This crazy spring froze me right inside
its own unnatural thaw. When I look to
the generation behind myself I see nothing
but a glossy spread of good fellowship
that never happened. All our relations
gathered at an outdoor grill, listening
to Stevie Wonder sing his hymn to Little Rock.
Imagine that! Call us out for our wild alliance
in a place so long ago that people
still brushed shoulders on the street
and passed bread and stories around
the dining room table.
I’m going to drive these pristine roads alone
in a silver Valiant wagon. Just watch me
fly right past you as I swing back
into the sweet and crowded past.
Benediction for a Baby Born in 2020
Let her be healthy and let her be safe.
Let her climb on the turtles and run
through the spray of the Three Rivers
Fountain and when she is old enough,
let her sit on the stone rim of her city
drinking sweet coffee with friends
and laughing right in the face of worry.
Let her draw sidewalk rainbows in chalk
traced from the prism offering
to the quiet of her bedroom wall.
Let her read it as a fable with the moral
broken into all the colors of curiosity.
Let her know the names of the dogs
on her street, count lightning bugs
on Valley Green, borrow your best books,
and blast her raucous music. Occasionally.
let her learn what we all think we know
about chance and kindness and all the small
disasters, about whispering sweet dissent
in the ear of everything gone wrong
and just when all assembled sigh and say,
“Kid, you sure know how to pick a year!” let her
new name remind us of dogwoods in forests,
of footpaths, apples and quiet tenacity,
of perfectly ordinary joy.
the pizza delivery guy
at the door
that’s what happens
when you have social anxiety
maybe I won’t have to meet him
if it keeps going like this
I can cancel my order
because I’m so nervous
I can’t eat
I can’t take this
stuck, covid 19
not a store open
to buy something
(which are the best things to buy)
I’ve gone to corona hell and I don’t even have the virus
which could be my next circle of covid hades
the gas station slot machine
keeps taking my money because it’s the only thing to do
just the same old toilet
into the sewer
there must be some reason
I woke up this morning
or maybe there isn’t
and I missed my chance at heaven
everything looks miserable
even the book I’m reading
which is one of the only things I have to do
so does the bed where I sleep
which is one of the only other things I have to do
I go out on the deck and smoke
and think why isn’t she talking to me
but I don’t talk to her either
we’re too not busy on our phones
I need a shower
I keep leaving the house without my face mask and gloves
which make me look like I’m performing an alien autopsy with a baseball cap on
I haven’t done the dishes
the laundry falls wherever it was taken off
the only thing that’s gotten good is the high quality of the bitching that goes on in the house with
“This sucks” and
being the most
deadly phrases of all
Social Distancing Lap Dance
she wore a mask over her mouth, both tits, and her cooch
and she gave him a lap dance from 6 feet away
his jollies only stretched as far as his imagination
.lockdown ladder 1.
.lockdown ladders 2.
.lockdown ladder 3.
The Morning Sky
Tea Leaves & toothpicks
First Good Friday of the New Ice Age
It’s difficult to turn off apocalyptic thought
on the pivotal day of guilt
celebrated by the Christian calendar.
Nothing appears poetic
under a mid-April blanket of snow—
birds do not chirp in horny ecstasy.
Beaks bitch about flash-frozen insect protein,
and a cruel game of hide and seek
played with seeds.
Crows flaunt freedom of movement
while humanity is sequestered in fear—
there is a new killer no law can corral.
Did this terrorist wake
from pre-historic slumber
while we spiked our thermostats?
Our elected loan sharks seek subterfuge—
consult public-relations, accountants,
agree this doesn’t need to be a tragedy.
Place the elderly and infirm at the front—
they’ll agree they’ve already consumed
their fair share of resources.
So hide your ma and pa, grandma,
grandpa, and your sister with CF,
‘cause COVID’s comin’.
Indiscriminate and dominant—
disease on droplet air
doesn’t give a damn about sin.
first pandemic girlfriend
my son is 12
starts Grade 7
meets a girl
in classroom bubble
not the students
cocoons of 15
at each other
like we did
teacher’s don’t care
as long as work
feel free to pass
notes: yes or no
do you like me
will even help
for discreet holding
sneak a peck
on mask during
bathroom bubble breaks
or sunlight stimulus
forget lunch bag note
with name, number,
I like that you smell
like wet dog
small sister teases
looks good on him
in camouflage couture
The sky falls. Evening opens before us, perfect.
Here is a table, white-cloth’d, glasses chilled.
