Category Archives: Poems

Driving East Across Kansas

A man is steering a water tractor

in the breakdown lane, intruding

fifteen feet across the highway,

and now I see he’s a woman.

But I’m not feeling funny right now.

 

Metaphors are everywhere,

but today has been too long

and straight forward

for even the sad ones.

 

The windmills just turn.

The hills just are.

This tractor is just in my way.

 

I remember a Chinese proverb that states

someone with one disease to manage

is healthier than someone with none,

but we all have several diseases to manage,

don’t we?

 

I sit, unstartled and self-annoyed,

with a bent neck and a lazy eye,

past a prison. Past an army base.

 

 

Pumping gas, a couple debates

which letter from John says

what they need it to say and above them

the moon is full and right there

in the middle of the afternoon.

 

A billboard reads: ‘Choose Life’,

and pictures a baby, who is saying:

‘I could smile before I was born’.

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I Call Myself a Renaissance Man But Never Out Loud

Wood carving is my latest hobby,

my latest need for new tools to place just so on top of old tools.

 

Hook blades, triangle chisels, razor spoons dreamed by Dr. Seuss

and gifts via my wife’s rolling eyes

from my five year old son, the reason I need a hobby,

and one I can sample in ten-minute increments.

 

And so I carved a spoon so big it could feed the world,

my version of starting small.

 

I sharpen, hone, strop, learn about

woods that shape, work well when wet, green.

There’s just something about sharpening, being sharp,

that makes me inhale.

 

At first and as always my hobby was

research, preparation, accumulation, anticipation

of satisfying in this instance my need to squeeze, to flex my hands,

like kneading pasta dough or washing my son’s hair.

Squeeze till my forearms hum and my fingers open by themselves.

 

My wife wonders why I pay more at a thrift store

for items like a retired aluminum slaughterhouse ice shovel,

how it could be better at clearing snow.

But it is better at holding my son,

Who sits in the palm of it, and then I toss him onto the pile,

and he rolls down the other side, laughing.

I imagine the curator in a hundred years

prying open the crate, utilizing his grandfather’s crowbar

and forearms of his own,

seeing my signature and knowing he has stumbled upon

an original Conti, the fabled Giant Spoon.

My signature a smudge of blood

usually from my left thumb left on every piece I’ve touched.

Spoons of increasing smallness.

But what more proof could he need, could I leave,

than that.

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Waiting for a Tornado

I’m staring at the basement ceiling, waiting for the wind

to twist off my house like a frayed sun hat,

She gasps and chases it across a French cobblestone bridge,

holding her skirt down, giggling.

 

Or, I’m squatting down to umpire the preschool tee-ball game

as a twister toddles, off balance and mouth breathing,

toward my whiffleball house, dragging the bat

and smearing the chalk line behind him.

 

Maybe I’m sitting under the table as the novice magician

pulls the tablecloth too slow, sending my fake fine china house

bouncing off the convention carpet square lawns.

The neighbors, embarrassed for me, order another scotch.

 

I could be sitting in the basement bathroom when she walks

right in, wanting to redecorate everything, and I remember

all my friends saying, “don’t move in with Kansas,”

and I wonder why she can’t understand the word “occupied!

 

Or, I’m hiding in the wine cellar of the Ottoman Empire,

bracing for invasion, hoping I’m dressed appropriately

for when I’m found impaled on a spike, my collapse

the only event worthy of a history book.

 

Or, I’m the dandelion seed stuck between the toes

of the panic-frozen marmot, as the Winnebago wobbles

through Yellowstone, leaving behind it a path of diesel smoke,

skid marks, and splattered marmots,

 

and all the unwritten stories and other sins of sloth,

gluttony and greed that have accumulated in my closets

seemed nicely tucked away when the rain started,

but started spilling out when the wind picked up,

 

and in the darkness I could only think about my punishment

massing in the clouds above me, but due to influences

too many and too subtle to hear in the static of my dying radio,

there was too much else before me to destroy,

 

and the storm spun out too soon, and the parting sky revealed

nothing more to me than that I am, for now, forgiven.

 

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Waiting For Inspiration

Spigot wide open.

Clockwise all the way.

A lefty loosy ink hydrant to extinguish this burn at any moment now.

 

Five thousand pound press.

My palm the definition of flat,

primed to stamp out metaphors one and then one and then one.

 

Whorish woman

blows on the dice.

I want to win at crap so bad, and God I hope she’s really a whore.

 

Straight-jacketed lunatic

who hasn’t seen the moon in years

hears “you can go now” and awaits the grand unbuckling.

 

Veteran brick layer,

trowel scraped to a satin finish,

ready to work off the morning chill and make another good neighbor.

 

I’ve stopped by woods,

and my pine rash is flaring.

I contort to reach my midspine to scratch till I bleed, eyes rolling.

 

Preacher with the diamond watch

and diamond church and diamond eyes

that promise ten thousand shivering hopefuls their diamond blanket.

 

My eyes have seen the glory

of all the various distances,

seeking the angle that triggers memory, or even lie would do.

 

I’ve walked through the Valley

of the Shadow of Doubt

and was scared shitless, cried for my mommy, for Thou art a mystery to me.

 

But I’m in a full-body cast

and can’t reach the remote.

I’ve got nothing to do but this.  And I’ve got all day.

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Wrestling With Jesus

He drops his hooded warm-up robe

and reveals yellow tights and a flat-top.

He is blond, I think, lean and sinuous.

He moves in slow motion, seems to float,

dances like a boxer with open hands,

evening light behind him, making his hair glow,

in front of a chorus of angels wagging pompoms.

 

I expected him bearded and barefoot.

I expected someone who might even let me win,

but Jesus is not who I thought he was.

 

Already sweating at the whistle,

I push and back away,

my tights somehow baggy and riding up.

He does not blink, he sees all I have not learned,

knows before I do where I am weak.

I grab for his ankle or wrist,

grope for a hold  around his ribs and miss,

wondering if I should even keep trying.

 

But I do try, today more than usual,

to score a point, to touch him, even once,

grab onto something, but too soon

I am mouth breathing and spent,

and still he floats out of reach.

 

It’s over quickly, and without mercy.

The move is called a crucifix

because he spreads my limbs

as he forces my shoulder to the mat.

My coach screams, “crucifix!”

red faced and spitting, reminding me

to throw the long practiced counter-move,

which has often conquered my shadow.

It fails me now.

 

I lay, crucified, and lose by a fall,

looking through my legs

at the angels who do not hide their disgust.

 

Jesus smells of talcum.

 

I leave the mat to the blaring recessional buzzer,

and the coach says without looking at me,

“nice try.  He’s a tough one.”

I go to my place on the bench and sit, thinking

there have been times when I doubted my faith,

but it’s hard not to believe in someone

while he’s kicking your ass.

The locker room shower is crowded and mandatory.

Jesus is next to me.  We are naked.

I face the wall and don’t look around.

There’s a lesson in here somewhere,

but I’ll be damned if I know what it is.

 

Later, I contemplate in darkness,

staring at the back of a school bus seat.

The coach wobbles by and remarks “good job,”

without stopping, too tired to sound sincere.

“That kid is really something” he says, more to himself,

and I realize then that he would gladly let me burn

to have a guy like that on his team.

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