TRUTH

 

as poet becomes poem

the voice goes first

given over to phrasing

every line its tune

 

vision diminishes

any room, no matter how crowded, recedes

eye contact reduced to resting the gaze

eyes hungry birds, other eyes their nests

each nest exerting its unique attraction

 

posture, standing, become dance

any movement, sometimes personifying certain actions

body English, always powering the breath, the trumpet

hitting a sweet spot wah wah, kicking up a knee

 

soon clothes in fact the body gone

the poet not naked, transparent

all barrier removed, straight

through to the truth

 

 

THE GIFT SHOP TOUR

brought to you by Coors, the Banquet Beer

 

1.

a restless spirit yet with a purpose

a series of purposes, deliberately traversing our storied land

 

farm fields so big they make their own weather

a solitary tree striped brown across its canopy, such beauty

 

storied land, appropriated by my European forebears

its inhabitants, theirs the true history

I am a citizen by birth

 

driving, always driving

like many many of us, a helluva driver

grey brown yellow green

rock mountains blushed deep red

what my eyes have seen!

 

2.

O Chet! we will always have Telluride, that valley

those mountains, six or eight big ones, a huddle

their distinct peaks, their imposing flanks, they’re keeping an eye on us

 

our cluster of skinny Victorians, some with purple trim

Colorado Avenue, five brick blocks of smart

the perfect gift for future girlfriend

those black and white backalleys, railings at wooden angles

 

our celebratory dinner, our hotel out of Edward Hopper

brick walls, pine green trim, our table behind a streetside plate glass window

the sliced sirloin lightly sauced

two sparkling goblets holding big pours

red, black red, black like black cherry

so tartly enchanting we’d remember that wine forever

Happy Birthday, America !!!

 

3.

is it history or progress

Chet! so many people finding what we discovered

serious then, big money now

everywhere jammed with new construction

 

there’s lots of things like Telluride, Chet

politics, technology

little kids Chet! if we appeared today

would we be excited inhabiting a movie set?

 

4.

no fiction here, straight life

me and my car, Sinatra

turned toward home, wagging out tails

 

home, where mountain peaks are clouds

again, and my love lies waiting

 

5.

Dear Poetry, for you I’d drive five hundred miles

seven days in a row

helping myself to big bowls of landscape

still photos in every direction

brown range to a level horizon

wind-bent trees around an elaborate compound

stepped from the pages of a magazine

soundtrack available from CDBaby.com

 

 

 

CORNELIA STREET CAFÉ

 

down stairs to a basement, narrow room

blue concrete walls, low tables crowding an aisle

piano over here, the stage enamel red

you just paid ten dollars admission

includes one drink

it’s New York City!

I know, Cornelia Street

 

the whole show is poets

their host a willow slender Lauren Bacall

ten poets, a diverse community

gracefully improving the silence for five minutes each

or banging shamelessly against the bars of time itself

plus open

 

 

 

MCBRIDE VIADUCT

 

it’s 2017, get with it

Trump in the White House

wolves are feeding

 

closer to home, mostly inertia

big money deals grinding like glaciers

 

most people don’t have enough time

to imagine a future

 

McBride Viaduct

its entrance, a banner

Welcome To The Bridge

an elevated walkway

height is exciting

 

serious businesses, some quite flush

the very example of a going concern

others, opportunities for an art project

 

trains a big part

the heart of the purpose for the bridge

carry us safely over the tracks

you can’t get much safer than this bridge

imagine a grandstand to watch the trains

concessions, bathrooms

 

a linear theme park to Industry

past, present, yet to come

 

 

ENJOY THE SHOW

 

what could be better

than in the bar, a special bar

an entertainment venue

people come from miles around

all to dig the crazy sound

 

including you, your sounds

yours a small part

small enough to allow you to contemplate the afternoon

at a low level of fright, low fright level

big enough to bring you to the stage

 

dream life, a participant observer

observing the heavyweights, the other players

liking the structure of the presentation

pressing a button with the thumb of your heart

dumb with grief it’s not television

 

a lovely linear display of beers the row of taps

distinctive food and robust coffee steps away

poetry to fill your ears until the music starts

you know you could stay all day

 

 

 

GRATITUDE

1.

distant mountains, orange sky

closer in, dashboard, console, cupholder

you're driving, that vain liquid rattle

a medium Mr. Misty as empty as the highway west

 

you won’t throw the cup out the window

once you would never think to not throw the cup out the window

what year is it?

