APPEAL FOR LENIENCY
"On the lam for approriating atoms,
police plucked the accused from a dirt hole in Camden.
He has been identified as one Walter Whitman,
a fleshy, sensual, breeding kosmos of Huntington, Long Island.
"Mr. Whitman, I know who you are,
just as you should know that in these United States
claiming a stranger’s particles doesn’t pass the bar,
it puts you behind ‘em six to eight.
By law, unless you offer an agreeable fee
my atoms belong to none but me.
I’ve been to Borders — what hypocrisy!
I’ve see the price tag on the verse you call free.
…Yet, given your service in an uncivil war,
and as the claimant still has his atoms in place,
and bearing in mind that you’ve been dead six score,
I’m prepared to show some lenience in your case.
That said, long-winded final remarks please reporters
but not Your Honor, who writes your final sentence.
Let’s have words in the bud without lawyerly flower
as a new trial is soon to commence."
“Your Honor, the defense calls one Walter Whitman,
son of Manhattan, to reform the truth the claimant distorts.
As he is no stander above men or women, or apart from them,
he will sing his heart from the jury box, if it please the court.”
Omitting all objections by the plaintiff,
following is the testimony of one Whitman, Walter,
as delivered to Bob the bailiff,
by the People’s Court stenographer:
“Dandelions bloom in the doorway.
The Brooklyn Ferry’s in dry dock –
boarded only by poet’s play,
where it’s washed against the rocks.
Dying hands cling to dying days,
grips slipping like a ticking clock’s,
while the greedy spend the bulk of their pay
nullifying the body electric’s shocks.
To me, the latters’ hearts seem distant and strange;
I’ve watched them manage their accounts.
For the veteran, they have no spare change,
yet they’ve enough for a box of Bounce.
I wonder how it could be so important to them
to part their underwear from their socks,
that they’d let life part from a dying man
and spend salvation on a new set of locks.
"As for our captains, they are no Lincolns.
They are woeful wonks and wags.
Yet to lead us, we elect them.
We set fat pigeons on the eagle’s crag.
One liked to toot, but not a bugle,
and got caught being corrupt,
athwart his mistress in the Vista Hotel –
that bitch, she set him up.
One exhaled a lot of Hope
and little of Hot Springs.
He sucked a roach of hippy dope,
but sucking and inhaling are different things.
I’ve nothing against leaves of grass
— they make for good poems and parachutes –
but when your cigar’s up your intern’s ass,
it’s clear you’re marching to a different flute.
"Yes, your captains, your captains, they rose up but incorrectly.
They heard the bells and flung their flags,
but their masts stood too erectly.
They love to golf; they love to shag.
And the least of two evils are the democrats.
Yes, I’ve been beating around the Bush.
If you’re trying to find the real rats,
Starr’s still dusting Lewinsky’s tush.
"SATs and grades didn’t get Dubya into Yale;
it was his score on the annual fund
which squashed any chance that he’d fail.
This, of course, is affirmative action
afforded to white collar males,
and I’d abide his stance against Michigan
if he hadn’t been aided by what he assails.
"Glaciers groan in Glacier Park,
Gondolas make rooftop landings.
The snows of Kilamanjaro look unseemly dark
Global Warming’s iffy, not withstanding.
"As for Iraq, it’s considered treason
to fight the right war on reason,
but it’s clear that campaign donations
are steering policy in our nation.
Toby Keith might think it a fluke
that our preemtive strike struck oil,
but until I see the alleged nukes,
that fish story for me has spoiled.
Our national tragedy doesn’t grant us immunity
from laws that keep sanity in the global community.
Yet some deem countries but plastic properties
in a deadly game of global monopoly.
Why else deal weapons of mass deterrence
to a man dubbed "the Butcher of Baghdad?"
Were we planting pretext for interference,
or did we think him eccentric, not mad?
I’m not on the A-list, so I don’t know,
but this chicken can smell the foxes.
It’s stuck in my craw and won’t let go
when I see boys coming home in boxes.
"Hussein has earned his ball and chains;
ten thousand times over — a conservative claim.
He rained terror to secure his reign
with darts that bore our country’s name.
What sickens me is that we’ve followed the trail
blazed by moguls who shouldn’t be in office, but jail.
They’re after black gold — a truth thinly veiled –
just follow the money to see why they sail.
"O deckhands, my deckhands, turn from the shrinking land.
Swab your tears, and admit your fears, for your Captain is not your friend.
He flies a pirate’s skull and bones over our national oil rig.
His interests are purely corporate; his cronies are in the brig.
And look to your first mate well, signing deals with Iran.
Is he friend? Well, that depends on how many oil futures are in your hands.
These lords of corporate serfdom tear the founders’ dream asunder,
as they trumpet spreading freedom while taking foreign plunder.
Truth gets lost midst the deluge of spurious information…
aluminum tubes, centrifuges, curious bids for uranium.
Dear America, our crow’s nest is empty,
and a cabin boy mans the wheel.
It’s sad to say, but we should know it anyway,
our Captain just broke the keel."
