Wednesday, May 31, 2006

#38: May 31, 2006

The worst thing was, we knew when it would hit.
astronomers pegged it down to the hour:
a million metric tons of killing power,
just two weeks distant, and no help for it.

The churches overflowed, but prayers were vain.
Liquor stores gutted, fires bloomed in the streets
while mothers stopped their children's mouths with sweets
and clutched them close--for how could they explain?

Then, in those last few days, the earth grew still.
Those who could stayed inside and made their peace.
Otherwise everything remained the same.
The crickets chirped, the owls hunted until
sunrise snuffed out the stars; and from the East
the destroyer drew nearer, slinging flame.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

#37: May 30, 2006

Best way to eat a rattler: lop its head
well back, then gut and skin and serve up fried
in cornmeal, like a catfish; once you've fed,
you'll know you did it right if no one's died.

Hot, it's like froglegs (that old Southern dish),
but once it cools the taste grows indistinct;
a bit like chicken, but also like fish--
perhaps a fossil flavor missing link.

It's good, but something primal still recoils
as from the buzz of bones upon its tail;
fears venom in the veins, hears hiss in oil,
sees ribs all curved like fangs and sharp as nails.

What is it thrills your heart and steels your breath?
The courage of a pagan, eating Death.

Monday, May 29, 2006

#36: May 29, 2006

There's too damn many poems about writing;
Each self-appointed poet seems to think
His thoughts about his thoughts are worth the lighting
Of the oil, and of the spilling of his ink.

And when the subject's lack of inspiration,
a non-subject, God damn, that's even worse;
It's masturbation sans imagination,
A one-man circle-jerk, tugged out in verse.

Don't tell me how your soul's springs have gone dusty;
Put down the pen and slowly back away.
Go for a walk. Get drunk. Pull out your trusty
Black book, and get yourself something to say.

But if you're whining 'bout your poet's spirit
Gone slack--shut up. Nobody wants to hear it.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

#35: May 28, 2006

In summer Jimmy's belly would get tan
from lazy afternoons of drink and dance
without his shirt; you never saw a man
so joyful in his cups, and any chance
to shed his top and gig under the sun,
cap clownishly turned backwards, chest two slabs
of meat atop that gut, Jimmy would run
to meet it, trailing buttons and beer tabs.

No fear of melanoma, nor the frowns
of neighbors, nor cirrhosis could dissuade
Jimmy, beer-belly-full, from getting down
half-naked whenever the music played.

If there's a heaven Jimmy's dancing there,
drunk on glory, his chest and belly bare.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

#34: May 27, 2006

Not even June, and already the heat
oppresses movement, depresses desire
and ambition; we half-expect the street
to bubble, smoke, and explode into fire,
coating our lungs with tar; we'll sit indoors
with glasses full of ice against our cheeks,
sweating like we do; the drops will stain the floor
like tears shed in the face of coming weeks.

We'll keep watering our lawns until August,
then give up, sun-defeated once again,
watch grass wither to ash, soil bake to dust,
and all go brown and sere like the world's end.

We'll hide from dead earth and scorched air that kills,
in fear of death by fire, and water bills.

Friday, May 26, 2006

#33: May 26, 2006

The noises never stop in this old place.
Of course at midnight chains drag down the halls,
The ghost of Farley moans behind the walls,
And the attic suicide begins to pace;

At four a.m. the murdered maiden screams,
And in the courtyard horses paw the grass;
The bishop, hanged, intones his solemn mass
In his own crypt, for his lost soul, it seems.

All through the night the spirits groan and creak;
The heartbroken bride takes her sunrise leap,
And whispers haunt the dusty bookcase shelves
At dusk. No hour goes by that doesn't speak.
The living, cranky from the lack of sleep,
Wish the dead would keep their damned deaths to themselves.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

#32: May 25, 2006

When I was young there was a copperhead
lived in the drainage ditch beyond the fence
in our back yard. Summers among the red
clusters of young blackberries we could sense
his ageless eyes upon us, so we thought--
We'd hear his evil hiss in every breeze,
and quaking we would glimpse him on the hot
flat rocks back there, warming his coils, at ease.
One day he crawled through chainlink gaps to sun
himself on our gray concrete patio.
He lay coiled like a noose, his flicking tongue
tasting my childish fear; inside I hung
onto my mother's skirt, too scared to run,
while Daddy lopped his head off with a hoe.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

#31: May 24, 2006

He stands unmoving, more shadow than man,
Against a skyline pointillized with light;
His cape spreads out behind him like a fan,
Serrated silver, billowing in the night.
Below, the humans' screams are like a prayer
And he, their gargoyle god, waits on his perch
Deciding which to bless; his black hole stare
A benediction, the city his church.

