Tuesday, December 01, 2009

World AIDS Day


We meet only
in the alleys of memory.
Our broken smiles
glitter on the ground.
Although we bear the same name,
identical scars,
you can't remember
what day I was born.
Anger spills
down the side of my face.
This is what you have taught me:
needles are as hollow as lies,
collapse more families
than veins.
Now a prisoner in death's camp,
you grow thinner every day
until I can count your T-cells
on one hand.
The phone rings,
Mama pleads
Please buy a dark suit to wear.
I tell her
I wear black
every day,
all day,

Monday, November 30, 2009

Surfing USA

OK, I'm now on Google Wave, if there are any other new adopters out there waving. Looking forward to exploring the possibilities, especially in terms of dealing with poetry and workshop/critique.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Page Meets Stage

If you're in the NYC area, I'll be reading at the Bowery Poetry Club with Terrance Hayes on Wednesday, December 9th @9pm. It's part of their monthly Page Meets Stage reading series. If you can't get to NYC, there will be live streaming video at www.bowerypoetrylive.com.

Thursday, November 05, 2009


You know you can't
whistle for Love
in this city,
even if it stalks the streets
like a gypsy cab
over pavement
feigning hard
to preserve its solitary lines.
Your ears open themselves
to catch any cry.
Some are flocked together,
others have sought the solace
of a solo glide.
At the end of each avenue
you hear the lyrics
of Love's myriad migrations.
You imagine it
perched in a tall tree,
trapped in branches
until a storm stops.
You realize you
cannot decipher
even a single chirp.
You dim the lights
for the night
and kneel.
And maybe mid-dream,
a flapping
startles you,
on the sill
of a window
you forgot to close.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

For G.S.

. . . only because it was a Thursday
(which is her Monday)
and she was walking as though
carrying something heavy
(albeit not in her hands),
and I thought I heard her sigh,
and recalled Lonnie
(who you might not know)
not Lonnie who was always
pawning his wedding band
so he could feed the penny slots
or Lonnie from The Hill
who always seemed to be
half a slice short
of a sandwich,
but Lonnie from
'Lonnie's Lament'
(and here she
cocks her head and
wrinkles her nose
saying "Who?")
because whatever blew
his rain so sideways
inspired John William to put
a saxophone between his
lips and blaze
a lamentation
which matches
her Monday motion,
a wistful grace
with piano lines almost
lengthy as her legs
and a bassline that
plunges like her hair
when she combs it
into a black Niagra
which she doesn't know makes me wish
I could spend
the rest of my days
naked and trembling
in a wooden barrel,
falling forever through
its obsidian mist.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

A Decent Day

I was waiting for the bus outside the Borgata casino when I turned around and looked in the direction of Philly and this haiku presented itself to me;

Atop their stalks
these windmills slicing, slicing-
the quarter moon.

This is an older poem that I finally found the right ending to.


(after Wallace Stevens)

A poem must seduce
the senses most successfully.

A noir figure (back-turned) on stage
entices an audience of eyes.

The muted blues he trumpets
entice even the least open ears.

Accept them then, as key
(notes almost perceived
as known melodies,

uncertain notation of certain chords,
the roots full of doubt,

notes floating like the last of Autumn Leaves
on a soft breeze that could swirl all night,
on a key breeze of cobalt notes),

A cascade of sensation
now fully falling.

We will bathe
In these sensations all song,
as a blue mysterious

beckons in the dark.

(For Miles Davis)

Friday, October 02, 2009


The Sijo (SHE-jo) is a Korean form, similar to its younger cousin haiku. They are written in 3 lines and contain no more than 46 syllables. Unlike haiku, metaphor, simile and other wordplay is permitted.

I pace the beach at dawn,
my footsteps, haiku in sand

I ask the whitecaps, why Derrion,
why only sixteen?