Whitmanesque flags, defiant,
pushed across the front page
and why not?
here the pole is rusting
red beneath my nails and scraped silver
this spot, shrouded today
by dark flickerings of old glory
now run down and neatly folded
here, where years ago stood that soldier child
with a pair of stolen underwear
I can still see him…
running the piss-soaked briefs up the cool nylon
towards the sun and…
God, he was just a boy
pissing on bushes, not yet knowing
the mortification he too would suffer
as he fluttered from heights
THE DIVING MEN
daguerreotypes of the diving men
submerged in water
by the man in this picture
sodium clung to their legs and arms
they come back
alive almost — opaque ghosts
gaining definition as
caught between thumb and forefinger
they’re raised to the light
of the dark room
did he think he could save them?
they’re all dead now
artist and subjects
plunged into dirt
the diving men
and this man in the photo
here in my hand
or in the picture of my hand
that I held a moment ago
he carried his camera through life
let it flatten him in its frame
though dead, negative impressions
outlive their creator, the ocean
tinted a ruddy ochre
the camera held in a glass case,
a still life — undefiled.
if only it could see itself
like these divers, who, caught in their arcs
live on like frozen fountains.
THE WELL-SEASONED ACTRESS
she twirled a sky blue parasol
loosing cold feathers, the angels quarreled
the house reeked of burnt peas and aerosol
drumming his fingers, my father’s lips curled
in all the whiteness, a sky blue parasol
shivering today beneath heaven’s blue carapace
she watched a wrecker untangle crushed cars
the sun like a cymbal crashed over the mess
I got home to burnt scraps in a jar
a March gray umbrella… what an actress
Blind drunk with Southern Comfort
I’m awaiting the The Reconstruction
Ground down to a slowed squeal
The tape snaps, a bombed bridge
And flips its loose end like an obscene
Tongue in the nut house
The moon pulls her rope
And so much of what you were ebbs away
The sheets torn back, there
Undraped like a painting you
Discover too late
A faint impression in the bed tells of
A creature who missed the tide
And pulled itself to the bathroom
Where the last of indulgence
Drips on the moon’s
Porcelain tile as the rest
Sings away down steel blue
Tracks — the curled shells ringing with
Sounds of the sea, sounds of the oncoming train
The medicine cabinet left open
A feverish cheek finds relief, pressed against
Tile cool as
Mud as the mouth
Plies itself into a moony smile
Drunk with grit and sand
Ferns wilt in the eyes
With a gull in your mouth
STOPPING BY THE FOG VALLEY DINER
He knew of her, but didn’t know her.
Like a spider, she loomed in the corner.
He doffed his cap and nodded to the empty chair.
Her Wranglers were patched and tattered.
The red bump on her knee made him itch all over.
He said the mosquitos were hell this time of year,
and they were. "Blood suckers," she murmered –
not talking about bugs. He felt a wild urge
to waken her sense of rapture, to rescue her
like in books — even if only for an hour
at the going rate. She ashed in the saucer,
thought of her mother — how she used to hover above her,
combing tangles from her hair at the makeup table mirror.
But Margarette’s left breast curdled with cancer.
She’s dead — in heaven, or nowhere.
Sleepless after the wake, Margarette’s daughter
hurled a hair dryer at the mirror.
A weapon against reflection. The floor
was littered with splinters. They glittered
in her skin, sparkled in her hair.
She flopped on the bed; blood flecked the covers.
She lay there for days, aching to hear
a familiar combination of creaks on the stairs.
And now, almost knowing, a hand reached over.
She knew he didn’t care, but it made it easier.
The zombie behind the counter
clicked through infomercial juicers and miracle cleaners,
before settling into the cleavage of the silicon sisters,
both hawking genuine sounding orgasms for $297 an hour.
The newbie was strange, yet familiar.
He told fabulous tales. She pitied his hunger
and wondered what other lies he’d stitched into his scars.
At three a.m. came the window washer –
his blade streaking over their figures.
Feeling clean, they smiled like lovers
must. She pocketed the fifty dollars.
A cloud broke; the sky splintered.
They ran laughing through the downpour.
Vaulting in the cab with ease, she admired its interior.
Rain-soaked and sweating in the morning dark,
they hurt each other the way they’d learned.
She rolled over. He rubbed her shoulders.
She told him everything, even lies — neighbors
of dreams. At dawn, he wakes. She’s disappeared.
The sun breaks the clouds. Early summer.
The wind wrestles the trees. Birches bluster
in the slipstreams of highway travelers.
And who can predict the weather,
the frequencies of loneliness? His CB clicks and calls breakers.
Staring over the dash, he swears he loves her,
and means it because… this is Nebraska — Minitare.
Beads of dew sing down threads of gossamer.
A spider hides behind the side view mirror.
In less than 24 hours, she’d structured
a snare so complex, that the only remaining wonder
was why she hadn’t sense enough not to build it there.
The dispatcher too has his web — concrete and rebar.
By four, Joe will be in Omaha. …Omaha, where
burly men in waders — eyes callused by the killing floors —
will load the bed with cadavers,
then drink till they can’t feel more.
