Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Saturday, April 7, 2012
Every day I am interrupted by art.
Sometimes it’s a reproduction
of Composition II in Red, Blue,
and Yellow on someone’s wall or
“To restore silence is the role of
objects” when I pick up a book
by my desk, flip through the pages,
and start to read. I welcome the inter-
ruption. But sometimes it’s an ad
for plastic surgery in a magazine
or the car that’s closing in behind
me and as the woman who’s staring
madly and passionately straight ahead
drives past I can see that her bumper
sticker says “And the Lamb (Jesus)
Will Crush the Serpent in the Head.”
You don’t need to open the door
to Thomas Kinkade’s Christmas
Cottage to know that the people
inside are assholes and I don’t need
to parse the words pasted on
the woman’s car or research
the biblical sources of her violent
fantasies to know that I want to stay
far behind her on the road.
Real art can heal you or hurt
you but bad art just fucks you up.
I reach for the dial, turn the music
up loud, and rub my eyes to make
sure that I’m really awake and
the world has not ended.
Saturday, March 26, 2011
When it’s done right, the third movement
of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No 3 rocks harder
than nearly anything else in music, except
perhaps Raw Power by the Stooges.
You can’t look this up anywhere, and no one will tell you this
We know the empire is corrupt and we’re pretty sure
they put a man on the moon, and I know
that these days of distrust give me pause
and give me gas, that less-than-exquisite feeling
in which case why should I bother describing these sounds?
Hearing music is sometimes like dancing
out of one’s tight pants and into someone else’s tight pants.
A woman in her evening gown who pulls a bow across taught
strings belongs with a half-dressed man rolling around on broken glass.
When they first got together they just went
ahead and did things.
One of them didn’t like to dance, but that’s how you grow.
It’s like when a peacock flashes its feathers and you look right there,
like you’re looking at someone’s ass.
With your lips slightly apart, your index finger moves like a snake charmed
your chin, which you point downward as if
to say, “Thanks,
Sunday, January 23, 2011
White people have won the world
for everyone. The dog wags its tail
on the clean lawn under the American sun.
White culture has won the world
for everyone. A truck moves down
the highway at 80 miles per hour. Christianity
has won the world and everyone else is
dead. We converted those we could and
those we couldn’t were pumped full of lead.
Their bodies rot in the sun as we smile, plant
a flower, and eat the world’s biggest
hamburgers under American power.
Five years ago, in New York City, there was
a dark place called Harlem. Out west in California
there was a yellow place called Chinatown. In
Washington DC there was another dark place
across the river called Anacostia. All across
America the colors were drifting from town to town.
In Asia there was a place called India where
it was too hot, and next to that a place called China
that was too Chinese, and a place called
the Philippines where they were obscenely
philippine and Africa which was always
too African when we were obviously not.
We worked hard and we prayed, bonding
brick to mortar, we were not in Asia, we
were not in Africa, we were in America
in North America. We mowed our lawns
to a uniform green shine, we mowed our
healthy minds, we played our games the right
way then we sealed our borders. We sat
on our decks, fell asleep with beers in our
hands, and we were proud and when
we spoke we were loud, and we shunned
the dark views that lay in the terrible shade
of the cities, and we listened to the right news
because we were Americans in America not
in Africa. When beggars came asking
for money we asked them for their papers
and when they showed us no papers we kicked
them between the thighs, we beat them
with bats until they started bleeding
from the eyes, until they learned that without
hard work they were being left behind.
And the sun shone on our white power
and on our beautiful flowers, and we
laughed as the sun shined hour after
glorious hour and we held our heads
high for our battle with the government
state, and we grabbed our guns and
declared God is great, God is great.
We shot people who knocked
on our doors—they were slain, put
to rest. Then we travelled over oceans
to their homes and strapped bombs
to our chests. They didn’t believe in Christ
so they couldn’t be saved, they deserved
to die. It was time for them to go, say farewell
to their evil ways. Goodbye, devil, goodbye.
We were butterflies become death bombers
like pale, weightless saints, and we rose
to the sky where angels were our pilots,
to the glittering heavens above. We are
like he machines that make what the world
wants to take, but we keep everything human
through our violent acts of love. And now it’s
time to spread the heavens to taste the succulent
virgin taste. Baby, I’ve drained the color
from your cheeks, I’m onto you like glue.
Baby, baby, what you wanted to do to me
I’m now doing to you. Baby, baby, this is my plane
and I’m doing it because America is great.
Saturday, January 1, 2011
Why should I feel guilty
about the pile of semicolons
on the concrete floor? Yes,
I summarily deleted all the
tedious acronyms, mixed
in several instances of the
so-called passive voice,
added the word fuck just
for you to see and what’s
more changed it all from
third to second person.
Yeah, how do you feel about
that? Does it make you want
to give everything the fuck
up? This message is being
given to you by me. If I were
putting it in an envelope
I would seal it with a drop
of melted red wax. This is
what happens when poets
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Why does the world seem to slow
down whenever I hear “What’s Going On”?
How can I describe the bass line?
How can I express what Marvin Gaye’s voice does in this song?