Lake Michigan falls on its shore,
the Hawk wheels and wails above.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

A Few Haiku

I have been writing (or trying to write) haiku for over 12 years. It's only in the last couple of days that I feel like I may finally have a firm grasp of the form. This is exciting for me, because I feel like I can now begin to write a few decent pieces. We'll see; anyway here are some older attempts that I've revised.

summer sunset-
a woman crying into
her cellphone

country road-
our brakes screech at
a squirrel

Spring shower-
a white cat under the
drycleaner’s awning

summer shimmer-
that woman talking to herself
wears two coats

March wind –
The white king topples on
the chess table

the white moon-
kissing my uncle's name
in black granite

Sunrise- only lipstick in my wineglass

after the snowstorm-
not one loaf of bread
on this store's shelves

a cowrie shell in her dreadlocks-
the North star

spring sunlight-
dust devils dancing
after the broom

summer lightning-
the edge of your teeth
on my nipple

August heat-
the man in front of the bank
begs for change

three men shiver outside
Kogod's Liquors

at the red light-
the rain on the windshield

bright afternoon-
After that swooping hawk
this swirling feather

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

On the Rationality of Last Night

Recall that:

the passion is the moan plus the tingle;
the passion is to the moan as the moan is to the tingle.

If we call the passion K and the moan B, then the second statement above becomes

K is to B as B is to K − B,

or, algebraically:

Kiss is to Bite, as Bite is to Kiss minus Bite.

To say that last night was rational
means that last night was
a fraction (Kiss divided by Bite) where K and B are intertwined.
We may take (Kiss divided by Bite) to be in roughest terms
and K and B to be still tender.
But if (Kiss divided by Bite) is in roughest terms,
then the identity labeled (rationality) above
says (Bite dreaming of Kiss divided by Bite) is in still rougher terms.
That is a contradiction
which follows from the assumption
that last night was rational.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Hillel Furstenberg Greets His Newborn Son

(for Big Kenny, Little Kenny and Joel3)

Let us define a topology
on the emotion L
by declaring a sub-love L1
{Father, Son}
to be an open love
if and only if
it either contains
an open mouth kiss, ,
or it contains a union
of emotional sequences L(f, s),
where L(f, s) = hands open like wounds
= tears cascading across lips.
In other words,
a sub-love L1 is open if and only if
every hesitant male heart
admits some non-zero condition f or s
such that L(f, s) L1.
The axioms for a topology
are easily verified:
By definition, an open mouth kiss, ∅, is open;
L is just the sequence L(U, I),
and so could be open as well.
Any union of open mouths is open:
for any collection of open mouths
the intersection of two
(and hence finitely many)
open mouths is open:
let U1 and I2 be our open mouths
and let hungry lips open mouths
(with lips s1 and s2
establishing membership).
Mouth f to be the
lowest common multiple of f1 and f2.
Then, let the mouths meet.
The topology is quite different
from the usual Euclidean one,
and has two notable properties:
Since any open mouth
contains an infinite language,
no finite mouth can be open;
put another way,
the complement of a finite mouth
cannot be a closed mouth.
The basis mouths {f, s}
can be both open and closed:
they are closed by nature,
but we can imagine L(f, s)
as the complement
of an open mouth as follows:
"There are many kinds of open
how a diamond comes into a knot of flame
how sound comes into a word . . .
. . . Love is a word, another kind of open."

Among the sounds
that are emotional multiples
of prime kisses are
thunder and rain flooding a field,
i.e. [a topology of tears]
By the first property,
the mouth (sky) on the left-hand side
cannot be closed.
On the other hand,
by the second property,
the mouth (field) is closed.
So, if there were only
finitely many prime kisses,
then the mouth (sky) on the
left-hand side would be
in a finite union of closed mouths,
and hence closed.
This would be a contradiction,
thus L(f, s) must contain
infinitely many
prime kisses.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Seven Things

Seven Things I Should Have Said, Before You Left.

I preferred your sandwich with the crust untrimmed,
Your sighs were iridescent oil on asphalt,
Domination always twitching on the fringes.
The secret? The alphabet trick with my tongue.

Your voice steeped fragrant as loose leaf Darjeeling,
brown bits of cinnamon stick on my tympani,
most nights I dug its squall of sudden spice.
And any bag, even silk, was too much restraint.

Given time, the bend of The Butterfly Position
(insistence banging the bottom of the bundle)
gears shifting like a manic derailleur
probably could have cured your scoliosis.

