ONE THEORY

I.

Take all that mad that you feel
and pry it from the back of your eyes
and put it in your hands
and run it under water
and work it along your scars
and make some sculpture
of the achingly beautiful
that few can understand
(and even less will appreciate)

and do it not because it is wanted
or because you must
but because we will all need it
on a lonely morning
like this one
in this broken world.

II.
You must allow others time to grieve
for things they have lost
and for the people
who have not yet left them.

III.
People are the strangest animals,
but in my short walk,
I have met animals --
birds, dogs, horses, fish
(even cats) --
who are more human
than the face peering back at me
from across
this tiny window
as I write these poems,
hoping to finally understand
why it feels like it should be raining
when all that surrounds me
is endless sky.

 

 

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TWO LINE POEM INSPIRED BY THOREAU (OR, WHEN THE TITLE OF THE POEM CONTAINS MORE WORDS THAN THE POEM ITSELF)

Perhaps men lead lives of quiet desperation,
but the wallpaper always knows.

 

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POLYPHONY

When you wake up as I do every morning, you may go to your closet and retrieve an outfit you picked out the night before. All of this after the alarm clock goes off and the coffee pot is turned on. You brush your teeth. You may shower (outside of last night's routine) every now and again. Each day, the music begins: a Bach chorale or a string quartet by Beethoven. You come into focus. You become. The world awaits.

And at the end of every day, what is left except a few lonely moments in front of a piano, singing a melody that you will forget to write down? Maybe it does not matter much after all. Who is listening? Who will remember?

Anyway, you remembered to write this much down. You made it a point to write this much down because, last night, you dreamed of your grandfather with his big booming laugh atop a riding lawnmower, going far away from you, and there you stood, calling him back, chastising him even for being so careless but really you just wanted another five minutes with him, another five minutes you would never have again. You remembered those moments of being alive, and you woke up with tears in your eyes.

And when you woke up, you wiped your eyes and remembered enough, strangely, to write it all down. You made time for it today because it mattered today, right now, because that is all you have been promised.

 

 

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RECIPE

How many words make up a poem?
Maybe there are no words,
only ways of being
and sights
and things left unsaid.

 

 

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MOST MEN'S EYES

There is a great circle
where reality is perception
yet no one person can hold true
that the napkin in their lap
is just an illusion
for the falling crumbs of your mind.

"You are not that important,"
you remind yourself.
You start to see patterns in the wallpaper,
and maybe Charlotte Perkins Gilman had it right:

"It's time we woke up."

And maybe I see myself for the first time,
long in the tooth,
(spiritually)
imperfect,
trying to be better,
but always trying
and wondering
if that will be enough
for this morning
once night rolls around.

 

 

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ODE TO ROCKET

Once, I choked on my own sorrow while the river overran its banks. Water did not need to rise inside of my own house to feel like I was drowning. On television, friends wheeled a woman who could not walk into a boat as she left her four-legged companion, Rocket, to fare on his own. Certainly, God knew about this in the days previous: he knew about the abandonment of Rocket, the relentless, unforgiving rains, the slow weeping of the sky marked out in a heavy-handed red pencil on the Franklin planner of time.

How did Moses save his people? A thought occurs: those who deign to save others may not always wear armor, for how can you save room in the boat for the bricks and mortar of grief you will use to rebuild the world? I began to rehearse: a practiced smile, a measured walk. Be a good boy. Have hope. Help — if you can. Love, but don’t hurt yourself. Assume that God is a man.

Operating words.

Later that evening, I dreamed of a desert on fire, and there was little Rocket, patiently waiting with the rest of the world on his mistress’ roof. I could have sworn he was smiling, not because it was the truth of his despair but because that’s what good boys do.

 

 

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I AM THE ANT

If I am faced
with the truth
and given a choice
between a beast of brute strength
with skin as rough as
a cat's tongue --
a rhinoceros, even,
and its poor vision --
chewing slowly on some grassy stuff

or another creature
so aware of its smallness --
like the ant --
that each day is a victory
for having withstood
the weather-beaten mound of earth:

if it means choosing
between these two types of dying
and each rapturous way
to spend the currency of my life
in breaths of working towards the light,
then I am the ant,
forever
and
unapologetically.

