Category Archives: dVerse

Preemptive

Submitting work to journals can be quite a circus.  It’s an act of will to keep sending work out.  I imagine it’s also quite an ordeal to read every well-intentioned piece that comes through a journal’s mailbox.  I sometimes wonder if editors ever get tired of being polite…

 

Preemptive

Dear sir, it has come to our attention that
you are contemplating submitting a poem
to our journal. We are contacting you now
in the hope of avoiding this regrettable
prospect. Prompt action on your part now
will save us all precious time later.

While we have your attention, we are
somewhat concerned you may be tempted
to pen another composition today. With all
good will, we beg you to resist this urge, and
instead give yourself to something better suited
to your talents. Like brick laying. Or crochet.

Should you feel the need to contact us
further regarding your work or our
literary standards, please do not do so
in writing. In fact, if possible, simply
lie down and wait for the urge to pass.
With all best wishes.

 

Breaking

It’s been a strange week in our neighborhood.  Fall is getting into full swing, and the trees are glorious.  At the same time, there have been a spate of break-ins, the most recent of which turned deadly for one of those doing the breaking-in.  I end up feeling sad and angry more than scared.  I hate the waste – of life, of hope – and the toll that events like this take on an entire community.  I feel for the homeowners, too – so tired of wondering if they are safe within their own four walls.  Thank God for the leaves amid the sadness.  And for all who care. (To share with friends at the dVerse Poets Pub).

 

Breaking

They wrapped our street in yellow tape today
and turned the sky the colors of the flag

a stain of red, depression blue, and white
for a surrender that went unheeded.

Tracker dogs are nosing down the alley
while a shit-scared juvenile lies bleeding

in an ambulance, blinking back his friends,
the ones that escaped, the one that didn’t.

And no one will say for sure what went down
how many broke in, or how he found them.

I imagine the cries, the deadly force,
the chaos and bile spattered on a floor.

Some might say the young man had it coming
but I think something just died in us all.

 

A dog from Hell

I was browsing books at our local Goodwill store on Saturday, and there, nestled among all the copies of “What to Expect…” and “Tax tips for the 1990s,” was a copy of Charles Bukowski’s “Love is a dog from Hell.”  I brought it home and started reading.  Bukowski can feel like the long-lost uncle you don’t really know if you want to invite to the family reunion.  He is hilarious and profane, self-centered and offensive, completely unapologetic for who he is.  He just seems to tell it like he sees it.  And in compelling style – at least to me.  After an hour with “Love is a dog from Hell” I wrote this response. (To share with friends at dVerse Poets Pub).

 

A dog from hell

He’s at it again,
chasing cockroaches across
the bathroom floor with
an ironic stream of piss

some nameless hooker
is lighting up in the bedroom
crouched on the headboard
and shouting at the television

he says he likes the ones
with personality, but I can’t
help noticing he chooses
the ones with big tits

he loves to tell about it while the
booze is flowing and the telephone rings
and he just ignores it all,
cave-painting in skeletal lines

and I hate him – the misogynistic asshole –
hate him because I am so damn jealous
of that clear, unapologetic voice.
No, I am not bored, Mr. Bukowski.

 

The end of the world

A sonnet for threatening days.  And for hope when all seems lost. 
To share with friends over at the dVerse Poets Pub.

 

The end of the world

There is a dreadful quickening tonight
upon the air – it runs its fingers through
my corn-stalk hair and beckons me into
the open yard to watch the growing might
of wind and cloud. This mesmerizing sight
of grey fists dipping earthward blocks my view
of all that I had trusted to be true
forever, whipping in the pea-green light.
A telephone is ringing somewhere in
the house – a warning, maybe, from a friend –
but I stand still, enthralled. This overcast
horizon has been mine before. Where thin
despair birthed hope. I trust the world will end
three times at least before I die at last.

 

early birds

 

early birds

it is morning now, at least
according to the schedule roughly
tacked behind the service desk

seven birds nesting in the half-lit
letters K and O peer down as if
measuring me for something

inside, they are changing the price
tags so that I can’t tell if I am coming
or going let alone count the cost

in the bakery I ask if they have
garlic bread yet and Ava who is old
enough to be my mother yells at me

that I should make it myself but I just grin
and yell back that the night shift are a bunch
of slackers and suddenly we are friends

the only cart I can find keeps shocking
me but the checkout girl just shrugs
and says yeah some of them do that

at five a.m. this store is a wilderness,
fluid and fierce and fresh, and how I
love to scratch among these early birds

 

a little word picture to share with friends over at the dVerse Poet’s Pub.

