Two brass plates, engraved on the top and bottom with English and French words, and in between these, a small ball of twine that hides a noise inside of it when it is shaken. All of these joined by four screws. If you are inclined, supply your own noise because you can't shake this ball of twine. The museum won't allow it. So wear a grimace. Begin to scream. A scream will do it. Don't save it for a private performance in the shower. Scream if you are inclined. Maybe you'll cause a fine ruckus and a kind of wonder. The museum will never forgive you, but your audience might think you're part of the display; an art object. You scream. It just won't work. No matter how much you scream. You can't shake them up. You shut up and attempt to stuff your scream into that small ball of twine, with a noise already hidden inside of it, which is sandwiched between two brass plates joined by four screws. You can't get near it. It's impossible. Is it true that a scream is still a scream even if you can't hear it? Things get balled up. Things get hidden. Things forget to make a noise, or a noise is ignored. Supply your own noise, or keep it hidden. No one will listen.
"With Hidden Noise" by Marcel Duchamp,
(American, born France). 1916
First published in The Ekphrastic Review, 2018
I'm often spooked about ghost dust.
Whip it off, it slowly comes back.
Ghosts have endurance that you can trust.
I'm often spooked about ghost dust.
Why do they come to do what they must?
Can it be due to something we lack?
I'm often spooked about ghost dust.
Whip it off, it slowly comes back.
Douglass was born in Tuckahoe,
about twelve miles from Hillsborough.
He was born to be a slave, because of his race,
the whites owned him because of his black face.
As a child, he was too young to understand,
but when he was old enough, he worked the land.
Captain Thomas Auld was his first master,
and he whipped the slaves to make them work faster.
The slaves had little food, just a little corn;
they were doomed from the day they were born.
But Frederick was unique, freedom he craved,
he dreamed of a day when no one was enslaved.
The next master he had was named Mr. Gore,
who would whip the slaves backs till sore.
Supposedly, he had an educational degree,
but what he lacked was any empathy.
One thing that Mr. Auld's wife did,
was teach Frederick ABC's as a kid.
This was something Mr. Auld forbid;
but Frederick was reading, but he kept it hid.
They said, "Give the slaves an inch, they'll take an ell,"
but before you know it, Frederick could spell.
Pretty soon, he wanted to be educated as whites,
he concocted a plan to run away at night.
They hoped to escape in a canoe,
but the plan itself never went through.
Trying to escape was not being irresponsible,
but someone apparently alerted the constables.
They started tying up the rebels, one by one,
but Henry was defiant and they pulled out guns.
He reached out and knocked the guns down,
and the guns went clattering to the ground.
But all the slaves ended up getting arrested,
and put in jail, oh how they were tested!
Instead of being brought back to his master's whip,
Frederick was sent to a harbor to build ships.
He did his job well, with workers who were white;
they felt threatened, so they started a fight.
A gang of ruffians outnumbered Fred,
he fought them all, but still he bled.
So he went on, to his own enjoyment,
to be his own boss, and find employment.
Suddenly, he could make money in a free state,
but he still had to deal with tons of hate.
But he went on to be a writer so profound,
that he no longer had to do things underground.
In his lifetime, he was hailed as a hero;
when starting out, his life was worth zero.
Through him, many blessings did he bring,
he was the hero before Martin Luther King.
He even forgave those who were his masters,
his effect was more profound then many pastors.
He believed in the Christian god, however,
he knew God wouldn't allow slavery forever.
Rarely could anybody write as eloquent as he;
it shows what a man can do-if he gets to be free.
A slow afternoon,
I walk past river pines
and bowing poplars,
on hard earth.
Sun touches cumulus clouds
In and out of shadows,
I trail a schoolboy with
knapsack full of autumn.
My worn loafers veer off
the even path.
Buried in wildflowers,
I meditate in whirring wind,
Muffled cries of crows
I settle in distant woods
laden with winter.
I give you the rain, its long hollow
pounding echoes overhead. A drain chute
flows with sickly yellow liquid. Rain
has picked up pollen which builds
in waxy anguish on our deck, the torment
of moldy days, goading my niece and I
into a stupor, while we repine in despair,
sip lukewarm coffee, nibble dry melba toast
scones, our gaze fixed on drippy aspen
and the gray world, our hearts grasping
thin threads of hope that smell of sunshine.