I can’t—and if I were to try
I’d be an asshole.
That, however, hasn’t stopped
a lot of you from trying.
What, indeed, is the deal with that?
Do you really think you’re going to add anything
to the appreciation of this great song? Finally,
does my not trying make me
less of an asshole than
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
is to turn on the TV and flip the stations until
I find one where an episode of The Flintstones
is playing, then I wait until a scene with Dino
comes on and I laugh and I feel all right again.
Sometimes I get what I want, and sometimes
I don’t, and I think that’s a good thing except
when there’s something I really want that I can’t
get by turning on the TV and waiting. Usually
it’s not a thing that I want or an object but
a situation, a thought that I’m missing or an
idea that won’t go away no matter where I go
or how often I say the words I’m OK or these
trees are pretty or go shove it up your ass.
I think the world is a beautiful place sometimes
but I also like to think about it not being there
or me not being here and wonder what existence
would be like if the world was not solipsistic but
its opposite, and the only things that exist are the
things other people think of. How awful that would
be, and why did my mind create such a horrible
place, where someone else has to tell you that you’re
alive, that these trees are green, and that your ass is
a repository for solid objects? Dino, you are a dinosaur in a
cartoon, but would you be offended if I told you
that you are more dog than dinosaur, that your behavior
is more like that of those modern domesticated animals
we call our pets or, if you’re strange, our companion
animals? You know, someone once told me that in
German the words Rush Limbaugh mean either
open my anal cavity, Leonard or stretch my nipples
to infinity or I love these drugs more than I love America.
He wasn’t quite sure, but I believed him. I had no reason not to.
Monday, May 10, 2010
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Let it fly freely over all the white pimp motherfuckers
in Alabama and all the NASCAR
dads in Tennessee
who smile their big ugly smiles whenever I get screwed
over or fucked over or lost
or just fall to the floor
on my face. Let its pale noise flutter in the background
behind the skinhead bombast
that lurks in the shadows
of the vacant stares of the asshole frat boys with their
rebel hats and pickup trucks
with gun racks and
their nose hairs full of Texas beer foam and their balls full
of evil half-wit sperm. Let it shelter
the shirtless men who
walk down the street with their heads full of meth and their
minds full of the glory of
American made cars.
Let it soak up the rain on a bitter grey Sunday in Virginia
when the fundamentalist
megachurch lets out with
the leaden chatter of everyday lives and heads held up high
in service to a spoiled brat
vision of a tyrant
god and let me shine. Let me let you shine, as you burn.
Let me shine, let me shine
as you burn.
Saturday, December 5, 2009
I looked around the room. It was jammed full of people.
“José,” I answered with some difficulty.
“What do you do?” they shouted.
That was a even tougher question. I didn’t have a job, and for me to declare that I was a writer at this point would be presumptuous on my part. I thought about it for a second, then said, “I’m an alcoholic. What the hell are you?”
I hadn’t had a drink in weeks, but here I was—shitfaced and hostile, staring out into a crowd of poetry addicts at some place in Washington called The 15 Minutes Club. I’d fallen off the wagon in a horrible way, but it wasn’t because I was drinking. It was because I was reading poetry.
“This first poem is called ‘A Short History Of Everyone In The World,’” I said, and then began to read:
“On the train going
back to my home town
people are laughing at the
drunk who’s making fun
of the bald spot on a guy
a few rows up.
Across the aisle from me
a deaf man is making garbled passes
at all the women walking by
on the way to the club car.
Next to me a girl
with a silly haircut
is drinking a beer and
talking to everyone in sight
between drags of her cigarette.
It’s one of those
holiday weekend party trains
where everyone’s celebrating
and ready to tell their life story...”
The poem was about a train ride I’d taken from New York to Washington, my hometown. I’d left Washington about three years earlier, when George Bush was still president, to explore the possibilities in New York. But now—with the Democrats back in charge—I was living in Washington again, and to my chagrin things didn’t seem all that different from what I remembered of the days of the Republican occupation. In this state of disillusionment, my only recourse was to drink heavily like the guy in my poem.
“The drunk guy is going
to Richmond where he’ll find a bar
and drink some more.
The haircut girl is going
to Philadelphia—she plans
on becoming a hairdresser.
The guy with the bald spot
has just gotten out of prison
and he’s trying to stay
calm and out of trouble.
The deaf guy is just horny
and doesn’t bother to read
the lips of the women
who tell him to fuck off...”
I looked up from my poem and out into the crowd again. They were silent, hanging onto to my every word. I had them, as they say, in the palm of my hand—which meant that I hadn’t lost my touch for winning over a crowd. I looked back down to my poem and continued reading, feeling like some desperate junkie rolling drunks on the downtown A-Train.
“When the haircut girl
asks me for my story
I tell her,
‘I saved up my money
to buy this train ticket
so I could visit home
and get there comfortably.
I cut my spending in half
by eating my own shit.
Why I’ve been living off
the same macaroni and cheese
dinner for two months now.’
‘Oh,’ she says, startled, grimacing.
`Excuse me,’ I say, `I have
to go to the bathroom now.’
