Thursday, April 27, 2023

poem

 Petrichor

The smell of the rain after a dry stretch

Lacquers the mind from the rot of doubt

Before the Greeks ever knew of fungal spores 

They were able to get a certain truth out 

Divine blood spilt from split stones

Wafts around us in the spring gusts

How strong the heart of stone must be

To squeeze its golden cargo through veins of rock

Every wet stone after a storm is a kind of corpse

That tells us this must be the place 

Where a hardness bled to death

So a dying man like you could live


4/27/23

poem

I'm Living Until I'm 100

So I am fifty now

Nothing to panic about 

Another year closer to god

A word I use as a placeholder

But not for the notion of death

There is no word for what I mean

It’s another year further from god too

Neither closer nor further

Still living, slowly dying

Let’s simply call it breathing

Half inspiring

Half expired

Old enough to have acquired some wisdom

Young enough to still believe it’s worth anything 

Half learned 

Another half to know 

All of it soon enough forgotten 

I love you life

Half given

The rest for the taking


4/27/23

Saturday, April 22, 2023

poem

 Pantheon II

When I was a boy it didn’t take long before I was 

Eye rolling away from the holy rollers,

The stern prophets of the One True God

Dabbled uneasily for a while as a nihilist atheist

Softened into a mildly antagonistic agnostic

Before settling into a comfortable

Middle aged disengagement:

Let me just live this stupid life, OK?

But it never goes away

Those nagging doubts
How do you ever know for sure?

So you hope for detente

A gentleman's agreement

Give me a little space

But don't forget me entirely

It gets all dysfunctional

As deeply woven relationships tend

No one god could be 

Everything we need

And, frankly, none of us have

Been the best disciples

So expand your pantheon

You’ll find it doesn’t dilute holiness, not one bit 

The bastard little gods are everywhere

If you’re paying any attention

My baby girl becoming a lovely young lady

My boy, like looking into 40 year old mirror

I’ve found dusty and dulled in an attic

This ache in my hand

That no one else can feel or know

I’d do anything for the gods

Of such small and beautiful pleasures

Look, the dutiful daffodils bowing their heads 

To the god of April showers 

The church of the early morning frost

Crunching under my boots 

Pretty soon you realize everywhere you go is sacred land

I’ve become the most religious man on earth

In some quarters I am worshiped

As the god of tragic endings 


4/22/23

poem

 Pantheon I

Art, the guttural human yelp, an attempt

To warble the lyrical language of the gods

But ignorant of words, without access 

To any syntax of the celestial tongue 


Without knowing if they differentiate

Between nouns, adjectives or verbs 

If they recognize any grammatical constraints 

If, as gods, they even know themselves as “gods”


Nevertheless!

We have at it with our
Novels and poems, paintings and sculptures

Gnawing at deeper divine scriptures 


Adorable little toddlers babbling nonsense

About our very special drawings

Our rictal scribblings, our measly tracings


Crying when mommy doesn't pay

it any attention, that fake smile pouty-

lipped wide eyed look we know so well


Compels us to reach for the pen,

the paintbrush, the lump of clay

with a renewed sense of thwarted rage


Shame is how we get better,

some of us so mortified they veer

closer to the sublime than others


That’s the problem with monotheism—

It demands a self-loathing Shakespearean toiling 

in every corner coffee shop


or Rodin with a slab of bronze

chiseling away in 

an overpriced co-op loft 


How could any of us mere mortals

hope to glean the secret metered verse

of the One True God?


Polytheism is better for depressed 

anxious mediocrities like us

who sense inscrutable whisperings 


of ancient agitations deep within 

and do our best to translate

what we think we hear  


The lesser gods suit me just fine.

It isn’t settling it’s

becoming a little less blind 


I don't need Athena, Poseidon, or Apollo 

Take Christ, YHWH and Allah off my plate 

I’ll even grant you the Nereids, the Fates and the Furies


I myself worship the god of thwarted passion


The god of thankless tasks


The god of a late afternoon Martini at the end of summer 

just before the sky catches fire


The angel of a parsed elation.


