Thursday, October 27, 2005

I am not Billy Collins

Billy Collins does not live on my street
nor do his poems come to mind
when I hum a line from an Art Tatum solo
when getting the mail under whatever
the color the sky happens to be,

I would think he fears bills
and invitations
as I do, prefers tenor saxophone
to reedy alto flights,
finds solace in Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
when his computer breaks down
as I do when things fail
and I scramble for a passage I copied to a business card
from a description I read of someone else’s review,

There is no house with picket fences
nor apartments set off from the street
by grand trees and high hedges,
there are only parked cars blocking
the sidewalk as they impose their tires
on the curb, tattooed monsters drinking beer
and girls sobbing into cell phones
about what they wore on their worst night ever,
and me, dressed to leave as if forever to be gone
but staring at the computer trying to
fill this page with words,

Instead of a house mate singing,
there leaf blowers roaring
up and down the walk
scattering clipped grass from one
door way to another,
there is only ginger ale for
vodka martini fatalist,

Billy Collins would
find some clever things
to write in the absence or presence
of anything interesting
occurring in the place where
his feet are actually planted,
some planet or star or
an old Movie Poster
would rouse from his
seat and send on a mission
to get some inane thing
done because so much of
Western Culture hinged
on his having yet more
epiphanies and eurekas
as he sorts his bills, licks stamps,
contemplates dinner
and how large the portions,
Mozart and Wallace Stevens
ride in his backseat
as he drives to the market
where he meets Charlie Parker
and Thomas Carlyle
in the desert line, eating snack samples
made of cheese and crackers
from a lady in a tunic red as roses
on the slipperiest anniversary,
and then it’ll be home, a poem,
a cool round of music
and settled bills,
a world at rest after a hard day of being.

At this moment my dog
would bark if
I had a dog
but my feet hurt
all the same
walking for blocks past
Radio Shacks and taco stands
dragging a plastic bag of used paper backs
and canned food
for what is another night
of Law and Order reruns
and a final thought
in passing that

I wish I was Billy Collins
for a half hour just to see

what it’s like to live
in a world where
every thing I do ends up

perfectly measured and clever
in the form of a sentence
in a perfectly poised poem
that makes me laugh
or cry and leaves me

somewhere in between
as if dumped on an empty highway
from a fast car after being wooed
by the sleaziest bastard in my little town.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The death of small towns

Strange habits of brew overkill
studs the patter like
buttons on the coat sleeve
that cut the nostrils
in a full winter climes’
descending scale
of hot items.

All the things about
how needed surgery
destroyed her capacity
to get the words in the right order
without sounding as if she’d
been riding to another water shed
with another boy
named Jason or John or Jake
as it maybe who had
a hobby of spearing rats
with his buck knife and
skinning them for wallets
he’d sew together and sell
at the drug store on Sundays,
after Church.

Seeking some kind of refuge
with the regulars who been
irregular for many twisted years,
seeking an easy place to sit
and read the paper,

there I was,

Drinking ‘though not
thirsty at all
as the sun set and the
light in the bay window
dimmed until the room
was gold toned, then sepia?
and then a fine dark ash
that was perfect for
falling asleep in or
breathing your last
as a final memory crowds
out every deadline I might fail to meet,
or merely continue for hours
drinking in the dark
in the same old chair
listening to faint music
and the late hiss of tires
on the street roll by
until it seems that
there are no doors
or windows in the room
and things are exactly as they always will be,
alone and lost in themselves
in various suggestions of dark vapor.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

i am not a crow on a power line

there are so many dimes
in the universe that want
to leave my palm and fall
into empty soda cups
held by grizzly men
in need of a shower and a steak.

there are so many grizzly women
leaving pennies on the sidewalk
because there is nothing
less to settle for, nothing more
to stoop to.

stoops full of scrubbed
and shaved men glistening
with soap, pink as rug burns,
cracking their knuckles
and rubbing their necks.

plastic cups with traces
of orange juice along the bottom
litter the street in front
of what was once a hotel
when rooms were rented
until check out time
the next morning.

stacks of Tiffany lamp shades
fill the back of the truck
and block the skyline
that tries to reach higher
that the loftiest power line
in the city where every lazy crow
comes to rest in the daylight
just to watch us cross streets,
go into buildings, write checks,
cry in the chair that faces
the street,
getting up again
and rubbing our grizzly chins
and the back of our necks
as if we knew what we were doing.