Fern fronds wave in the cool light.
Come and drink! Here are wine, vodka, lemons and gin.
a favorite chair is cushioned, ready.
Everyone’s waiting. See the guests–everyone she’s loved
or loathed, fucked over, or been fucked up by,
throughout her life. Of course, she is dead.
Please, night sky– be kind to my mother.
She might think she’s dreaming.
Who will console her at the moment of realization?
Maybe knowing will be enough.
Sit down in the empty park. Bang your head against a maple tree.
Observe the pale watery sun overhead as it touches your knee,
then close your eyes. This will help you not hear the bells
of Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church at ten o’clock
when they toll ninety-four times—one peal for each elderly man and woman
who expelled a last exhausted sigh of relief
in a nursing home or hospital quarantine center,
or home alone clutching a notebook, Important Numbers to Call
scrawled across the cover.
Your former boss is dead, her nephew, too. You will return to work
sometime in June, but you will not enter each other’s houses again,
your mouths will not open to laugh at the looniness
of empty sanitizer dispensers, a Cover Your Cough!
notice next to the No Exit sign.
Tomorrow, your own life will return.
Your mother and father are dead already, thank God.
Spring Break Without End
The options were
The Boca Boogie
The Get Your Rat On,
The Merry Lego,
The Black Death, and
You could get anything
from a slice to a 64-incher.
We’d been shooting for sunset
in the Keys, but by the time we got
as far down as Boca Raton,
our beer chest was empty and
the sounds of our stomachs were
nearly drowning out the heavy metal
blasting from our speakers.
After some drunken debate
about the relative virtues
of the options, we decided on
a 64-inch Boccaccio
and a pitcher each of Corona.
In anticipation of our
spring break trip,
we’d been guzzling beer nonstop
long before spring break
actually started. We were
so out of it we’d inadvertently
fallen off our screens.
No Facebook, no Instagram,
no Twitter, no TV even.
Nothing did we know about what
the world outside our little tribe
was beginning to find out.
Several pitchers and slices later,
we staggered back to our van
and got back on the road south
to the Keys.
“Hey,” one of the still somewhat
alert ones among us piped up,
“how come all the traffic is
heading in the opposite direction?!
I mean, this is
spring break, for Chrissake!”
He could feel the weirdness,
the massive scale of it, imagine
what it must be like for others, but
it was mostly life as usual for him.
Even before he retired, he’d
long been a social distancer.
In his younger years, he’d had
a number of relationships that
involved living together, but
only for short periods of time.
For the majority of his years, he’d
lived alone. He’d gotten so he
preferred the solitudinous lifestyle,
being free to do or not do
whatever he wanted—at least,
that’s what he reassuringly
told himself whenever his aloneness
shouldered its way to the
forefront of his consciousness
and shape shifted from a sense of
quiet presence into one of
dissonant, mocking absence.
By the time the pandemic set in,
there was only one item left
on his bucket list, which he now
alternately called his fuckit list
because the more items he crossed
out, having accomplished them,
the more he realized how ephemeral
and unfulfilling they’d actually been.
He still held hope for the final,
unique thing on the list, though.
Unlike all the other items, it was
not a material thing, so, he figured,
it had potential for inducing some
lasting spiritual experience.
Since the negative side of his
aloneness had become increasingly
assertive lately, he proceeded
to pursue that last item on his list
right after he’d completed
the next-to-last item.
First he reread and
contemplated what he’d written
at the bottom of his list:
For eleven consecutive days,
meditate unceasingly on breathing
while sitting, lying, standing, walking,
and doing whatever.
“Well,” he said to himself. “Here goes
the proverbial nothing.”
And with that, he began his
Moment after moment,
day after day, he consciously
directed and redirected
his focus on breathing. He deeply
breathed in and out; breathed
a gamut of distractive thoughts
born of boredom, memory,
worry, fantasy, emotion;
breathed a will to return
to intentional focus on breathing.
On the eleventh day, once the sun
had gone down and twilight
had come to its moment
of perfect equipoise, he felt
something in himself give way,
as if he were an amoeba that had
just completed reproduction,
delivering its double.
“Who or . . . what are you?” he asked
the apparition his third eye must have
manifested before him.
“I’m your god.”
“My God?!” he gasped,
presuming the spiritual experience he’d
hoped for was at last beginning
to take shape.
“No, heh heh, your
lowercase god. Your
personal god—you know,
the intricately conditioned ego
pulling your strings,
calling your shots,
programming and navigating
your worldly life for you?”
