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Welcome a poet new to Indigo Kalliope but certainly not new to poetic circles. I'm certain you will enjoy the work and further it might start some juices flowing.

Peace

CJ

Here are some poems of mine from the last ten years or so.  In recent years my work has become increasingly political.  The stuff from the manuscript in progress (tentatively named NORMAL AS SCROD) tries to juxtapose the various unfolding ecological and social catastrophes I read about daily with my own absurd struggles in Middle America.  Enjoy.  

After the Orange Alert
 


 


I love God's foot, always threatening
to slam down on my house, leave me
twisted and splintered in war-torn
somewhere.  When I was ten I learned
to ignore the preacher and read
Revelation to feed my need for the ugly
burning buildings, wrecked cars.  
All of it our fault, and God's hug
so clumsy it could crush us.  
That was the real show, wasn't it,
what we were all in line to see?
And isn't love only good when it's
desperate, or when everyone hates you
except the one woman willing to open
her belly for you, or the man who offers
his chest as a pillow.  This is why
I am ecstatic about the prospect of war,
that a building could crumble on top of me.  
At last, love is not abstraction, terror
is color-coded, the world is as ugly
as me and my red, red heart.



                                        appeared first in Avatar Review





Walking in Wartime America


                         Shall I at least set my lands in order?

               
I stumbled across Eliot's dilemma:  
blackbirds tense the power lines
like notes on a music staff.  
If the road looks like it sharpens
to a point, can symbol and object meet,
these birds compose a dirge?  
For a moment it seemed bigger
than bombs, bigger even than that
monstrous flag flapping over the bank  
a retelling of myself I could buy.  
It started me wondering if we own
the beliefs we grow up with,
or the other way around.  
No wonder he found a wasteland
stretching from birth to death,
as if it marked a distance to shuffle
the scuffed luggage he'd inherited
from strangers.  I confess I have
lost interest in this country, its flag,
and the war for which it stands.  
I walk slow streets, stack images:
here an arch of limbs grown over
Avondale Avenue, the tapestry
of shadows and light at my feet
more a shroud than a flag
and there a choir of blackbirds
mourning the death of someone
or something, the long road coming
together, either inside me or out.
 


                                      Appeared first in Poets against the War Anthology (Online)

 





Word Problems
 



What is the velocity of a jet at full speed,
or of the man who jumps at nine point eight
meters per second squared?  

Break a building down to its lowest
common denominator.  
What do you find beneath even that?

Downtown Chicago hurrying home,
you sit in a bar and wait for a train.
Some people cry as the second one falls.
If they attack the Sears Tower,
will you die alone?  

How fast will you jerk away?  
On the train a retarded boy stumbles
seat-to-seat.  He says he loves you all.
You try to wave him off, but
he takes your hand and kisses it twice.  

You force two quarters for the bum
on forty-seventh.  He calls this his corner,
though you and your wife live across the street.  
Which of you is most under attack?

Three days after three thousand died,
you wake hungover in Memphis.
If a stranger had opened for you
like a book full of facts you'd forgotten,
is five hundred miles enough distance
to subtract it all to nothing?  

The radio says you're at war,
insists that you all add to one.
Whose math are they using?

Figure five thousand children a month
times twelve years of sanctions.
Divide by three thousand
to determine your American value.  

Simplify the ratio you are built on.
Two hundred and forty to one:  a fact.  

Given the boy on the subway
who wrecked you more than buildings
and made the rubble feel like home,
find a common ground zero.  

Consider the variables: three days, two women,
three thousand dead, five hundred miles,
seven hundred and twenty thousand children,
fifty cents for the bum on forty seventh.
Do something. Something else.