Shoes on a wire

Shoes on a wire
Originally uploaded by Ted Burke.

i am not Bob Dylan

nothing jangles except
keys in my pocket,

there are no
ghosts around
the light switches
in my kitchen,

they cannot read
my passport
at the border
as it drips with
Farmer Brown's paint,

i was under
the yellow sun
today dreading
avian flu,

why are my sheets
covered with
with chalk crop circles,

my friends from
medical school
won't tell me
what's in my mailbox,

even my girl friend
tells me what
my wife couldn't admit,
i am not bob dylan.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Four Scenes Set to Country Music


Too long after the sun
has set do you dare me to tackle
something that sends
you running through the French doors
holding your nose,
there's something about the phone
I wanted to ask you about, but
then I'm distracted by you on the patio,
back turned,
waving your hands, shaking your wrists,
an orchestra of flowers
below your feet
to do your bidding.


You unfolded the newspaper
to where you
found me on page three,
under the obituaries
and next to the ad
for the Sunday specials.
My mouth was open,
I was shaking my fist,
the world around me
was leaning to one side,
yet only my hat was flying
off in that direction.


You want to die
and I want to dance.

I want to sleep
and you want to
talk something through
until natural light
fills the room.

You want to
get real
and I'm always
in the mood
for amore
or at the mechanics
of it all.

Both of us feel like
Chinese tonight
and neither of us
have asked
why there's a grotesque
onion loaf in the middle
of our table,
next to the flowers,
which are dying.


Chances are that some
of the things that I might say
will save someones life,
provided, of course,
that this is a cartoon
we are living in.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Nights are cold in the canyon

Cross your arms when hearing
your wife and her phone calls
in the night on the porch,
sobs and crickets carrying on
until sunlight comes over the garage,

Bless yourself again
for having a family
whose eyes saw you falling,
whose arms caught you
and laid you in a bed
until another morning
came and the sun emerged
from behind night and morning low clouds,

Give a man a quarter
for what he needs to drink,
nights are cold in the canyons
where you lost flashlights
and pocket change,

Stop speaking of
former loves
and open every window
and listen to noise
that does not come
from inside your cranium
buzzing like electric shorts
in an old house at the end of
an ugly, washed out street,

Kneel when BB King
plays his guitar
or someone reads
a Frank O'Hara poem
about being stunned
because the lights have changed
and the whole city waits for him
to cross the street
and have his breath taken away,

Play your harmonica
until your lips start to bleed
at which time you'll be ready
to kiss all the invisible gifts.">Slate Magazine: "Nights are cold in the canyons

Cross your arms when hearing
your wife and her phone calls
in the night on the porch,
sobs and crickets carrying on
until sunlight comes over the garage,

Bless yourself again
for having a family
whose eyes saw you falling,
whose arms caught you
and laid you in a bed
until another morning
came and the sun emerged
from behind night and morning low clouds,

Give a man a quarter
for what he needs to drink,
nights are cold in the canyons
where you lost flashlights
and pocket change,

Stop speaking of
former loves
and open every window
and listen to noise
that does not come
from inside your cranium
buzzing like electric shorts
in an old house at the end of
an ugly, washed out street,

Kneel when BB King
plays his guitar
or someone reads
a Frank O'Hara poem
about being stunned
because the lights have changed
and the whole city waits for him
to cross the street
and have his breath taken away,

Play your

until your lips

start to bleed
at which time

you'll be ready
to kiss all the invisible gifts."