Somewhere behind his mask the memories stir
Of past wrongs unforgiven, loved ones dead,
And sins as yet unpunished, unredeemed.
He wishes things could be the way they were
Before--but so does everyone, it seems.
He leaps into the city's heart like lead.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

#30: May 23, 2006

At LSU, a tiger's in a cage
behind the stadium. Mike is his name.
He paces his enclosure like a stage
and seems indifferent to his modest fame.
In summer his fur blazes like a flame,
and bars like hash-marks counting out his age
enmesh his stripes. Always, before the game,
they print programs with Mike on every page.

And all night, like a madman in his cell,
the tiger paces, tracing out the same
figure-eight path, imagining Indian sage
in the cheerleaders' perfume--such a smell!
Thinking of student bodies he would maim,
Mike walks in majesty, seething with rage.

Monday, May 22, 2006

#29: May 22, 2006

It's summer, and the ants have come again.
Red ones molehill the yard; the black ones too,
That breach our house like Harry's happy few
At Harfleur, finding secret pathways in.

They burrow under joints in the windows
And squeeze through seals that stop the winter wind,
Then march in single file, though to what end
I wonder whether any one ant knows.

Somehow they find the food, though--bowls of milk,
The bloodstain spill of our kid's sugared drink;
A smorgasbord of leavings in the sink
Draws thousands of their single-minded ilk.

We crush and poison, drown and trap and kill;
But evolution rules under the hill.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

#28: May 21, 2006

She smoked like Raymond Chandler on a tear,
With lips like she'd been eating cherry pie
Real sloppy. I could smell the rotgut rye
Behind her ears, and lilacs in her hair.

Her eyes were working under half-dropped lids,
She took my measure--call it forty-long,
That leaves room for the gat. She hummed a song
Under her breath; we mooned a while like kids,

Her hand in mine like feathers off a dove,
Her voice a tenor sax. I'd like to say
She played so sweet I never felt the knife
Till it was in. But nothing works that way.
At least when she kissed me it felt like love.
I've never been that drunk in my whole life.

"Noir, #28," selected as a finalist in The Formalist's 14th Annual Howard Nemerov Sonnet Competition!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

#27: May 20, 2006

Look, all I want from you's a little praise--
A job-well-done, good-work pat on the back.
It's not like I don't cut you any slack,
And I'm not asking for some kind of raise.

Tell me I don't deserve it. Go on, try.
You can't; you look around, see what I've done--
The garden, animals, even the sun
And every Me-damned cloud up in the sky.

What's that? The Evil? Baby, that's all you.
I will not take that heat. You had your shot.
I mean sure, I knew you would--you couldn't not,
The way you're made; still, you do what you do.

But enough of that. Get praisin', kids, or else
I'll spend the next six days refining Hells.

Friday, May 19, 2006

#26: May 19, 2006

I chase Euterpe through a shadowed wood;
The lyric eludes me, and now the sun sinks low.
My arms outstretched, I jam a tree--no good!
The falling dark leaves me nothing to show.

Erato teases with her breathy sigh;
I glimpse her as if through a sheet of gauze:
Her full, seductive breasts, a naked thigh--
and then she runs. "Why, Goddess?" "Just because."

Frantic, I seek stately Calliope
To bless my poet's prayers. Still as a stone,
Memory's eldest daughter does not flee
But scatters like a mist. I am alone.

The girl I lust after always refuses.
Why should I expect different from the Muses?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

#25: May 18, 2006

I get in about seven after eight,
Drop off my notebook, grab my coffee cup
And fill it full of wakefulness--then up
The stairs for morning meetings on the slate.

Ordinarily it's hurry up and wait;
Meaningless small talk with department heads.
Finally the tech guy unravels the threads
And gets the presentation up. That's great.

There was a king named Sisyphus who fell
Afoul the gods--the reasons are obscure--
And for his mortal sins must now endure
Eternal futile toil on hills in Hell.

My boss tells me to think outside the box,
But all I see out there are other rocks.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

#24: May 17, 2006

There's something at the bottom of the well.
I hear its voice when everyone's asleep
and shadows from the forest stretch and creep
across the yard like spirits out of Hell.

It sounds like water gurgling over stone,
and forms words I can almost understand.
One day, turning, I saw a gnarled gray hand
clutching the lip--it wore a ring of bone.

I do not know what moves in that dank hole,
what churns the brackish water into steam
that billows forth at midnight like a dream--
a fog that dampens prayer and chills the soul;

I only know the tale you heard me tell--
There's something at the bottom of the well.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

#23: May 16, 2006

Please hold my hand if I begin to sway;
I might not get up once I lose my feet.
The light has thrown a cant under the street,
dazzled me silly as a popinjay.

There's something in the motion of the trees
that sets me spinning--whispers in the creak
of branches. Sibilant leaves leave me weak
and breathless, balancing on liquid knees.

