The Good Old Days

Moving outward—
Different places, different places,
Passing time with different faces
From the places of yesterday.

‘I keep my doors locked,” said Hyman over his shoulder,
As he swung the wheel of his rattling cab.
“Every week, two or three stick-ups.
Hop heads.
Damned kids.
Not like it used to be.”

They wouldn’t do it if they ever had to work each day.
I began working when I was fifteen.
Nobody has to liberate me from anything.”
Lola sloshed water through the caked grounds at the bottom of the Silex, splashing the counter.
“Damned kids.
Not like it used to be.”

“Used to be,” Al said, fiddling with has badge, nervous habit,
“They hung around the corner but
When ya moved in a little
They just moved on down the street
And finally went home.
Not no more.
Now they just oink at me.
Wise ass kids.
Not like it used to be.”

“I put in the mirrors
There—and over there
So I can see both aisles
While I’m at the register.
You wouldn’t believe
The shit they’ll take
If it ain’t nailed down.”
Andy rang the sale and sighed.
“Not like it used to be.”

Roger sneered from underneath his cap.
“Bourgeois bastard rich little mothers, Stevie.
Playing it big with long hair and all that crap.
Rap about it,
Where it’s at.
They don’t know, though.
They don’t care.
Nothing new.
Not like it used to be.”

Moving inward—
Different places, different places
Filled with the same old
Goddamned faces
Running stupid tired rat races,
Dripping sweat, leaving traces,
Cutting flesh in different places,
Different places
Just like it used to be.

Cold Wet Night

Dark ascending hardened hours
Climb the twisted stairs of night,
Recoil and wrap the trees and bowers
With chill of evil, mist of fright.
While in the caves of hot desire
The animals of lust retreat
And bank the passions of their fire
And pick dry bones for scraps to eat.

Dawn in the Hills

High in the hills
I (we) awoke to the promise:
Dead as stone
Sere as bone
Left our home
To fight the day

Wind of fire
Drove us higher
On our pyre
Of molten clay

Where IS the promise?
Taken from us.
Loss of hubris…
Who can say?

I’ll Tell You How It Is

I’ll tell you how it is
When you sit down at the table
To write it out
Plain black and white,
How it is/was/can be—
Not so easy to do, you know
But I’ve got to try
At least a bit
(maybe sneak up on it unaware…).

In the Spring
Standing on a beach
Kicking holes in the sand,
A small human mark
Erased by wind and water
Once I am gone.
Kept coming back
All that Spring,
Stood on that very same spot
Kickin’ kickin’ kickin’
But I could not make it stick
Against the air and the tide.

One Sunday
February 1970
Couldn’t sleep
Early in the morning
Breath on the air in hanging wisps
Crunching down the street
Shaking snow off bushes
Looking for the starting buds
Of flowers,
Watching all the flakes sift down
And lose themselves against the carpet’s white.

Flat on my back 1976
Sweating curls and streams
Beads and humours
Forcing myself to trace the ceiling cracks
In the yellowing corners
Lights in patterns through the slats
Bugs crawling on the edges
Dripping into my water glass
Floating to death at dawn.
By the time the phone rang, I’d gone out.

Drew a picture
On a store ad in the subway 1980
Reaching up, balancing on the plastic seat
Hanging onto the ring at the steps.
All the kids pointed
Sniggering perhaps;
Don’t understand
Why someone with a briefcase
Would paint a skyline
With a felt-tip pen.

Last winter in Colorado 1990
Tried to drive my body
Through the abdomen
Of a woman
Half my age.
Ran my tongue from her toes
To her earlobes,
Breathing in short gasps
Whispering promises
Dreaming sinuous climaxes
Pretending I didn’t hear her laugh.
She went back to San Diego
And gave me a phone number for when I’m out that way.

Wore a baseball cap last night
In a bar in Tampa 2002
Full of fishermen
Drinking beer, ate some jerky,
Sleeve of saltines,
Switched to bourbon no ice
And looked at my leather face in the mirror.
Ignoring the women/cops/hangers-on
Bought no one a drink
And belched into my water chaser.

2016 can’t remember the important things.
Can’t remember very much at all.
Just a few vignettes
Gray hints really.
Go to the table
Try to think of what to write
Record and leave
For nameless to read.
Once I almost got it all in mind
But by the time I reached for a pen,
Smoothed the paper
Lined up the pen
Arranged my light and chair,
I forgot and went to sleep instead.

That’s what this is, then.
It’s all here, you know.
I wrote it down for you.
Don’t miss it now:
Reread the lines.
Everything I ever thought
Or felt
Is there as clear as I can make it.
Do you see yourself as sand, or drifting snow?
A ceiling crack?
Graffiti on walls of time?
Naked women?
Sour mash bourbon?
All of them?
Of course you do.

If I don’t wake
Mark these lines well:
Nothing’s at stake,
See you in hell.

(written 1970-2016)

A Life

On the Road:

Saw a man without any shoes
Smoking a cigar butt
And drinking a pint.
We lit a fire
And shared some soup.
Woke up in the morning—my shoes were gone.
Hitched to Utica, gray city in smog.
Cooking hash, two buck an hour
And all the grilled cheese I can eat.

In the City:

Back to the city,
All the guys are gone
One way or another.
Loaded some boxes, sold a few
To some bums in a panel truck, COD.
Met a Mary. Met a Louise.
Found a good bar in my neighborhood
With a neon Schlitz sign in the window
And got semi-drunk some nights.

Family Man:

Adele was Italian
And her brother was best man.
Hadn’t been in any Church for quite some time.
My old man came –
Brown coat, gray pants.
Don’t know where my mother went,
Years ago—smart.
Old man’s no bargain
And went right back to Passaic.

