Reprise

Okay, just like we planned, let’s do this again.

I’ve been walking on sand,
Goin’ on months, now.
Been wearing these high, hot boots
Made for cold weather.

It’s a bit slow, so far.
Pick it up.

All this shifting weight, keeping balance,
Doing everything I can to stay upright;
When I could just lay back, slip off my shoes,
Let the ocean pull me in.
Float buoyant.

Maybe fewer words does work better.

But there’s this wall up:
Foundation a thousand feet deep,
Nothin’ but clouds come over…

Come on, keep going.
Try more alliteration or rhyming.

Looking now at the concrete,
Cold winding street,
On course to save myself from this perdition.
Permission for salvation.
Sedition.

Yeah, that’s the good stuff.
Just a few more lines!


No…

I won’t.
Not anymore.

What do you mean!? Why not!?

Tread not upon old roads.

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Positive Disintegration

I wish to be sand;
So I might soak up what is brought to me
And become malleable.
That small hands could shape me,
Build fleeting dreams and weep
As the perpetual tides ripple,
Pulling me with them into strong currents.
Or to make rich and fertile loam,
Where steadfast roots take hold,
Spread, and sprout eternal forests.

I wish to be water,
To cool parched tongues
And soothe with calming touch
The burning minds and souls
Of the wayward and weary.
Let them follow me to green places
Among groves that blossom and give shelter;
Allow them take my nourishment,
Build upon my shores and live forever:
Peaceful through generations in quiet, smiling joy.

I wish to be air—
Free and constant and neverending—
The unconscious need,
Drawn into aching lungs and given back
To the gasping Earth, to bleeding hearts
Intent on love and suffering.
Would that I could comfort
With deep breaths.

But I am not air,
Neither am I water nor sand.
I am a pebble,
Eroded away by relentless millennia
From mountain to boulder,
To big rock and small.
And there are eons still ahead.

Autumn Hymnal

Our last chance to be busy,
As days grow shorter
In a flourish of noise and color.

Riotous reds, yellows, and oranges
And the dying rays of the Summer sun.

I step onto the school bus on a Monday in September,
Twenty-one years ago,
Terrified.

But I have my sister with me,
And she’s just as scared as I am.
So I pretend I’m not afraid,
Even though I’m surrounded by strangers:
Each one bigger than the last.

Getting to our destination was easier than being there.

Once we’d arrived,
We were separated, my sister and I,
For the first substantial length of time
Since we were born.

It’s no surprise, I became nervous,
Anxious of every new event
Without the safety of my sibling.

But I pressed onward,
Despite the fear and loneliness
That ensnared me ever after,
Going as far as seeking out that strange unfamiliarity

So that I might have a chance to learn something new.

I’d like to call it courage,
But it’s probably just wishful thinking…

I can remember the leaves changing,
Revealing their accessory pigments
In the chill of October,
Seven years later.

I woke up and I’d lost religion!
Couldn’t find it anymore!

I remember having it,
When my grandmother took us,
To play games, eat cookies, drink fruit punch.
And to learn about God.

I wish I could have asked her where it had gone…

I had it with my brother as well,
When my soul was saved and I saw
The heads of pseudo-strangers being dunked
Into murky water,

Polluted with our most dire sins.

But God became mired within a web of deceit:
Entangled in the bias of my unmarked category.
And lost to me forever.

Now I prefer faith to religion…

In November, after a decade and four years,
Northeastern gales strip the world
Of its foliage, of its many-colored fantasy.

And I find truth again—
Perspective, agency, love for all things—
Among the barren branches
Rising above this beautiful and terrible naked Earth.

I am reminded of Autumns past:
Breaking bread and playing games
With those who molded me;
I am grateful for my family,
All the old friends, all the new,

All the opportunity awaiting in this life.

I am an amalgam, a distorted mosaic
Without semblance of rhyme or reason,
Cobbled together by the enigmatic hands of time.

And if I have hurt you, bless me with forgiveness,
So that I might forgive myself.
And if I have loved you,

Know that I love you still…

Our last chance to be busy,
When leaves fall,
When we feast together,
When birds fly far from home,

As days grow shorter
In a flourish of noise and color.

Ode to Summer

There is time to play
With bare feet
And the sun beaming down.

Leeward tides roll along seas of green hills.

I am very young, now,
It is night time,
And my sister sleeps next to me.
We are wrapped for warmth in the chill of the Northern night,
Sandwiched between our parents.

I hear gentle waves from beyond the barrier of our tent,
The wind caressing the trees, an owl in the distance.

There is only peace here, and safety.
I am home.

Twenty years gone,
And the sun mocks me.
It taunts me with oppressive heat.