The nymph of pointless routines 


Once a year I prepare a feast for the seraph of lassitudinous

meadow grasses mesmerized by spring breezes 


Don the ritualistic robes for the god of the frozen dawn


Light votive candles for the god of holding hands 

under a blanket of fire

on a throne of thorns 


The god of getting so engrossed in an old Catholic 

exorcism manual, you’re the one who gets tossed

From what you thought was your own body


The god of a child’s laugh

The god of making someone you love laugh 

The god of smiling at a stranger’s child 

The god of strangers, together as children, all laughing 


The god of being touched just before 

you thought there wasn’t anything left to feel


The god of trying to remember the one good thing 

And the god of never forgetting even the slightest pain


I kneel before an altar in the temple of the god

of empty cafes playing lo-fi John Coltrane 

on autoloop, interrupted hourly by the shatter

In the back of a dropped saucer 


Break bread with me for the god of shy glances exchanged

across a room that never lead to what they ought 


The god of regret, the

god of feeling blessed 


The god of running away, the

god of getting caught 


The god of shooting stars glimpsed

and of all the meteors I’ve missed


We haven't enough words

for so many odes


Most of them will suck

maybe one will stick


But these are the only grammars

most of us can realistically speak

or at least make do


Like a proud American dad having lunch

with his family in a street bistro in Paris,

English-to-French dictionary in hand,

fumbling his way through 

an order of cassoulet and CĂ´tes du Roussillon


Give the man a break 

He’s known this moment will arrive

And that he only gets one chance to speak

The sacred words that bring it to life


Not trying to be Zeus here

but we all can eat.

A little for you

A little for me

Plenty to go around

in the forgotten pantheon 

of everyday nameless gods


4/22/23

Sunday, April 16, 2023

poem

 Au Sable

The summer before residency started in Chicago

I went north to Grayling, Michigan with a backpack

And the last of a dreamy eyed sociopathic certainty

To spend a weekend fly fishing on the edges

Of the swift black flat Au Sable river.

I thought I had it all won,

I’d played some cards well

Parlayed a little luck into a tidy stack 

That bought me access to higher stakes tables. 

I was ready to roll the dice and gamble.

But first, before sitting down with the high rollers

It was off to the swift black Au Sable river 

In the summer before the illusions fractured,

Before I realized everything I had

Barely covered the opening ante,

Before my cocky smirk got stuck

Under the tracks of the red line L,

Before getting swept away by big city currents,

Broken down by sleepless midnights

In the old Cook County Hospital 

Turkish prison call room,

Before the work of my life began

I sought one mystical experience in nature

So I bought a cheap fly rod and some tackle

With the last of the loan money

Practiced how to cast

In an old ballfield behind the rental in Toledo

Tossed a tent and a sleeping bag in the trunk

And drove straight north on route 23; 

A knock off 21st century version of Nick Adams,

The one who hadn’t been broken by war,

Who didn’t know the first thing about fly fishing—

Big two hearted phony


Up in Michigan I stopped at a tackle shop

Bought maps and a couple saran wrapped sandwiches

Took an hour to find the campground 

Close to the river and chanced it

By not paying for my campsite 

Exploiting the honor system rules 

Then I fished for a few hours

In the cold black river which surged 

Like an artery pulsing with alien blood

Tangled up my lines on fallen oaks 

And got some form of trench foot wading 

Through the black muck in old sneakers.

At night I slept in the car 

And listened to the Indians-Tigers game.

I never even put up the tent

I never caught a fish.

Drove home early the next day

Capping off an inauspicious outdoorsman debut.

It wouldn't be the first time I play-acted

Through a scene in my own life 


Months later the winter melt brought the rapids 

That grabbed a hold of my being

And rag-dolled me into the welter

Of hard earned wisdom and crushing mistake

After mistake after mistake with only

Brief expectorations to the surface 

Gasping for air that’s half water 

Before a swift narrowing in the channels,

Bank-shotting off granite walls,

Slashing in diagonal lightning bolt zags

Ever faster left, then right, then a series of swirls,

Maelstroms of disinterested malice,

Only the words remain inert

Even chaos falls short

Nature or time will have its violent way

They take turns 

Resistance is a Charybdis

While resignation only leads to Scylla

The river will carry you along

Its endlessness becomes a notion of time 

That will take you from point A to point B 

Alpha to omega no matter what 

You can act like you're swimming

Or navigating through narrow channels

Charting courses through treacherous waters 

But you’re just along for the ride 

In a roaring rapids that dies

In the churn and froth 

Of waterfall rock 

Where the river ceases to be river 

Without ever going away 

Where water falls without flowing in

Endless loops of incalculably variable patterns

That always look the same from a distance

Locked in place by implacable sheets of slate

But it never reverses, it never can go back

To where it came from.