Things underneath my feet are not so strong
here at the last as I once thought they were.
The meadows buckle, hills roll like the sea,
and I am lost here. The stones are tearing free
and drifting at our heads. What can't endure
will float away; what can, flew all along.

Monday, May 15, 2006

#22: May 15, 2006

This hissy fit is going to be a bad one;
I can tell just by the way it's coming on--
The kind would run a wife off if I had one
And piss my friends off cryin' once she'd gone.

This fit'll be the kind of one they write of
In colorful Southern-fried picaresques
Where the hero's a drunk who's never seen the light of
Seven a.m., and hangs out in burlesques.

This fit could be the stuff of legend, truly:
They'll say I must have drunk a hurricane
And spit tornadoes--got so damn unruly
I scared the rooster off the weathervane.

Yeah, once this fit gets started, son, you'll know it.
It's a shame that now I've lost the will to throw it.

#21: May 14, 2006

Please point this bird toward Little Rock and fly
Me home, 'cause I've been gone away too long--
I'm on the ground, I should be in the sky
Like any mockingbird--tell me I'm wrong.

Oh pull this string as far back as it goes
And shoot this silver arrow to my girl--
Put thirty-thousand feet under the nose
Of this here plane, and spin round this blue world.

Now sling me at my baby and be quick
To it, 'cause you know Sloth's a deadly sin,
And speed's your virtue--show us all the trick
That Hermes taught the Wright Brothers back when.

Now set coordinates to Sarah's bed--
Let me float down like feathers round her head.

#20: May 13, 2006

Ted Smith was thirty when he choked and died
(a turkey sandwich on rye was the cause);
The grief drove his wife Jane to suicide
(two shotgun barrels applied beneath the jaws);

Their children, understandably upset
(Nellie was nine, poor Josh was only four),
Entered a pact--they'd show this cruel world yet!
(It wasn't going to hurt them anymore.)

The siblings propped each other up quite well
(they made it through their twenties with a pulse);
Though not without a cost, I'm sad to tell
(they seemed such normal, likable adults):

Policemen found eight heads beneath Nell's floor
(and in her brother's backyard thirteen more).

#19: May 12, 2006

It pulled a ragged tongue across its teeth
and growled as if the trooper posed a threat--
thirteen feet long, black hair wiry and wet,
spiked quills above, ebony claws beneath.

The trooper's gun hand shook like winter leaves;
the moon above looked down like God's dead eye.
The stars were buckshot holes in the night sky,
and Death was watching from the house's eaves.

The monster pulled itself up to its height
and cast its shadow down upon the man
who stood between it and its rightful prey.
Three sharp blasts cracked the belly of the night--
the child screamed, the trooper raised his hands--
and then the Shadow fell like Judgement Day.

#18: May 11, 2006

Now, I don't want to sound like Mr. No--
I don't go in for negativity
for its own sake--but still, you ought to know
something, and best you hear it now, from me.

Don't look at me like that. I know it sounds
ominous, especially introduced like that,
but it's really not that bad. Trust me, no grounds
for getting all upset right off the bat.

All right, enough's enough. Let's have it out
and have it done. Bad news is best served hot.
Besides, you probably know what it's about--
or imagined something even worse, if not.

All right--the thing I've been trying to say:
I could not come up with a poem today.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

#17: May 10, 2006

I'm not a very handsome guy, it's true.
My nose is flat, for starters, like a pug's.
I've got the kind of voice that sometimes bugs
a person. And my breath can be bad too.

My figure is rectangular at best;
at worst, a pear. There's no need to dissemble.
And my butt may kindly be said to resemble
two hairy saddlebags when I'm undressed.

In fact, I'm so relentlessly repulsive
I don't know how my mirror doesn't crack,
nor how my coworkers maintain the tact
required to see me and not go convulsive.

And yet, Beautiful, you don't seem to mind.
How fortunate for me you are so blind.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

#16: May 9, 2006

Why do you have to talk to me while I
am standing at the urinal trying to pee?
I think unspoken bathroom courtesy
demands your silence, and averted eye.

Can this not wait? What urgent piece of news
could overrule such common etiquette?
Good Lord, man, concentrate! Or else you'll wet
your shirt tail, to say nothing of your shoes.

I do not mean offense--what I mean is,
Give me some peace! Look only toward your feet.
I do not wish to speak while I excrete!
I do not talk while holding my penis!

I cannot think of any situation
In which I'd mix my piss and conversation.

Monday, May 08, 2006

#15: May 8, 2006

Well hello, there. I ain't seen you before,
and I come in here nearly every night.
Can I get you something? Yeah? Barkeep, two more
on mine. Hey there, let me give you a light.