I never liked your girlfriend with the organic perfume,
that protracted eyebrow, a geometric sneer,
knew she was orange juice on a sore throat,
afterbirth on ice, dripping all night.

I came home early that weekend from Chicago,
saw her feral hands clasp your jagged gasps.
The camcorder wasn't the only thing turned on.
I fapped to the tape at least once a week.

I never enjoyed the sound of slapping you.
But what else would we have done for rhythm?
After nights of Neapolitan, vanilla is a prison,
even if French, with flecks of exotic beans.

When you angled the just oiled pistol
and proclaimed "Either we say 'I do',
or I shall have to kill myself."
I thought, "Well, I'm going to miss you."

I do.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

How It Works
"let's stop pretending we understand jazz"
Nicole Blackman

Let's try charting, (We understand Pi)
let's touch, fingering we understand digits
let's sign, waving we understand tangents,
Let's strip, opening we understand clothes.

Let's steam, reddening we understand Blues,
let's hope humming, we understand Bird,
let's scale, mapping we understand Miles,
let's train, loving we understand supremes.

Let's tongue, kissing, we understand heat.
Let's sweat, dripping we understand drums,
Let's bop, as though we understand Being,
Let's loop, proving we understand knot . . .

Monday, March 23, 2009

Hole (note)
"each hoisting forever upward his burden"

Each shriek, held
hoisting a heavy tome
somehow calligraphic,
upwards as dust rises
a new music, old
burden, breathed.

Each bar stumbled from
hoisting hymnals
forever shouting
upward, arpeggiatic
a soul, saxophonic
burden, burnished.

Each solo, nail sharp,
hoisting a hammer
forever falling,
the ash-black
burden, airborne.

Each melody almost
hoisting down heaven.
forever. flaming
upwards. hell-bent.
your passion's single
burden. burning.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Old poem, New version.

B-Bop Solo #1

Some days,
the rain burns.
At the center
of the burn,
there is a cry
without end,
the why of whatever
is suffered.
Isn’t the ‘I’
a pupil
of affliction,
in darkness?
Is the 'I' lashed?
Is something like skin broken,
the opening jagged,
groaning like a mouth?

At the center
of all cries,
an eye.
In the core
of the eye,
an Iris.
At the end
of its stem,
a serrated slash.
In the mouth
of the slash,
beads of blood.
In these tears
of blood,
a saltiness.
The salt
into a song.
This hymn
is a hinge,
and in its arc
something like
a door

Sunday, March 01, 2009

21 days til Spring

with your brass band of winds,
swirling overture of air,
clamor of grey clouds.
Must you
cacophonate my heart?
I would settle for being
a single petal
on the gardenia
in your hair.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Karaoke for V-Day

Playing around with the James taylor song "Don't Let Me Be lonely Tonight"
I substituted some new images into the lyrics.

Pour me peroxide,
pour me fresh squeezed,
Tell me flash fiction
but scan stanzas to tease,
Save streaked mascara
for the rising peach light,
And let me
be your crescent tonight.

Pay me plugged nickles, pay me with pearls,
Relax like my hands are soft as a girl's,
Save the lower lip for the brightening light,
Just let me reflect on you tonight.

Let me shadow your shoulders, pool the small of your back,
Unshutter your stories, part the blinds a crack.
Start your getaway car in the horizoning light,
But let me fill you
like moonlight tonight.

Meh, whatever. Good exercise, and maybe I'll keep a line or two. Or three.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

25 Random reasons I refuse to do a "25 Random things about me" list on Facebook

1. Because 25 isn't a prime number

2. Because the Holy Spirit is quoted 25 times in the Gospels, and I'm a not a Christian.

3. Because there were only Three Wise Men. (and I'm still not X-tian)

4. Because I would have to include the fact that I am hyper-ticklish, which I obviously don't want anyone to know.

5. Because the square root of 25 is 5 and the Pentagon gets too much love as it is.

6. Because I once lost a huge pot at an underground poker club on 25th St. to a guy holding the 2 and the 5 of Spades.

7. Because Abraham waited 25 years for the birth of his son Isaac and I'm not Jewish.

8. Because there are 8 notes and 12 tones in an octave and neither number divides evenly into . . .

9. Because my son was born on the 27th, not . . .

10. Because in Nascar Brad Keselowski drives the #25 car and who ever heard of Brad Keselowski?

11. Because 25 is the length of a Sacred Cubit in inches, and Solomon built his Temple 25 cubits high. (and I'm still not Jewish)

