Showing posts with label Poetry Month. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Poetry Month. Show all posts

21 April, 2017

Letting loose the Gonzo: the baboon formerly known as a civilized man

GonzoFest 2017 was a wonderful experience, in spite of the fact that I remembered everything I needed but somehow managed to forget my copies of the poems I'd prepared to perform. 

It's true I was nervous. I wasn't sure how large the audience would be. Then again, I've performed in front of audiences ranging between one and 100 or more, in venues ranging from open mics to Moth Story Slam stages, to bars full of drunk post-punk Gen Xers and newly non-bearded hispters looking for a new craft brew experience. I've read in front of church marms and firebrand preachers and people who, in another world, might be considered saints, as well as some others who embrace the truth that we are all sinners.

But lately, I've taken a different approach to taking the stage. Regardless of whether I'm performing with a music soundtrack or reading poems, whether they are written to be performed or written to be read (and yes, there's a difference), I've decided that it's better to be confident than it is to be humble. I've known some fine poets who stand up and exude supreme calm and supreme humility, and supreme confidence. When I'm being honest, though, I'm not that calm patrician poet who can charm the audience and let the words roll forth like thunder.

Poetry, for me, is lightening. Poetry is an epic baptismal flood. Poetry is a god damn holy fire. And while I hold some poets in high regards who can carry the day with gravitas and civilized restraint, the fact is that there as many different kinds of poets as their poems. 

And while I have tried to become something like a member of civilized society, the fact is that somewhere along the way, I lost the part of me that might have been able to embrace a completely socialized life. It's not even that I was ever NOT socially awkward. But the fact is, somewhere underneath all of it, there was something else. 

Poetry -- and the arts in general -- do help civilizations be more cultured, kind, and heartfelt. However, when poetry -- and the arts in general -- takes hold of a person, it's more akin to demon possession. There's very little surety in art. You're constantly bombarded with different ideas and different people and different cultural pushes, all of which act to influence you, your art, and your vision. To be an artist is to be comfortable in uncertainty and to be willing to embrace mysteries. It means following your own bad advice sometimes, if only so you can make it out on the other side and write about it.

I was lucky at GonzoFest because I was able to ask my wife to run home and get them. But when it was time to take the stage, I knew there was no room uncertainty.  I was rattled. I was entirely too sober. And I was worried that my first live performance using a music track would fall as flat like a flat-earther's science test score. 

But since I've come to terms some of the more unsavory parts of my character, I've found it easier to let go of my nerves. You take in enough demons and you end up becoming one... or partially one. 

The part of me I lost, the part of me I never found, the part of me that, was maybe never there to begin
with, filled up with poetry.  Or, at least, with something that may feed my need to write and chase poetry like a rabid baboon.

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04 April, 2016

Poem Draft: Baptism in the Nose Bleeds

Hope rises expectant on Opening Day.
Last season’s transgressions are forgiven.
For a moment, we are wide-eyed.
For a moment, we are in love with the scent of a well-oiled leather mitt.
For a moment we are eager to knock off old dirt
and silence everything
except the welcome canticles of beer and hotdog vendors.
For a moment we shut out the prognostications of cynical game announcers.
For a moment unbelievers pray the Yankees don’t buy another pennant
and the faithful prepare to have their faith justified
or risk persecution by the All-Star Break.
For a moment all our digital distractions disappear –
politicians and their polished shit soliloquys are shushed
and all the noble rivalries rise to the surface.
You judge your friends by whether they watch the Cubs or the White Sox
and if they know Tom Seaver’s number
and if they embrace the dream of seeing Pete Rose in Cooperstown.
For a moment
the day, the hour, the minute, and the weight of all the ages past
rest upon whether that first pitch and the sound of the ball hitting the bat.

