Under the Death Mask
Sleeping under the death mask of Pushkin
that hangs on the wall over my head
dozing at the end of that long couch
where I crashed that very last night
in Yevtushenko's dacha in Peredelniko,
weary from the bad roads and bad food,
the two problems Russia still endures
since Gogol complained two centuries ago,
that, and Vodka na Zaftruk for
touring from Moscow to Irkutsk and back.
Pushkin, your face, your true face they
when all other masks have fallen away,
the face one wears at the moment of death,
calls me to share one more last breath.
You died at 37, a romantic till the end,
in a duel of self fulfilled prophecy --
just as the avowed cynic Onegin
nonchalantly shot the naive poet Lensky,
symbolically killing off your poetic self.
I have lived to bury my desires,
and see my dreams corrode with rust,
but rose once more to duel for honor's
For what is a poet without his passions,
be they love or freedom for Russia?
And though many can still quote your
they also ask,
who will pay the rent, Pushkin?
We all love a poet when he is safely dead.
Your statue stands in almost every
though they moved the one in Pushkin
to build the largest McDonald's in the
where no one gave up their place in line
even when a coup threatened new freedoms.
Poet, we have no monuments in America
for weird Uncle Walt, father of our free
but the Whitman truck stop off the Jersey
Your mask hangs above me tonight as serene
as a full moon over a field of bloody snow
not revealing the two sides of your Janus
not born to amuse the Tzars,
nor the realist wary of being hung for
but two lives reconciled in the mask of
in the end the poet disappears into his
Link to several newer poems below:
Song That Fathoms Home, Books]
I used to read in the basement
sifting through musty encyclopedias,
exhuming history, trying to breathe in
how we each thin out to nothing.
Years later, walking far, I happen across
an orchard and half-empty pond on a gray, late
afternoon in the middle of November
nothing. No chance of snow. Windless.
The water still, reflecting the sky.
If this stand of bare oaks tells of loss,
or this farmer's dam, boulder on boulder,
not another sound the rest of
the place holds absence like
arches of some 15th century Cathedral
Yugoslavia where a monk pigeon rests
famish-winged on a black sill,
where in the dimming light of day,
an anemic, babushka covered woman
enters, signs, kneels varicose
hands to face and prays.
for her husband and lights candles
that flicker in red glass. In
orchard where evening light hangs like incense,
the bare trees, like books, hold silence close.
See any reviews or to order the book:
Song That Fathoms Home
Southern Ohio Appalachian fall unfolds,
the whole Hocking valley ripe
and repeating its colors on up near foothills,
flourished, then over a far slope.
that has been holding its breath exhumes
into the smolder of things,
and a beagle yelps off on the. scent down the blue light
of a hollow, its howl falling
off but faintly lingering as I pause to eat
this leftover Bartlett pear full
and seeping the valley's yellow glow.
If I do end
up in some black and white movie of a city,
it will conic down to this pear -
without its flavor I could never make it hack to carry
over, each of these hills, yes, here.
about god to his friend
as they pass the bottle
back and forth on the bus.
There’s a god all right,
all over the place.
I was down in the snow
stabbed seventeen times,
hovering over my body
closing up shop big time.
I drifted a little this way
and that like a smoke ring,
then got vacuumed up.
The stars were flying by
zip, zap, zip towards a big
blur of more light
than when you wake up
hung-over in the tank.
Then I heard my mama,
“Harold, what’s wrong?
What are you doing here?”
So I come back and woke up
in the snow with seventeen
holes in me. Here’s one
right here in my neck.
And Harold’s friend says,
you wasn’t dead,
you was only dreaming.
Harold says, Hold on
I think I know the damn
difference between dreaming
and dead since I done it
and I thank god who is
everywhere, even on this
bus for bringing me
back to this here life.
How do you know I'm not
god then? his friend asks.
Because, and I want you
to listen close to this,
I can kick your ass.
And Harold’s friend nodded.
155 Pounds of Dead Fish
morning I am this bowl
of cold oatmeal,
and the spoon scraping,
echoing the empty room.
The sunny-side up eggs
eye me like a sadistic clown.
My coffee breathe writhes
and hangs stale in front of me.
All I have for company
is yesterday’s bad news
set down in neat,
matter of fact columns
of ink that sticks
to my fingertips
and smears darker circles
when I rub the crust
from my eyes. All the
light we swam
when summer flowed always
rots inside now,
155 pounds of dead fish
and their blank stares.
I gulp the last
of the coffee for what
little zip it shoots
through my veins.