                                      Appeared first in Thirteen Myna Birds

 





Stand Up Apocalypse
 



They're trying to get the oil out of the ocean
I forgot to bring a fork to eat my lunch
I'm not sure how they plan to stop the flow
How I'll eat my microwave lasagna
Some genius wrote we'll all be dead within
a hundred years and I am pretty sure
he's right   I'm forty now and can't see
myself feeling any better when I'm fifty
Dying dolphins burning turtles and then
even if we suck out every drop it still
might not make it to the safety of our cars
and even if then more apocalypses
a million apocalypses of heat and drought
and pollution and no rhythm  Sort of
buzzing in my head as I scour downtown
for some sort of eating utensil that isn't
made of a petroleum product so I can
eat my shrinkwrapped lunch which I
don't want but feel compelled to eat
because I am still alive and it is lunch time
The microwave dings and I take my seat
in the break room read the internet and try    try
My boss comes in and asks What's going on
They're trying to skim the oil up with big ships
and it isn't working  No she says Why
are you eating lasagna with chopsticks
You'll never get anything that way
I won't and that's a problem  I remember
in the past when the future was so great
it would build technology enough to make
lasagna sprout wings and fly into my mouth
almost like it wanted to be eaten
 



 



Post-Postmodern Love at a Poetry Reading



Anita sits down with a box
of Weetabix. A decade ago
we were officemates.  She sneaks one
out of the box and says to my shrug,
I always wondered what they would taste like,
and when I saw them in the Mini Mart
they seemed so lonely on the shelf.
The box on the table is a statement,
and she is a swan dive into a cup.
By now the poem has started, so we cannot
say what could have passed between
two bodies crammed cubicle-close
all those years ago. The Weetabix
are a parade of longing.  The poets
don clown shoes of unbearable pain
and try to sell us the product that life
is even worse than we'd thought. It is
longer than a run-on, and she whispers
that it always seemed so healthy and fresh.
She breaks a brick in half.  People
are starting to glare at us, and some guy
reads a piece about the slaughter
of innocents. Anita gives me a chunk.
We are all ground down by the gears
of a brutal machine.  I'd like some milk.
 


                                       Appeared first in Blast Furnace Review



 



Fixation
 


                  It was suggested in 2003 that
                 Americans buy emergency items
                 like duct tape to guard against
                 chemical attack.

                 ---New York Times
 

They are having a war against evil
and need me on board.   They tell me
to buy duct tape to fix the windows
and doors against the chemical arsenal
that will fall from the sky. They warn
of nosebleeds and death.  I want to know
if they mean and how some people mean or,
or if they mean it more in the traditional sense.  
No one at 911 has majored in English  
Two transfers later, I am talking to DHS,
who wonders who I am and why
I want to know.  But all I want is
an answer: Do they mean that some people
will get nosebleeds and some will get death,
or did they mean that everyone will get
a nosebleed and then die some time later?  
They say it depends, but I want something
like a percentage.  They cite homeland security
and hang up.  So I call back and ask
just how long I have left once my nose
is flowing.  Is it seconds or hours?  
They pull me out of the line at the airport
and throw away the bottle of wine I am
taking to my dad.  When they find my
duct tape, they take it and tell me I can
buy more when I land.  But I don't want
to be caught unawares.  They could attack
any minute, and pestilence will eat my brain
faster than zombies shambling from house
to house. I watch the all-day news and wait
for the inevitable.  In the corner of
the screen, the stock-ticker blips up and down.  
There isn't much else to look at.  I've been
shut in this house for a week, doors and windows
taped tight.  If I am ever evil, I think I'll invest
in that sticky silver to cover my bases in case
being evil doesn't work out.  But right now,
I am fine.  Nothing goes out, and nothing
comes in.  I am ready, ready for the war,
and sleepy.
 



 




For Kevin, Who Died
Before Everything Happened

 