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04 April, 2011

A Baboon Ponders the Spring

Fish out of water. The river is flooded.
Tornadoes tearing up the plain states
and the cats are fighting and yowling
between lightening strikes. Luckily
we live on a hill and the water
won't reach us, though the wind rattles
the house and shakes the spring birds
and budding leaves out of the not
quite awake magnolia tree. Weatherman
breaks into programing, apologizing
and telling us there's nothing to worry about
nothing at all. Last week,
they had the kids out of school
filling sand bags to hold back
the groaning and the spilling
of the Earth, the cracking and shifting
under trees without deep roots. Asian carp
jumping, breaking records over
the piles of sand bags along the river.
There is no accounting of time
and no reckoning of the river
and no point in waiting
for the magnolia tree to blossom
or for the wind to die down.

These things happen
on their own.  

03 April, 2011

When They Say The Damnedest Things

People will talk to you like that
just because they assume
you're a relatively new arrival
on Main Street means
you haven't lived anywhere else
and haven't seen anyplace else
and that somehow, the people here
in this particular place, are unique
on a planet harboring 9 billion souls
trampling depleted soil
and fucking like rabbits
to make more people
because children are the future
of social security … in addition to
being the ones who will fix
all of our mistakes, and the ones
who will pay for all of our sins –
unless, of course, they learn from us
and (as we'd prefer) deify us
after we're dead
and absolve us in their memories.

It's not that you're wrong, they say; it's only that
you don't understand (and couldn't possibly
since your parents aren't buried on Boot Hill)
and it might just be better
to leave these things
to the people who know better –
or at the very least, the people
who's families we have known
our entire lives and who
we don't mind belittling since
we knew them when they were in diapers...
which will rob any man of his dignity
whether he deserves it or not. But you,
you see, we don't know
the measure of you and we have nothing
to hold over you and when you speak
you speak like someone
who isn't one of us
and who never will be –
though your kids might have a shot.  

30 April, 2010

Day 30: More than This

More days pass
and I notice
my beard
is going white
and my eyes
are a tired blue
and the world around me
is bloated with rust and rot
and terminal indigestion;
and even though I am not
a man of faith I understand
why it is that rape victims
and drunks and junkies
hope for a higher power –
because if there’s nothing
then we’re all fucked
and there’s nothing to do
but wait for that moment
when our heads empty
and our fractured souls drain
and that silence found only
between the notes of a symphony
or in a hospital room when an old woman dies
falls upon us

and we can relax
and leave the interpretations
to others.

[This is the last poem of my semi-random Poem a Day to Celebrate Poetry Month event. It's been nice to just focus on poetry again; and even though some of the results turned out better than others, I still feel like poetry is, for me, The First Form. It's the one I've been doing the longest and the one I am the most comfortable in. Poetry, unlike any other form, can do so much with so little.]

29 April, 2010

Day 29:Record of a Death Rattle

I sat with her while she died
talking to her
more than I ever did
when she was alive
while the shallow breathing slowed
and the raspy moans sank
back into her lungs.
Meanwhile, the machines
recorded her progress
bleeping and beeping and buzzing –
and I was (for a moment)
envious of that last morphine shot she got
because the pain she was leaving behind
and her daughter’s mourning was more
than I knew how to address.

28 April, 2010

Day 28: One More Public Service Announcement

On the occasion of his first DUI, Rusty ran his ’87 Mercury off the road, just over the hill out of town. He totaled the car and the Dr. had to cut open his skull to relieve the pressure on his brain. He lost his license for six months and developed a slight speech impediment, being unable to speak sound of the letter “x.”

On the occasion of his second DUI, Rusty was barreling home from Shyte’s Bar in his brand new red pick-up when he lost control coming over the hill just out of town. He swerved to miss a church choir bus, and flipped his truck. He shattered his back in 20 places and popped the distinctive mole on the tip of his nose that lent him so much beauty. He also lost his license for a year and had to stay in traction for 36 months.

On the occasion of his death, Rusty had learned his lesson and stayed at home to drink. He stumbled out on the back porch to piss and fell into a large briar bush. He bled out almost immediately when he tried to remove the briars from his limp prick. But before he died, a loose sliver of bone in his back shifted and dug into his spine, paralyzing him from the waist down.

His end was thought merciful and provident by the entire community.

