Song of the Flatlands

•September 11, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Song of the Flatlands
For Idaho, and for Kansas

Listen, City,

Listen. Can you hear us? We are here,
in the slow rain of eighteen-wheeler tread,
in cricket din, the tallgrass thicket whipping
like a brushfire eats, Listen, the morning sweats
its birds, the jet trails are a music hanging by its wire
in the sky, which we see all of, day and night.

Listen: This is where they make soldiers.
This is where your trash is buried,
this is where we keep your stars.
Listen: terrible beehive of the wind farm
distant rifle, cuckooing backfired pickups,
Listen, your metrocard is useless here
your impeccable shoes impractical
to step and feel the wet seep in your toes
this is where water comes from, where it goes.

Listen: The wind is killing something in the snow
and it’s alright. This is where blood eats blood.
Where all the wild things are. Listen:
There is nothing to tune in for, no vital
capital in streets, no ghosts for miles.
This here country is bully pulpit for the Lord.
Listen: the derricks sigh like seesaws in a
steel ball-bearing lilt. This is where oil comes from.
Where wood comes from the ground. We are born and we die
just paces on, but when we go we must go far—

and usually on wheels. This is where people manage
on what wisdom they inherit, on what words are washed and washed
and still can be made to seem new. This is where new things go
when they’re tired. Listen: can you hear
all of the distance to the shore? Nothing can touch us here,
save tragedies to which we are accustomed. This is where
television goes when feeling guilty, or ashamed. This is where
everything you ever ate was born.

City, these days you have three neighbors
out of every four. We are the few now,
and we’re having trouble getting on. This is where
nobody asks us much just what we think, anymore.
In case you wondered, this is where all that Budweiser’s sold.
Listen, City: were we to quit, to just set down
and rust, you wouldn’t be long for this world.
But we bet you can’t say the same. Listen:
we know that we have sinned. Even our children
run from us, even in health our numbers dwindle.

But we buy. God willing, we buy and we’ll keep on
buying till we get what you have promised us, fulfillment.
Fill us up. City, can oh can you can hear the world
not of your making here? Isn’t it queer? Listen:
it wants to live and to consume, just like we do,
but somehow what’s consumed in wilderness is soon
reborn. Which aisle is that in your mathematics?

Listen: We are not our hats. We are afraid so vastly more
than you: of change, of loneliness, of losing what we worked
so hard to make our own. Listen: you will not hear the sound
of easy millions. You will not hear the promises of teachers or professors.
What you’ll hear are fathers shouldering their burdens
onto sons, and daughters dashing hopes like unmanned ships
upon the reefs of marriage. Listen:

What you’ll hear are mewling cows knocked, bled and quartered,
custom tailpipes, hungry children smacked around. What you’ll hear
are coyotes, grain belts, kids smack talking beneath booming echoes
as they’re walking down the corn. The chatty wind, the skittish tress.
You will, most of all, hear us wanting, getting, building, killing,
spending up our lives by quarters in a jukebox turned way down.
Even so, we don’t know who you are either, and we don’t give two shakes.


On Botched Rescues

•August 26, 2013 • Leave a Comment

On Botched Rescues

Downtown, a nameless fireman in bronze rises
out of a marble plinth, a child clutched in his clobbered, burnished paws
just like an airline seat cushion braced for flotation.
Her cotton nightie and her flaxen tresses unsinged
but as black as fresh-bought charcoal under
the canopy of her apish savior’s rubber hat
hitched brow-low to empediment a stoic, dust-bowl face
that stares ahead in mulish flabbergast.

Of course, he doesn’t know yet
she is dead, already gone to embers in the conflagration
we don’t see, because that is not what is remembered,
storied night of witnessed uniform manifesting from smoke
leaden with something precious, carrying some tiny angel
from a certain death into one of a lesser certainty—
all anyone remembers are the rescues, threshold, the rare
coming out alive that gilts and smothers all the failures.

And on occasion, even those rescues were a half-truth.
And it is like that with most things,
the stories we retell that weren’t ours to begin with,
gifts thrown out, the promised time we finally set aside
when it’s too late, the love we try to drag out of the burning houses
that we are to one another, just like this fire fighter
carrying his hollow, heat-forged shell of girl
out of the monument we’ve made for him,
making a space to lay down
in the marbled mausoleum of our memory.


8/2013, Saint Louis

For Thomas Young

•April 8, 2013 • Leave a Comment

For Thomas Young, and for the Iraq war veterans who will kill themselves today

(According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, about 22 veterans committed suicide each day in 2010) 

Strong boy, who would have thought
a bullet could eviscerate the will
to live, even without a killing. The loss
of muscle tonus in the tongue,
the anus, Pubococcygeus, and suddenly
all of your manhood starts to pour out of you
like a thrown water balloon or pitching tumblerfull
of blood. For what? Have you made safe your mother?
Freed the enslaved? Halted advancing menace?

As always, death tolls are a shell game, but at very least
110,000 were smashed between the wheels
of Tigress and Euphrates, and we shipped home 32,200
wounded. The dead are eulogized; how do we mourn the living?

I grieve your eager conscription to dust,
the Kansas City years fomenting your revenge
so that two days after the towers fell you found
the vessel for your rage, and in that vehicle five days
after you touched down Sadr City, found the lead
into your spine, where it would sink you, nine years deep.
You came to exact retribution, and left as a living tribute
to the salivating gods of Pennsylvania Ave. This year, that sacrifice
finally coming to your end. You smoke in bed, delirious with pain,
the little tube that feeds you pulled out in a mercy
which the world can almost hear, like the skirting
of savage storms which lap up this house, that house,
smashing them to flotsam in the county seat,
while we are spared in sunlight’s streaming.
Where are our girls and boys unlockstepped?
Are they afraid as they sleep in their beds?

