Poem: Center Drugstore (#napowrimo)

You would open the door to mingling aromas
of coffee, toast, perfume, and disinfectant.
After the shock of the olfactory assault,
You’d see a few toys to attract the kids
alongside perfume and various toiletries
to attract their moms. Three aisles
pretty much stretched the length of the store.

Items became more personal as you made your
way to the back. After the toys and toiletries,
you’d find grooming products, followed by
over the counter medications, with “feminine”
products, haemorrhoid creams, and laxatives
at the absolute end of the aisle. To get condoms
or prescriptions, you’d have to go to the counter
that stretched across the back of the store.

These were the earliest days of the birth control pill,
and it was only purchased in silence with no hint
given to prying bystanders that the customer at
the counter might be in search of childless sex.

To the left of the three aisles of products, you
would find two fairly comfortable booths,
big enough for six people to slide in,
three on either side with room to read a paper
or magazine while eating breakfast or lunch.

Behind the booth was a long counter with
bolted barstools inviting a brief reprieve,
but not comfortable enough to encourage lingering.
Behind the counter, you’d find the usual:
Soda fountain, griddle, toaster, sandwich counter.
You could get a standard assortment of bacon, eggs,
toast, coffee, soda, grilled cheese, or maybe a tuna sandwich.

No one complained about the menu. People rarely
complained, except to get a rise out of the soda jerk,
just for amusement and to pass the boredom.

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Poem: The Shame of Engine Sludge (#napowrimo)

I always dread this task,
emptying the oil and
replacing with clear and shiny
fluids flowing through fresh filters.

I should say I don’t mind
most of it—it’s refreshing
to screw on sparkling protection
and fill the block with lubrication.

It’s the old detritus that vexes me.
I’ve done this thousands of times,
but I still leave spots on the pavement,
evidence of attrition and abuse slowly
wearing away the efficiency of my engine.

I know others see the harm I’ve caused,
and neither power washer nor industrial
soap can spare me the injury of a shameful past.

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Poem: QED (for WCW)

To us this is not so, not so if we prove it by writing a poem built to refute it—otherwise he wins!! ~William Carlos Williams

What if you wrote the poem
that proved everyone wrong,
but they refused to accept
the conclusion and continued
to walk with invariance
on metered and predictable feet?

What if they never learned to
breathe and step down
to a natural rhythm?

What would be the point
of walking under the
white disc of the sun
and counting
the steps to
death?

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Poem: You Tried to Keep Your Head Up (for James Byrd)

You lived a life that made your family proud,
But the weak-minded hated the colour of your skin.
You lived a life that made your family proud,
But fuelled master race fantasies for neighbour kids.

You trusted the boys who claimed supremacy.
To be generous and relieve your heavy burden.
You trusted the boys who claimed supremacy
as they brought your death and your ascent began.

You tried to keep your head up,
as those bastards laughed through your screams.
You tried to keep your head up,
with pain and blood in free flowing streams.

You were the only man there
as you were tortured by these boys.
You were the only man there,
Your body drug through gravel like a toy.

You lived gently and kept your head up,
And you died in excruciating pain.
You lived gently and kept your head up,
So we must ensure white supremacy never rises again.

Other works inspired by the murder of James Byrd, Jr.

 

Reclaiming My Voice

I guess some people thought (and I was one of those people) I might lose my accent after moving to the UK. I was sort of hoping I might lose it, because I associated my East Texas accent from my youth with ignorance, bigotry, and violence. And, yes, I have been assaulted more than once or twice by someone dripping with the twangy tones of east Texas intolerance.

I always knew, but tended to put aside, the fact that my suppressed accent was similar to the voices of people like Molly Ivins, Jim Hightower, John Henry Faulk, Ann Richards, Robert Earl Keen, Dr. Red Duke, Ray Wiley Hubbard, Joe Ely, and many more. Now that I’m further away from the KKK-loving shit-kickers, I often miss the sounds of home. I miss a voice I strangled more than 40 years ago.

