Thursday, August 24, 2006

Six quatrains for the cops who beat me

--for Marcus Benner and Richard Lilliard

The reason for my peace
Sneaks forward
Like a ten-year-old kid in the grass
Trying to catch bees.
We pass this way and that.
The woman with a womb
Like a fire is waiting for me
To come to bed.
The cool sheet was like a dream
After I was beaten. I lay soaking
On a gurney, like a wet clay figurine
Shit out by god. When I tasted my blood
I knew I was god. The sound
In my head was of a thousand
Hives honeycombed by the angriest
Of bees. And the gringo doctors
Circled this and that, what
They wanted to remove. Curled
On the edge was me, what was left
Of my soul, the deep hole
Those men had left in me. Still,
I have no anger. Every morning
I wake to kiss my son, I wake
To kiss my daughter.

Friday, August 18, 2006

 Trail 347: Manzano Foothills, 2004  

Because I can’t quite catch the last late flight
from Albuquerque, I hike its scored
riverbeds to sight the granite shelves rising
behind the town, leading me to what I see
atop the southern reaches of the Manzanos:
The range’s sharp cusp rises from the river valley
where sun lights the Chupadera and the leading edge
of La Jornada del Muerte is like a dreary sea to me.
In the town where they still make wedding gowns
from the slivered dreams of home-grown cotton
There is no light from Trinity-- the seamstress does
all she can to clothe her daughters from sunny eternity.


If I ever want to fly, I’ll cut down I-25 to the Soccoro exit,
where there are Texans driving their yellow
Cadillacs and grey Lexus SUV’s along the road to Cruces,
where a driver might see small brown snakes crossing the highway.
There’s a place along the Rio Grande serving
as an outpost for la Migra: sure, I’ve heard the stories
about how they stop anyone with straight, black hair
and how the hippy kids hide pot underneath ice and fresh fruit
pulled from the refrigerator shelves of a Safeway in Belen.
One time on the road I followed the map
to the right, trying to sight the spot marked Trinity:
all I came up with was the sudden heat of summer sun
dessicating a land of dry, bone-colored minerals
where everyone in my family chooses to be buried.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Poem for Christopher Salas, 1964-1997(?)   

From the dream world I crossed
into yours to get a haircut,
but it wasn’t that simple.
The first time I saw you was after
I had argued with the barber about
the length of my sideburns
and if such luxuries were permitted in hell.
Then you caught my eye: there you were,
sweeping cut hair of all sorts
into a black plastic dust-bin
with a handsome straw broom;
Your legs were reduced to stumps
and there was a small bump in the floor
where the hair was burnt to ash.
Otherwise, you were young and alive,
wearing a pale-blue sweater vest,
your hair neat as the barber’s son--
I was embarrassed to see you there
seemingly happy in your task
while I had nothing else to do but
leave, hoping to sweat in the cool
fall air of my real world, later,
when the sun cleared the trees.

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Saturday, August 12, 2006

Ficciones Exemplares:  