“Wha . . . I . . . didn’t—”
“Yep, you didn’t know.
But now you do, at least for now.”
“For now? . . . Just for now?”
“You’ve been meditating nonstop
for eleven days. That may seem like
quite a long time, but
collectively that number of days
adds up to only a single moment.”
“So, where do I—or we?—go
“Well, now that you’ve become
aware of me, this behind-the-scene
aspect of yourself, you basically have
two options: You can try to
transform or transcend or get rid of me
and somehow take on
the services I’ve been providing,
or you can simply go on as you
have been going, with me
utterly hidden in the background.”
“Go on obliviously, you mean?”
“Hmm, I wouldn’t put it
that way exactly, but I’m
biased, of course, heh heh.”
“And whichever way I opt to go,
who’s to say that won’t
actually be you still calling the shots
and pulling the strings?”
“Ah, now that’s a real question,
one requiring a profound, nondual
answer that goes beyond words,
yours and mine.”
A Warm Cup Of Bleach Before Bed
masked by Mother Earth.
A viral spiral
in exchange for
oil spills and
Nice is the new drug.
Side effects may include
and death in waves
no shoes dancing
on the street
there is a thin
and my enemy
made of the finest
Belongings Got Some Rest (as of April 2020)
a pair of black heels,
a tiffany blue party dress
chocolate and burgundy lipsticks
fine face powders
fragrant breath mints
a blister of allergy tablets
the file of uncompleted pantoums
written for the Friday open mic
the memory of
our last gathering
in the Zinc Bar
My wife models the Johnny Was face mask
she ordered from Amazon, the material,
a profusion of extravagant blossoms,
enhancing her green-gold irises & the cute
little crease between her eyes. I’m studying
my navel, the skin just above it, hirsute
& blotched, how it pulses to the beat
of my heart. I never understood Newton’s
First Law of Motion, but the Fourth Law
of Motion, which I just invented, promises
the heart will always persist in its state
of uniform motion. Let us pray.
SHELTERING AT HOME
I come to
in the kitchen, leaning
against the stove,
gripping an empty bag
of Trader Joe’s white cheddar popcorn,
tasting salt but unable
to recall opening the bag
& eating its contents.
Funny how the time slips away,
sang my favorite cowpunk,
funny how I once needled
my foodie friends
when they oooed and aaahed
over some chef’s presentation:
“Hey, guys,” I’d say,
“we’re going to eat it, not
fuck it.” You can imagine
my popularity. How I miss
my best friend
& my other friend too.
When The Clapping Stops
Nurses will get a cut in pay.
Immigrant nurses will be deported.
Those who get phoned by “Contact and Trace”
call centres will be perpetually self isolated,
the 14-day period extended after each person
they tended to gets the second wave of the virus.
And the clapping outside houses,
the banging of pans and fireworks,
will echo in the distance
in the distance,
Hospital (Self Isolation Sonnet)
Persuaded by my wife to return to our
marital bed so she does not have to get
up every two hours to monitor
my struggle for every breath and let
her see the progress of my virus symptoms.
As I try to sleep on my front or side,
as I have read it opens up the lungs,
I begin to cough up more phlegm, decide
I must rise, retch it down the toilet bowl.
At sink, red-faced with sweat, I can’t walk back
to bed so crawl along the landing and fall
down. My wife lobs me on the bed, contacts
emergency services who wheel me
out and quick through to Barnsley A and E.
You, I, both strangers now,
the shifting shapes of our eyes speaking
of the air you shun, deducing the spit
to many unknowns, the softest moans
of fevers, the tastelessness of phlegm,
the quivers of scared, scarred skins,
the loss of spring burrowing in nostrils,
we, suddenly, are the symptoms.
I can only surmise the speech
of what is concealed, the whole mouth,
imagine the slight movement of your lips
when they remember berries, the noise
of slow sipping, the counted brushing
of the excitement clinging to fingertips,
the blown smoke circles, all hesitations
feigning, the undetected bluffs.
