The surest truth

sounds its pitch
black in the smooth of a song

because silence is simply
without self-defense,

though it’s often assumed to be wrong.
The popular melodies

bulldoze its debate,
mix it to a mean

grey cement,
embellishing so brutally

the guests it hosts
impose on its intent.

Such language is a city
built on faults;

no one can say
when blame will fall,

when earth we thought was solid
heaves from under us instead.

The light of logic
thus, like the moon’s,

is another’s;
when its source expires,

it still will glide
between ourselves and further stars.

Plakat

A blue and red
widow’s wig
       barely floats
       just its lips
touch the water’s
still meniscus
       and without will
       out of boredom maybe
though there’s no wind
her flowing locks
       follow
       a solemn twitch.

She would not have let
the eggs hatch
       to this stagnant fate
       of pet shop prisons
so she has been
isolated
    for her nature’s
    cruel mercy.

No opportunity to save
the future
     their suffering
     her stolen hoard inherits
barren plots of rock
plastic plants
       nutritional supplements
       to bounded nothingness
their only way out
the sky they sip.

A word on resenting the success of others

Doesn’t it suck not to be
on the totem pole with the cool kids
instead ensnared in boring necessity?
Think ignored utility pole burdened with signals.
Think hungover surgeon whetting his scalpel.
Think boner put to better use. You see art now
from outside it – unlike your university days when
everything in the THC haze
blazed with profundity.

Now you are a planet pretending not to orbit
convinced you’re blazing your own trail through the galaxy.
But every sightseen thing is disappointing
every break from the routine
harder to stray from the expected.
I feel bad for you who are also we
whose profession and age have crimped
the senses’ extraordinary machinations
tirelessly flinging al-dente noodles at unfazed walls.

I used to have the best metaphors
and ways of hiding them you wouldn’t believe –
tainting dark caves with the light of day
sleeping bats would wince at
realizing they weren’t as blind as they thought.
I was sad enough to do good art –
to make futility worth my while –
while others thought correctly
what a waste! We celebrate it like a trapdoor
wandering its minefield
our burning offerings
dying.

Hatred has a meanwhile heyday
a staged buffet where trolls
launch pies and rotten tomatoes
at body positive versions
of Disney princesses.

These new names coming into the known
some ten or twenty years younger
ravish the internet with their words.
You don’t admit they’re good
but follow them for the same reason
Trump and Maddow follow each other
as if somebody were leading –
they’re doing something
in each other’s light
elusively right.

Tiger Lily

Who corrected when you said
wind was invisible gold
and innocent seeds
future diamonds

who never let you climb the trellis
and spread across the sunstruck roof
like a napping cat

who drew the line at color-by-number
and deemed rainbows and penumbra
you wondered at distractions
cast her sundial shadow

keeps you under glass
in a frame by the bed

makes sure you’re buckled in
for the daily high-speed chase

knows too much dreaming is a waste
control her way of caring.

You are her center
worshiped slave
uplifted downtrodden
fulcrum to pride and shame

the blessed oppressed
she prunes and preens.
Without her roots

how far could you crawl
how long would you last
before withering?

Spiritual Physics

Above the cliff
standing guard
over its own demise,
a stolen car in neutral
adheres to gravity
without understanding

the slope
the edge
its trajectory.
The story

is these laws not breaking,
retreating after destruction
imperceptible except that
loyalty repeated

erodes.
Now the steering wheel responds
to what it once controlled.

A rosary swinging
from the rearview mirror.

An old birthday card
lost for safekeeping
jostles in the glove box.

Because everything happens
as planned, between the waves
booming their chorus, the splash
is a church mouse, the sinking

like eyes falling shut
if sleep were prayer
and prayer dream.

At home in a junk drawer,
which if opened would gleam,
the spare key waits
its turn forever.

Conducting a silent
invisible orchestra
bouncing as if
a hundred instruments
weighed nothing

a Chinese drag queen poised
at the center of a sea of cushions
flexes her fan
to flirt or hope
to inspire
fear and failing

dives upward
taking winds
and strings and brass
in hiccuping arrhythmia
away from curious fingers
of child scientists and predators

so strange
art can live
in false eyes
on dung and corpses
guised as flowers and guiltless

for it is natural this
hysterical gown
worn by the vulnerable
and our preconception
as if beauty were neither
utility nor taught.

butterfly

cracks in darkness
 what is coming

  highlights

 at birth breaks
  in the ice

   remembered
    shine

kintsugi eggshells

after Elisa Sheehan’s “Kintsugi Eggshells”

Featured art: Making it Real by Gill Bustamante.
Image used with permission from the artist.