I am a master of distraction.
I am clever, cunning.
Perhaps I'm living a lie.
Perhaps I'm clairvoyant and know the future.
Perhaps I've gone mad.
I'm starting to see things that aren't really there.
I'm a master of imagination.
I whet my appetite with images of you.
Perhaps I'll crawl back under my rock.
Perhaps I'll stop on the Dan Ryan and pretend my car is stalled.
Perhaps someone will shoot me.
Maybe on the Burlington Northern tracks,
I'll stop my car and wait for the impact of reality to hit me.
Perhaps I wanted you to be my hero.
I wasn't wrong to want you.
No, it's not wrong to want to share love with you.
Perhaps it was wrong to assume you wanted me too.
But I felt your hands on my hair and face.
And your eyes, did they lie?
When you touch me, is it not real?
Is this a one-way street?
Have I laid myself out as a doormat?
It seems I feel most comfortable in a supine position.
Walk all over me, it feels good.
At least I'm getting your attention.
But don't tell me that what I've just shared with you is a short story
when I was planning on a trilogy.
Don't tell me about your romantic dinners and encounters.
I don't want to hear about it!
I don't want to hear you say I'm not the one;
you're not the prize;
I don't win this time.
Don't confirm what I already know, always have, never changes:
I'm going to be lonely again.
From a distance
a spire can
serve as the
of a church
are justified for
a higher cause
The wind hit me just right
when I was sitting and thinking.
Thinking about Lawrence Ferlinghetti's
"A Coney Island of the Mind."
Thinking of the poem about the couple
in Central Park, not looking at each other
not speaking, nor remembering
how happy they once were.
Then I realized, it just isn't healthy
thinking about that couple.
My soul and body has walked forth amid
My fellow man are my footsteps on a grid,
I dreamed I was walking in a foreign jungle
On an island, lost was I and began to stumble,
Thousands of colored words was drifting down
Like rain before a Rainbow to me was profound
Words like love, peace, trust, charity and grace
Descending from Heaven covering my white face,
Thus were the signs from my illuminated Angel
The angel's gentle hand touched my face cast a spell,
That was holy in nature kept me from all the wrong
To help to do the good things I searched for so long,
I'm not sure but I thought the lady angel I saw
Looked like my adopted mother whom I'd to call,
I know that mom sat invisible beside me many a day
Mom continues to watch over me always in this way,
The thousands of colored words I remember saved me
That came from an angel from Heaven my mom let me see
without a doubt
the roaring sound
that shakes the sky and the earth
is heard by the creeks in the woods
and the snow at the mountaintop
but it does not seem to disturb
their steady pace
you can see
all the murmuring streams
are converging leisurely
towards the destined location
you can hear
the sound of melting
and transformation of the snow
speck by speck
drip by drip
I'm not crazy, I'm okay
Can't you see, I don't need to stay
I'm doing fine, there's nothing wrong
with this beautiful mind
I stay to myself
because people are scary
Big green and hairy
they follow me around
And then there's the clown
I see everywhere
The one you keep saying
really isn't there
And you wonder why
I have such hesitation
about taking my
If I were to do
what you wanted me too
I'd forget who I am
I'll try it your way
and take the pill
But only because
need to get back
A walk in the park
I do every morn.
Tween six and seven -
time to feel reborn.
To get up with the sun
and the morning haze.
The shades of blue -
the intermittent rays.
To smell the green grass
just freshly cut.
The dew on the leaves -
the acorn nut.
The squirrels run hither -
the geese overhead.
Fresh running water -
a beautiful flower bed.
And then I see the fox,
but not before he sees me.
He's gone with the wind -
almost too fast to see.
The blackbirds are cawing -
the cardinals sing too.
And the red-tailed hawk
sits high against the blue.
I stride up on high
and view the lake below.
A splash and a ripple
and a wave to and fro.
A fisherman or two
who came before me.
Just watching their bobs
hoping to catch two or three.
Then I walk 'neath the trees
both big and small.