for Dev Hathaway, RIP  

I knew I wouldn’t get the job when the suitcase didn’t show up and I was left to wear a real dead man’s shirt, tie, and jacket to the interview. Well, you know what they say—when you don’t have smoke, you don’t eat. I hope that doesn’t bother you. I think its kinda like cigarettes. Without some sort of motivation, you might as well not eat. It’s not the same. Not hungry. Most definitely. So, we get into town toward dusk, and there above the southern horizon loomed the gigantic sky girdling towers of the Mid Atlantic State Power Facility—I thought back to ’78 when there had been an almost meltdown—I tried to feel any traces of the psychic fear left over from that event. The restaurant was sure crowded—as to emphasize the strangeness of my new surroundings, the place itself read like an English tavern complete with bangers and mash, fried fish, darts and serving wenches flying everywhere--
If you’ve ever read John Barth, you might recall his one novel when a loosely manic wanderer actually ends up teaching grammar at a state teachers collage in order to put some structure into his aimless life. On the other hand, yesterday in the grocery store, a woman plucking a tabloid from the counter in front of me assured me that upon looking closely at the phtos inside the NEWS, she could detect subliminal messages. I of course assured her that I had read such things before in THE CLAM-PLATE ORGY, a common book in college classrooms in the late 1970’s.
But back to the story. It was the quiet cleanliness of the town that was most noticeable: unlike the Pennsylvania coal towns north of the Cumberland Ridge, these towns did not suffer from the eternal grime of anthracite dust that had made its way into every brick, granite-surface or store-front. Yeah, there was the MAC machine across the street, and the twice-weekly newspaper, and even a Sheetz Gas Station/Sandwich shop. Yuengling on tap everywhere.
I don’t think I ever really did anything to provoke what happened next. But for some reason, I must tell you now I am not responsible for the events of 10 March at Cumberland Valley State Teachers College. The Day started like any other in my life: the need to purge my self of sleep, of aliens, of Sasquatch, of my parents’ dirty bedroom. I awoke depressed and naked: since I knew my clothes hadn’t arrived overnight, I had no pot to smoke. But I had washed my underwear and socks in the sink. I was ready to go because I had brought my pharmaceuticals in my briefcase, and had picked-up a pack of Marlboros from the bar. A word on the hotel: like the many I’ve stayed in, traveling to weddings, readings, conferences, wild affairs, funerals, meetings, and reunions, it’s all the same shit—seemingly antiseptic, darkly reminiscent of the many many people who have slept on this bed, who have put their bare feet down on this rug after fucking or dreaming.
It was when the chair of the department left me alone to go to the bathroom. He left a recorder playing and handed me a sheet of questions. It wasn’t going well. The funny thing was, he had a watch like mine, and me seeing this while he did not would only add to the outcome of this foray into this den of smiling, lovely lions. When he got back he was sans watch, of course. Finished with the questions? He suggested another cup of coffee.   I’d had three big ones already: one at the Sheetz where I bought some razors anti-perspirant, toothbrush and toothpaste, one at breakfast, and one on the way to campus with the search committee chair who had free cup of coffee card with her, a gift from the local knick-knack store and coffee seller. "Not really a coffeehouse," she had emphasized at the only stoplight in town.
It was while we were sitting in a big room of four laminated maple tables put together to form a big rectangle. I noticed one of the search committee just looking at my hands (which were getting sweaty and which I was rubbing on my jeans) a lot. Now I know it was the watch I remember I really had to go to the bathroom. As the interview ended I tossed my Pepsi (this was a Pepsi campus) and watched as that one young interviewer walked by slowly. She asked for the time. Instead, almost reflexively, I said to her, looking her into the eye like the devil I am: “Pepsi cola hits the spot. 12 full ounces, that’s a lot.”
It’s not really worth talking about lunch or the fabulous African-American cooks ( I hear one is from Philly) they have to make you anything you want in the Faculty Dining Room at Cumberland Valley State Teachers College. Or the long walk to the swimming pools and tennis courts. The day was blue and the sun was hot. There were some kids in shorts and baseball hats throwing something in the air. And it reminded me of high school and I got sick as I ate my plate of salad because I was jonesing and all the coffee and tranqs in the upper Midwest wouldn’t help.
Of course, it was when the reading started that things had gone entirely wrong. You know. Some of the earth children and freaks I know out there get a vibe—you see someone taking notes when they couldn’t possibly be, you hear one or two words that change the direction of everything; unknowingly, your hosts show signs of boredom or indifference that only you the poet know about.
Half way through my poem about the burning, fiery effect of hell on sinners of the worst kind, terrorists, statesmen, mullahs and generals, I noticed two robust, shall we say, fat-ass cops standing in the back of the medium-sized ballroom that I was reading in. I had just gotten to the part where Henry Kissinger and Mullah Omar are forced into acts of bestiality with alligators when I noticed the cop was talking to the chair of the department, way back in the back near the door where kids were standing. My poems ended. The gods of the old Aztec empire got their way again. There were claps. People eating chips and drinking Pepsi. Officer Luke Robinoski would like to talk to me? He was pasty, and as he greeted me and asked for my ID, the chair of the department grabbed my left hand and said “what the fuck are you doing with my watch?”
At this moment, I heard the fatter one say into his shoulder mike “we got a problem here.” Because the audience had left so quickly, I rapidly felt alone and caught in some sort of bizarre dream—your watch—dude? What? I bought this watch at Marshall-Fields last week, while I was in Chicago for a conference covering the postmodern dynamics of poetic interfaces! At once, I turned around at the poor old man who had started to look like Ceasar or Laocoon or even Lao Tzu. It was then I kicked the cop in the nuts, and taking a cup of coffee, smashed it into his face. This hurt me almost as much as him, because behind all the fat was a thick, impenetrable skull.
I remember running. No one could catch up. Too stunned, too incomplete. I remember running to the English Department. It was dusk and the sky was turning red and beyond the Cumberland Valley, to the West, my children were running freely, happily. I was just running. The first thing I saw, a fire extinguisher. I broke some windows. I found the watch in the bathroom under a toilet when it had slipped from his elderly hand as he wiped his ass. His: a Pulsar. Mine: a Seiko.
In retrospect, I hope that the college will deduct some money for the broken windows from what they owe me. After all, I did pay for the airline tickets. And about the watches? I thumb-tacked both fuckers to a bulletin board and ran again. When I got back to the hotel, still running, I found my suitcase freshly delivered, sitting next to the delivery van that had brought it. It was just a matter of time before I caught a greyhound out to Pittsburgh where I caught a night train back to Chicago. I had to take the train. There, in the first class sleeper, the West-Bound Empire of America, I unrolled my suitcase, plucking from its center, a green, thick joint of Minnesota Northern Lights. When I got home I found out my left hand was broken, and my right knee suffered bruising from falls I made on campus; in my frantic efforts to bust into the English department, I had cut my hands badly. And I had to go the mall to get a new watch.