When I stand up
and I know that when
I get back to my seat
I’ll be able to just relax
No stories, no loud laughter,
no more rude comments,
snide remarks, or subtle innuendos.
I’d put an end to that
because I’d just said all
there was in the world
to be said.”
When the crowd began to cheer I immediately walked off the stage.
“You have to stay up there,” the emcee told me, pointing to a chair at the back of the stage. “You’re supposed to read three poems in each round.”
“I’m just getting my drink,” I said.
I reached to the bar and grabbed my glass of Jack Daniel’s, then walked back to the stage while the poet I was up against began reading his first poem. I sat down and stared at my drink before taking an endless sip... And then another until nothing was left but the barely melted ice cubes. I’d need quite a few more drinks before the night was through, because I was doing a poetry slam, and because from the way things were going it seemed more than likely that I was going to win. I leaned back and nervously chewed on an ice cube, knowing that in my wretched heart I was a long way from Mayberry.
The Wonder Years
Ever since I can remember I wanted to be a poet, and in the early 80s I began sending my poems out to magazines in the hopes of making the transition from being a simple poet to being a published poet. As is the case with most writers of any sort, I had no luck at first. I’d send out batches of poems and then receive a little note two, three, sometimes six months later, saying “Thanks for allowing us to read your poems. We are sorry to report, however, that they didn’t quite work for us.” I’d been warned about this in college where a teacher advised me that I had better be prepared to plaster my walls with rejection slips, because the process of becoming a published writer could take years and years, and that I might even be dead before anyone saw my work as being fit to publish.
Fortunately it didn’t take quite that long, and in 1985 I had my first poem accepted for publication in a literary magazine all the way across the country in Berkeley, California. Finally, one year later, the magazine came out. By then, of course, I didn’t much care for the poem, and seeing it again was something akin to seeing your worst enemy from high school bagging groceries at the supermarket. Which is to say that although it was a triumph of sorts, it was also, because of the amount of time it took, a rather pathetic triumph. I needed a way to get my work out there quickly while it was still fresh in my mind. I needed a way to see my poems into print immediately so that I could move on to newer work and not have to worry about the fate of my past work. The best way to do this, it seemed, was to start a magazine.
In the fall of 1986 I—along with two of my friends from Catholic University in Washington, Michael Randall and Stephen Ciacciarelli—began working on the first issue of Big Cigars. What we wanted was to publish a magazine that was anti-academic, something that would disgust our old professors and make them think that they had wasted all the effort they put into providing us with a classical education. We liked people like Charles Bukowski and William Burroughs, writers the academic establishment tended to sneer at. And in our magazine, Big Cigars, we wanted to publish our own work as well as work by other writers with a similar outlook on literature. As Michael and Stephen had moved to New York after college, while I was still in Washington, it seemed that we would have two different cities from which to attract writers for the magazine. But that wasn’t the case.
Here in Washington it was impossible to get anyone interested in contributing. One writer I met at a reading, on my asking if he would like to contribute some poems, replied, “Why do you want to publish me?” as if I’d just asked him if I could punch his creepy little face in.
“Well, your stuff is pretty good,” I answered. I had just heard him read, and unlike most of the other poets at this event—he didn’t name all the different kinds of plants he knew or go on about the youthful summers he spent vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard.
“Well, I’ll have to think about it,” he said, before walking off like Captain Kirk after having just destroyed a Klingon warship.
That was as close as I got to getting any Washington writers in the magazine.
Since we weren’t able to attract any of the local crowd for the magazine, we ended up featuring a good number of people from New York. Still, as I was publishing the magazine here in Washington, and as the address for submissions was also here, Big Cigars was for all practical purposes a Washington magazine. But despite this, local bookstores and newsstands declined to carry it. A typical response—as from the manager of Idle Times bookstore in Adams Morgan—was, “We don’t carry that esoteric kind of stuff.” So I’d send the bulk of the copies of Big Cigars to New York. Up there places like St. Marks Books, Spring Street Books, and Coliseum Books would accept huge batches of them which would sell out in a matter of weeks. For a small literary magazine that was very good business, and it soon became apparent that the atmosphere in New York was much better for the sort of things we were doing with Big Cigars.
I began going up to New York several times a year for readings Michael or Stephen had set up. These were always well attended and unpretentious events. I was surprised that few of the writers I met in New York displayed the kind of attitude I found in Washington, where even the most obscure poet would come on with all the neuroses of an Edgar Allan Poe while displaying none of the talent. But in addition to this I also found that, overall, New York was a much more pleasant place to be than Washington, and that, oddly enough, life was much easier there.
So it was with a sense of relief, rather than trepidation, that in the fall of 1990 I made the big move from Washington to New York City. In New York I got more involved in the poetry scene and actually began to make money from my writing. New York was where I first got the idea that I might even make a living from my writing. It was where I did my first poetry slam. It was where I began to get my work published regularly. It was where I first appeared on national television. It was where I fell truly in love for the first time. It was where for the first time in my life I felt I was in a city where I belonged. It was also where, after having cast off the last vestiges of my youthful insanity, I vowed to give up poetry completely.