 

2.

outside, the city swarms you

high-walled tenements in every direction

narrow alleys deep with black-haired men

you’ve been dreaming again

 

3.

an unreliable narrator

the poetry stage our opportunity to pretend

you rise from your miserable yet beloved mattress

wrap your loins in a complicated way with cloth

approach the little balcony and stand

soundtrack filling with a rising wailing

a tremendous thumping of drums

 

 

 

TRUMPET

 

on such moody days

I like to play the trumpet

standing alone with my horn

outside, under the roof of the bare porch

patio furniture stowed in the basement

 

I like the gray sky, the bare trees

the dreary dripping drizzle

a hiss from tires once in a while

street mostly empty

 

see me standing on the porch

it’s a brick house with a black roof

I’m wearing jeans and a sweater

 

I bring the trumpet to my lips

clank the keys, work the spit valve

pretty soon the honks and squawks

tentative at first, find their groove

 

hear my music, soon so blue

voice to a weather of sadness

entertaining the neighbors and you

notes crying like the rain

bent with the pain of returning to silence

 

 

 

PREPOSTEROUS

 

Jinx, all it takes

say a name, identify a gender

unless you get stuck at gender

skin color, oddly critical

age, in relation to yours

maybe a few weeks older than you

 

Jinx, her historical context

present at the beginning

first responders find their voice

education detrimental, like Mao said

a casino developer buys the White House

what could possibly go wrong?

 

Jinx, thick hair dark to her shoulders

fair skin, maroon shift

bent over a record album

flipping it for more Billie Holiday

lifts her head, looks your way

 

 

HEY, HIGHWAY

 

hey, highway

hey, master of my future

we’re all a dream

 

you're a gift

your ability, some say loyalty

your sad history

in the context of timelessness

how long is it anyway?

 

you can’t move

you can’t even talk

if I seem angry

do not go gentle into that good night

 

hey, highway

we’re all on a journey

 

   

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        THE PITTSBURGHER

 

R. Crumb, cartoon artist

imagine a comic book, R. Crumb the author

all about a rooming house, its denizens

 

a big honking yellow sagging rooming house

its front a face, two windows smiling eyes

a tilted sign, The Pittsburgher

 

The Pittsburgher, at the far end to a long row

beachfront cottages on the shore of a big northern lake

warm enough to visit three months a year

 

The Pittsburgher, backed by a wooded bluff

a thin stream pouring over shale ledges toward the big lake

a footbridge crossing the thin stream, then the beach

 

all this setting established in just several panels

two guests pictured in a second-floor room

a man and a woman, antic seniors

 

see how big their eyes are! their index fingers wagging!

him kicking oversized brogans, her swinging a calico dress

the two dancing to a phonograph record

 

lettered names point at them with little arrows

he Dr. Natural

she Mistletoe

 

next room, numbered 7

a younger man with wild hair, wild black hair

his ear pressed to a glass pressed to the wall

 

across the hall, a narrow hall

hung with pictures of cannibals and sinking ships

in number 6, a lady, her name Crimson Singsong

 

we know she’s a lady as she wears a crown

a radio playing from a shelf behind her

short lines around the speakers indicating sound

 

Crimson Singsong writing a list

she holds the list up to us

a list of what she won’t miss

 

downstairs, three scruffy urchins jump on one bed

the next room empty

the next room a man opening a can of beans

 

we know it’s beans as the label reads BEANS

the next room the office

a frowning man in an undershirt at a computer

 

the man takes a broom, bangs the handle at the ceiling

outside more characters, standing around tables

even more characters at the beach, sitting on towels

 

in the sky, above the lake, a biplane drags a sign

the sign reads NOW IS SUMMER

the people on the beach applaud

 

 

 

THE WORLD’S SMARTEST CITIES

 

Tibet? the cities of Tibet?

the closest I’ve been to Tibet is the Hopi Villages

people behind tall parapets

regarding great distances

 

London is smart, I’ve been to London

perhaps Beijing, or whatever city is the New York of China

the smartest city

maybe San Francisco? Buenos Aires?

 

a capital, beyond politics

the top of a mountain

visible from the stage of a narrow theatre

the theatre filled with enraptured ecstatics

clutching their tickets

uptown a television studio

maybe New Delhi, everybody murmuring

 

Nairobi must be a smart city

imagine the poetry of Nairobi

 

the poetry of Moscow

smart requires topshelf accomplishment

the human equivalent of Niagara Falls

many of that, everybody living their part

the grand style, bells ringing, people shouting

wagons banging through the streets

 

 

SO URBAN

 

snow on the sidewalk

the sidewalk white

a white path through the white snow

one shovel wide

 

night in the city

bright night, bright city

streetlight shine on the white snow sidewalk

 

welcome to the top

this podium, that sign

our friends all over the world

 

snow is real, snow is reality

here at the top we live with snow

here snow has fallen

thus the snow-path sidewalk

 

ahead, a bar, Malarkey's

the word BEER in neon red letters

 

across the street, at the corner

the neighborhood gas station

an outpost of retail, my destination

 

the top, right here

Everest to our Himalaya

 

next block a park

dark with night, bright with moonlight

a cloudy sky over the traffic light, the black trees

 

the buildings, their porches, the snow, the sidewalk

walk the white path

 

 

 

THEY CALL IT POETRY

 

line one

a poetry club

location adds weight

I like standing

it’s stand-up poetry

 

take two

location, a river crossing

you're driving, the last two miles descending

some of those hairpins

awesome

 

even here, familiar room

one false move and you’re all gone

every audience a tiger

every note spoken another hunk of meat

bloody chunks thrown to your imagination, eat them

 

location, the top of the mountain

a green summit, valleys packed with cloud

empty sky to the sun and the stars

an elevated perspective, serious and funny

some green mountains made of money

 

not every audience is critical

insert here a comment about Jesuits, their students

a next line suggesting participation

dissolve the barrier of this page

clap hands, encourage applause

 