Lately, I’ve been trying to write and speak in the voice I lost so long ago. Coming out of the closet, so to speak. I’m stepping from the shadow of shame, I guess. It turns out you can sound like that and not be a total asshole. You can be queer, embrace religious tolerance, celebrate your neighbours’ differences, and just try to be a decent but hopelessly flawed individual (just like everybody else).

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Poem: The Problem with Irony

Nobody really liked Connor’s poetry,
anyway. It didn’t really even seem like
poetry. It just seemed like someone
rambling around trying to tell a story
the way Connor did every time we
tried to get a cup of coffee with him.

Anyway, he said that’s what he wanted
from his poetry was for it to sound real
natural like he was just talking to his readers,
and he figured he had a few things he
wanted to say and what better way to say
a few things than in the context of a poem?

But honestly no one ever knew what he was
going on about because he just sort of
started talking and then went around in
circles for a little while with no kind of
point that anyone could see. And instead
of an ending, he’d just sort of trail off.

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Poem: Your Face

Jesse Bernstein died after he stabbed himself
in the neck, and it was all because there was
something wrong with his face.

That’s what he said.
He said there was something wrong with his face.
Something just wasn’t quite right.
It’s sad when something is wrong with your face,
because you can’t do much about it.
It’s your face and you’re stuck with it.

When people look at you,
you can tell they’re uncomfortable with your face.
When you look in the mirror, you always feel a little
nauseated and you have to look away.
The worst part is that you can’t figure out
what is wrong with your face.

It’s just a face everyone hates.
A face you hate.
And people make all those face jokes.
You know, like they’ll talk about something horrific
and then say it reminds them of your face.

And that’s so fucking funny it takes your breath away.
And you don’t know what to do, so you end up sticking a knife in your neck.

But I found something I love. Something that brings me joy. Even if you can’t bear to look at me, listen. I found something that gives me hope:

Your face.

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Poem: A Theory of Vision Not Rooted in Reality

Colour lies in the mind,
not in objects in the world.
The philosophers said it’s true.

Even children wonder if others
see what they see when they ponder
all the universe lying in their view.

As we grow, we debate inverted spectra
and possible mass hallucinations
creating discord and hullabaloo.

We want to see phenomena just as 
God sees reality,
and we 
puzzle every ambiguous hue.

Finally, we content ourselves
To accept things as they appear,
but 
keep imagining the missing shade of blue.*

*We can’t have ideas without impressions, said Hume,
before saying we could mentally create a new kind of blue.

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Poem: Signs and Signifiers

I like being out
in the world with
Deaf people.

In a crowd,
they are always first
to pick out friends
we hope to meet, or
find the exit signs
and the rest rooms.

At the grocery store,
they have no problem
picking out the right spice
from a crowded shelf.

And shame shrouds me
as I enviously imagine
how my hearing is
my disadvantage.

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Poem: A Contemplation on War and Visions of Peace*

Some young professionals were sitting in a diner talking about their visions
for the future. Once they made enough money, they’d buy a farm somewhere
and finally find some peace. One would open a yoga studio.
Another would build a Zen sanctuary and retreat.

A redneck in the corner overheard and shouted,
“You don’t know shit about peace. You don’t know
the first God-damned thing about peace.”

They objected, of course, that they read
Thich Nhat Hanh and D T Suzuki.
In the country quiet, they averred,
they could meditate on universal truths.

The redneck philosopher snapped back,
“You think it’s quiet in the country?
That only means you never lived one damned day in the country. “

But these professionals spent many holidays in the fresh air,
hiking, biking, camping, and learning to appreciate the outdoor
wonders the universe offers to those who can see.

In a blind fury, this hick shouted,
“I don’t give a good God damn if you walked a thousand miles in the desert.
If you can’t find peace wherever you are, if you don’t take peace with you,
you can never find it. Can’t you see that? Can’t you fucking see?”

With that, this veteran
picked up his duffle bag and
shuffled into the street.

*Based on a Buddhist parable.

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