No turning back

 

It can be a wonderful thing to belong in a group.  I know people who find great fulfilment in knowing every move to make, every word to say or avoid, every rhythm of “how we do things.”   The comfort of knowing there will be people there for you, come what may; and the knowledge that you will do the same for others – whether they ask for it or not.  The can be a comfort in conformity.

But then there are the others, the ones who struggle continually within the constraints of belonging.  The ones who live like icebergs, unwilling or unable to reveal their depths.  Or who give up and melt away.  I’ve seen it so often.  The longer I live, I find I am wistful for the belonging, for its goodness; but at the same time find I am increasingly drawn to the fringes, the rebels, the bright orange in a sea of black and blue.

 

No turning back

Someone in this sea of black and blue,
of downturned eyes, has a tattoo
on her shoulder blade – a butterfly
perhaps; better yet, a devil’s eye
that no one but her lover knows,
a secret that she never shows.

Someone in this modest fashion show
is wearing orange, brazen just below
her neckline, bursting with desire
not so much to shock as just to let the fire
within her have its head at last – finally
to be the blazing torch that she was born to be.

Someone in this close and holy space
is terrified, yet ready to depart this place
once and for all. Tonight,
after the benediction, no fight
no grand pronouncements, no bitter end.
Just a kiss, a plain embrace for every friend
and then no turning back – her fierce reward for
loosening the tight-tied strings her mother wore.

 

Fabulous

Getting ready for a jazz gig this last weekend, I was surfing YouTube for versions of the old song “Making Whoopie.”  It wasn’t long before I found my way to that incredible New Year’s Eve scene from The Fabulous Baker Boys, with Michelle Pfeiffer performing the song on top of a grand piano while Jeff Bridges plays the accompaniment down below without ever looking up (until the end).  Stunning!  And very sexy.

So… in honor of Ms. Pfeiffer:

 

Fabulous

If I could, I would be
that piano, the polished
black mirror on which
you spin and flirt, scarlet
flame descending like a
red flag of challenge,
a demand of surrender
to all that the mind
can conjure if only
one could breathe in here.
I would be the smooth sable
bed on which you shake out
those long blond tresses
resting your head in a sultry
semi-colon just above the
questing hands of the man
who refuses to look up.
I would be the deep dark
joy enveloping your fabulous
red dress, the scarlet tease
in which you somehow refrain
from spilling all your secrets.
I would be the ebony, and the
ivory, on which you place one
outrageous blood-boiling
stiletto as you corkscrew
down to the bench, great
diamond clusters flashing
in the low spotlights, until
you rest your bare neck
against the willing quarry
you have trapped, your
head thrown back, lost
in this smoldering haze
of time and desire.
I would be the quivering
sound board, yielded
entirely to your voice,
thrilling to the midnight
promise of red and black.

 

To share with friends at the fabulous dVerse Poets Pub.

A Thousand Dollars Later

About twice a year, I go into a home-improvement frenzy. Nothing is safe from my fatal attraction to all things not nailed down. At such monments, my family has only half-jokingly begun referring to me as the “angel of death.” Of course, everyone is always grateful afterwards for the fruit of my labors – at least that’s what I tell myself. Here’s a meditation on home improvement, written to a prompt on “enough” over at Poetic Bloomings. Sharing today with friends visiting from the dVerse Poets Pub. Cheers.

A thousand dollars later

As summer approaches, you will decide
that the kitchen island is a tremendous eyesore,
and needs to be refinished. Accordingly, you will
drag it into the back yard, ready to strip the peeling
paint. While you are out there, you will notice
that the lawn is looking pretty long and you will
decide to mow the grass, except that the mower
no longer works. So you will go to Home Mart
to buy a mower. And since you are an ecologically-minded
soul you will choose an electric model this time,

which means buying a 100-foot power cord.
When you get home, you will realize that
you do not have a grounded power outlet
on the outside of the house and so you will
call an electrician to come and put one in so
you can mow the lawn. But he will be busy
until next week. And while you are standing at the
calendar in the kitchen talking to him, trying to
set up a date for the work to be done it will occur
to you that the kitchen walls are very dark