12. Because 25 is the atomic number of Manganese and who mines for manganese?.

13. Because there are only 13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.

14. Because I got married when I was 25 years old.

15. Because "Y" is the 25th letter, so why should I? .

16. Because I only need 16 bars to rock the Mic.

17. Because 17 days is one of my favorite Prince songs.

18. Because contrary to what you may have heard, I'm not hyper-contrary.

19. Because 19 is the number of Allah, (although I'm not Muslim.)

20. Because I was 37 when my son was born.

21. Because Roberto Clemente wore number 21, not . . .

22. Because Barry Bonds does wear #25 and he's a liar and a cheat.

23. Because my birthday is on the 23rd, not the 25th.

24. Because the Prophet Muhammad was 25 when he married Khadijah. (Though I still aint Muslim)

25. Because there is nothing random about me.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Good Morning

If you were Frosted Flakes
I would spoon you slowly
until the bowl
contained only
your milky sweetness,
then tip the rim
and sip
one small swallow
at a time.
Then dart my tongue
into the curved
hollow of your bowl.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Turning the key that tightens the drum

RUMBLE (deep)

Nosing it
like a fragrant neck,
I run my thumb
along the hips
of a snifter of scotch.
My tongue glistens
in anticipation
of a half sip,
careful as
a first kiss,
then a pause
to let it pool
in the mouth
before a swallow
slow as wings
drifting on
the warmth
of an updraft.
I know how a finger
of moonlight
through the window
can taunt.
How a CD
can repeat
until it loops
into the DNA
of loneliness.
How a single malt
tries to build
its case
in the back
of the mouth.
I know too,
that what swirls
in this glass
is a whirlpool
with no bottom.
So give me
the moon's finger
on your ankle,
to silently
memorize the map
of your tongue
or huddle
in the hollow
of your heat,
to the splash
of your laughter.
I dream of a path
that winds
down the coastline
of your spine,
But wake
to a wandering hunger:
awaiting the day
my tongue
curls like a wave
across the
soft beach
just above
your collarbone.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Parsing the 'Praise Song'

I wanted to take a minute to re-view Elizabeth Alexander's Inaugural poem "Praise Song for the Day" and share a few thoughts about what I thought was going on. Already there are several other critiques on the web, mostly negative, such as this one, (which includes video of her reading), or this humorous poetic take . There were a few positive reviews like this one by E. Ethelbert Miller (scroll down a bit). The correct text of the poem can be found here.

Many of the reviews focused on her reading of the poem and found her performance lacking. I too, would have preferred a more conversational cadence and pace, especially given that the poem's diction was prosy in places. Overall I thought she did a decent job reading the poem, she spoke loudly and clearly and made no obvious mistakes, despite reading before the single largest live audience for the reading of a poem in the history of the world. Something that might make a few folk nervous. It was also very cold, about 25 degrees and not an audience that came to hear a poem, two factors which work against a slower paced reading style.

As far as the poem itself, my initial reactions were that the prosy diction helped the non-literary crowd to get into the poem, that the poem was a little too long, and that it fizzled about 3/4s of the way through. Given how difficult it is to write a great or even very good occasional poem, and given the gravity and historic nature of the occasion in question, I thought the poem was pretty good, but contained more than could be taken in at first hearing. The Malcolm X allusion "Say it Plain" I recognized right away and loved, as well as the allusions to the Bible "Love thy neighbor as thyself" and the aphorism taught to medical students "First do no harm", I knew that "Take no more than you need" was an allusion, but was unfamiliar with the source.