Subway Life:

Went to work with a bucket
On the IRT
And bought curtains on sale at Altmans.
Hung them crooked, best I could.
Laid off. Rehired. Quit/fired.
Two snotty kids and 35.
Atlantic City for two weeks
On the HFC.
Can’t pay’em so fuck’em.

At the Zoo:

One day in March
We all went to the zoo.
Animals all right, strolling in the cold.
All trapped up
And getting fat.
Back and forth in their cages
Looking at nothing;
Only thing missing,
Got no bucket for their lunch.

The Road:

Sixty miles west of Dubuque
In the drizzle,
April 1976,
No friggin’ asshole
Will stop for a guy with a two-day beard
And a soft-side suitcase.
Slept in a doorway
Of an Exxon station
And stole a Coke for breakfast.

Try Again:

In San Francisco
You can see the ocean
Down by the rocks
Drinking bourbon.
Easy city.
Work the grille for pocket money
And croak a fag
When you’re running short
For the rent.

Over my Rainbow:

One day walking East,
Going home
With nowhere else to go,
On the side of the Interstate,
Morning sun in my eyes,
Boots shrunk tight from the rain, I thought it all over
And moved to the left a bit
And let the fucking semi take me down.

August 15, 1986/ 8PM

We are beating out familiar shapes, you and me.
It is not new ground, you know,
Even for ourselves,
And the going quite slow.

And there are hammers,
Many hammers
Wielded by deliberate arms dripping sweat.
Our champions do battle—
Lines we did not write
Leading to confusions we did not intend,
And the clatter-shock of steel on steel,
Sparks in the barn-dark of our minds.

If we could understand—
But everything is “ifs”
After all
And “ifs” are funny things.

You have your hammer when you’re angry.
So do I.
We each recognize our own……
But that one only.
The rest are swung, unnoticed, unremarked
In the dark
Off the mark.

And so how does it happen,
That rapid beating of steel,
The noise and concentration
Just to build a simple shape
So easy to conceive?
I do not know
But there is one very simple thing:
Somewhere, anvils ring.

A Conversation with Frank Sinatra

I am talking here with Frank Sinatra.
He is talking through songs.
I am reliving all the wrongs.
I know he understands.
It was a game and I thought I made up the rules,
Long time ago, crying at night,
While in the next room
My parents fought the same battle
I’m fighting now.
And no one won
Because no one can.
It’s dug into my mind; I can’t help it.
She doesn’t understand but
You are my Christ, you bleed for me,
I kiss your stigmata and the blood is mine.
Her wet flesh cannot buy me,
My mind aches more than my body
For the fear of doing it her way hurts more than the thought of parting.
I need her, Lord,
To cross the Jordan alone
In the dark of night
Is the widest voyage of all,
For if she will not love me
Across the spreading light
Then sing me a song and let me cry.
I can explain it in reason if
Explain it I must but
I don’t want to explain:
I want it so, in childish impatience
And I refuse that it should not be so.
If you love me you will understand.
That is what love is:
To understand when there are no reasons.
I cannot stand on shifting rock and be chastised for it.
I can stand or I can be chastised
But not both.
There were nights my body twisted
(long ago between dark blue walls in an old Brownstone in stinking Brooklyn—
The smell of gutters in summer
And some rummy pissing in the alley)
When your guts jump out of your throat
Every time someone yells
Or throws a pot
Or curses
Or insinuates
Or challenges—
You can’t erase the feeling
(never erase it)
Blasting out of your belly til you cannot sleep any more
Soaking your sheets, shirt pasted cold and dripping to your chest
And the milk truck rattles through the dawn and you crawl out of bed without sleeping.
Won’t spend another night waiting
To hear
What will be said,
And me to smooth it over
Bridging broad chasms between word and world.
Nerve endings don’t heal, they burn over memories you cannot suppress.
She does not understand
That I am a child of pain.
I fear it more than not having her.
Out walking at dawn
And the first dumb bird presages more blind sunshine
To blur years of anger,
Acres of fatigue,
Miles of not caring or caring too much.
Sing them the truth if you will; tell them for me:
Today is like yesterday only it hurts more
Because there is one more scar.
I will walk down by the river and,
If no one can see me
I will cry a little
And sit on a bench and feel sorry for myself.

Drive He Said

Driving down a center line
With smell of gasoline.
Nothing lost but drops of time
With nothing in between.

Roadsigns order me around
While lost in my own dreams.
Never going to get me found
In shining headlight beams.

Drifting shifting, haul my load
Like blowing sand, I know.
I’m driving down a black-top road,
Sweating as I go.

Goddamned Hammer

Why am I suspended?
Why cannot I register?

Is there a god
Who keeps the scroll,
Marks the toll,
Those who move and matter,
Those who drift and die?

Function is all that occupies,

Watch me work
The mechanical steps
Taps on a stage
No time for rage
Just tap and age.

If only I could identify it
Then I would rectify it
Moving towards it
In it
Meaning great meanings but
The day to day
In its way
Is all there is.

Functions functions never matter but those who do it flatter flatter
Creating values so perverse
Or even worse
Counting down
Til darkness squelches
Earth worm belches
Ending thus all of us,
Those of us who function function.

One two three
Four five six.

All the well-dressed men and ladies
Watch the calling, falling hammer
Too polite to object or halt it
Never sweat, never stammer
Falling falling goddamned hammer
Rat-a-tat its final song of
Going going going gone.

[ending couplet follows]

RIP the very essential me,
Too caught up to ever stop and be.

Ideas– Fall 1970

How do I do it?
Achieve better vantage,
Better image,
Better truth?
I think about it
A long, long time,
Slosh it around the corners of my mind,
Til it tumbles out a toss of mental dice,
Superior in concept,
Well turned,
Fully clothed,
Mature and considered,
Worthy of me.

Thought you’d never ask….