Friday, May 29, 2015

Numb

I numb myself
so it doesn’t envelop
me,

so it doesn’t hurt.

Wrapping myself
in my invisible protective coating,
I withstand the quills
of every porcupine I meet,

and I seem to know
an endless supply of them.

My gallery of scars
suggests my plan
isn’t foolproof.

When mistreated,
I just numb myself,
and then I experience it
as though I am watching
a black comedy
starring a tragically
bumbling
protagonist.

Through denigration
neglect and abuse,
I stand firm and
do not fall
in the public eye.

I confess only
to God and this blank paper
as I fear neither.

In the solitude
of an empty parking lot,
with ink and prayer
I step out of the numbness
and inspect my puncture wounds,

some of which
go 51 years deep.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Holiday Poem for Absentee Fathers

"It’s holiday time again
and many of you
are prying yourselves away
from your televisions
and your new families
(the ones with the children 
you chose to raise)
and you probably want to know
when everyone’s coming over
so you can have
your Norman Rockwell
picture-perfect
Thanksgiving
complete with laughing happy children
a bountiful turkey
and genuine warmth.

Well,
as someone who sees
the everyday injuries
that your past indifference
hath wrought,
let me respectfully say:
stay the fuck away.

If your children are really little,
don’t get their hopes up
only to be gone for another
stretch of hopeless emptiness,

they don’t know any better.

If your kids are old enough to have
forgiven you in the hopes
that they’d be able to salvage
some kind of familial bond,
don’t exploit that optimism,
it just isn’t fair.

So,
before you pick up that phone
to invite them over,
remember all the times
you didn’t call
or didn’t email
and treat this holiday
just like it was
any other day.

When you call
you reset their
Hope switch
and they become
little abandoned babies
all over again,
and it is cruel, indeed,
to keep abandoning the same
baby
over and over again.

Those of us
who are married
to your daughters
(the ones you never
made the effort to know)
and who raise your children
(the ones you just won’t make
that weekly visit for),
we carry them past
the gaping holes,
the bombed out craters
your absence wrought,
which pockmark the landscape
of their precious
and hopeful hearts.

Don’t call on the holidays
because it only underscores
how infrequent
your contact with them will remain.

Don’t call on the holidays,
those are the pay-off days
for the family who see them through
the rest of the year,

through every nosebleed,
every disappointment,
everything, everyday.

Those of us who do
the everyday heavy lifting
find it galling
to have to "share" alternating
Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays
with the absentee father.

If you want
to keep your integrity,
stay the fuck away
this Thanksgiving and Christmas
just like you do
during the rest of the year.

Let your sons and daughters
have their day of thanksgiving
with the people
who really love them,
and take care of them
on the days that aren’t holidays.

After the holidays
then you can make contact,
and pick up that phone
everyday,
ask them how they’re doing
everyday,
console them when they’re down
everyday,
tell them you love them
everyday,

and keep making contact
and maybe by the time
the next holiday comes around
you will have earned
it."

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Crow with Heart

Waiting to turn left
I spied a crow
in the opposite lane,
valiantly attempting
to pick up
a brown paper bag
from the Del Taco,
most likely discarded
from a moving car.

The bag was as big
as the slick black bird,
and he kept
grasping and dropping,
grasping and dropping,
the rumpled bag
from his greedy beak.

He kept trying
frantically,
until an oncoming car
turned into his lane
and he fluttered off
with only a scrap
of a used napkin
in his possession.

In my car
I cheered this crow,
because even though
he didn’t win,

he played with heart,
passion,
and determination,

which is the only way
to play this game
of survival.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Translation

Sugar is my kryptonite.
Anger is my pilot light.
Booze is my funhouse mirror.

Music is my fruit.
Time is my mockingbird.

Sex is my glue.
Writing is my revenge.
Groucho is my long lost uncle.

Silence is my prayer.
Desire is my serpent.
Jealousy is my jailer.
Gluttony is my downfall.

Television is my comfort.
Hope is my tomorrow.
Fear is my bully.

Memory is my curse.
Lenny is my prophet.

Forgiveness is my love.
Scars are my receipts.
Life is my material.

You are my mirror.

[Posted for OpenLinkNight #149 - go to http://dversepoets.com/2015/05/21/10429/ and link up!]