You stare, my tongue inside,
hiding like socket balls behind shut eyelids,
no hairs, none of those stubborn leftovers
between molars after chewing, the itching
of my throat quiet, the words you cannot
hear even if I say them, the muffled cough
becoming a hint of existence, the sighs
underneath the unwoven spandex.
i sing the body to a hemorrhage
“the fires are not my doing
neither is the fear
nor the brown skin
i put my weapons into the ground
i sign my resignation in the dirt”
all still broken
the house windows
the store shelves
the po-po cars
the stale white words from particle board podiums
and the black lives
and the “us” loves
every dream is sharded
every hand is cut
“we need cha now”
i sing my body to a hemorrhage
::six pack of Mexican beer::
will be televised
‘cause that shit gets ratings
and my septuagenarian dad
the dreams of the young
watching Fox News
sitting on his couch in ‘Zona
they say pneumonia
is like drowning
off the coast of Antarctica
Public Safety Advice
so the virus can’t see your skin
keep your distance
it carries a baton
wear a mask
it enters like tear gas
protect health workers
you’ll need them when you can’t breathe
My life has ended, Lowe’s is shut
I’ve varnished shelves but
need some screws and a mounting bracket
cos nails in drywall just won’t hack it.
I know for some these aren’t real issues
but I have nowhere to store my tissues,
some inter-leaved but most on rolls;
dry wipes and wet wipes to suit all holes,
some ready primed with aloe vera,
that soothing balm of the covid era,
soft and delicately scented
in case your bathroom isn’t vented,
a choice of Classic or Gentle Clean
a bit like matt or satin sheen –
not the texture of the paper finish
but one is thicker, the other thinnish.
In my personal en suite
I’ve opted for some Premium Elite,
in the cloakroom which guests frequent
is Quilted Organic without a scent.
With puppy accidents in mind
I’ve loads of the cheap unbranded kind
(when its perforations get out of sync
delaminate, unwind – that works, I think).
For family using the upstairs loo
there’s Triple Softy to wipe their poo
and Bounty absorbent for the toddler’s wee
which goes astray – he’s only three!
With store shelves empty I’m feeling crass
so attracted now to the paperless ass.
I think instead, to avoid invective
I’ll install a bidet – it’s more effective.
Pandemic v. Pandemic
i rarely go out anymore
either that or i go out every day
depends on what you call walking Rosie
watching her piss and shit
endlessly crossing to the other side of the street
mask on, mask off
like we’re toxic waste dumps
Rosie’s lost half the
hair on her tail
i’m reading amoxicillin for
flea bites helps with itching
it could be infected anal glands
now they’re talking about rabbit plague
mortality is guaranteed
a squirrel in Colorado
a marmot in Mongolia
cats, ferrets and minks in Miami
i don’t know which masks around here are clean
which is the one i wore yesterday
or the day before
they fuck all night long
in the morning i discover them
on the kitchen counter
hanging from door knobs
falling out of my pockets
damp from the juices they collected
do not reuse
printed on the inside fold
Rosie waiting by the door
Rosie piss shit
Rosie losing hair
knobs damp reuse
toxic fleas Colorado guaranteed
mask on, mask off
Horror show (a picture of tomorrow)
Thunder at Key West
Will there still be music when this world ends?
When the stave of power lines has fallen?
A strumming in the trees, a weak rhythm
beaten on the shell of a dead tv?
After the inundations and dust storms
the refugees and mass migrations.
What new blues will we conjure when hunger
presides like an incurable disease?
How many meals are we from anarchy?
Right now keyboarders breed conspiracy,
backwood militias nurse Pol-Pot fantasies
where liberal is opposite to liberty.
You’d like to believe instinctive kindness
would shine within us, brighter than daylight
seen through the flung doors of a cathedral,
but the approaching darkness is spleen deep.
Expect the return of the Pharisees,
a kingdom of priests and superstition,
the cruelty of summary justice
and tribal warlords.
will seem a fable of milk and honey;
the one way street of capitalism
a warm boulevard of benevolence.
Maybe you’ll remember music coming
from a cafe verandah in Key West
as smiling people come and go, a girl
flicking her freshly washed hair explaining
This is a song about an ex-boyfriend,
who didn’t like my music and she’ll sigh
like it was important and insightful
while you knew the only honest music
was the sound of your empty bourbon glass
rolling unstoppably towards the edge
of the red mahogany bar, rumbling,
dark as ocean thunder making landfall.
Lockdown Day No.?
We’d lost count of pyjama days
so I said we must get dressed
Let’s pretend we’re going out.
I donned my pin stripe suit
and you swiped on a smile
with bright apocalypstick.
We met in the kitchen
and puzzled the dog – sure
we must be going somewhere.
I made zombie cocktails
with leftover liqueurs
aged to imperfection.