27 April, 2010

Day 27:Extrapolation on a Statement Overhead in a Dive Bar

Give me back the grand delusion and let me be whole again.

I heard the old man speak and his tired blue eyes locked onto mine. I was completely unaware that the familiarity of his face should have alarmed me. He was one more of the wandering herd; the lost; the ignored; the irrelevant. He was one of those people I would give money to when I had it and who I would drink with when I didn’t. The thing most people don’t know and wouldn’t want to understand if they did know is this: every man only has a name when he talks to his mother or his wife, if he is lucky. The truth is that we gave up our names when we bought into the dream taught by American History textbooks and by preachers and by Wall Street Financiers. Verily I say: none of it matters. Because even though we are given names when we are born, people will label us for themselves and call us what they want, and those judgments carry over regardless of how far from the places of our births we roam. The moment we take back the power to name ourselves is the moment we are dead to the world; and while all the prestidigitating preachers got most of it wrong, there is one certain thing. Only in death are we complete.

And by the time I knew him by his blue eyes, he was lost in a crowd of laughter and of forgetfulness.

26 April, 2010

Day 25 and Day 26

Freedom – Poem 1

the axioms don’t match out
when you unravel them
cat style, like a big ass
ball of yarn (like in those
cartoons you watched
as a kid before you realized
that all you’d ever
really learn you got
between commercials)

instead of truths
we were given
mislabeled canned goods
and told it was freedom
when really
it was expired creamed corn – yet
when we complained
all we got in return
was a sad smile
a knowing nod
and another expired can
in which there was a career
we were told to do
it was what our parents did
and their parents before them
and it was unwise to ask why

and when the canned goods
ceased to satisfy
we were told
to resort to scripture –
abridged and edited
for someone else’s benefit
and told
to settle down
to buy a house
to have children
and pay our taxes

and when all that was done
we were told we were to wait
for an obscure obituary
in the back page of a small town paper
no one bothers to read because
everybody knows everybody’s business
the day before it runs

and when they throw the dirt atop our corpse
and all our loved ones mourn us
and leave plastic flowers
and forget
there was once a time
when all that mattered
was that we were alive
for one more sunrise
(and it was glorious)

and then
we will be left
reduced to one more axiom
for a hebephrenic preacher
who wants to spread
his fear of life in favor
of an empty hope for heaven

Freedom – Poem 2

When did I
buy into
all this

24 April, 2010

Day 24: (Only)

Once I met man who swore he could show me Truth.
Once I met a woman who tried to school me in her definition of Beauty.
Once I read a book that made me feel like a fool.
Once I kissed a girl and have never forgotten her face.
Once I had a mentor who would not let me revere him.
Once I had a father who would not share his stories.
Once my heart was broken; I didn’t notice until it was too late.
Once I wrote a perfect poem in invisible ink and lost it.
Once I felt the cohesive nature of the universe – but then I blinked.
Once I thought I discovered Truth but it had no Beauty in it.
Once I dreamed I died. Once I dreamed I was alive.
Once I fell in love and I love her still.

23 April, 2010

Day 23: Two Split Seconds


On insomniac nights
in Northern Illinois
when all the streets
are rolled up and put
away even the stars
have enough sense
to stay home.


During a late spring rain
with rolling off the window
I’m standing on the porch
smoking and enjoying
the lingering scent
of April storm clouds.

22 April, 2010

Day 22: The Valley Out Of The Boy

Though it has been
better than five years
since I last walked your streets
I know them without having
to see them or feel them
under my feet. This is not
a sense of belonging
so much as a sense
of definition—
like that childhood game
picking the picture
which does not belong
knowing without being told
I am the object
I am looking for.

For years I blamed you.
I blamed doctors. I blamed classmates
who seemed less isolated
who were not bound up
with the same silence that has always
plagued me. I blamed
the multitude of churches
and their preachers of impossible perfection;
I blamed the narrow streets and endless cornfields
that first etched themselves on my eyelids
during long hours riding my bike and
wandering fields full of tall grass
I was forbidden to enter.

