to him, and all of its secrets. At other times the monk would be silent for weeks and listen to the winds talk amongst themselves, carrying word from around the world like a gadfly-gossip. He appreciated, too, the chatter of squirrels and chipmunks, the howling of wolves and even the growling of bears. Whether fierce or funny, all conversations were his to learn from. Therefore, there was much to listen to, even when isolated in the mountains.
But however much he learned and lectured, the monk was mortal and, in one especially cold winter, he passed away. No one knew what his religion was, or what he had heard in the wilderness, nor the heart of the earth and its unburdened secrets. Not even an echo remained of him, spiraling up from that deep silent well. Why, then, does this monk matter? Does he matter, or was his life simply another Koan— the deferral of meaning?

II.
There was an oni that lived in the mountains. He did not like humans, but he had grown accustomed to hearing the monk talk. In fact, the oni lived in the well, and sometimes he played tricks on the monk, altering with his own voice the echoes that rose up in return to the monk. It was not that the oni was spiteful, nor that he really wished to deceive the monk. It was only a bit of mischief to pass the time, and the monk seemed contented with the echoes that rose up to meet him. The oni had lived for thousands of years. He knew about humans, and he knew about the material world. Long ago he had nearly become a Bodhisattva, but turned away from the Path after succumbing to baser impulses. He had also traveled the world, and had learned many religions and their various facets of Truth. Thus, he had imparted the monk’s words with real truths about the earth, and about mankind. He lied, yes, by falsifying the monk’s voice and throwing his voice with words not the monk’s own, but he spoke truths among those words. His echoes, thus, were true insomuch as they spoke to the Truth.
When the monk died, the oni wept for a year. His voice echoed out of the well and rumbled in the mountains. His voice became as thunder and his tears became as rain. The storm of his grief brewed over the mountains for a long time. Yet, no one visited the mountains, so no one heard him or his grief. When he had finished grieving, the oni left the well and took his echoes with him. No one knew the oni had existed in the well— not even the monk whom the oni mourned. Why, then, does the oni matter? Does he matter or was his life simply another Koan—the deferral of meaning?

III.
There were mountains that were somewhere, or perhaps nowhere at all. They may have been, or may never have been. A monk may have lived among them, and an oni may have also, or they may not have. There may have been echoes in the deep bosom of the earth. Or there may not have. Yet, of them this was written, and writing is but the echoes of things that may or may not have been. Why, then, does writing matter? Does writing matter, or is it all simply another Koan—the deferral of meaning?

Trifecta Defectum

Social Change
You can tongue the wound
all day long,
stitching sound bites and sassy truths
along the
bleeding, pus-profuse threshold
and yet the hemorrhaging and the pain
will always overflow.
Unless you are a surgeon
scraping away at the
necrotic flesh
and excising the
multiplying tumors
and suturing the anemic veins,
you are merely talking the patient
to death.
Change takes wars
and bloodshed
and transfusions of power,
not wagging tongues that
French-kiss the damage
in humanity with a
cannibal’s love.
Surgeons and soldiers
are the same:
they are both butchers of Man
and from their butchery
comes the cosmetic change of the world
in all of its dubious, scar-tissue progress.

A Lesson Learned While Reading T.S. Eliot
Good poetry should not be
a door slammed shut
in the face,
its interior glimpsed only through
an ivy-curtained window
while standing upon large stacks of
pretentious tomes
thick with erudite esoterica
idiosyncratically selected and
covetously curated;
no, good poetry must be
open to everyone, inviting
so long as you take the time
to tour freely
while its house spirits
crouch in corners, waiting
to be discovered along
retreaded passageways,
bodies buried beneath the floorboards,
and even a dungeon, if need be,
where tormented emotions dwell
in Gothic pretenses,
or a labyrinth of learning
that spirals vertiginously downward
below the solid foundation—
the point is
to let readers in
at the base level
without an exclusive invitation.
It is up to them how
deep they delve
and how many ghosts they rile up
from the dark, dusty depths of that
multistoried retreat.

Turn-Style
Stepping into this circle-jerk café of
literati
makes me want to take a salt shower,
and not the
bukkake kind
that little Miss Instagram is taking
as she uses the stylish turnstile
for a stripper cage,
blocking the entrance with her
social media presence.
So many others here, too, with their
generic cup of Joe-poetry
and when everyone is both barista
and customer
keeping tabs on each other is more a
tit-for-tat business obligation
than a genuine passion.
They cum and go,
laboriously yanking each other’s
percolators
only to get themselves off
for the creamer in their coffee,
because otherwise the drink is too
bitter, this wake-up call to reality too
jarring
wherein everyone is a
poet
and so no one is.
Against the wintry emptiness
of anonymity
everyone huddles inside
to keep warm, basking in
self-serving attention.
Oddly,
for being such a hot trend
it has only left me curiously
cold.

Deadline

Spider, hourglass on a thin thread
descending down onto the baby’s bed;
black cat, sneaky shadow of Death,
prowling the house to seek a baby’s breath;
raven, stained with ink, beak a nib,
perching upon the sleeping baby’s crib;
nanny, dark frock and darker eyes,
slipping into the nursery likewise;
story, laid out upon the sheet,
innocent, helpless, not as yet complete.

Good Form

Writing a novel is a
floor routine—
long, varied, full of techniques
that can be indulgent,
rambling,
so much time on your hands
(literally while typing)
allotted to dance some improv
into the longform method,
whereas a
poem
is a matter of vaulting
by running headlong at the idea,
flipping upon the instant
and
rolling with the momentum of
emotion
into the air, twirling without hesitating,
and either sticking the landing
or
breaking your pride.