We invented a playlist
and danced to apocalypso
and Leonard Cohen.
You said his singing made you
wish you were dead.
There’s no hurry I replied.
Let’s tear off our clothes
and make love like it’s the end
of the fucking world! I said.
At ten in the morning?
you sighed. So I made another
Kahlua and Grenadine ‘My Corona’,
a ‘True Apotheski’
(Suze, grappa, toffee vodka)
and a ‘Smiley Virus’ (secret recipe)
and we watched the news again.
Not with a bang but a whisky.
The bars close down.
So, I have my own drinking night. I line up four glasses of Merlot in my bedroom. Prep my playlist. Debussy and Tchaikovsky mingle with shadows. Moonlight arpeggios weep and brass instruments crash.
But there’s no laughter, gruff and awkward, like Seth Rogen, or lilting and light. No bodies in backwards baseball caps and black tank tops. No youthful faces laughing over pool and missed shots. No Lady Gaga on the jukebox.
Just a rectangular room. A bed. A computer. White walls.
Dusk deepens, lavender shadows darting.
Another thing lost.
The housejail (photography)
If you stand away from me
& I stand away from you
& you & you & you
many people will need to live on rafts
& cling to the cliffs on the sides of mountains.
Ex-city dwellers will find their creative selves
by spitting plant pigments
over their hands then onto the walls
& ceilings inside their caves.
Folks like me will return to the tall trees
using ropes instead of liana vines
unless you are lucky enough to
stand east of Sierra Leon
& west of the Congo Basin.
Umgawa means, keep your distance,
asshole! Umgawa also means,
find your own Jane, motherfucker!
cover your weapon
please mask your 3 breathing holes
look less a killer
I am washing the dishes
slow and careful
as stitching up a wound
one more ceremony of order
like all those other small acts
we are always doing
and never done-
the washing and folding
that holds these spaces up
walls and windows
each task one more sandbag
set against the rising flood
wiping the doors and knobs
with bleach, alcohol, Lysol,
the way Grandmother
would trace a line across them
with fine salt
to keep the invisible enemy out–
None of it now more
than a formula
repeated in the dark-
something to lean on
a shelter brave and flimsy
as a tent in a hurricane
the kind of hope we beg for
even though we know
nothing will save us
Without the use of rods
when in quarantine stance
we are the sum of our divinity
plus one foot in between
so near to the obscure
above veiled mouths
I spy my friends by the smile in their eyes
we transcend, us crowns of creation
A COVID-Safe Love Poem
Even the dead weep for our isolation;
in the pit of night, I dream of you
at my side, bleary-eyed, awake. We stare
out the same window at the same desolation.
It is that hour when the fog is so thick
we turn inward and see things as they are.
I touch the part of you I carry with me:
O, it is what the rain does not wash away
that sustains. The floodwaters will recede;
we have time yet for proper funerals.
Soon enough we will rest like lilies in a little
plot of earth we’ve made beautiful together.
Until then, I bite my lip hard. Does this pass
for a kiss in quarantine? If to my arid tongue
the blood tastes of honey, how much sweeter,
then, the thought of your lips on mine!
How to Prepare for a Coup in a Pandemic
My stockpile is such that
when I open a drawer I brace
for an avalanche of toilet paper.
In the kitchen are enough cans of beans
to last a months-long struggle, for my son
to pass the hours building beautiful steel pyramids.
I’ve strewn fat books of poetry around the house
like a beagle hiding bones to find delight in the
mundane and comfort when there’s nothing else to do.
Sometimes, taking a break from the news and work,
I’ll spot the collected works of this or that poet
and, for a moment, have context for despair.
I’m talking to my son now. I want you to know
that I wore a mask, that I quarantined, and protested,
and wrote things that failed to stop the death and
suffering of this horrible age, that if we manage to
survive, a time will come when my poems,
gathering dust, just might keep you alive.
Lovers’ Communiques in the Plague Year
Out on a limb where whispers grow
I’m twisted in pursuit of your shadow
the wind drives me from here and gone,
your memory feeds my delusions.
I sang every song in your litany,
walked every corridor of your escape,
there’s nothing I can do, you’re inside
that cave of promises I have no entry to.
The midnight train arrives with some relief,
a promise held high above the fray,
I’ve lost contact with every rumor of you,
down the last alleyway I go.
When you cradle a bouquet of solutions,
forget about me, follow through on wings
the dream provided you; in faded white gloves
hold onto escape, then make your way back to me.