The truth is while I can no more
call you home than I can
remove myself from the picture
and I know there is no grand homecoming
and that the broken streets
and pulpits and back roads
have forgotten me
you outline the edges of the thing
I have always lacked—
that sense of belonging which comes
from knowing your place in the universe
that easiness which abuses memory
and confuses nostalgia with gravity
and fools people into believing
that the urge to flee
is nothing more than a dream
for children who are too young
to know the fear and the glory
of an uncertain sunrise.

21 April, 2010

Day 21 and a bonus short

Etiquette in the Digital Age

Somewhere around an hour before blacking out
I would become inspired
lock myself in my room
and call every single person I knew
because I had become convinced
they were not real—
that I had made them up
imagined them in the middle of some
psychotic defense mechanism
against the isolation I’d felt

from the age of three
when I woke up in a hospital
locked in an oxygen bubble
and which I’d managed to embrace
except for those moments
when the beer was gone
and the bowl was cashed
and the whiskey bottle
was nearly empty and
none of it felt real. The walls
the bed the desk the phone
all melting through dissolute fingers
and falling through
the gradually dissipating floorboards
and into the center of the evaporating earth
while the oxygen decomposed in my lungs

leaving what little was left of me
to implode in a starless vacuum void.

Maybe I just needed to hear the sound of my own voice
so I could be convinced of my own existence;
so I could know I hadn’t just
made myself up too;
that my entire life wasn’t just
one long breakdown – which

if I had known then
the things I know now
I would have embraced
instead of dragging my feet
in the name of some textbook definition
of what it means to be normal.

These days
no one answers the phone
and so
I send desperate
and repetitive
email dispatches
the same old conversations
until I am left
with no one to type to
because there is no humanity
in an LCD screen
except for a lonely programmer’s
hyperreality version
of that girl from high school
who never gave him
the time of day.

BONUS SHORT: Back Page Item

After the paper came out, Denise sat in her cell and decided on her course of action. Everyone knew, anyway. Everyone always knew everything before the paper came out on Wednesday; but they never knew enough, and what people didn’t know, they made up. All anybody would see was that she had been arrested. No one would be surprised. And no one would bother to listen, either.

Denise liked Sheriff Cleary because he was an old man who still looked at women as the weaker sex and in need of protection. Even when he was forced to arrest one he made sure they were as comfortable as possible. He let her have the starched white bed sheets to put on her bunk, let her keep the toilet seat, and even put a little chair in the cell to give her someplace else to sit. The only other thing in the cell was a rusty sink and an old Gideon’s Bible. Pages were missing and what pages were left was covered with obscene drawings.

She knew if it were up to deputies Marty and Erle, she would have had none of those things. She knew them and knew what they were like. They weren’t men like Cleary. They were like what men had become. Men who saw women as either fuckable or as marriage material, but not both. And both of them had, in their time, fucked her. They fucked her the same way their fathers had fucked her mother in that small apartment above the old laundromat. They fucked her because she was just a townie whore. That was how you treated a townie whore.

That she had been defending herself wouldn’t matter. It wouldn’t matter to the judge, who had fucked her mother and had once offered a then 15 year old Denise extra to let him fuck her, too. It wouldn’t matter to the prosecutor who wouldn’t leave her alone even after she married Jeremy and bore two sons. You can take the whore out of town, he told her, but you can’t take the whore out of a whore. It wouldn’t matter to her Public Defender, who was also an evangelical minister that believed she was an evil sinner. All that mattered was that she’d kicked the shit out of Jeremy when he came home drunk and angry and wanting to beat her until she bled again; and she had done it while his young sons watched. And in spite of all the humiliations heaped upon her in front of her sons by Jeremy, to cause a son to lose respect for his father was the greater sin.

She made sure the noose was tight and she hoped the starched white sheets would support her weight. As she kicked herself off, she hoped there was a God and that he would watch over her sons. She also hoped for the sake of her unborn daughter that God wasn’t like the men he’d created in his image.