 

 

SICILIAN HERITAGE

 

both my paternal grandparents born in Sicily

an American, with an American mother

I share Sicilian heritage

 

to look at me you might not guess

Spanish comes oddly natural to me

I have been taken for Filipino and Jew

my hair dark but that hair straight

my hide barely swarthy

no angle to my face

see my features, all rounded

what is Sicilian anyway? a crossroads island

perhaps ancestors Norman or Moor

 

I have the personality of an inward people

observing the action in the sundrenched piazza

from cool shadows, rarely rowdy

unless with a herd watching Twenty Cartoons

friendly with crickets and burros

today we call these tendencies autistic

 

I wonder about other people

the Sicilians themselves, my cousins

exotic in their purity of breeding

attentive, gentle, on occasion emitting loud noises

preoccupied with agriculture, dentistry, music

but also the others, I wonder about them, the non-Sicilians

am I the bull in their china shop?

 

the English I guess

those neighbors prominent in their high place

as if I were a sailboat to hove into their view

would they find my bark rude?

 

another pezzonovante

my life complete just west of the Allegheny Mountains

the interior of my dwelling place so tastefully painted

just contemplating the wall colors

rum brown, firefly green

leaves a person pleasantly stoned

whilst outside all four seasons of which we are so proud

 

 

 

SPECIALTY CONVENTION

 

1.

bland choices are best

a name arrives without any effort

 

a human shape approaching from shadow

suggests your wife and in bright light

the person resembles your father-in-law

 

you turn away in dreams

from what you turned away in life

 

2.

I learn myself through my knowledge gaps

sleeplessness, gender dysphoria, ADHD

anxiety developing relentlessly

suggesting I return to the room maybe

or take a long ride on a trolley

my opportunity nay duty

leaving the audience, taking the podium

still kinda far but ever closer

 

I like it here in California

last night I dreamed an earthquake

speaking of dreams sometimes my words

some words take their own shape, saying them

sounded out to other ears, even the air

no matter how I hear those words

 

it takes an Irishman to find the blues

the afterparty taking shape already

everywhere around the world

poets anticipate their turn

living in the present moment

sharing their place with you and silence

 

3.

stay classy, San Diego

I am enriched having met you

your knockout airport

your lovely bay, its big ships

their stacks disconcerting on the move

 

the grand hotel, please accept my deep appreciation

for elevators without televisions

 

spectacular dorm

filled with my annual friends

the same one friend at the beginning and the end

the friends I only thought I spotted

the friends I left at the bar

 

your stage, specialty society, while small, did work

the audience attentive, responsive

the weather clement

perhaps the children experienced a measurable uptick in wellness

here is my song for you

 

 

 

COFFEE SERVICE

 

not my first rodeo, the S.S. Llewellen

400-foot lake freighter

hauling a load of windmill blades to Ashtabula

I’ve been sailing these lakes all my life

 

one of the better berths

this position, my position, cook

the ship is sound and so’s the crew

I like to visit the bridge, tending the coffee service

always a bold roast, sometimes a second offering

 

the mate prefers tea, I can do tea too

a great mate, he’s reliable, with a nice sense of humor

Captain has confidence in him

they share their view of our course

sometimes perilous, steep gray breakers

sometimes tight through locks

 

the engineer a jolly sort

likes to join us, takes sugar

a broad cat, the girth of a Jerry Garcia

had Jerry lived, the engineer squeezes

up ladders and passages to make the bridge

determined to gift us with his incorrigible blarney

 

the radioman is a woman

at least I think she’s a woman

she keeps her hair pulled back, severely

dresses in uniform, with pants

and goes by the indeterminate moniker, Sparks

maybe it’s me, my need for her womanhood

 

the Captain, I’ve saved Captain for last

not the most animated character in our teakwood cabin

just the opposite, calm is his thing

helming with a steady hand, the snarkiest of weather

sometimes as we sail Captain seems so at peace

I can almost hear music

 

 

 

WE STAND ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS

 

slot the words into a proper order

every line with its own personality

some lines especially stunning or spilling over

to the next line, a little surprise but all the lines

measured, drumming their little songs

 

the presence of an alphabet supports the hypothesis

civilization precedes our consciousness

 

 

 

EMPIRE SERVICE

 

this train picking up speed

sometimes slows

 

we passengers amuse ourselves

a lady chases her runaway daughter

my seat-mate keeps his bag close

I post and text message

 

sometimes I write into my pocket notebook

now my notebook stays in its pocket

 

always the view, so compelling

looking away a little sin

less a sin during the slow parts I guess

but that’s when one can really look

 

I like when we travel faster

rock and rattle, rock and roll

I am nothing if not about being on time

and I am also foolish

so very foolish,

our destination will arrive soon enough