Their leaves blowing in the wind -
so much fun to walk tall.
Down the path to the car -
my last chance for the day.
But I'll do it again on the morrow
in the quest to find my way.
For a walk in the park
is truly a joy.
To breathe and to dream -
it's like a big toy.
So simple and pure
it gives so much pleasure.
Does a walk in the park -
one of life's true treasures.
Learning the small-town ropes at twenty-three,
I cocktailed with middle-age,
smiled, sipped, and reparteed my brains out.
So many brain cells suffered.
My favorite probe:
What age would you choose for the rest of your life?
They seldom knew
but offered possibilities.
One just frowned into swirling scotch and water.
My tongue-ready choice,
crunched between pretzels and ice:
At thirty you're established but still vital.
Hadn't we all felt semi-eternal?
At forty that bold choice made me blush.
less firm than I'd expected,
I frowned into a bag of teeming Japanese beetles.
At fifty-plus I frown on frowning.
The shape of a city is geometric,
tall straight lines, blocks of stone,
cubes and rectangles filled with
rows of blank windows overlooking
flashes of movement, of color, face
of a young man ponytailed, his drab
loose shirt flapping, of an old man
in a grey coat scowling, of a young
woman, her dark hair and long legs
flying, of a business suit on his cell,
face of another resolutely striding,
bicyclist in black hunched in traffic,
of a slow black woman in an orange
caftan pushing a red stroller. Masses
undulating, parading, some pushing
ahead, some falling behind.
And everywhere you hear a dizzying
cacophony of trolly rattles, engines
revving, trucks beeping, car horns
blaring, men shouting, and female
shrieks reverberating throughout
the undulating, crowded, narrow
corridors under those soaring,
glaring, competing skyscrapers.
(Won a First Place in Chicago Diversity
Category of Chicago Poets & Patrons
2018 Poetry Contest)
Seeking, searching, asking around
Drifting, discouraged, questing for more
Praying, meditating, reaching our God
Listening, acting, moving toward Home.
Turning, determining, a way to go forth
Working, dreaming a future of hopes
Pacing, climbing steps to the light
Of a destiny ordained, closer to the Sun.
Darkness is gone, self-actualizing remains
Stepping forward with gains, not in pain
No more alone, prayers comfort & guide
Realizing the past was a huge stepping stone.
An ungrateful soul wavers at the coast
Like Ulysses, righteously boasts
A cargo of riches flow from desire
Row in rough waters, wind, and fire
Sail off course, a sea of drinks
Sirens blow and the ship sinks
In the one eyed giant's grip, lost at sea
At the gates of hell, one can see
A compassed heart steers us all
Return to course, live in awe
A life of reverence drifts in the sea
Floating back home to family
Two bathrobes near the shower
hang on hooks like ghosts.
They discuss the whispered secrets
of water, of flesh.
evaporate between them
(First published in Peacock Journal)
kiss me sinfully,
as i touch your tree of knowledge
gardens grow love ephemeral
and roses only petal briefly
so let us dance in naked moonlight
as long as the summer's breeze
cheers us with wafts of engagement
i will press the experience between pages
and a tactile reflection of us
will always be preserved
long after the apples have fallen
from the tree.
There is no subtlety in wet December snow
as it plops onto lawns and driveways like
a late-night sot on a bar stool, lathering it on,
clotting and unbudged by a shovel. By mid-day,
it's melting into gray pools at the curb,
uncaring as it sloshes onto shoes
and splatters up with every passing car.
But late in January, when polar air thins the breath,
tiny flakes whisk and spin with the grace
of acrobats, alighting on tree limbs and fences
in delicate puffs. Drifting in frigid night winds,
snow hangs by dawn in swoops and curves
from the roof, beckoning us to stretch upward
to hear the secrets it carries from the stars.
No frogs murmur their evening songs.
No turtles or snakes slide silently
into the water as I approach.
No fish jump and splash back in.
No red-winged blackbirds clicking
and calling set cattails trembling
as they perch on thin tall stems.
The marsh seems to be sleeping,
but don't be fooled. Despite the thin glaze
of ice, cattail rhizomes feed their hidden shoots
starch they saved last fall.