20 April, 2010

Day 19 and Day 20 Poems

Day 19: I in the Universe

I am not as strong
and the dirt is not as soft
as I would like. My hands
haven’t the calluses
of other men,
and I am old enough
to learn my limitations. But
I am still enough of a man
enough the son
of my father
enough the grandson
of my grandfathers
to move forward understanding
that the world was not created
by knowing but by billions
of small cataclysmic errors,
each of which began
with the rising of the sun.

Day 20: Epigram #1

When human beings have finally destroyed themselves
and the cockroaches take over,
will they birth artists, or will they eat what we leave behind,
then shit it out and call it divine influence?

18 April, 2010

Day 18:Definitive Paraphrases

1. Twigs-n-berries
Some’s got more and
some’s got less, but
everybody’s got something
even if some’s got more
than others.

(old woman sitting at the bar)

2. City vs. Small town

In a city (at least)
they’ll just shoot you
and take your money;
but here
they’ll kidnap you
and lock you up
in the basement.

(anonymous new resident)

17 April, 2010

Day 17: Official Reminiscence

       They said:
he was a happy child
so far as we knew. He
smiled a lot and was
open with strangers; he
held doors open
for little old ladies
at church and always
gave the right answers
when someone asked him
a question and he never
spoke out of turn. A bit
too round, maybe, and he
never could hit a baseball
or run all that fast; but
that was because he
watched too much TV
and read too many books
when he should’ve been
outside playing with kids
his own age. But still, he was
a good sweet boy. And then
one day he just stopped
smiling – though he still opened
doors for the little old ladies
at church and he said very little;
but when he did speak
he would ask questions and use
big words that he’d read in
those big books he carried with him.
And when he didn’t get an answer
that suited him, he would still
open doors for little old ladies,
but there was a look in his eyes
that could pass for disrespect.

That was when it became clear
the boy would come to no good
because nothing good comes from a boy
who can’t play baseball.

16 April, 2010

Day 16:Vernal

I imagine every beginning
is like this one:
stumbling out of slumber
and into a faint light,
like the start of a symphony
or that moment before the punch line
of the joke. There is no world
until the coffee pot is finished brewing
and until I am able to light my first cigar
and sit down with all my words
and the calming silence
between the tick tock of the clock
locked away upstairs
while outside, the early risers
begin chasing dogs, starting lawn mowers,
waiting for the mail, eating, shitting,
complaining about this or that or
some other damn thing. My next door neighbor
the retired postman works on his lawn,
prepares for the work that will come
tomorrow, and is finished
before the hottest part of the day. On good days
I separate myself from the noise and forget
its source and I can close my eyes
and somewhere
between the tick tocking
and the roar of distant lawn tractors,
and the wind whispering
through the magnolia blossoms,
and the twittering of birds
building nests. And by the time
my cigar is finished
and the coffee cup is empty,
I can open my eyes
and tell myself
that it is good.

15 April, 2010

Day 15: SASE

Paying the postage for my rejections
is the last in a long list of random humiliations
heaped upon me by editors who,
because I am not friends
with their sister-in-law’s cousin’s gay lover,
probably didn’t read my story
to begin with – but instead,
gave it to an intern
who still believes
her Contemporary Lit Professor
is the last word on literary merit;
even though he probably got a PhD
because he knew enough to know
he lacked the imagination to write
and that it was easier
to deconstruct the work
of larger minds
possessing bigger balls
than his entire list
of professional publications
can pretend to.

14 April, 2010

Day 14: Digital Immigrants

When there is no other
easy option we will panic
and turn on one another
and worry when there is
no point because
that is what we have been raised
to do. In spite of all my barbaric yawps
the universe does not change
and neither do we; but
the futility of the situation
is no more a deterrent
than all the abject fears
we learned watching television
in the age before cable.

13 April, 2010

Day 13: Public Works

The magnolia tree in side yard
is blooming and the garbage
is set out on the curb. I will know
when the truck comes
when the house shakes
and the cats yowl
and attack one another.
The magnolia tree will do nothing,
continue to sprout flowers,
take in the sunshine, blow pollen
through open windows
that I will not dare close.