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

I am not Jack Kerouac

I am not Jack Kerouac
when my thumb lifts over the curb
and into on coming traffic,

Every tree I see is not
Big Sur with its endless groves
and shacks in the clearing,
smoke rising from chimneys
made of twigs and old tin cans,

Every abandoned car
reminds me of paradise
under harsh gleam of
bay side moon when
every spoon and pair of dice
glitters with impossible radiance
as the stars form a grin,
a full set of teeth
for the man in the moon,

I am not Jack Kerouac
and I won't have a drink
as I type,

I am as sober
as the judge
who laughs at hangings,
straight as managers
of franchise shoe stores,
square like new ice
when it hits the bottom of a glass,

Yet I dream
again of delerium and sin
and states of the union
where the grunion run on
the beaches under the clouds
covering the
acne scars of the man in the moon,

Don't let me speak too soon
nor too late,
Kerouac is dead and
in such a state
that he cannot spend
a dime of the money he made,

I am not Jack Kerouac
and this dollar is mine
to buy a Red Bull with
for those wings that keep
the city humming along,
singing a song
for pennies a day.

Monday, October 10, 2005

I Am Not Wallace Stevens

I told her to step back from the microphone
and speak slowly, to not tap the roof of
her mouth with the tip of her tongue that
need not click and pop in amplified echoes
while reading her poem by Wallace Stevens
about his crows, staring down on him from
wires stretched over new roads cutting
through the palm trees lining the edge of earth.

She read quickly, clipped, skipping over
troubling icons and isolated flora, the man
scratches his head, rubs his chin, tilts his head
and is stunned as wing spans throw shadows
over his face and spoil his perfect profile
on the side walk he walks upon in a white suit and cane,
she breaths steadily, readily, swaying with the fronds
and her blue eyes, like ponds, grow calm as cut grass
as the sentences become longer and the words
veer into beautiful cities and magic forests
described in pages of secret novels
that is read aloud behind the backdrop
of each tailored turn we take in day of getting through.

She reads and comes to an end
where the music doesn’t stop
and even the silence is full of notes
that are scored and played in deferred crescendos,
applause fills the air, one hand, two hands,
four hands, five and more fill the air,
for the moment dulling the screams of cash registers
or the coffee grinders pulverizing beans
to fine, black essence of legal tweak and tattered,

I go to kiss her after dinner
and she withdraws
to her corner of the front seat,
opening the door,
standing over the window
while I rattle my car keys,

“You’re not Wallace Stevens”
she says before she turns
and walks up the stairs to her bungalow,
her eyes full of moonlight
the color of ice cream.

Sunday, October 9, 2005

I am not Frank OHara

I am not Frank O’Hara
nor am I a blank slate or canvas
yearning for thick chunks of chalk
or coarse ugly brushes
to write and configure upon
all the materials that not like each other
and the friends they remind you of.

I am not Frank O’Hara
but that is me
on my knees in these old photos
I was going to throwing away,
you see me looking for a cassette tape
of our favorite Human League album
that flew my hand when you
tried to grab it in some lunge of love
or wrestling hold,
it went sailing behind a bookshelf
shoved against the wall,
tall and heavy, weighted with
art books and newspaper piles,
you snapped the photo
to use against me
in some future scenario when
my dignity would be an issue
and to prove, after all, that
I am not Frank O’Hara.

I am not Frank O’Hara
nor am I concert musician
nor an old Russian man playing chess
on a side street in Brooklyn,
I am in California
under the eye of an unforgiving sun
and the second hand smoke
of fires that burn closer to the beach
every day the weather remains dry as Algonquin wit,
I am waiting for you to come home
or for the avian flu to perch on my roof,
and yes, this long and wonderful day
is done and for all the phone calls,
emergencies, angry customers and
friends who will not take your advice
I am glad I am not Frank O’Hara
because I am breathing
and reading his poems that make
me want to pick up a pen
or stroke the keyboard
for words to fill the monitor
in wondrous rhymes about
the odd turns and twist of
every spoken word and gesture
of finger and hand to faces
that will not lie about how
the heart feels,

I am not Frank O’Hara
and dune buggies
are my greatest fear.

Sunday, October 2, 2005

How Sad

Talking to myself
about the lines
crossing old railroad ties.

So many gloves
for one hand.

Seldom to the East,
nature never leans.

dot the matrix.

This sentence is about
itself complaining
about it's circular nature.

Well known map.

How much target practice
shall we demand
for our first date?