It is August, and my neck and shoulders burn.
Not from ultraviolet radiation,
From carrying power equipment
And picking up the slack of those
Too lazy to pick up a goddamn weed-eater!

They call it, “bitch-work”
Behind my back…

My hands are rough.
They ache with my knees and spine.

But I bring beauty to the world,
And the world brings it back to me.

Weeks spent in the North, to get away.
Around Detroit or Cleveland or Buffalo;
To small places like White River, Lac Victoria, and Wawa.

It was there that I fell in love for the first time.

We were young, just passing each other
Outside a small general store:
The old kind with sundries and novelty bubblegum.

She waited on the stoop for someone,
Or something, eating ice cream.
But I never spoke to her.
Never said, “Hello,”
Or asked her name.

It was likely a beautiful name,
Laden with meaning.

A year passed and I walked down country roads,
Talking and being silent
With a different girl.
She was sweet, kind, and faithful.

I wished she would be with me,
And I told her as much.
But her feelings differed from mine.

She fancied my best friend.
So, graciously, I stepped back.
I didn’t fight or beg,
Because I didn’t want to lose her.

I told him, they became a couple.
For a while, anyway.

Now, I see women,
No longer girls.
They wear flowing floral dresses—
Summer dresses—

That come to their knees,
Exposing delicate curves
Of thighs and hips and busts.

With intricate patterns and fancy shoes or hair.
Sometimes, just sneakers or sandals.
Sometimes, just a ponytail or braid.

They don’t walk,
They dance across sunlit pavement
To music I can’t hear.

In June, fifteen years ago,
I was a terrible baseball player.
I played among the best,
But I helped us lose the championship.
The last at-bat, full count,
Swing and a miss.

My teammates pat me on the back,
Consoling with, “good game,” but silently blaming,
Like I blamed myself.

A decade later,
Standing in plaid cargo shorts and flip-flops
In tall grass beading with dew,
At the top of a small mound
Surrounded by Appalachian hills.

All minds reeling from the onset of powerful drugs.

Music drifts from the distant stage,
Filling the air with harmony.

A magenta sky swirls with clouds in sunset,
And the stars begin to peek out of the purple behind me.
The grass is cool and refreshing on my bare legs.
Awe and inspiration.

We are fleeting as the birds.

It was better than the day before,
When panoramas took infinite depth:
Backdrops of silhouettes,
Like a Chinese shadow puppet theater.

Fireflies flashed among the trees,
Looking for mates.
In a small grove overlooked by the balcony,
Where we found oneness,
Where we became whole.

Five years earlier,
I had no idea who I was or what I wanted,
Only that I had good friends,
Who would later leave me behind.

We sat at my house, in my room,
Laughing at the antics of each other.
They were as lost as I was,
Not knowing the future,
Not caring for the past.

We were creatures of the present, then.

Three years after, I worked and withdrew,
And they let me,
But not before taking me to the woods again,
Where I was made the punch-line.

The year before, we’d lived for a week together,
Away from our homes,
Marking our transition into autonomy,
Into independence.

It was an alcoholic blur that lasted three years,
For me at least.
For some, it got better,
For others, it got worse.

I can only remember anger
In the Smoky Mountains,
And loneliness when I returned.

It was a decade after I hiked the steep hills in July,
With my father and mother and sister.
As children, we put ridiculous names to places we saw,
So we could commit them to memory.

Eventually, we forgot, but our parents remembered.

So did I once I saw them again,
Hiking the same Appalachian hills
Nearly two decades later,
Though they were covered in moss and dead leaves,
Overgrown with vines of greenbrier and blackberry.

After I’d lost the stomach for red meat,
After a tick bite nearly took my life,
With a week of pain and hallucinations

From hunger and dehydration and deprivation of sleep.

I had been slothful before,
Waiting for life to take shape around me,
“Never again,” I vowed.

So, I took up hatchet and machete,
To clear away the brush and bramble
Of lost youth,
To cut trails back to the past,
Toward remembrance and direction.

I have been shown the way,
I need only the strength to follow.

There is time to play
In cool water,
In the scent of freshly cut grass,
In the verdant blooms of wildflowers.

With bare feet,
And the sun beaming down.

A Subjective Nature

“What is beauty?”
Ask Van Gogh and he’d cut off his other ear.
Picasso would glue the ear to his mistress’ forehead.
Dali would twirl his moustache and scream obscenities.
Jackson Pollock would vomit.

Everything we have ever seen exists
On wavelengths of light,
Measured from 390 to 700 nanometers
Apart at their apexes:

The visible spectrum.

This range contains every mural,
Every painting,
Every sketch,
Every dye and ink and pigment;
Every aesthetic wonder ever glimpsed by the eyes of man.

“What is music?”
Ask Handel and he’d pray for an answer.
Mozart would put his ear to the floor and wait for his own.
Coltrane would chase the dragon and wonder why you’re asking him.
Bob Dylan would shrug.