Soon, we will have your funeral to attend and attend to.
I guess the lesson is, the body can brook mighty bedlam,
but not for no good purpose. May your shambled body be
an inspiration in its failure, just as it was in its prime.

Back to consciousness..

•February 4, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Dear readers,

You may have noticed that this blog has gone all but defunct since 2011, roughly around the time that I left for Haiti, where I worked in agricultural development. I have since returned, not only from Haiti, but to the US as well, and have decided to pick up where I left off. Of course, I wrote a fair number of poems since last updating this site, but I will start by posting a few select pieces from the period of my hiatus, as well as new pieces to keep me honest. I’d like to start with a love poem, which I think is really the best way to rekindle just about anything. Here’s to the rekindled. I hope you enjoy. As always, feedback is appreciated.

This new day
for S.

I can’t promise
that I will always show you your best self
I am the silvered mirror, quick to tarnish.
I can’t promise my hive of words
will always give up honey, easy.

I can’t promise that we will never grow apart,
like the paired tips of a young albatross’ wings
But I can promise I will always fold back to you at day’s end
and I can promise that even in flight
we’ll share one heart, a path over the waves.

I can’t promise that you will always love me as I love you
but if I find my love ascending past your own, I vow
to turn and offer up a hand, the way you did for me
as we scrambled up the slick grey brow of California
to survey the depth of love’s or water’s power
from above.

I promise that I’ll learn to share a fifth tongue,
beyond the two that we both speak, and the two
of our bodies, which are nearly fluent now.
I have one more I’ll give like an inheritance,
and yours I’ll chase like a departing train,
if you can wait.

And I promise that I can learn to love your mother,
if that is something that you need. And I promise
that if you’re scared of winter, you can be August’s
last crane, and I the waiting branch, this continent
or that. Take off your red bandanna. Let me wash
your hair with tears.

You once gave me a gift that now
you threaten to rescind: you taught me to forget
the feel of love lost. You taught me how to swallow
the hot marbles of expired disappointment,
and to keep them down. I cannot promise that I’ll always
keep you on your feet, but I will be your outstretched arm

during the drop. I will forgive you all the daily clumsiness
without a word. Just don’t forget that love,
like any battered dog, needs to be fed
to live, for it has lost the knack for taking
what it needs.

Sometimes our dreams betray themselves
to be so long and thin, you wonder if they could
support your weight. Please, let me hold up
one end, and you can walk the other
this new day.

NPM 15/30: Things that happen

•April 27, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Things that happen

Yesterday at the cafe
while I tapped on my laptop

a coffee spoon disfigured
in my palm. Just like that,
a goose whose neck broke in the wind.

And then a crowd congealed outside,
and sirens. Somebody’s flat
up high across the narrow street,
just a room really, up in flames.

Bystanders swelled and blocked the firemen
who were too busy shouting into radios
to shout at us

and I thought
in there is all of someone’s stuff
(it was a really tiny room)

and the waitress said
I know him, he comes here all the time
with that black dog

and from the back,
someone was screaming
for his bill, his fucking bill.

NPM 14/30: The book I bought for the girl who I am too afraid to love

•April 26, 2010 • Leave a Comment

The book I bought for the girl who I am too afraid to love

Is a field guide for this country
six wars back. Alphabetized by town, kibbutz
or by the spoils of war: by ruined village,
homestead, ancient station of the desert caravans.
Published by the army, inexplicably
“a pocket-book to get to know the land

It opens left-to-right, in the style
of our language. It is the same size as a bible,
maybe thinner, or a trammel of my mother’s
yellowed photographs. The hardcover reads simply
Every-Place cutout of black over a shade
of the crushed flesh that collects in the bottom
of the olive press. This armor could withstand
a few more decades of misplacing, rucksacking,
wedging underleg to adjust the cants of tripods
leveled in tilled fields. Six wars ahead.

It includes color, hand drawn fold-out maps
in the back pages. Topographical.
Cartographers would drool over these naked charts,
so sparsely settled, thick green line demarking
foreign lands with none of our soldiers in them.
Nineteen sixty-two, the year my mother
learned to say her country’s name.

Its paper is still crisp, the pages married neatly
with good glue, nearly a miracle of heritance.
It opens left-to-right, the way
you take your hand off of your heart.

NPM 13/30: Memorial Day, Tel Aviv

•April 19, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Memorial Day, Tel Aviv

First Siren:

Out to walk the sun away
light dripping off of
decommissioned payphones
north of Sheinkin, by the Wic office
(Hebrew equivalent) and all
the stores are shut. No cafes
to sit in, no liquor stores, no movies
and no supermarkets. No busses
or cabs. No pizza. No gas. No Aspirin.
Some guys on bicycles,
the corner schoolyards full
of ceremony, rank formations.
Everybody stands up
for just one more anthem.
Mom calls from the States,
kids play in heaps, delivery trucks
racing to finish off the day.
The siren of the fallen halts
all traffic; everyone is still
standing with hands clasped
in the street, every last citizen
around. Somewhere they mourn
our victory and tear their garments.
The TV channels all play
the same thing. War movies,
interviews with old, brave men.

Second Siren:

At work’s twelfth floor, we all take
our coffee break out on the balcony
10:55 and waiting for the wail.
The city’s heart stops, misses 120 beats,
and leaps again, an apnea of sorrow
or of thanks. The cars wait patiently
beside their drivers. Twice yearly
our enemies manage to bow the heads
of an entire nation. This is what
I would imagine it would look like
to stop time. The birds are uncooperative.
We are all cooperative, even
in death, where heroes go to become
heroes. One in every few of us is praying
for a friend, the rest for strength.