 I Live in Darkness:  

I live in darkness so when I dream
I replay a time or two I’ve lived,
but make it pure and obscene.
There’s the inevitable incense
of the holy odalisque and in fact
the dream is all about her after a while:
it’s never back to darkness,
but back to the dim regions of her
inner surroundings, which border my house.
On a thousand vast and troublesome acres
the possiblities, because of our union,
are nameless. Earth and clay turn the same way:
in the deep chasms we’ve conjured
with our pushing and pulling on the bed
we’d taken to the fields, we’ve led the way home.

 Part-Time, Nights & Weekends:  

The down time drifts
like a lost balloon--
everyday there's rain
and the sure chill of seed-birds
foraging on the lawn.

A friend tells me
like dry soil
he expects autumn to stir certain
fertile memories in him--
waiting for August
without a gig, you begin
to fear friends
and the odd ex-student
you see every morning
at the bus stop. Once
the fertile lover of books,
she looks you in the eye
mornings when you can
barely take coffee.

The fear of growing old
as they forget you. The tv
confusing your words when
across the street you know
they're writing poems.

Friday, August 11, 2006


The first thing I tell them is that I liked
a girl down the street and her brother drove
a 1968 Chevy Chevelle with a fake license plate
upfront that said “BEAST.” I don’t tell them
how my brother and I couldn’t date either Denise
or her sister because Beast would certainly
run us off the road like mourning doves
hobbling on the desert streets for no good reason.
But I do tell them my brother and I succeeded
in getting them stoned while sitting next to the hidden north side
of a local lutheran Church where scottish pine grew
around the fake adobe building like we were in Atzlan or something.
That night, I had a dream of cluttered back-lot alleys fertile
with the red clay mud of a wet Albuquerque summer.
Sometmes, I finally relate, I go back and all the homes
are red colonial brick with Georgian trim. And now
there are so many trees, so many species besides
the wind-swept Western Cottonood. Trees
with names like purple light of the sun or green flash of life.

 Songs for Orpheus

Brother, there’s a whole system of crazy notes
playing in Bernalillo county. I heard them
one night after Nelson died in a fire.
When I got that message it was easy to picture
his small home burned to the ground.
Not even the cross I kept on my bureau
or the pure tank of distilled water
I shared with my lover could save him.
It was Ken who called us at eight
to the relate the story. Now, with him gone too,
I sometimes stand in my new back yard
facing the great white oak where I wait
for the morning sun to cast a thick shadow that will open
a bleak underground realm where the dead shake off heaven’s hook--
The bells I hear now call me from steeples out of reach.

 Our Sad-Eyed Lady of the Llano

When it’s silence you’re looking for,
You must forgive my impulse
To go on like so many geraniums
Blossoming, not knowing how brief
Existence weighs the rock
Of nothingness against them.
With the drought boiling
In central New Mexico
Farmers are digging wells
While chilies wilt on the vine.
It’s the time of summer
When even the reservoir
Dries and you can find cutthroat
Trout dying in muddy corners of earth

Where water once stood.
They’re no good for eating,
And the fat bullfrogs that used to fill
The little marshes inside the Bosque
Never came back after the last time
Men upstream cut the flow to feed
The green lawns of Albuquerque’s
Summer season. Once thing:
I never came back because
I saw a hollow face in every window
Where a matchbook patch of grass
Grew in the adobe suburbs,
Where the so-called kings of golf
Swung at nothing.

 H. Writes out the Sadness in his Heart

After twelve years, you’d think the long stretches
of black birch and dogwood I’ve endured
on my drives back East would’ve painted me
the way they inhabit the long Pennsylvania winter.

If it was all a dream of cute, mid-atlantic odalisques
and deep chasms holding deeper rivers
then I am quite satisfied. For in the presence
of such bodies I was humbled.

Driving one morning I saw in the distance
a semi-tractor flinch on the ice of I-81--
I was on my way to Harrisburg to catch a train
and the snow had been falling all morning.

Bowie was singing s on my blue SUV’s CD player--
“The Bewley Brothers,” real cool dreamers so turned on
he’d made a sad song about their mishaps.

So when the disk started skipping

I thought about the time I slipped
on my slick wooden porch, tearing my left knee apart.
This is all the suffering I abide by--I’ve become
a fool for the cold morning that finds me shivering.

Somehow, I wish you were here with me
cascading down the turnpike, stoned
on the last tid-bits of a Beatles song that
has wrapped me up & into the invisible highway

beyond my hood ornament, shining on the Western horizon
like one of Belle Starr’s tits. Listen: the deal is this--
my sister sent me a telescope for Christmas
and I intend to visit each planet again.