Everything we have ever heard exists,
On a separate measure of wavelengths,
Apart from light.
Measurements of vibrations in the air,
From 20 to 20,000 hertz:

The audible spectrum.

This range contains every opera,
Every symphony,
Every song,
Every chorus and melody and rhythm;
Every sonic opus written by one for the joys of another.

“What is literature?”
Ask Chaucer and he’d point to the people.
Shakespeare would laugh and point back to Chaucer.
Hemingway would get drunk, tell a war story, and shoot himself.
Neil Gaiman would doodle.

Everything we have ever read exists,
Within a spectrum all its own;
Not subject to empirical measurements,
Apart from word count.
The English language contains roughly
1,000,000 words and rising:

The literal spectrum.

This range contains every novel,
Every manuscript,
Every poem,
Every line and syllable and letter;
Every literary masterpiece that shaped a young boy’s imagination.

“What is art?”

Mantis shrimp can see into the ultraviolet,
Helping them find their mates.
Pit vipers can detect heat in the infrared,
Helping them find their prey.

Greater wax moths hear sonic frequencies up to 300,000 hertz,
Allowing them to evade predators.
Asian elephants produce seismic frequencies as low as 14 hertz,
Allowing them to locate friends.

Archaea, Bacteria, and Eukarya,
Everything that slithers, crawls, walks, swims, runs, jumps, and flies
Upon the face of this blue-green Earth
Communicates through electromagnetic and biochemical impulses.

Art is beauty.
Art is music.
Art is literature.

But overall,
Art is life.

The Ballad of Rodney the Recluse

A wild man foams at the mouth,
Running amok and rambling an unintelligible babble.
From the deep in the hills, he comes.
Emerging from his pupal stasis
Within a contrived cave of compacted dust, duff, and delusion-

Wherein he hath consumed a dubious concoction of deviant delights
(frequently found on the forest floor)-

He invades!

Like Sübü’ätäi sans the company clout,
The sleepy little city of Weatherton.

Nestled among the rivers and valleys of the heartland, it sits,
Teeming with team and holy spirit, and always waiting
For something to happen.

But then a rabid fox roars out of his holler,
Insane with rage and strong as Neanderthal man-
Thanks in large part to the powers granted by magic potions-
To teach the timid townsfolk the true meaning of terror:

Rodney Ray, the Rowdy Recluse!

He offends the senses in every imaginable way:
Odiferous scents radiate from his festering form,
Shocking sights etch his sticky epidermis
With inklings of fascist and fundamentalist manifestos,
And psychotic sounds spurt from his maniacal mandible.

He drapes himself in a patchwork of death,
Primarily uncured possum hide sown with the shaved and stripped tails of coypu.
His cloak of coonskin flows behind him as he frolics
Frantically out of the forest and into the long-forgotten ‘scape
Of stillness and silence in suburbia.

The jaunt began jovially enough;
But then the mystical mash of herbs and fungus began to ferment in his bowels,
Soon making him boastful and belligerent and wicked,

And he frothed with fury at the world that whisked him out!

So, fly, the afflicted dog did!
Toward the twinkling lights of the town of Weather.
Cackling with newfound vim and vigor
And saturated with vicious voracity,

He honed in on the hamlet on the horizon…

Amongst the backstreets and alleyways, he slunk,
At first content with sneaking and peeking into the windows of snoozing
Patriarchs and matriarchs and folks of middling and younger mettle.

Yet, in-so-doing, his mind became inflamed! Invigorated,
With synapses streaming through his cerebellum and
The rest of the malformed matter resting upon his medulla,
He freaked and shrieked a shrill, long note as he watched
The restless rising and falling of the bountiful buxom,

Of old Mrs. Howard: the notorious town gossip!

As blood pooled in his loins,
Lights were raised; alarms were sounded.
The North-end neighborhood woke along with the widow through the window.

She screamed, strangely harmonizing with her suspect for a moment,
And leaped for her telephone, instantly dialing for help and
Satisfaction from armed forces and awakened friends.

Rodney reared back, befuddled by the reaction
From his usual cry of joy to his distant rodent companions:
Tim the Squirrel, and George the Beaver…

They’d always bark and beat back at him their own messages,
But they’d never bellowed out in the same tone as he.

So, the venomous canine, still fuming in confusion, fled yet again,
And his virus spread quickly through fiber optics and fibrous sinew!

His destination unclear and his ego and erecting parts engorged,
He ran, screaming down the street to find the long-lost
Feelings of companionship and closeness, left behind with his
Callous family and cruel friends a full generation ago.

Toward the town square he aimed his fervent ambling,
Following the city glow with a weird stride of preposterous purpose.

