Part of the art
inside the bamboo cage
was to be still
and find your partner’s heartbeat.
Yours hammered like a bird’s wing
against my fingertips
at first touch.
But when you looked for mine,
there was nothing there to find.
Part of the art
is knowing how to look,
how to hook two fingers
just so between the bones
beneath the flesh.
“Like this,” I said,
and guided your fingers in,
the way I learned to do
taking vitals on the night shift.
And there I was,
beneath your touch.
In Paris, the waiters laugh
when I mention Rimbaud.
“Rambo is a killer,
not a poet.”
A croissant kidnaps me
makes me read Foucault.
“You are not writing this poem!”
scream the snails.
I can’t even thank heavens
for little girls
without looking like a moustache pervert.
When the Eiffel Tower went up,
everybody hated it.
Now Rimbaud and Verlaine
could get married,
sell guns on the Internet.
Poetry? Any idiot can write poetry.
Hating the Sixties
there wasn't nothing
we wouldn't tie dye:
the Magna Carta
Heidi's goats and her grandfather's beard
our mothers' wedding gowns
draft cards before we burned them
grand jury subpoenas investigating bad taste.
You can't say we didn't know any better
because we'd been born
inside the kaleidoscope
and knew the twist of changing times.
The rainbow was our grandmother
and our parents fed us fireworks.
What we thought we couldn't do
we had no words for.
Mama wet nursed us out
to Captain Kangaroo
while she watched Liberace dazzle
the heavens with candlestick rockets.
Color was a kindness we slapped the blind with.
How were we to know the dye of our delusions
wasn't color fast
and would bleed to a single muddy disappointment
in the economic rain?
Hearing Nina Simone Sing Bertolt Brecht (1967)
"Kill them all" says the voice on the radio.
"Kill them all" says the woman's voice
inside the palomino box in afternoon suburban sun.
"And they'll pile up the bodies" on the rug
where I opened Christmas presents.
The black ship turns around in the harbor
shooting guns from her mouth.
Broadcast the house burning down,
bottles of the reddest wine
bursting in the basement.
"What's she got to smile about now?
"Why is she smiling now?"
I hadn't known black people's scars
didn't heal white like mine.
One day, my body will kill me.
Not from splitting hairs
but replicating each of its cells
every seven years,
each snippet segment of DNA
one ladder rung shorter than before.
Routine wear and tear or
designed by a malign maker?
Can a snake die of its own poison?
See something, say something.
An existential crisis:
if I make myself up,
can I knock myself off?
Manslaughter or murder, you decide.
The police know this
but do nothing about it.
When I die of natural causes,
no one will acknowledge
it was suicide.
The Stars My Destination
Though I loved them,
the science fiction writers
of the forties fifties sixties
got so much wrong.
We are not commuting to Moon Base Goddard,
let alone folding space and time
to plant colonists on the crystal moons
circling Alpha Centauri.
The single massive computer
serviced by monochrome high priests
of punch cards has shrunk to the palm
of a tattooed teenager
twitching to the digital beat
of hologrammatic heart throbs,
and the forebrains of the rats
have not yet begun evolving
under the onslaught of the radiation
sparking off the skeletal high beams
of our ground zero cities.
Though the robots are on their way,
they’re not likely to need
a set of rules to restrain them any time soon.
But every day the paranoid dream
of the world as one big factory town
and everyone a resident
forced to buy on credit
at the company store
Every online order of a book
DVD or food item
brings the future closer.
Not the UN we should fear
but discount books shipped free
sports shoes sold for less than the blood
shed making them,
the corporate logo stewing in DNA sweat shops
as we sleep and dream and forget
how close the stars once seemed to be.
The Atheist Digs a Foxhole
When they told me my uniform was bullet proof,
I bought new underwear.
When they told me the war was just,
I asked the rats for sanctuary.
When they censured the widows for weeping,
I began hoarding the salt in my blood.
When they measured the birds for uniforms,
I swallowed the hummingbird's feathers.
When they told us trenches made us taller,
I sold my shoes to centipedes.
When they drafted the last cloud,
I measured the sky for a cemetery.
When they told Jesus to stop coming back,
I began pulling the trigger.
Writing the first line
is like cutting into the avocado’s skin,
firm as any politician’s grin
but tinged beneath the polite,
cystic with those anchor cables
cinched tight about the purpose of the pit.
How do we make a meal of disappointment?