It won't be long till stems
pierce the surface,
(First published in The Avocet)
as we pass on the highway
a cattle herd
in the fields
is headed west
alone and in pairs
mothers followed by calves
into the sunset
follow some unheard call
some unseen message
perhaps only they know
as we with instruments aboard
are on the way
weekly musical presentation
hoping our audience
will heed the call
find their way to us
Some signs predicted mountains soon would crash
And we would, too, like stones dropped in the deep
Where doubt takes over truth in dreamy sleep
And counting doesn't compensate lost cash.
Those signs suggested treasured stores held trash
Since death consumed what excess we might keep.
But who needs more? The miser, too, will weep
When life moves on for both the wise and rash.
By what we take for granted we are led
And what we give makes rich the giving hand.
The blessings she proclaimed link me to you.
I don't remember much of what she said.
Her words I doubt I'd ever understand.
Her voice though sounded kind. May it come true.
If a child from some place like Florida,
Connecticut, or Colorado spoke to you,
said I'm tired of fearing violence,
we need to make a change, fuck this,
I can't vote yet, you need to bring change,
would you listen and act, be inspired,
or correct their choice of expletives,
deny the weight of their experience
when balanced by their tender age?
Think on this: What if they were yours,
if they were your brother's or sister's,
the children of your neighbors? Then?
What if a Dapchi girl, her life destroyed
by the so-called men of Boko Haram,
or a Yemeni brother and sister, orphaned
in the bloody rubble of an entire country,
came to you in search of sanctuary,
of a place to live without daily fear?
Would your religion welcome them,
would you embrace them at once,
or would you reject them, indifferent?
Think on this: They are yours.
They are your brothers and sisters.
They are your neighbors. Now what?
(First appeared in his chapbook
Poems Against Cancer 2018)
I get you fresh: bare and round.
You come home from the farm
on this winter's morning.
With your heart layered
by green leaves: full of water and sun.
I smell your newness
before you give me a wedge of live
to warm mine in a humble sacrifice.
So— in goes chopped onion into the stir-fry pan,
where oil/fennel/pepper flakes and maybe cumin,
jumped first. Then, you! Wilted by singing fire —in happiness—
asking for garlic and some kind of Indian pleasure,
and I follow...
Some say that it's better to make your own: another story.
And I toss them in, add a little ginger too, and wait...
for the magic to work. Music can be played
while sipping a little wine or else,
or look at the wintry scene through the kitchen's window.
And, yes! at the end, who cares what neighbors
could be thinking or longing for
at this moment of embracing scents?
I enjoy you as it or fused with endless possibilities.
That —I know— it's a pleasure.
St. Patrick, now there's a saint.
And no, not that snake nonsense.
He talked to God, and get this,
God Talked Back!
He said, convert the island,
And Paddy did that.
Now, I've had one-sided
Conversations with the Almighty
A time or two myself...soft,
Loud and all manners in between,
Yet I've never heard a peep back,
Nary a whisper.
That brings me to my boy.
He stopped listening to anything
I said at three, and you might
Correctly conclude that
The situation didn't improve
As the teen years came on.
Well, one fine, fall afternoon,
This newly licensed driver was
Heading down a street loaded with
Crunchy piles of leaves, when
He beheld a giant mound on the left
And took aim with the Ford.
But he swerved,
Remembering the advice he got
From me that I got from someone
To never do that,
On the chance that a child may be
That child will never know
What just missed him.
But I'll always know that
God spoke, and
My son, at least once,
Mike, a friend of mine, walked in front of a train. He was fourteen. In college, I worked at a hospital in summer. On break, I sat out front and talked with Bob, who worked in the Pharmacy. One afternoon I came in and heard that Bob had gone home the night before and with his girlfriend, took an overdose of pills. They had a suicide pact. She lived, but Bob died. When I worked for Orkin, I was friends with a tech named John. One Friday I said to John, "Have a good weekend; I'll see you Monday." On Monday I found out that John overdosed on heroin. A needle stuck in his arm as he sat in his car in front of his apartment.