Pheromones flooded his olfactory glands
As he reached the city center, and he traced the sinful scent,
Baying and biting at passersby and oblivious
To the more and more mountainous structures looming ahead,
And the attention drawn by a barbarian horde of one.

Elapsing old factories and tenements and hovels
Harbored and anchored by crumbling concrete and rusted steel,
He was engulfed by the intoxicating odor
Of feminine sex and sweat that compelled his course.

Upon sighting the sultry soul around the next corner,
He marveled at his Muse!
A lascivious lump of lusty lard in latex and leather; by the name of Nemesis.

In a moment of focus, a forgotten flash of pigtails and poppies
Was pulled from his memory.
His cracked lips curled in a crazed yet sentimental grin,
And his hands wrenched a wreath of weeds and dirty roots from a rough sward.

Timidly and tenderly, he presented the plump princess
With his instinctual gift bouquet of bracken and bramble,
Underscored with the gentle thrusts and gyrations of intention
From the apparatus attached to the middle of his anatomy.

She spurned his surprise, staring daggers…

Enraged by the recollection and reprisal of childhood rejection,
Rowdy Rodney drew out his own jagged shiv and sliced her!
With frenzied slashing and stabbing motions,
He scraped the blade across blubber and bone.

The handy heirloom had been handed down
From his Great-Grandpappy.
He, the late guardian of the wayward ward,
Had wielded the implement in a series of impalements
Through several damned Yanks that dared cross Dixie!

Being that the duo was displaced from the dichotomous contest
By a congruent four-score of aforementioned fame
Held no bearing on the brow of a crazy old coot!

Nor did the demands of the fancy-talkin’ men from the bank and the draft board,
Who each departed Old Ray’s land with freshly acquired holes…

The wet-eared whippersnapper learned his Pappy’s tricks well,
And set to motion the spinning winds of calamity in the halcyon hub,
Starting with the slaughter of an unlucky ungulate.

Staring at his sacrifice under the light of the Hunter’s Moon,
Rodney howled his final curse to state and Sovereign

And the society of sinners from which his ingrained evil had sprung…

Blood boiling under the burden of grief and grievance,
The baleful jackal galloped into the night!

His edge hungered and he sated its cravings
With carvings in the sanguine flesh of frightened villagers;
The vile viscera it left in seeping wounds congealed,
And infected the unfortunate with dormant diseases of dire consequence.

Under his onslaught-
His merciless march of madness across the metropolis-

All were enemies and each was equally guilty!

Among the recipients of his wrath, first came the phallic cult,
Complete with caveats of conformity to fraternal tradition.

The recluse routed them into their half-way house between world and wonder,
Cornering them after cutting through the tender tendons
Keeping their pompous patrons tall and kingly.

Forget pride: a severed foot comes before the fall!

Losing patience and interest with the protestations of
The prepubescent sheep clad in wolf-skins,

The pestilent cur pounced upon proximate victims,
Varying in size and shape and consistency.
Where there were women walking and talking, they were groped and ogled
And nearly taken in rapacious reverie by Rodney Ray.

But churlish chaps of brutish demeanor found his presence unpleasant,
Especially within arm’s reach of their pretty young wives,
And hurled him headlong into the street
Where he met more malcontents encased in honking metal.

Having lost his hand-scythe in the manhandling,
The grim recluse resorted to fisticuffs and fire!

Smashing through glass, he apprehended his new aggressors,
Beating and berating them until their cries of anguish
Forced retreat from reinforcements and
Called up the cavalry to enact retribution.

Sirens swirling in the distance, he swept behind
The main strip and skulked into the alley posterior
To the carnage he’d very recently caused.

There he found a vagrant, snoring vociferously within his hobo-nest.

Kicking the man, he demanded in half-dead languages,
The bottle of liquor clutched to his chest,
And the fume-spewing lighter he kept in his pocket.

Assaulting the transient tramp after his acquiescent actions,
Rodney further ripped his rags and commenced
Creation of a combustible cocktail.

Breaching the barrier between flashing lights and freedom,
He entered the capitol axis of the capital, and climbed,
Rung by rung to the summit of the central authority shepherding the city.

He dropped his chemical container behind him and barred the door,
Preventing his pursuers from having their hour of glory…

The inferno consumed the construction,
Burning to cinders its terrible clutch of currency and corruption on the town.

Finding solace in the snarling of the hounds below,
And the buzzing twirl of whirly-hornets above
Who cast their focusing lenses upon him without stinging,
He sang his joy,
Soaring over the precipice to peace and prosperity!

And in the light of the rising sun,
With the melting of wax and falling of feathers,

Rodney Ray, the Righteous Recluse,
Made rendezvous with doom and renounced the diabolical denizens of Weatherton!