Having actually had the opportunity to peruse the text, my opinion of the piece has grown. Being familiar with her work, I know that Alexander is a poet of both great skill and care, thus it was not surprising to note that the poem is comprised of forty-three lines, loosely in iambic pentameter (mostly 9, 10, and 11 syllables) and arranged into 14 tercets, plus one final orphan line. That the body of the poem is 43 lines is no coincidence, since Alexander is smart enough to know that while Obama is the 44th President of these United States, he is the 43rd person to serve as such. This is due to Grover Cleveland serving two non-consecutive terms as the 22nd and 24th Presidents.
The poem's form, a praise song, is common throughout Africa and especially West Africa, although they are usually written in praise of people, living or dead. Thus a praise song for the occasion mimics the Sankofa bird, a way to look both backwards and forward simultaneously. A way to honor her heritage as 'griot' while also honoring a momentous event. The poem opens quietly amid the bustle of everday events and everyday speech moving on to notice quotidian noise and the heritage of even daily speech. The third stanza specifically denotes some daily tasks
Someone is stitching up a hem, darning /
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire /
From here it moves to bucket drummers and other forms of music. Next, we encounter three instances of people waiting on the cusp of some event. The poem then establishes the primacy of language in human encounters. At this point, the beginning of the seventh stanza, the poem shifts it focus from contemporary everyday events to a collective 'We" that is in motion or transition. The poem recognizes the contribution of those who:
said / I need to see what's on the other side./

I know there's something better down the road./

The speaker notes the need for a "place where we are safe", but then cautions "
We walk into that which we cannot yet see."

It is here finally that the poem begins to acknowledge the occasion before it, the tone shifting from the conversational to the oratorical. Line 25 opens with an allusion to both Malcolm X (whose favorite phrases included "Make it Plain") and the African-American Oratorical tradition, by way of reference to the documentary and book 'Say it Plain: A Century of Great African American Speeches' which examines said tradition from Booker T. Washington to Barack Obama. Given that 'X' is the 24th letter of the alphabet, I doubt that the placement of this allusion is arbitrary. The next two stanzas, the ninth and tenth acknowledge the contributions of all who have made this day possible. Alexander's skill is obvious here in the way she denotes occupations that any American can relate to, but that have special resonance for blacks, particularly those of her parents generation. Lines such as
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

are especially apt in this regard. It is after these stanzas, in my opinion, that the poem makes its first misstep, in the opening of stanza eleven with "
Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day."
This line commits a common error which sinks many poems, that of stating the Theme of the poem in prose. There are few things which will unravel the effect of the careful embroidery of verse than stating the meaning of the poem, in the poem, in prose. The negative impact of this line is compounded by the fact that its specific language steals the thunder of the poem's last line. This is made more unfortunate by the particularly evocative image of the "hand lettered sign' in the next line, and the quiet, but duly noted feminism of the stanza's last line. In the following stanza the poem examines three aphoristic creeds; "Love thy neighbor as thyself" from the Bible, "First do no harm" from the medical profession and "Take no more than you need" from the environmental sustainability movement. The last (and probably least familiar to most folk) of those is from a quote by Paul Hawken "Leave the world better than you found it, take no more than you need, try not to harm the environment, make amends if you do." The stanza closes out with a supposition
What if the mightiest word is love?
The penultimate stanza elaborates exactly what type of love the speaker has in mind and again a slight technical glitch appears. Given the eventual import of the poem's last line, this stanza could have magnified the closing impact by having the order of its last two lines reversed, thus reading
love with no need to pre-empt grievance,
love that casts a widening pool of light.

Placing the "widening light" last in the stanza helps to foreshadow its importance and make it more resonant and easier to recall. There has been some grumbling by critics that the 'light' image is cliched, but I think handled differently it functions well enough. The last stanza is in my mind particularly well written, especially the image of "today's sharp sparkle, this winter air" then the three images of transition. The last line "
praise song for walking forward in that light.

Seems to me to just miss the mark, with the inclusion of the word "forward" a bit much. Perhaps something like
a praise song for walking into that light.

like a praise song for walking in that light.

may have worked better. Last lines are oft times so crucial to the success or failure of a poem, often disproportionally so.