I want to pretend that everything happens
at the same time, and gene technology
is not fifteen years too late for you.
The tape can’t be rewound, but we are  
having one of our debates about records
sounding better than cassettes or even CDs,
and how funny we have no idea that
the ipod is coming, is here, or that
the internet is a new way to transfer
your last concerto, how you make music
weep from a piano’s wide-open eye.
I want to download and listen again, but
you happen too soon, and it’s not there.
We talk on cell phones anywhere we want
—we all have cell phones—and you
complain about mid-90s feminism,
which isn’t a good idea, you reckon,
because God makes Eve out of Adam
for a reason.  I already know those stories
are just campfires struck on the horizon
to keep our eyes on the path in the dark,
but can’t say that to you, who are so close
to taking the hike.  The point is everything
keeps changing, and every year I think
of you less.  I open the alumni newsletter,
read that you die, and wish I had kept in touch,
even though I don’t have much room in my head
for another tombstone, or know what to say
beyond how awed I am by your faith
in the face of dying of this incurable thing
you never asked for.  The tape plays on,
twin suns bloom in New York, the cell phones
might be killing the honey bees, can be used
to detonate IEDs, the coral reefs are dying,
and there is a drought in Russia.  Moscow
is ablaze.  This one couple is trying to have
a wedding, and everyone has to wear
surgical masks.  You could laugh if this all
were funny somehow.  There is too much
news, too much buzz, like the sound of my
old boom box when I turn down the volume,
hear nothing but the grinding of gears,
how under the chatter that the McRib
has come back, you can almost hear
the chainsaws clearcutting a country.
My wife gives birth to my son
in an August, and I try to let myself
feel all the things I want to feel.
I have an ipod and a cell phone, but  
you are still dead.  If you were alive
we would probably sit around drinking
coffee and talking about how bad things are.
Then I would show you his picture and say,
He gives me hope, but also I am sad.
I hope he outlives me, that his son outlives him,
and that they are each a better friend than I am.
Beyond that is further than I can extend,
but the tape keeps playing.  Everything happens,
and in the paper it says there is hope again
for a cure, that you can take genes from
a resistant person, and give them
to someone else, as if taking a whole life
out of someone else’s bones.
 



                                      Appeared first in Stirring, a Literary Collection
 





How I Became a Writer
 



All that happened was that there was
this huge explosion and radiation, and
chemicals swirled around in the sky's
black cup until things were just right,
and then there was a long wait for
something else to happen, for some
other noise, for instance, or flash
of light, and when it finally came, there
was no one to see it, and a lot more
waiting, until one day things crawled
around and ate other things until
the things became something else
entirely, and then there was war,
and millions died, and the right people
said the right things and sex was had,
and I was born and got beaten up
by the wrong people, and slept
with the wrong people, and then slept
with the right people, and sometimes
the wrong people became right
over time and vice versa, and terrible
things happened to friends and family,
and also of course, to me, and then
there were incomprehensible days
of chemical abundance, in the mornings
of which I would wake and try to shake
the nagging shadow of impropriety,
and would reach for the phone and tell
everyone how sorry I was, but there was
also a small group that had gathered
at the airport, waiting for me to
come down, and to whisk me
to the infirmary, and eventually
I learned, and here we are.
 





Insomniac's Lament
 



You wake from the dream again where you are
strapped to a board naked, and the man is
chainsawing your testicles. He angles
the saw so the tip will fit between your legs,
and his brow sweats and his mouth grins, and, well,
you get the point. Point is, it's instructive
there are certain kinds of people you should
probably avoid. When I was an undergrad
I had a geology course under a prof
who told us about the fossils of the shark's
ancestor, whose jaw was so massive
it could have swallowed a Volkswagen,
and he asked, How would you like to go to the beach
with that thing out there swimming around?
And I said, I sure as hell wouldn't take
my Volkswagen, and everyone laughed, but
they also began to sit away from me
because I was that guy who made jokes all the time.
But later we talked about the coelacanth,
which everyone knew had been extinct for
millions of years until they found one
in the Indian Ocean, normal as scrod.
I wondered who it dated, and if it feared
that the world was spinning out of control.
All I'm saying is to expect toothpaste
on your hairbrush, chicken soup in your shoes:
Sometimes the boy isn't in the hot air balloon
by himself, floating states away. He isn't
there at all. Usually he's hiding in
the attic, or the woman turns up alive
after all those years of not being dead,
and they make her a television movie.
These things happen all the time, and the world
goes on for a long time yet. You're either
all alone staring in the dark, or someone
beside you wants you to shutup
and go back to sleep. But the ceiling
stares down  like an empty mirror, and
there is nothing to be done with the past
except to hope that it isn't the future.
 



                                      Appeared first in Chiron Review
 




If you would like to read more of my work, you can get my first full-length collection of poetry here  and my novel for kindle (all about art, love, politics, and failure during the Bush years and beyond) here.  

Thanks for reading!

NS

Originally posted to NearlySomebody on Mon Jul 02, 2012 at 05:10 PM PDT.

Also republished by Indigo Kalliope, DKOMA, Community Spotlight, and Readers and Book Lovers.

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