Charity

The tourist bought the Sherpa boots
who from then on could never go without
damaging others with good deeds.
The side effects of this pill

kill or coax us to long
for swifter death.
For instance the widow
leaning too long on

the tired banister
collapses to communicate
internal turmoil – sharing disaster
so it might be understood better.

If help hurts and hurt helps
the loving mother nurtures a despot.
Beneath his brutality a Renaissance tunnels

inspired by oppression (scandalous sculptures
seditious canvases) but ends
merely in practicality

adorned until encumbered
(suffocating corsets
gauntlets gauded with jewels).
The soul
free-falling

upon the concrete
becomes a body.
Beware of all philanthropy
since good deeds done in turn
depart and take your share
of kindness likewise

elsewhere – plagues spread in the wake
of well-meaning apostles.

Featured art: The Waste Material, 2015, by Samedi Von Drole
Oil and other media, 70x50x4 cm

Figures

A candle-lit dinner broken up by the cops.
Another long weekend at Grandma’s.
I couldn’t read the foreshadows
anymore than tea leaves:

a garbage bag of broken glass
torn open in the driveway,
a yellow letter pinched in the screen door
you ignored. We watched cartoons
you hated. You didn’t yell
when I dropped the popcorn.
For months the houseplants went unwatered.
The dog slipped out of his collar.

He would come at night in gym shorts and flip-flops
while I worked on a secondhand puzzle,
listening through the ducts to cards shuffle
between hands. Here I learned
the power of holding secrets,
the luck of the draw, addicted to
imagining how it would look
without the pieces missing.

I saw him one day
nosing through trash on the shoulder,
but you insisted it couldn’t be,
not even canceling your cruise control.
He’d been a footed bill
written off, a friendly favor you savored
regretting. I looked forward to the pawn broker’s
buffet of jewelry junk
every week before the grocery,
the yard sale when you sold
his dusty action figures
on our unmown lawn. That summer

I tracked him through a sea of cornstalks
until our footprints looked the same.
I know he glimpsed me through the blades of leaves,
from every photo on every milk carton,
tacked to lamp posts, collaged in bulletins
doubly lost. I kept an empty peg
to hang his jacket and hat, you an eye
open in the back of your head,
a loaded bullet bedside.

His apartment was a stone
I cried when you danced drunk on
at the cemetery, his legacy greasy
overalls dumped in a burn barrel.
In the end, I couldn’t pull
all your needles from his voodoo doll.
You were blind, but I knew his kind
monster, who pulled me under the bed
into a reckless world
ice cream colored.

Featured art: Suspense by János Kujbus

Image used with permission from the artist.

Mahar

Forty buffalo wait in a barbed wire pen
for the rain to come and green the grass for you
are just across the dust road
and smile at me.
Thirty horses will be born and bought
for you and never set free –
never being wild
their starving would be
worse and lonesome.

I feed the pigs I need to give up
to be with you and watch you
when your father isn’t looking
work in the garden.
Their ribs are showing.

Your mother scowls from the porch
but doesn’t tell.

II.

Returning from the market
pushing a cart of wilting vegetables
I turn the corner to look for you.

A dark car I’ve never seen
shines by your front door.

My wheel drops into a hole.

The coins in the drawer rattle.

III.

Weeks go by. The drought singes
the edges of the most resilient leaves.
Dust devils twist in the empty pastures
between our grass roofs and in reflections
of the merchants’ windows in town

I start to hate myself.
Full of dead dreams I see
melting from my pores

I am a candle
burning down.

IV.

The black car leaves.
Your parents build a cement house
my heart is trampled under

stampeding horses
thunder without rain.
Stronger than bamboo

more hollow
it stands dead and guarded
by a dark dog-shaped god

in a cactus forest.
I never see you again.

V.

As children together
we swept the stones
protecting the bones
of our ancestors clean.
Years later
old and alone
asleep in their shade
I see us in a distant meadow
green with rain
all the buffalo and horses
for miles gathering
to be given away.

Cultural note: on the island of Sumba, the price the groom pays to the bride’s family includes a number of horses, pigs, buffalo, and chickens, the bride price increasing for families of higher status. As much of the island at this time lives in poverty, this tradition has become quite an obstacle for young men seeking marriage.

Original photography by Paul Pope.