No longer river

But also not anything else 

It’s easy to get cycled through

A series of  turbulent vortices

Over and over and over again

Until it spits you out one day

Twenty odd years down the road

Humbled, grayed, pale and trembling 

And you're drifting again 

Further downstream

In the calm that becomes the thing 

That a cataclysm created

Residue of whatever energy is left 

Bubbles to the surface

Like the last cries of the recently drowned.

Somehow you’re still alive, witness to it all

And, smooth as steel, the river 

Seethes forward through charred forests

Like stacks of mystical black eels

Like thieves fleeing crime scenes.

The roar becomes a dull far away murmur

And the heist a fading memory

That becomes a well told

Tale, embellished but water tight,

That always seems real

As long as you never look back 


4/16/23

Saturday, April 15, 2023

poem

 Dead Grandma

The other day I had this gnawing urge to talk to my dead grandma—the one I called “Grandma” when speaking to her and “Grandma Parks” when I was talking to someone else about her. Not my Grandma Izzy, who’s also dead, the one I really liked. My dad’s mom, I’m talking about. I won't go so far as to say that I disliked her. She was fine. I mean she was ok. Always there at the holidays. Made a mean lemon pie. Taught us all how to play Skip-Bo. She was just boring as a conversationalist. Droning on and on about her colored pencil pictures. And always with the same boring stories. I reminded her of her dad, the neighborhood doctor (who wasn’t actually a doctor) who walked around with a black bag full of carnival salves and ipecacs and assorted camphors, I guess as a side hustle, when he was in his twenties. He was small like you, too, she always reminded me. Thanks grandma. Yeah I’m short. Thank you for noticing. I guess he was a real piece of work, her dad.  Left old Grandma with her aunt and uncle.  And then sent for her a few years later once he’d remarried and had half a dozen more kids. You could tell she loved the shit out of him. That she forgave him his abandonment the minute she saw him again. Then that damn story about the ants. Just a directionless, pointless story about this one time she and I were sprawled on her lawn looking at the grass. I was like 4 or something. A bunch of little black ants, as they will, were wandering through the blades of grass carrying little chunks of Wonder bread and it caught my attention for some reason. I guess I was like— Look at that!  What the fuck is that Grandma!  and it made her damn day. Led to an impromptu little synopsis on ants which (she claimed) fascinated the living hell out of me. Nothing happened next. That was the whole damn story, just me exclaiming look at those damn things, the ants I mean. Maybe it wasn’t that boring in the moment or the first time she told it. But she didn’t have to keep telling me about it over and over every damn time I saw her. Anyway I suppose there could have been other things she had noticed about me or could have told me about myself  that I never thought to ask because I was too busy being annoyed by her. I could have asked her, you know, before she died.  I could have been nicer about it all. I could have been nicer. I could have been more curious. I could have noticed her more. I don’t think enough people really paid enough attention to her. I was a prime offender. Maybe that’s why she kept telling the same stories, because no one else really listened to her. A kid had to sit there and listen, out of politeness. It seemed like exploitation at the time. I don’t know. I’ll be fifty soon.  I’m running out of primary sources.  Who the hell am I. Where did I come from? Why am I like this?  I kind of sort of wish she were still around. Even if it meant hearing about those damn ants one more time. It’s a weird kind of missing someone. More of a vague melancholic regret. The days that are no more and all that jazz. I'm old enough now to know that every day is another chance to seize upon some experiential triviality and choose to notice it deeply, because those stupid things are, in the end, the bulk of all we have, one stupid little thing after another. Little bricks of banality with which to erect a wall of meaning. I wish I had more bricks. That’s the kind of missing I mean when I think about my dead Grandma Parks. I hope she’s doing ok wherever she is, if she is. She deserved a whole hell of a lot better than what this damn place ever gave her. Sometimes I feel like she’s looking down at me. I imagine her up there sketching wildflowers in the grass. Maybe she sees me maybe she doesn’t. From there we all look like ants.

4/15/23