 

 

 

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IRONY

Is it me --
listening, this morning,
to an audiobook of Walden
on my commute to work --
or you --
shirtless pickup truck driver,
undoubtedly listening to
the latest country standard
while picking your teeth
with your pinky finger --

who will notice
the small, gray rabbit
carefully treading
across the railroad track,
with his nose to the wind
and only a rumbling beneath him?
 

 

 

 

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CAPTIVATION

Driving past the wildlife park
near the edge of the highway,
parts of me are torn away
like an old perforated stamp
when I think of
an old, confused rhinoceros
attempting to moo

or a panting lioness
helping wrangle wild horses
on an open Texas prairie
(a cowboy, perhaps, rewards her
with a belly rub)

or the forlorn ostrich
who stares out into
fields of wildflowers
with no real place
to bury his head.

 

 

 

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OLD TIES

I wouldn't call us enemies
nor would I say we're friends;
maybe strangers, then and now...
but on whose memory depends.

 

 

 

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LOVE, IN THE TIME OF TRUMP

The other night,
I had a dream
that the President threw himself
off the roof terrace of the White House,
and while all the king's horses
brayed a bit,
the king's men stood
stone-faced and solemn
while a gray-orange mass
lay motionless on the cobblestones
outside Pennsylvania Avenue.

"Won't you help the President?"
I cried.

But they said nothing.
They did not move an inch.
And then I, in a moment of bewilderment,
wondered why I cared so much

and, upon waking,
why I still do.

 

 

 

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THE WEATHER NEVER CHANGES IN A SNOW GLOBE

1.
There once was a priest, a rabbi, and a black guy, and they all walk into this bar. No, no, no: is that right? A priest. A rabbi. A black guy. Sure. So they walk into a bar, and the priest — he turns to the rabbi, and he says, “Reb, have you ever had pork?” And the faithful rabbi looks both ways… and he says, “Yes, in my youth, I tasted the flesh of swine!” And then the rabbi says to the priest, “And you, father? Have you ever had relations with a woman?” The priest turns red with a wild grin. “I was known to taste the flesh of a woman before I entered the priesthood,” the father says under his breath. And the priest and the rabbi laugh the whole time and carry on, drinking their beer and wine that was on the house from the regular bartender.

The black guy sits alone on the other end of the counter, forgotten.

2.
At the end of several years, he noticed there was nowhere to go but up since this was the farthest down he had traveled, so he took his world and turned it upside down, shaking it up a bit, watching the snowy white bits of plastic and glitter fall gently on a lawn made in China.

He waited for a long time for something to happen, and legend tells us he is still there today.

3.
At the other end of hello, the boy finally meets the girl, and they fall in love for a while until they decide they are too old to understand each other anymore, so they both travel opposite directions out of the forest with only tears and bread crumbs trailing behind them.

four.
She lays in bed, naked and remembering. After a few moments, she brushes the sunlight from her cheeks and the years of embarrassment off of her hips so that she may properly face her cat, Chester, a mischievous little rag doll that, up until now, had not yet grown horns.

They stare at each other for hours, and eventually they both turn to stone, but only one of them will live on as a statue in a museum for souls. The other will be a trinket for grandma’s china closet, but you guess which one is which.

V.
This is not yet the end, I’m afraid, but we’ll all know it when we see it.

5+1.
At the end of seven years, the boy finally meets the girl again in a matter of pure coincidence, but they struggle to recognize each other because the boy is now a man and the girl is a woman, and they have both emerged from the chrysalis different from what they once were though it is arguable for better or for worse.

5+2.
The man-boy runs out of bread crumbs, so he sits on a rock and begins to wonder if he made the whole thing up. Soon, the sky will weep white plastic snow, but he will not notice.

5+3.
The girl-woman watches the man-boy sit on his rock at the edge of the forest from the window in a bar several hundred yards away. She does not use binoculars. A priest and a rabbi carry on, drinking their beer and wine that was on the house from the regular bartender. Another man smiles at her from the other end of the bar. She smiles back.

They are wearing the same shoes.

NEIN.
- I promise you’re gonna laugh this time.
- Please. No more.
- A rabbi, a priest, and —
- Seriously.
- Just hear me out!
- A rabbi, a priest, and an Indian walk into a bar —
- Like? An Indian?
- You know.
- Native American?
- No. From India.
- Oh.
- Dots, not feathers.