She swore it was all true.

I saw you last night
sitting next to
Charlie Weaver,
who was napping
when circle got the square.

She swore it was all
true , that our talent
were different
from the average bear
and that any attempt
to unite them

Would change the course of
mighty rivers,
unhinge doors,

Make us desire to
bend steel in our bear hands.

Cups rattle right off
the shelf.

False diction is all there is.

Moonlight on bath tub water.


So the laughter takes us all
to another day that is after
the latest worse day to grace
the pages of diaries whose
ink runs and blots on the page
in the rain,
where you were writing,

So spins another day laughing
at the runs in the stockings of
pretty women for whom legs
are a religion of length and shape.

So laughter is not the cure for all that
ails the soul in the unnamed center of night,
but it is song that’s barked like the glee
of seals in a circus act performing
Bach on so many tricycle horns.

So the shoe horn one brings to the jam session
can only play sole music is enough to
make us laugh again by the rise of the sun
when it comes over the hills
and gutted mansions that
ruin the view of the coast line
loops along the curve of the continent
that grows redder than lobsters
in a hungry man’s trap,

So the leather that was wasted on the sidewalk
is gone but the feet survive all the blisters
sweet potato blues could provide in a stretch of
giving some one else a hand for merely showing up
in not just a nick of time, but the whole block of wood as well.

So there is no peace under the stars
when we laugh at the sins of the fathers
that visit us in any hometown that can be hidden in.

So there’s a sign up ahead.

So who’s laughing now?

A hat in the sofa cracks

A hat in the
Cracks of ugly sofas
Ain’t nothing to
Brag about on Sundays,
Pally boy.

marry me during the commercial

the hands of my watch have stopped
dead in their track, frozen on the dial

and the spoon full of steaming soup
is an inch from my mouth, arrested.

the cat looks to be posing for cute posters of
cats knocking things over, like it's done tonight with

that drink that is stuck in mid air , in front of the TV
with the beer ad on where no can even lick their suds

because time has stopped for the time being because
you're out of the room, on a cell phone , smoking

a Camel as you probably conspire with a girl friend
to stuff me in burlap bag and leave me

on a corner in a bad neighborhood, thinking gypsies
or blues musicians will find me and give me something

to do besides moon over your image, holding my breath
until you come back into the room,

just like your doing now, coming through the door
reeking of filter tips , cell phone in your grip,

looking at me askance when you see me exhale,
blowing out candles in the process, oh yeah,

I mean it's okay, really, I'm just glad you're back
from the break you took in the middle of my proposal

which means that all the breakable things left in the air
in your absence can now come crashing down to the

hard tile floor , all the bric-a-brac and my world particularly
getting bruised, bent and shattered and breaking wide, wide open,

my heart is broken again
when it's time to swim

and there's nothing funny about this at all,
I mean,

you're kind of cute, the way you
reduce me to rubble
even in my finest
courtin' clothes.

Saturday, October 1, 2005

The Drive Home

The boy whistles half a song
he heard half on the car radio
when he was half listening
with the other ear to his Dad
who was half asleep already
after the long party where Mom
took his keys and pulled him the coat sleeve.

“Please please me” the boy finally sings
in the middle of Dad’s story about
the time when he was ten and he swung a bat
and hit the ball so hard that it sailed all
over the globe and came back  that
where the game was played and broke
an apartment window that made
the old women scream
and the young men cry,
“Please please me, oh yeah….”
the boy sings,
Dad smiles,
Mom drives,

“Oh yeah what? asks Dad,
rose cheeked and  slurring
as Mom fires up a cigarette,
with the electric lighter,
“Please you what oh yeah?”

The boy looks at Mom
who is looking  straight ahead
as they drive the country road
back to the city at night,
billboards  for A&P and Ford dealerships
passing by until the sky brightens with
street lights and neon that makes
the snow on the grown look grey,
full of suit.

“Oh yeah what?:” Dad asks again
and the boy coughs from the cigarette smoke,
thinking that the car no longer smells like new leather.

“ Please please me, oh yeah and I love you”
he sings, his voice cracking as he reaches
for a note that miles beyond  his grasp.