The clock arm sticks
and jerks. I have nowhere
to go anyway but work
and back. My tongue goes,
(published in “Dry with a Twist”,
chapbook published by PWLGC)
The sky dead
Waiting for you
Old news sits stacked
in the courtyard
the fountain withered
and blew away years ago.
on a chair, the words
string along dull
as a line of ants.
No place to go
you asleep in my arms,
today where I would be
less objective than
the last time we held,
breathing, a naked fact.
(from The Road That Carried Me Here,
Book or accompanying CD:
The Road That Carried Me Here
Cleveland winter gray
from November till May
lake effect pall every day,
one stacked upon the next
like slabs in a steelyard.
Maybe a clump of weeds
smashed beneath stays green.
old bachelor uncle waits
his cataract eyes watching
through fish-scale window,
for me to take him to soak
his Slovenian immigrant bones
in cinderblock bath-house.
first dull light fills
the aluminum pot he hammers
into shape to hold his daily
ration of meals on wheels.
But when he stops, heat
leaves its skin, leaving
his hands raw and dingy.
holds them over blue
flame of stove like the last
blast furnace in the Flats
as the sun’s molten smile
slides out from under clouds
before nails of thin sleet
down the sky’s tin roof.
(first published in "Heartlands Today")
Letter Left on the Porch
of the Kerouac House
So as I sit still on the porch
in the warm breeze cooling
the outskirts of downtown
Orlando, gray-green moss swaying
from this 300 year old live oak
like American bhikku beards
speaking the long vowels
only the stretched ears of a buddha
can hear, I ponder one word
I could give at the end of the road.
one word as small as the seed
I once spit from this porch.
Smell that orange blossoms wafting
below the skyline of high-rise banks,
the tallest adorned with black horns,
the white church spires beneath
reflecting in the glass boxes
here on the whirlpooling edge
of the Disney vortex like the wheel
of samsara that spins all matter out.
I was poor when I came here
and never really made enough
dough for more than a good bender
though the estate sold the original
teletype manuscript of On the Road
to a pizza mogul for 2.6 million.
I never genuflected at the altar
of the almighty dollar when I went
down on my knees praying at the end.
But there is no end, only the golden
scripture unrolling and outlasting
the teletype, the live oak, and the horned
cash cow. What is the commerce
of eternity? Ask Walt Disney
who plunked down his dream
of automated fun in the middle
of panther extincting swampland
that became an empire so rich
he could freeze-dry his remains
under the magic kingdom.
what would Walt Whitman say,
who praised the live oak arms
upraised in steady ablutions,
as he hands out one flower
with every Sunday newspaper
he’s selling at the intersection
of Colonial and I-4 as America
rushes by him towards Autogeddon?
The same meat wheel spun them
both to this sense realm.
The black and white cat sitting
on the car top lives also no less,
nor the chameleon scuttling over
dry leaves stopping to tilt its head
and bat a translucent lidded eye
in a wink of awakening I saw
as the world refracted in a drop
of sweat dangling my eyebrow,
catching on one lash, the oceanic
prism of light that flesh is heir to.
Open your eyes and close them –
being and nothingness in a nutshell,
but for that one drop at heart
that booze could not blot out.
Those days I would shower
six times a day and prayed
rain would cleanse the ignorant
steam of mind, listening to it fall,
that blatting of motion and stillness.
What good that teletype roll
of the road, or even this letter,
a goodbye as soon as a heads-up
howdy do, going, gone -- condensed
to a postcard of live oak and shack –
Wish you were here. Guess what,
dharma bum, you are! And the word
that bubbles up from the bottom
of Lake Adair fed, this clear bubble
of breath bursting empty sounds…still.
(See Ray at
Jack Kerouac's house
where the poem was
Once you uncover your several insane ancestors,
do you think it is ever possible to bury them all again?
They stand in those insomnia hallways and stare,
each, in turn, pointing at you wearing thin your skin.
This body is one crowded European sanitarium –
half-saints dressed in shivers, would-be Slavic kings,
gaudy, calico fools. Others that are only vague whims.
Mongrel hybrids, rut-smelling, tearing at their rags.
A girl who would collapse into flame at a touch.
Some collide, shudder – - scar-tissue eyes, cavefish.
There’s an Irish monk, bald from god slapping his head,
jarred loose from his love of Jesus and Virgin Mary,
who lifted his sack-cloth, whose goat thighs pulsed
and begot fanatical lovers of gods and bodies.
And I hear that Slovenian woman mumble as she unwinds
the fringe of her robe – - strands of gold, saliva, root-hair – -then sews a new gown, tense as skin, these scraps I wear,
the crazy stitched seams and knotted threads inside.
Excerpt from the
3rd edition from The Bone-Orchard Conga, page 76
The Bone-Orchard Conga