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

How Richard Pryor Saved My Life in 1980


Back in the late '70's
before it was the OC,

stuck in a high school of
blonde, born again Christians,

I was the Mexican outsider.

Every June
I sighed relief
which lasted all summer
until I returned
in the fall
feeling very Mexican.

Until the summer of 1980.

In a used record store
I found a stack of
Richard Pryor albums
for 25 cents apiece.

Something about those
album covers,
that face,
brown, comical and dangerous:

"Bicentennial Nigger"
"That Nigger's Crazy" and others.

I didn't know
what I was looking for
but it damn sure
felt right,
and I immersed myself
in these sacred texts.

He taught me
and that brown had
its own feel
its own soul
and it was good.

He was my supercool prophet
rarely bowing to authority,

dismantling hatred with ridicule,
especially my own self-hatred,

and he made me laugh
so much and so hard.

So, wherever you are
thanks, Richard.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Drunk (A Magnetic Poem)


A challenge from AngieInspired - go make one yourself at http://magneticpoetry.com/pages/play-online .

Charity

It’s never a question
of whether I’ll give.

I remember His words:
“that which you've done
to the least of these,
you do to me”
and with a grateful heart
I perform my Christian duty.

My policy is to offer
the bill on the outside
of my money clip,
regardless of denomination
(as I trust the Lord
and He will not leave me
penniless).

I try not to feel too good
about my modest act of charity.

Lately I've taken to
asking the recipient’s name
and telling them I would
pray for them,
presumably later.

As I hand them the money
and say “God bless you”
I shake their hand -
a token gesture of humanity
so it’s not just
about the money.

While the warmth of their
handshake is still in my palm,
I return to my car
where I keep a bottle
of hand sanitizer,
squirt a gelatinous glob of it
in my palm,
and furiously
rub away any germs.

I feel a pang
of guilt:

what are you so afraid of?

Eyes Everywhere

What do you crave?
Make up your mind.

A fake
Jean Claude Van Damme
ass-kicking,
a heartwarming scene
hidden in
a Hallmark card commercial,
the cold hard dirty truth?

Pick your poison
because there's a world full
of meaningless
garbage
all waiting to distract us,
take our eyes off
the true deserving targets
of our vitriol.

How many
sit in quiet offices
wondering how to
to fuck up this corrupt system
and leave no fingerprints,
realizing as I type this
my boss may have installed
spyware
and is reading this
before you all do.

Never mind Google sending
every search to the FBI,
I keep looking
over my shoulder
and peering into
the air conditioning vents,
wondering "is that a camera?"

Is this the way a
patriot acts?

There are eyes everywhere
in every corner
of the rundown
mom and pop store
to the highest court
in the land.

Not only is
big brother watching
but we are watching
big brother
as he is watching us

and as long as
we are watching
something
then nothing will ever need
to be done or undone.

We are a nation transfixed
by smartphone screens
and television teats,
narcotized and pliable,
the true objects
of our desires.

The happy distraction machine
and the eyes of big brother
finally married in a culture
where everyone watches
everyone else,

keeping us all in check
so no one gets out of line
so no one does something
different,

as the rows of
black half-domes
peeking from the
Wal-Mart ceiling
watch us
and all eyes are distracted
from the wholesale sell-off
of civil liberties
in the name of fighting
terrorism.

We find reality tv
entertaining
because reality isn't,

and blah blah blah

and you're all probably
fucking bored by now.

So am I.

Change this channel.
I want to be amused.

Monday, May 18, 2015

KC

Just about everything
about him is
in transition,

not yet arrived.

Still wet and unformed
but I can sense
the outline
the nascent adult profile
and his unimaginable future.

His eyes are bright
and he sways from
left foot to right foot
unsure in most situations.

He is an odd admixture
of musculature and braces
and he has big dreams
big ticket dreams,

and I try to show him
that big ticket dreams require
big sacrifices
and long pants.

I know he’ll be
just fine and
maybe I don’t need
to stay on him
every second,

but that’s the
same way my dad
stayed on me,

and he earned my lifetime
of gratitude
love and
respect

and deep down
that’s what I want
from my son.

Love is not always
hugs and nice words

often
it’s honestly
showing your son
how the world works
enough times
so he’ll remember
the lesson
long after
the teacher
is gone.