In interviews prior to Inauguration Day, the poet had stated her intention to write not just a poem for the occasion, but a poem that would resonate past the day. It is the opinion of this critic that she succeeded in that endeavor. The poem, in my mind rewards multiple and close readings, growing more powerful with each one. It is not ostentatious in its learning and is subtle with its allusions. Sometimes a poet who writes in this manner pays the price of readers overlooking or missing the work's less obvious qualities. Is it a home run? Probably not, more like a line drive double into the gap, albeit off a very difficult pitcher to hit. Given the pressure she was under and the enormity of the situation, I think the poet has acquitted herself quite well.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Pining like an evergreen

Went to the Inauguration. Had a blast. 1.5 million people and not a single arrest. Later I'll post a review and analysis of E. Alexander's Inaugural poem. But for now, this is the last thing I wrote.

How I Split My Tongue

I have always loved
to say 'acetaminophen.'
A wizened woman
once told me
that some words
are magic in the mouth.
Almighty, maybe.
Can be held
on the tongue
like a nib of licorice.
Some words,
like licorice
are roots
that can be chewed
for medicinal value.
They can also stain
the tongue.
Some may raise
the blood pressure
or fatigue the heart.
Like 'acetaminophen,'
some can cause bleeding.
Your name is a word
in a language
that I cannot yet speak.
I say it now
as a wish.
A yearning
in my tongue.
Some say Hope
is almighty.
Your name is known
to be habit forming.
I lick its aftertaste
from my stained lips.
A rare sweet root,
it can be added
to certain sentences
to mask any bitterness.
The pharmacist says
boiled into an extract,
it can alleviate
even the barking cough
of lonliness.
Your name rhymes
with acetaminophen,
can relax
the hard muscle
of a heart.
Or spur
Bright syllables
spill from my mouth,
robe me
in crimson.
I am a monk,
in the dark cave
of the heart,
chanting a
name until
it is wholly

Friday, January 09, 2009

Like a crisp twenty on a Park bench

I found the following poem in a note that Francine Harris posted on Facebook. I made some (hopefully) judicious edits.

Getting Lost in Detroit

Wrong turn down a street
that feels like an alley,
alley that feels like
someone's back yard.

There is always
someone alone walking
through the falling snow.
You wonder where to.
Sometimes you want
to stop and ask.

I wonder.
I might be disappointed
if I asked.

That if they are headed
to their girl's house after
I've concocted a tale
about them getting off
the Greyhound
cause they overslept
through Cleveland

and figured since
they were here
they'd go to the Casino,

somehow that speaks
poorly of their character.

in case you're wondering,
if I imagined he was headed
to his girlfriend's
after a long day at work,
and walked all the way
from downtown,

I'd be intensely disappointed
if he told me
he was just off a Greyhound
in the wrong town.

I took the wrong train
to Bloomington
a few months ago.

Thought I could visit
Indiana University
in Bloomington, IL.

The cute redhead
next to me
let me know
I was on the wrong train
before it took off.

she did not invite me
to stay on the train
and keep going
wherever she was going,

I have wound up
staying in the wrong train stop,
the last bus stop,
or the only stop
at that time of night
outta' somewhere else.

That's how
I moved to Chicago.

It was a bad layover
that lasted. and lasted.

got lost in Detroit tonight,
looking for my boss' house.
Turned around
in bank parking lots,
and empty storefront byways.

Watched the snow swirl
and pile up
like little white blowflies.

Rolled down the window
just in time to
catch a few flakes
on my tongue.

Still water runs deep

There's a poem I need to write, that I haven't written and somehow keep resisting writing. This isn't that poem, this is the poem I wrote to keep from writing that poem.


Today too, I will sip
my cup of Earl Grey,
eyes closed
and half-smiling

and study the face
of the woman narrating
the highlights of a game
whose ending I already suspect.

I'll examine the back
of this elderly gentleman's hand
and that guy's tattoos,
looking for a woman's name.

Expound on
LeBron's lack
of a mid-range game
or Kobe's unwillingness
to give up the rock

wonder aloud about
the waitress' marital staus
then hum a few bars
of the latest hit tune

as though my heart isn't
the last leaf on a branch
fluttering in the brisk breeze
of your passing.