It's good on you. I like a girl who smokes--
woman, sorry. Just something in the way
the light plays on the whorls...Hm? I guess jokes,
instead of this, would be the better play.

Truth is, it's been a while since I got up
the nerve to come and make a play like this.
My wife Anne died three years ago. Cancer,
it was. God damn, I feel just like a pup
findin' his tail. What's that? Your phone? Don't answer--
I'm lonely, and I thought maybe...wait! Miss?

Sunday, May 07, 2006

#14: May 7, 2006

Come the weekend, I feel I've earned the right
to drink too much. So don't get on my case.
It's moderation every other night
(or most, 'least ways), so if I got a taste
for a third beer, a second glass of wine,
a whiskey chaser, a tequila neat,
a G & T--the damage will be mine
and mine alone. So come on, it's my treat.

Tomorrow it's back to that slow dull grind
that inches us toward our long-promised rest
eight hours at a pop. So let's not mind
too much to put our livers to the test.
Livers' for livin', so the poet saith.
Here's to long life, good drunks, and quiet death.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

#13: May 6, 2006

The monkey on the Ferris wheel displayed
the most audacious set of teeth I've seen
on any primate. Far down below, ducks played.
The Dog-Faced Girl, resplendent in her green
and gold dress, somehow managed to retain
a stately diffidence, befitting a queen.
(It turns out she was sixth in line for Spain,
and tenth for Portugal.)
                                                  But what I mean
to tell you is, I've seen it all before.
The circus comes, the Man Without a Hat
slow-dances in absentia with the cat
who won the beauty pageant. That's the score.
You can't surprise me--so let's just start again.
There's a coffee shop next door. You feel that wind?

Friday, May 05, 2006

#12: May 5, 2006

So this is it. It's time to settle in.
Get used to these three gray cubicle walls,
the tasteless coffee, the recycling bin
Beside the coke machine; the bathroom stalls

that never close just right. In twenty years
you won't even notice the keyboard grit.
By the time the burnt popcorn odor clears
in the break room, you'll be done with this shit.

I know: blear-eyed hours with a flickering screen
were not part of The Plan. Still, who's to say
it could have turned out better? Chase some fool dream,
chance is, you'll fail. At least this place is clean.
Benefits. Two weeks off. 401K.
Put in the time.
                                Stay Safe.
                                                      Try not to scream.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

#11: May 4, 2006

The Monster Men are coming to your town
With hollow eyes and teeth like molten lead;
They're coming in by train, the preacher said,
And they'll be here soon as the sun goes down.

The Monster Men don't hide under your bed--
They batter windows in, then take the glass
And slice off pieces of themselves to pass
Around for snacks. They smell like moldy bread.

The Monster Men have risen from the dead!
The Devil summoned them with his own Mass.
They're crawling round the house--their laughter sounds
like falling trees. They won't stop till they've found
a child to eat, a juicy lad or lass--
The Monster Men are coming for your head!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

#10: May 3, 2006

I don't know whether I'm cut out for this.
It's something with my eyes--the way I see
things. Too plain, hard edges. Prosaically,
not like a poet. Something I always miss.
I'm trying to teach myself--learn to connect
the concrete and abstract, the way the sky
looks with my childhood, search for that dry
faint line where sense and meaning intersect.
And fail, day after day. I puzzle out
the rhymes and iambs, turning lead to lead.
Alchemy in mechanics. What comes out
does not speak well of the elements in my head.
I guess I'm after magic. But this puff
of smoke tells me my words aren't strong enough.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

#9: May 2, 2006

Bastard! How do you fucking sleep at night?
You toad-brained butt-lick, spittle-spawned disease!
Disloyal dung-heap denizen--may a blight
of righteous nits necrotize your knobby knees!

It's cocks like you give humans a bad name,
amphibious fuck-stick, cunt-lapping CHUD!
Basalmic bugger--how dare you even frame
in friendship, lies--lung-sucking King Crapcrud!

You sputtering fudge-flung waste of toilet roll,
may syphyllitic jackals eat your balls!
I'd like to post your pig head on a pole
and use your guts to decorate my walls.

Shit--a shingle--shinola slobbering suck!
It ties my tongue up--shibbitz--GAH! You fuck!

Monday, May 01, 2006

#8: May 1, 2006

When he was three, my son's favorite game
was throwing rocks in water. There was a creek
that ran beside the playground; three days a week,
in summer more, would find us at the same
slow pastime. I, big and clumsy as an ox,
would pull the big ones out and make a pile
from which with that miraculous small smile
all children have, Will took the choicest rocks.
With fingers soiled, my pantslegs stained with grass,
my back popping, I crouched there among
the sun-flecked trees and shadowed underbrush,
watched tiny fingers sail their stone. In the rush
of tumbling water, the rock would hang, too long
almost, then shatter the creek's surface like glass.