One summer night I was driving around with friends. We came upon a group of kids. A dirty blonde angel pulled me out of the backseat. Twenty minutes later, my friends were rear ended at a stoplight by a drunk driver doing 40 mph in a Cadillac. My friend was crushed against the steering wheel and died; his girlfriend survived. The bumper, trunk, and backseat were pushed up to the front seat.
People fly off the potter's wheel as wet clay,
God molds a humble mug.
Grace sustains the firing.
He calls it "hanging off,"
this nightly white-knuckle dangle
from the door's top edge, toes skimming
moonlight above his bedroom floor,
nothing on his mind but stretching tall.
Come morning, those high school boys
with their rising-star surge, will make sport
of tossing him in the urinal again,
add their dribble to his damp crotch.
Never mind that he's handsome.
And smart. He's feeling short in a house
of tall sisters, in a town of steeple-high
Texas pines, in a world of towering commerce.
He knows the story, how back in the '20s
a lending boom and bust made us
the skyscraper capital of the world,
five thousand buildings rising fast
to overlook the Great Depression's plunge—
even Beaumont, down the coast,
with more tall buildings than London or Paris.
He hangs off his bedroom door, thinking of
Dubai and Mecca, Taipei and Shanghai
soaring tall in faraway skies.
(Published in Encore Prize Poems 2014)
Papa told me as we were making plans to leave for the U.S. that
in America, "you will have a horse... small one to start with."
Of course, that made sense, since in America, I knew,
horses were everywhere. In the Far West, horses, cowboys, Indians,
were everywhere. Everywhere,
just like in the cartoon books I devoured, every night,
every night by lantern light. No electricity in Sidi Moumen,
small town near Casablanca, not yet, not in 1961.
Papa assured me that in America, cowboys and Indians didn't fight.
"They only fight in the movies, America is a peaceful country," he said.
That was fine by me, because when I played cowboys and Indians with
Madeau, Jacques, Fatima, Jean Pierre, and Lily, I preferred being an Indian.
And, in movies, at the church hall turned movie theater,
on Saturday nights, in movies, Indians, usually did not fare well.
As a swift footed, magical Indian, my eleven year old's imagination
took me riding bareback through the wide open spaces,
places in Wyoming, Oklahoma, Texas, comic book realities.
American dream translated into French by illustrated books, into Ukrainian
for my papa, Polish for my mama, Arabic, French, Italian for my friends.
Microcosm of the world, in Morocco, refugees
stranded in North Africa, post-World War II
waifs, waifs awaiting the next steps in their lives.
We came by ship to America, April 18, 1961.
Welcomed by the Statue of Liberty, her Petrarchan sonnet,
written in a language we did not understand, not yet, not then.
We proceeded by train to our final destination, Chicago. There,
greeted by waifs, less waifish than us, settled in their adopted homes,
for good. No war, no Stalin, no Siberia, no Warsaw ghetto, for them, for
mama and papa. Mama, papa, and me, we three, set about to live, day by day.
Me dreaming still, day by day, of horses, Far West, beyond reach.
They say you wouldn't want to see me now,
a shell of a person without any light.
I should learn to act cheerful while in their presence.
I wonder if they ever really knew you, or even know me.
They stand on the pretense of how they think it could be.
The absurd notion that I could change by sheer will,
I try and I struggle and still I'm just me. Breathing in the
shallowest of breaths, haunted by visions I don't want
to see, I have so much I'd love to tell you, but feeling
muted I have nothing to say. I wish I could draw a
picture to show those who don't know, what feeling
too much can do to your soul. Trying to explain why
things are important to see, my thoughts are
discarded like yesterday's meal. They never really
knew us as well as they think, I know you'd want to see
me, doesn't matter what they think. You'd understand,
I am what I've always been, an anachronism, a doubtful
guest, waiting for them to understand how hard it
is to act like somone else. Maybe it's they who
should be acting for me. For now I believe you hear although
I don't speak, the connection between us that will always be.
It's a current moving continuously that they can never see.
farther over, you take shorter steps,
reclusive nerves slither
among muscles and sinews
dreading age's misstep.
Is it memory that loses its hidden treasure
or do trivial thoughts junk up sacred spaces?