(They stare into each other’s eyes. Who will dare to breathe first?)

diez.
Lo más triste del mundo es no entenderse.

FINALLY.
Our hero finds himself staring at the one thing he thought would change him. And this is the most tragic part of the whole dumb tale, which is far more tall than true: he finds himself staring, so he stands motionless — with only his future before him and what he chooses to remember behind — and he stands for a very, very long time, waiting for something to happen.

coda.
This is the end. Nothing has happened, yet everything has changed.

 

 

 

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MOMENTS IN THE WOODS

A little boy
threw a basketball
inside of a milk crate
and, for a moment,
he was Michael Jordan,
and though there can only be
one Michael Jordan,
it didn't take much --
just a little imagination
and a good free throw --
for him to envision
his world beyond 157th Street,
a world where it is always hot
with neighbors screaming
and the car down the way
blasting music too loud,
a world that had a place both for him
and what he knew he could do.

 

 

 

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PURPOSE

I was born to laugh
and cry and dance,
to reinvent myself,
to clothe my shoulders with change,
to sit quietly and breathe deeply,
to look upon the stillness of a lake
before mischievously causing ripples,
to wonder why, why, why
there is some need
for such a vast universe
where an angry fist
and the back of your hand
stroking the graying hairs on my head
are brothers,
foretold in Joshua:
"For I know the plans I have for you..."

You do not need
an x-ray machine
to see I am perfectly broken,
but I'm gather myself
daily,
darning the tiny fragments of my heart
to my sleeves,
not so that I may again be whole
(for I never was)
but so that I may continue,
foolishly,
an attempt to be useful.

 

 

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BLUE MARBLE EGG

Someone I once shared a bed with
is now a complete stranger:
there are phenomena
in this overcrowded world
more important than
a feeling of melting away,
but how do you know the world is ending
in the moment between the smile
and a calloused finger on the shutter button?
Each firing complication
shows us, now, 
all of the subtleties avoided.

There is a daughter with a strong name,
difficult to say.
Her name is a sword I cannot swallow.
Her name burns a tattoo
in the lining of my esophagus,
a permanent reminder
of a temporary feeling.

Heroic memories
etched in stone
on some vase of my early twenties
are no stronger
than the weekends we spent
on the beach:
on those hallowed glory grounds, 
I would forget
(like Eurydice)
and I would look at you
and you would look at me
and, soon, my mouth was full of sand
and only --
only --
the ocean stood between us.

 

 

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CORNER PIECE

One stop before I get off the A train,
I find myself humbly asking
what one does with the build up --
the accumulation --
of the unnameable inside?
Where does the lump go
after rising and falling
in your throat
after the diagnosis?
What happens to the butterflies
in your gut
before the first date?
How does the cup runneth over
with a bittersweet hemlock
when watching your graying pet
slowly grow from puppy to grave?

Complicated, they say:
a bit of crying over spilled milk
and tears from not making the team
to missing the boat and the deadline.
There's also the second hand
faithfully saluting
when nobody is watching;
therein lies mercy
and exonerations
and piecemeal humanity
in the form of a wink
from the amethyst eye
of someone else recognizing they love you
for the very first time,
and what will you do with it --
the unnameable inside?

I am but the tip of an iceberg,
and I look across the train
on my way out
at a man with tiny round spectacles
who has been staring at me,
wringing a smile from his porcelain hands:
for at least three stops,
he has been turning over my brokenness
in tandem with his own
and long enough to figure out
that we are both jigsaw puzzles
with most of our pieces
(for now)
displaying, 
dependent on the angle,
some larger-than-life
picture of the Taj Mahal.

 

 

 

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GUERNICA

Imagine, if you will,
Beethoven counting out sixty beans of coffee
before making one cup,
and if you can picture that,
you may be able to understand the Eroica Symphony
or, at least, a few of the string quartets.

I often thwart sleep
thinking about Beckett
and why Krapp seems obsessed,
as if by name, with indigestion
when good ole Sam
would hole himself up in the siege
with scrambled eggs and red wine.

Then, there is Alice Munro,
like so many women,
who raised children and wrote short stories
(at the same time, mind you)
in a series of long midnights:
where is the time to be a Salinger
when there is duty, responsibility, all of that?

“What’s the point?”
one may ask,
when changing a dirty diaper
or mowing the lawn
or paying taxes
or visiting Grandma at the home.