Mount Rubidoux

I rode my bike
to the top of
Mt. Rubidoux.

I hadn't done
it recently,
so I wanted to see
if I could
still do it.

All the way
my quivering legs
my rioting heart
were both threatening
to desert me,
but somehow I made it
up that bastard
and I pulled my bike
into shady corner
of the mountaintop landing.

I was dizzy
lightheaded,
sucking in as much
oxygen as I could possibly inhale.

I laughed as I lied down
to keep from fainting,

"such a small mountain
and still it kicked your ass..."

my heart
kept raggedly pounding.

I have many other things
to tackle today
but I'm going
to savor this moment
up here.

As I enjoy this view
of my neighborhood
from a mile in the sky
I smiled

knowing the only way
to get such a view
is to make such a journey,

and often
the only way
to do it
is just
to do it.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Soul Mates

"Look!
There he is, Eddie.
Every morning
same time
he leaves the house.

Don’t worry,
this’ll be easy-
he’s predictable
like a Timex.

Yeah, I know,
he looks like a real
tightass.

Yeah, I got your money.
You know where
he works, right?
Just give me
15 minutes.

She never needed much time.

Did I tell you I saw her
at the store
the other day.

Naw, she didn’t see me.
Looks great.
She always looks great.

What?
Naw, he ain’t
gonna give you no trouble.
Kick his ass if you have to.

Just bring him back here
so he can watch it
with his own two eyes.

Of course she still wants me.
We were soul mates,
she said so.

She’s just with
him for his money.
Yeah, she always was
kind of a whore.

I called last night
but when she answered
I hung up.

There he goes, man.
Follow him.

Okay, I’m hanging up now.

Yeah,
got to reclaim
what’s mine."

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Teardrop Indictment

After decades
of male socialization,
they sneak up on me,

sometimes during
a tv rerun
or after hearing a story
of true altruistic love,
or if I hear an
especially perfect lyric
to an especially perfect
melody.

Something in my belly slips
and knocks something loose
in my chest
and it rises and catches
in my throat
and
down the tears fall,

and I should hate them
as my training dictates
but I cannot,

because I have known
tears caused by fear
and adrenaline
and despair that weighed upon me
like cement shoes,

but for the first time
I see life clearly
and I see how beautiful
it can be
and how sweet it can taste.

I also know how
fleeting it all is.

She brought all that
to me
by her touch,
her love,

in a place
far beyond words.

So I stand accused,
indicted,
and convicted
by my occasional
teardrops,

proof of my inescapable
humanity.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Losing the Good Fight

Surveying the front line,
the inevitability
sinks in with an
undeniable gravity.

The General confesses:

“You soldiers deserved better –
you were furious lions in youth,
each with the strength of Samson,
and standing high and proud
as a rooster’s comb.

However, we are locked
in a war of attrition
and time is not
on our side.

But it’s not in our blood
to hire mercenaries
or sacrifice ourselves
in mock-heroic suicide.

No, men we will stand here
staving off the enemy
until there is
not one of us left standing.

History will not forget
and our children
will long tell the tale
of our resolve and true grit.

We never bowed,
we never surrendered,
but rather died
with courage and honor
on this battlefield of

male
pattern
baldness.”

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

I Brush Her Hair

I brush her hair
because it relaxes her,

and I am transfixed
as I watch the waves
of long silken honeygold
sway with each stroke
of my hand
at my command
like a sorcerer-king.

I silently marvel
at my good fortune
as she watches the TV
unaware of my rapture,

thousands and thousands
of strands
each one
beautiful,
perfect,
strong.

I pray
my luck holds out
and that I am given
one day with her

for every hair on
her head.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

I Play With Broken Toys

I play with broken toys,

the dolls with missing eyes
and three wheeled fire trucks.

I don’t go looking for
broken toys
but they seem to find me:

orphaned teddy bears
with stained bellies
and torn seams.

I collect my broken toys
and refuse to honor
our disposable culture.

I play with my broken toys
enjoying them,
accepting their shattered dignity
and trying to see the grandeur
of their former nobility,
but I don’t fix my broken toys.

I can’t
because I’m a broken toy too.

The Fires Always Come Back

Years ago, I asked
the wise Dr. Warren:
“in therapy, what happens
when the insurance money
runs out?”