A spider runs along my mind's walls
waiting to lasso me into its web
so I won't remember life's hard times.
Memories of a childhood bully fade.
Her name shimmers
like blue neon.
Is the exterminator on its way
to cauterize thoughts
of loss and failure,
to establish harmony
in my later years?
(Five Poets Write about Aging, Illness,
and Mortality. Pennywise Press, 2011)
Follow the birds, their collage
of changing formations,
their swooping and soaring
as they wing each day
into the next—this moment
the one they know best.
Preparation for nest
or meal requires diligence,
the fortitude to join
the greater whole, the same one
compelling our call and response,
the desire to defy gravity.
A woman stands alone
covered head turned
to a crumbling wall
protecting a secret.
She takes something
from a drab cloth bag
maybe a cell phone
for a forbidden call
or a knife
weapon of honor
in defense or revenge
or, even more dangerous,
a book of poetry.
Scholars from antiquities,
Schools and universities.
Those who clear the passageway,
Thinking of the future day.
Credit goes to those like you,
Thinking deep, with hopeful view.
Educators by the score,
Nourish minds of human core.
Cultivate and strive to make,
Hidden talents - to awake.
Knowledge lies within one's reach,
Wisdom's gifts - fine work does teach.
Dedicated staff - a rule,
Do reach students minds, in school.
All contribute of their wit,
Planting seeds of - every bit.
Blooming minds - each scholar craves,
Ripened thoughts - accomplished raves.
Studies of intensity,
Liberate a quality.
Of ideals, leadership,
And explosive words - which grip.
Education days ignite,
Greatest thoughts - are filled with might.
Smart ambitions made - so real,
Within words that do appeal.
Creativity is found,
Notes and music - great in sound.
Sketches, paintings from a brush,
Masterpieces - crowds all rush.
Subjects done by talented,
Studying - the soul is fed.
If God's Gifts are scarce and few,
Schooling helps to broaden view.
Love of work which others do,
Honor it, respect when due.
Leadership throughout all lands,
Falls in scholar's noble hands.
Education wears a crown,
In majestic - golden gown.
Symbolizes truth and cause,
Teaching, striving, without pause.
In its kingdom - it's unique,
Leading minds - up to their peak.
When he was little,
did he love mashed potatoes?
Or did his mother make kadu
bouranee, or macaroni?
Did he play with wooden trains,
toy soldiers, a dreidel?
Did he go to mass on Christmas Eve
daily to mosque,
sometimes to temple?
Did his parents sit him down
in front of the TV
and go out on the town?
Was he chosen last
when sides were picked,
was he best at math
or did he even go to school at all?
Did he meet betrayal
in a priest's embrace,
a girl's rejection,
his father's fist?
Did he love the stars,
or cower in the dark?
On that day he used a gun,
did anyone even know him at all?
(Published by Chicago Poetry Press,
Journal of Modern Poetry 21,
Dear Mr. President, April 2018)
Butter beans poached in the garden's green balm,
tender as forest-boar liver. Caramelized slab of potato,
sweet as apple from any royal tale. Two girls' honed gazes,
children too charmed to know that evil cannot die dancing
in hot iron shoes. A mother's newborn fennel, her emerald
mustard, her babiest kale—musts for the gullet. Yawps
of abandon, firm as the hogshead's firmest blueberry
bounty. Each supple, each brittle blessing. One salted
glance into the mirror across the room at a crone-so-soon.
Distance and myth and time; their braided bitters.
A father's nightly antics, his honest fare forwarding
autumn's hunt. Lovage, for whatever plagues the heart
may also, rightly, burn the belly.
(Gingerbread House Literary Magazine
September 30, 2018)
Bluest skies o'er winter
in violet wraps
on winding ways
Yet, when day
turns shades of grey
and sadness warns
of what's unknown
ruthless hues stir
fear the blue
At last, there's cold
in arctic truth when
There is a sky
below the ground.
I saw it today
through puddle windows
along my street.
Big sycamore leaves
were floating in it
like balloons becalmed.
Trees were towering
beneath my feet.
If streets contain a sky,
do you and I?
(From Carpet Flights)
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