“…AND I LOVE YOU” Dad proclaims
and now looks out the window,
silent now and soon snoring
as the boy notices that
there are more houses passing by
and less wooded groves,

“Dad is snoring” he tells his Mom,
who was singing “Tennessee Waltz”
with Patti Page on the radio and
every violin player on the planet,

“Yes he is” she says, turning
into their drive way,
“he  loves even when he’s sleeping”.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Larry Rivers History

Larry Rivers History LessonIn spite of everythingthat's hard and coveredin cigarette burnsThere's not a ghostof a chance thatthis exact world hasbeen here beforeI entered the museumto stare at statuesand rooms full of soaked canvas,Washington crosses the Delawareas though posing fora glossy magazine ad for whiskey or fabulous airlines,Manhattan is nestled inthe forests aroundGreat Lakes country,Those who fire firelong riflessee only the bloodtheir red coatsincite in the eyesof those whose farmsthey burn on sketchy grounds,History and advertisingoverlay each otherand leave their tracesas rough drawings wrestling for control of the wrist that holds the pencil,The world in outline,fading reds and bluesdrifting out of the lines of what the eyesees in one viewing,the easiest dimensionThat shimmers, blurs,stutters on viewing,repeats itself endlesslyalong with so many deathsand births that crowd thecalendar days,Damn I wouldwalk a mile for many a Cameleven thoughI smoked my last oneten years agothis fall.



I am sleeping
while I make the
eggs the way an army likes them,
guys with guns
and armor
who came by last night,
looking for a party,
finding religion instead,
the only thing to
do when there are no women
in the house and no war to
fight except a yawn
and some obscure itch
at the scalp line,
an army of scared rabbits,
a  receding hare line,
a joke the eggs me on
snoring as I flip
the eggs, scrambled ,
like an alphabet soup,
onto plates, snoring
and sawing logs with nostrils
flared like pants on a ballroom dance floor,
an army praying for women, just some one to pick a fight with,
I find myself chewing my tongue, head against the pillow, awake in the light that comes from the bathroom , there is water running, the sheets are wet with sweat and drool,
I see your mouth glisten with  lipstick,
your dress hangs on you
so right and precise as it molds itself lovingly over your breasts and
hips that it hurts me to say goodbye again, I know what you will say
when  you see me watching,
“You’re still asleep, friend, go back to the
other dream,
an  army waits for you
that could  use your knowledge about
things to do
when everything is done”,
so I close my eyes, a tail of your dress
whipping around a corner, through a door ,
and  there are dirty dishes,
guns and armor all over the carpet, tired men
with out wives or girlfriends
to love them
mediating on uniforms and regulations  in an age
when war is only dreamed of
in philosophy,
this world
fades, the shadow
at the end of each street
I  think I can enter into passing by
in cars and buses,
doors and windows looking onto other dreams
of armies naked in their
lack of  dreams, a religion of standing around,
waiting for a whisper,
this dream before the next one,
a pillow between our worlds.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Poem during the eleven o'clock news

Poem during the eleven o’clock news

A car backfires around
the block and the news
that night still comes to
nothing but the same old scores
and the same teams swing clubs,
throwing tethered balls, not a word
of who ran out of gas on the tracks
as the train appeared in a movie

Maybe, yeah, a movie
we were watching
about someone's stalled car
coughing for gas in the tail pipe
as a locomotive approached
around a dark, bend of the mountain
and a basketball bounced and rolled
off the playing floor to the showers where
the   towel boy dropped the phone
he'd just answered,
dropped the soap in a shower you were taking,
female and foamy and curved like the lines
of cello pressed between legs
of a musician who watched a foot ball game
with pork rinds on his breath,
the tips of his fingers,
you ask for a towel,
a new cake of soap,

I slip train tickets under your pillow,
think of the moon in low, stirring tones
of rich wood purring sounds that are
nothing like cries for help,
the TV is on in all these worlds
that are passed through.

I dream sports on tracks a planet
thriving  on humidity and cigar smoke,
you say "give me your money
and make a wish, please,
make a wish and don't tell me..."