and could really do with repainting. So that by the
time you get off the phone with the electrician
you will have decided to return to Home Mart to
purchase bright new paint for the kitchen. Which is
all very well, except that once at Home Mart, you will
see a color swatch that looks perfect for the bathroom,
and before you know it you will be walking out of there
with enough paint for both rooms. Upon returning home
you will go to the basement to find your brushes and
rollers. The twenty minutes it takes you to locate these

items will convince you it is time for a good old
clean-out down there, and for the next day and a half
you will find yourself putting your painting aspirations
on hold while you move all the furniture around
and carry three truckloads of junk to the curb, some of
which will be immediately set upon by neighbors eager
to help with your mammoth recycling project. At some point
in this process, you will begin to realize that you are not
sleeping well, and that every sentence you say begins with
“Maybe if we just…” Your family will cease speaking to you.

The dog will retreat to her kennel. Somehow, you will
not notice. Twenty four hours later, you will be taking
a shower when you suddenly remember that at some
point you had been intending to paint the bathroom.
You will launch into this project with a renewed sense
of purpose. However, even before the painter’s tape is
in place, you will be struck by the thought that you have
never really liked the large built-in cupboards behind the
bathtub, with their deep drawers, and so you will find
a crowbar and set about that benighted cabinetry like

the villain of a second-rate slasher movie, hacking and
ripping until all thatremains of the orderly drawer and
door combo is a pile of splintered wood, a handful of
nails, and an unsightly hole in the wall. You will feel a
great sense of accomplishment, coupled with a nagging
realization that you don’t quite know what to do with
the space you have just opened, together with a sense
of wied-eyed awe at the view of the basement now
afforded by the gap you have made in the sub-floor.
Your wife will take the kids and move to a hotel. The

dog will remain in her kennel. Suddenly unencumbered
by family obligations or the need for personal hygiene,
you will push yourself to new heights of self-expression,
in fourteen hours repainting the entire kitchen and the
bathroom, leaving the house smelling of fresh paint and
self-satisfaction. Just as you are cleaning your brushes,
the electrician will arrive to put in the new power outlet.
You will pay him with thanks and go outside to mow the
lawn, where you will find your path blocked by a large
wooden obstacle. You will note that the kitchen island is

still a tremendous eyesore and still needs to be refinished.

 

At last

It’s been a busy National Poetry Month.  To celebrate, I’ve been writing along with the daily prompts on Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides blog.  Today was the final prompt – to write a “fade away” poem.  I got to thinking about what it’s like to watch someone drive away – to be left behind, and to be glad to be wherever you have landed.  That’s often how I feel these days – learning to live happily with myself, digging the earth, finding joy in the smallest things.  At last…

At last

This graying fleck in the dust behind you
this ampersand laughing scooping up
ochre earth in the summer breeze
is the fool who learned at last
how to love his own soul.
This lingering smile
just before I
fade away
call it
joy.

 

Death in the pot

It’s been a rough week in the neighborhood.  We had a grade-school kid collapse on our lawn after experimenting with synthetic marijuana.  Then a spate of gang-related graffiti, including some of the most disturbing racial threats I have seen.  What really set me back in the end was the way none of this even phased me.  I just carried on as if things were normal.  Which I guess they are.  No outrage, no compassion.  Just a kind of jaded indifference.  I don’t like to think this the is person I am becoming.  Something has to change in this neighborhood – and maybe it’s me  Maybe you can connect with this, in some way.  Anyway, I wrote this bop as I reflected on the experience of these days.

He couldn’t have been more than twelve years old,
face down on our lawn, strung out on K-2.
Out of nowhere there were three police cars
blocking the street, soon joined by a fire truck
and a white ambulance. Then came the crowd,
the shouts, the knowing looks, the same old dance.

Something has to change in this neighborhood.

Overnight there was fresh graffiti sprayed
on our neighbors’ garage – a racial slur
with a threat. The City sent a young man
to take photos. He hardly said a word.
It all just felt so completely normal:
cops on our lawn, the n-word three feet tall.
It wasn’t until my son said to me,
“I’m scared to be outside,” that it hit me:

Something has to change in this neighborhood.

Suddenly I’m angry. Seething at the
drug pushers, slum lords, smug politicians,
most of all, myself – for falling asleep,
dulled by twenty years in one place, until
I don’t blink when a kid might be dying
on my doorstep. There is death in the pot.

Something has to change in this neighborhood.

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