Friendly fire

For fear of intruders, should I
keep a gun in the nightstand,
unleash the dogs, play Bach at
high volume?

Post a watch at the cemetery gate,
notify the adjacent homeowners.
But don’t bury me here
in my pin-striped suit.

Wait  until my eyes turn
the color of fresh radishes
then carry me back across
the Hudson; pick your time.

Beach the Renault in Hoboken
leave the keys in the ignition.
Fire them all, the naysayers,
the doomsday prophets.

Surround yourself with
the positive; America is
for the intensely spiritual now.
So load the damn thing.

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Wartorn

Run and hide, or stay and fight, there is a Great War on,
and we’ve all enlisted;  from 37,000 feet Illinois
is laid out like a stamp collection, below, a million farmers
plant soybeans, a billion hogs suffer in the heat,
sixteen billion chickens lay eggs – truck drivers haul loads &
commerce moves like gears in the great machine – the price of pork bellies soar
oats are forever a safe bet – I think about derivatives, futures and swaps
an old farmer chugs down a limestone road on a John Deere tractor as
I watch Good Morning America from a motel near St. Louis
as a retired iron worker wakes to strong black coffee and to
smoke leisurely on the porch of a clapboard house near the river
reading the news, fighting emphysema, thinking about the sixties
the big war, the last war, first love, last love, a lost lung.
He told his son (once) about the St. Louis Arch – the highest man-made
arch in the World – highest damned building in the state of Missouri
but the son didn’t care much for high-steel – he was fighting with an ex-wife
& with the IRS; working for a real SOB at the brickyard and driving a
10 year old car –
Son wrote the old-man off as a loser years before
– half-baked and battle scared

Has the booze caught up with you yet?

…no way, Cowboy,
You’re driving a 1954 Studebaker
aren’t you?

Old John Barleycorn
doesn’t have a chance.
You’ve taken on West Hollywood
haven’t you? and Kansas City?
You’ve lived through
the Eisenhower years,
And the Kennedy years.
Nixon and impeachment.
Farm crisis, energy crisis,
big oil, big crash.
You need two hands to
count the wars…

You’ve survived,
(for the most part)
with a good bourbon
in one hand and a
Grainbelt beer in the other.
So, pay off your tab.
Forget closing time,
like age, it’s just a number.
Winners stay in for the
long haul – you have to.
Life is a one-way street.
No way to turn back
after they turn off the
lights. Freeway’s closed.

Has the booze caught up
with you yet?
Don’t be discouraged,
there is enough high-life
to go around.

Don’t despair – you have
new tires on the ’54 Stude –
Stomp on it if you want.
She’ll do a hundred five,
on a cool night.

 

Cleveland

Cleveland is down there,
thirty-six thousand feet below,
says the pilot.
But I don’t see Cleveland.
I see blue-grey Ohio haze.
Pink afternoon clouds
in the late afternoon
sunlight.
It’s 3 days before Christmas.
I’m flying east, the mid-west
quickly giving way to the
east coast.
I look again for Cleveland…
I see the Lake –
but no Cleveland.
I think that God is a lot like Cleveland.
Tough to spot sometimes,
but probably there.
For five or ten minutes,
religion makes sense.

The freeway

The freeway isn’t what it used to be,
not that it was ever a great place,
but it was a necessary place – it was there for you,
when you needed to go somewhere fast…
back – maybe 6 years ago – back then it was a place
where people could drive, and
conduct conversations in their heads…
as they drove to work,
and to the shopping mall,
as they determined how to discuss
minor affronts with
self-consumed co-workers,
raises with apathetic bosses,
politics with opinionated relatives,
divorce proceedings with unfaithful spouses,
and medical procedures with,
overly zealous surgeons.

It’s not like that now.
The freeway isn’t what it used to be.
It used to be a concrete refuge for
inconsolable, bed-room community, housewives,
driving, quietly, quickly, anonymously,
to therapists’ couches,
in nearby suburban towns,
so as not to be spotted near home.

For evangelical preachers,
in route to mega-churches,
weaving in and out of traffic,
confident in the Lord,
as they rehearsed soul-soothing,
self-loathing sermons.

For long-haul truckers moving meat,
up the coast to Atlanta and Charlotte,
oblivious to the small and weak.
For furniture salesmen weaving
through traffic in rented BMWs.

And for the very old and the very young.

All

existing briefly, quickly, together,
safely,
with only the occasional life altering event
coming between them
cataclysmically.

 

after it’s too late

Most things we find out about,
after it’s too late:
the cop in the bushes
at the bottom
of the hill leading out of town,
the trick question on the exam,
the angry ex-husband,
the tired trucker,
the overworked accountant,
the agitated barber,
the lady with the strange perfume,
in the crowded elevator,
the strange weeds growing in,
the nasturtiums,
the odor in the ‘fridge’,
the photo she left behind,
the snake in the woodpile,
the match in the trash,
the lock that sticks,
the blind man in the crosswalk,
the codicil in the will,
the tickle in your throat,
the persistent cough,
the round in the chamber.
We think we know it all because,
we get off easy so many times,
that we think we can do it
forever.

The fence

Last night I dreamed
that I was building a fence,
– a wooden fence.
I was dressed in leather gloves and
engineers cap,
and brown, duck-bib overalls.

Alone in the early spring sun,
hammering ten-penny nails
into hand-hewn plank,
after hand-hewn plank,
pound, pound, –
board against hedge post
level it up, then pound some more,
–sweat dripping from the tip
of my beard.

“What a great fence,” I hear someone
shout from the edge of the pasture.
But I pay no attention to him.
“Join us for drinks at 5 another yells out.”
“Your ass is on the line,” says still another…
I ignore them all.
I am immersed in
a project that can
be finished with brute force,
with only fresh spring water
needed for replenishment,
out here on the Frontier,
far from the cocktail bar,
and corporate conference room.