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Recent Fiction Less Than Five Years Old

Meet Me in the Parking Lot
Stories by Alexandra Leggat
Flannery O'Connor, Russell Banks and Jersey Kozinzky meet for coffee, hash browns and small talk about psychic exile and the best sort of knife edge to hack through a bothersome bit of bone. Odd, disturbing, violent material here--violence either explicit or always at the edge of the crystallized situations here--all of which are made more jarring with Alexandra Leggat's taste for terse sentences and abrupt endings.

It works, for the most part, and the arc through the stories, life inside cars, on dark streets, side roads, parking lots behind anonymous bars, presents us with any number of dazed, abused and high strung women and rattled, crazed, raging men enacting any number of strange movements and quirks. At best, these stories are an adrenaline jolt, speaking truly to the sort of flash that gives one the urge to leap in front of traffic, to challenge immensity of grave and incalculable danger. Fans of Joyce Carole Oates take note , as Leggat seems a likely and artful heir to her position as chronicler of the Imperiled Woman.


Still Holding
A novel by Bruce Wagner
There's something refreshingly unforgiving in Bruce Wagner's lacerating Hollywood satire; those readers who've had a love/hate relationship with the movie business, an attraction-repulsion dynamic that loves movies themselves and yet is sickened by the business culture that makes it possible, will find the nasty laughs here telling, truthful, and an overdue joy to read.

Anyone else who desire something redeeming to emerge from all the bad faith, a kind act or sacrifice arising from some forgotten reservoir of decency would be better off seeking less severe wit. Wagner mines the old joke about Hollywood that "underneath the tinsel there's more tinsel", and obviously appreciates Jean Baudrillard's theories on simulacra, where the slavish and stylized impression has replaced the real; set this heady abstraction on to the business of celebrity lookalikes and the community that arises among them, we get a twisting , fun house mirror of Hollywood , a parallel existence that mimes the worst and most inane features of the stars they imitate. Wagner, in addition, writes like a wizard who knows where all the bodies are buried and the garbage is dumped.

Stories by David Foster Wallace
At his best, David Foster Wallace is an astute chronicler of the often needless (and fruitless) complications characters create for themselves. In these eight stories, he outlines the absurdity, sadness, and sheer comic reality of the outer-edge of consciousness. Fashion magazine editorial boards, consumer research companies, and paranoid office situations are among the areas fictionally explored where human activity fractures into dozens of frantic, nervous tangents. Oblivion is a dizzying, daring set of tales - a riveting virtuoso performance. Ironic, yes, that Wallace's exhausting "maximalist" style, which seems dedicated to fitting everything in sight into a sentence that contains everything else, works best in his shorter pieces: the humor hits harder, the stretches of associations don't have time to die on the vine.

The Body Artist
A novel by Don DeLillo
DeLillo is perhaps the best literary novelist we have at this time, which the career-defining masterwork  Underworld  made clear to his largest readership yet: at the end of all those perfect sentences , sallow images and and long, winding, aching paragraphs is a narrative voice whose intelligence engages the fractured nature of identity in a media-glutted age.
The Body Artist  has him contracting the narrative concerns to a tight, elliptical 128 pages, where the Joycean impulse to have a private art furnish meaning to grievous experience is preferred over the dead promises of religion and philosophy. What exactly the woman character does with her performance body art, what the point is of her ritualized , obsessed cleansing of her body, is a mystery of DeLilloian cast, but it's evident that we're witnessing to a private ritual whose codes won't reveal themselves, but are intended as a way for the woman to again have a psychic terrain she can inhabit following the sudden and devastating death of her film maker husband. The entrance of the stranger in the cottage turns her aesthetic self-absorption , slowly but inevitably, into a search into her past in order to give her experience meaning, resonance, a project she quite handily ignores until then. The sure unveiling of her psychic life is a haunting literary event.
DeLillo's language is crisp, evocative, precise to the mood and his ideas: you envy his flawless grasp of rhythm and diction as these traits simultaneously make the cottage on the cold , lonely coast seem sharp as snap shot, but blurred like old memory, roads and forests in a foggy shroud.  A short, haunted masterwork.