I look in the mirror,
and I see the silent gray surface of the moon in my eyes.
I am an artist without a sketchbook.
My scars are not filed away in old drafts.
My regrets are placed neatly onstage for general admission.
My atonal future is dancing uncertain and unwieldy
with a limp on its left, bionic side.

The truth is that
my heart has been tattooed in blue-black ink
across the backs of napkins and in coffee shop restrooms, 
in the eyes of old friends
and in hugs that I hold on to more now,
five seconds, ten:
the real truth is that there is no truth,
that we all do the best we can in some way or another,
some do it with a paintbrush
or eight times a week
and some do it better than you,
but you should do it if you want —
make a cup of coffee with sixty beans if you want —
there is no point to this poem
other than to say
I’ll still be here
with my scars on display
because, truth be told, 
if I want a chance to understand
what survives of the truth,
I may have already said too much,
and that’s why I’m alive to begin with.

 

 

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HIGH DIVE

Somewhere between here and there,
one must reach his hands above his head,
back flat on the floor,
eyes closed,
and jump headfirst
into that storm brewing inside of him
so he may find
the cold, calm eye of a hurricane
where everything is noise
and promise,
flickering bulbs
and static on the radio:

There is a difference between
being alone
and
being lonely.

No boy is an island,
but laying on the beach,
the rocks warm,
the tide rises,
the sun sets,
and, at the end of the day,
when all is done
but not necessarily said,
even the footprints in the sand
(one by one by one)
march into the ocean,
despite lightning in the distance.

This is a place I could stay,
though the greens will fade with the years
and the distance in my mind
makes me question
if it was a pelican or a seagull
that landed on that mossy rock
or if there was a mossy rock
or if there was a beach at all,

but, for now, I'm back,
flat on my back,
alone,
arms above my head,
an island
surrendering to what once was,
save for a whispering breeze
and rust on my bicycle spokes
and a few slowing breaths
resembling a rallentando in 7/8 time.

 

 

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IDIOM

Look at you:

Burning the midnight oil,
caught between two stools,
your time worth an arm and a leg,
making a long story short and
discovering the method to your madness.

Piece of cake, isn't it?
Jump on the bandwagon, kiddo,
because in the heat of this moment,
your actions speak louder than words,
for when the cat has your tongue,
it's all out the door.

To add insult to injury,
it takes two to tango:
one to pull the wool over your eyes,
another to let sleeping dogs lie.

This bitter pill makes you
but a dime a dozen,
and, suddenly, you're all ears
at the drop of the hat --

back to the drawing board,
the ball is in your court,
but you're barking up the wrong tree,
beating around some proverbial bush.

The naked truth
is that you're not some hot potato,
but maybe that's a blessing in disguise
because you do have the best of both worlds, 
don't you?

Take it straight from the horse's mouth:
your guess is as good as mine.

 

 

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A FOLK SONG FOR MODERN TIMES

I say to hate is easy, to love takes courage,
an ounce of brains is worth much more than brawn.
And all those things must make me good,
so that's how I’ll go on.
That’s how I’ll go on.

Protect my friends, lift up my neighbors,
my word is stronger than a cop’s baton.
I think that’s what makes me good,
so that's how I’ll go on.
That’s how I’ll go on.

Let ‘em talk and call me stupid.
Let ‘em poke holes in my dreams.
Let ‘em say that folks are bad,
but folks are never half as bad as the best of ‘em, it seems.

So I’ll be damned for doin’, I’ll be damned for nothin’
like some seven-headed beast of Babylon.
Still, I have faith that makes me good,
so that’s how I’ll go on.
That’s how I’ll go on.

I am scorned just ‘cause I’m diff’rent,
choosing lovers' arrows while guns are drawn.
Isn’t that what makes me good?
It’s hard for me to see as time goes on,
but that’s how I’ll go on.

Let ‘em say I don’t know nothin’.
Let ‘em say I ain’t worth the reach
‘cause I know I’ll have walked with giants
by puttin’ into practice all those fancy words I preach.

Still, hatin’s easy, lovin’s different
when night turns on its side and faces dawn.
Sometimes, I don’t believe that folks are good,
but, still, I must go on…

Then, I remember that love takes courage,
so that’s how I’ll choose to go on.

 

 

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