So confident in my keen sense of detail
and hand-to-eye coordination am I,
that I barely notice
the Finish Line in view,
driving one nail after the next…
my back aching from unloading planks
and aligning them properly,
scarcely stopping to smell
the nightingale, and the Forsythia,
pound, pound
– the Great Western Wall between
marauding Angus steers
and the berry patch
is nearly complete.
But I awake to incompetence.
No Forsythia, planks, berries
or steers
– only a flashing cursor on an empty screen
and the sound of traffic rushing past on the
street below

Civil unrest in America

Depending upon the time I am allowed,
I will try to work through it,
I will try my best
to uncover the inner workings of
my heart – your heart – I will try
to make the day last a little longer
to live in it – as best I can.
I will savor the daylight
and respect the night.
I will take solace in evening shadows and
morning coffee and afternoon port wine
and conversation about social unrest
and urban decay.
Together we can decry the lost
art of penmanship and civility
on the freeway.
So come sit with me on the porch.
No shoes allowed.
We can leave the dishes in the sink
and the bed unmade.
To hell with the cellular phone…
turn it off and leave it in the oven.

And there’s no need to
do the laundry just because
it’s Tuesday.
We can file for a waiver – this is
after all
America.

National Poetry Month

I know that it’s been quiet around here at the EEOTPB website. So quiet that my friend Tulip, who disappeared into the depths of Southern California (somewhere near Toluca Lake) nearly two years ago, finally surfaced. She called me the other night to find out if I was okay. I told her that I was fine, but because of my current professional situation, I had been forced to spend most of my time concentrating on paying writing jobs, and my day job of writing technical books had left me creatively drained.

In the course of our conversation, she reminded me that April is National Poetry Month. She went on to say that if I had any true appreciation for the art form of poetry, I would not let the month go by without firing off at least one post into the blogosphere mentioning this fact.

So to recognize the month, I will respond here, to the reader who wrote to me some time ago to ask if I actually ever READ any poetry. I told that reader that I did read quite a bit of poetry and someday, when I got time, I would go into details.

Recently (ok within the last six months), I have read these three books of poems. I recommend them all for anyone with the slightest interest in poetry, writing, or in the assemblage of words in any unique and meaningful order:

  1. Weldon Kees, The Collected Poems of Weldon Kees – Probably the finest poet to come out of Beatrice, Nebraska to date, Weldon Kees is perhaps best known for his dramatic, albeit suspicious exit from life, rather than his fine body of work. Known by some as the “Missing Poet”, Kees committed suicide by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge on July 18, 1955. Although some believe that Kees staged his own death and fled to a new life in Mexico, his typewriter fell silent after that date. Known as “a bitter poet”, I didn’t read any of his works until fairly recently, and I wish I had discovered him sooner. But bitter…yeah, a little.
  2. Louis Jenkins, Before You Know It: Prose Poems 1970-2005 – I was never a fan of the prose poem, until I read Louis Jenkins. I enjoyed his work so much that I tried writing a few prose poems myself, and although they fall far short of Jenkins’ poems, I have gained a new appreciation for the form. Jenkins is a native Oklahoman, but he lived for decades up in Duluth, Minnesota. Why that’s worth mentioning, I can’t say, but there is something about that neck of the woods that brings out the poet in some people. Bob Dylan is from Duluth, and I have always suspicioned that his talent may have been in someway channeled by the large iron deposits underlying that part of the country – but that is just my theory.
  3. Ernest Hemingway, Complete Poems – A couple of years ago, my wife and I attended a reading of Papa’s poetry at the Blue Heaven Bar on Thomas Street in Key West. It was during Hemingway Days, which occurs each year in July – not the greatest time of year to visit Key West. It is truly a 24 hour sauna in the Keys that time of year, but if you are up for it, head on down, order a cold one at the bar, and sip it slowly as you listen to The Old Man’s best poems read by dedicated members of the Key West Poetry Guild. Up until that time, I had never considered Hemingway a poet, and from what I’ve read that’s the way he liked it. He never really wanted be remembered for his verse. In any case, I picked up a copy of his Collected Works on my way out of town. It sat on my bookshelf untouched for more than two years until I recently picked it up and read it. I shall consider him a poet whether he likes it or not, and as things stand right now, there is little he can do about it.

So that’s what I’ve been reading. I would like to hear what you’ve been reading as well, so feel free to comment here.

I will close my tribute to National Poetry Month with a short, whimsical poem that I wrote several years ago. It’s been collecting virtual dust on my hard drive since 2009, so this seems as good a time as any to let go of it:

 

ON WRITING A POEM

Writing a poem is often like,
pushing a wheelbarrow full of bricks,
up a steep hill, for absolutely
no reason, whatsoever.

Nobody really needs the bricks,
nobody cares if you make it
to the top, or if you spill half
of the load on the way up.

In the end, you’ll be just
another forlorn, but tired
wheelbarrow pusher, you’ll never be
a real bricklayer.

If you were a real bricklayer,
you’d write a novel,
And carry your bricks up…
…one at a time,
and position them very carefully.

But you’re no bricklayer – so,
be content with your task,
concentrate on the load,
rejoice at the summit.

anger

Don’t stay angry for too long,
you can be mad for awhile,
that’s the way of the world,
we were made to be that way,
we were made to stay,
pissed off for 2 or 3 days,
not much more…
… in the end, there’s no room
for any of it.
Forget that swindler who
resurfaced your driveway.
Forget the woman in the red Audi
who cut you off on the freeway.
Forget the guy from Corporate
who outsourced your job to Bangalore.
Forget about cell phone overage charges,
And the price of bottled water,
…unless they mess with your dog
let it go.