She smiled
to soften the truth
spoke in jest:
“We say,
it looks like
the patient
is cured.”

This week
Sarah graduates
from her
Monday, Wednesday, Thursday
program
at the world famous medical clinic,
and at least this time
the therapists spoke the truth:

“The insurance company
believes she’s met
enough of her goals
and they don’t want to pay
for any more.”

At best,
every therapy has only
given her two-thirds
of what she’s ever needed:
they spray water
on the fire,
but never actually
extinguish the flame.

The fires always
come back.

So, on Thursday
I’ll proudly celebrate
her hard work
for the past eight weeks,

and reconvene
the search
for a therapist who can
complete that missing third,
and
for the faith
to believe a miracle
is still pointed
in her direction.

[Note: Lest anyone misinterpret, I am totally grateful and thankful for the compassionate and skilled mental health providers at The MEND Outpatient program in Loma Linda, California.  In honor of May being Mental Health Awareness Month, please consider making a donation to Loma Linda University at advancement.lluhealth.org.]

Monday, May 11, 2015

For What Binds Us (Mother's Day, 2015)

For what binds us
are not the bonds
of blood and heredity.

It is the mutual
care and interest and love
freely given:

Earth to animal,
animal to human,
human to Earth.

Love is nothing
if not volitional,
and the phone lines
go both ways, Mom.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

My Surprising, Deceased Father

My deceased father
surprises me
everyday
by where he appears.

He shows up
in the music I listen to,
in the crinkled
corners of my eye,
in my impatience
for all things
faddish,
adolescent,
transitory.

I find myself
gently surrendering
the spotlight
to the coming guard,
the reckless,
seemingly bulletproof
youth,
quietly watching
them,
like he did,
sometimes lost in
private reverie
and memories.

If my dad were
still here, I'd tell him
I bought a book
so I could finally
understand electronics,
and fix those broken,
buzzing things
like he used to do.

Even when I spy
the arrival of
straggling stray
white hairs,
I laugh,
and I am comforted
because it is his laugh.



Wednesday, May 06, 2015

My High School Prom Prank, May 1981

In our prom portrait,
gazing off
into the distance,
we're wearing competing
500 watt smiles,
and in spite of my rented
cinnamon-colored tuxedo,
we looked like
a happy couple.

We entered late,
and surprise rippled
through the ballroom
as I entered with a girl
who wasn't from our school
who pretty enough to be
a model,
which, she was.

We danced,
we laughed,
we made small talk
with the popular kids
who play acted at being adults,
and for one evening,
high school wasn't bad.

The prank was
she was just a good friend
and nothing more,
partly because she was
a good Mormon girl,
but mostly because I didn't
light her fire.

So,
for her selfless collusion
in humoring my delusion
to help create the illusion
of my desirability,
I'm forever indebted.

Thanks, Bonnie.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Cripple (For Johnny Masuda)

This world is stocked
with misery and sickness,
suffering pustules
and weepy abscesses
that don’t heal.

We've social leprosy
infectious paranoia
and contagious fear.

Limbs are broken
by greed and distrust,
backs wracked with
painful memories
and regret.

We've gone deaf
from cranking up the volume,
drowning out
all the advertisements
calculated to exploit
the unspoken suspicion
of our innate worthlessness.

We are blinded
by too many things
bronzed in covetous flesh.

We didn't start out
like this
but this world corrupts
perverts and
convinces us
there is no other way.

But I've found my way
out of this madhouse,
one desperate prayer
at a time.

My detractors try
to discourage me
but they speak the truth:

“Christ is a crutch.”

Yeah?
Well, I’m a cripple.

[Posted for Poets Pub at http://dversepoets.com/ -where we are to write on a poet that influenced us to write.  Johnny Masuda was my friend and colleague, in writing and in life. He died last year.  This was based on something he said to me. Rest in peace, brother.]

The Eternal Transaction

The rose,
the flame,
the babe;

these living things
exist
temporarily
and then
pass away
from this plane,

and this
reminds me
to not hold on
too tightly
to that which
I have now,

because
either I will outlive
that which I hold
or it will outlive me;

and this is
the eternal transaction:

freely given,
freely taken,

and what I want
isn't part
of the equation.