Margarette’s daughter hitched a ride from the diner,
past the cemetary where she used to sleep after work.
It was there where corruption’s fingers
first wormed under her shirt.
She went pliable as earth. He was a grave digger.
Shoveling and shoveling, it felt like murder
and that was fine — the way he emptied her.
Like a cherry on a sundae
the sun tops a whipped swirl of clouds.
My Sabbath near melted away,
I mingle in the street with crowds.
They chatter like birds before rain.
The cherry sinks into the cream,
bleeding a maraschino stain —
in dreams nothing is but what seems.
A plane knifes through May’s blue butter
in its wake trails a yellowed cord.
like churned water aft a cutter,
a knowing that goes without words.
Though saturated with sweetness,
my head feels but poorly endowed;
for it let my Sunday deliquesce,
let it sink into pink cream clouds.
FERLINGHETTI’S COLD SPAGHETTI
I am waiting for polyester clad Marxists to take over
Euro Disneyland — their mustachios stained with wine.
I am waiting for one of the Walton’s to stay up late and read
during a special hour long episode. I am waiting for Poor Richard
to explain why we shouldn’t drink "to elevation" if beer is
"living proof that God loves us." I am waiting for a candy
bar with the nuget
on the outside. I’m waiting for everyone with cowboy boots
to learn to ride horses. I am waiting for an employment listing that
an accruing self-worth account. I am waiting for the 42 Bus
to take me home.
I am waiting for a deodorant commercial to tell me that
I smell good. I am waiting for Miss Alaska to admit
that she longs for the excitement of war, or that she
doesn’t truly long for
anything, but perhaps a genuine sense of
longing. I am waiting for a President who understands that just because the hole
is round — doesn’t mean he should
stick his missile in it (read any way you like).
Or a President who can recall his involvement in something
bad — like setting up a crack stands to fund the Contras. Forget it…
no dude, wait, or a President who realizes that
smoking pot without inhaling is like entering
the Tour de France on a pogo stick. I am waiting for Robin Leach to
visit my apartment and uncork
his champagne bottle eyes. I am waiting for a law requiring Louis
Rucheiser, and the bulls and bears of his round table
to speak in our national language (Ebonics will do).
I am waiting for my spell checker to recognize Ebonics.
Ivorics, like Microsoft, is a mean monopoly.
I am waiting for people to realize that you don’t have to
be smart to get rich. You don’t even need to work…
or have a product, as I detail in my fantastic new system.
I am waiting for con artists to admit that if everyone
became millionaires by placing
a few small ads, there would be no
newspapers. I am waiting for lumberjacks to forget that money
really does grow on trees.
I am waiting for someone to discover that hieroglyphics were transcribed by
a dyslexic. I am waiting for biblical historians to realize that Eden was actually
an ancient mall. I am awaiting the discovery of a lost
H.G. Wells manuscript in which someone
is sent back in time to give Lady Macbeth a box of
Cheer — preferably, the New Cheer. I am waiting for
the death of the fittest, and for people to feel the
agony of victory. Where in tarnation is my bus?
I am waiting for Cotillion to hold a “going back in” ball.
I am waiting for the AB-OMINATER –
a new fitness machine that will completely eliminate
the problematic midsection. What am I
waiting for — poetic justice, or just my bus? I am waiting for
a Fourth where people have the patience to wait for
a meteor shower, or where pirotechnicians
and alcoholics everywhere agree to move their celibations to
the First of April. I am waiting for a veggie burger with a juicy
meat filled center. I am waiting for a perpetual motion machine, and
a perpetual people to prove it. I am waiting
for an mystic hacker to decrypt who Nostradamus
picked for the Super Bowl. I am waiting to see if Christ
has the cajones to make his curtain call without them.
I am waiting for someone to realize that only the androgynous aren’t
gender specific. I am waiting to receive the
warranty on my soul from the World Harvest Church for my special
love gift; I’m still waiting for my chariot to arrive.
I am waiting for the Japanese to
buy Pearl Harbor and turn it into
a yacht club with a karaoke bar on the
Arizona Memorial, where tourists can lounge,
sipping kamikazes and getting
bombed. I am waiting for Hawaii and
the women on the corner of Prospect and St. Clair to stop
handing out leis and saying aloha.
I am waiting for Tiger Beat to promote a boy band of
elephant children with braces and bad acne. I am waiting for the end of the
hostage situation, when Kodak finally releases all the
moments its captured. I am waiting for an appraiser on
The Antiques Roadshow to admit that everything is essentially
priceless, as everything is just as old as
everything else. I am waiting for the land of the free to recognize
the lands of the bound, and to admit where
the rope came from. I am waiting for P.T Barnum to realize
that there are two thumbs born every minute with each
sucker… and that
he was one of them.
I am waiting for the day when every state has to announce an official
soft drink. I am waiting for Hubble to prove that the
dimensions of our universe are in perfect proportion to a
giant petri dish. I am waiting for
the death of the fashion industry when
nudity becomes groovy. In short, I’m anxiously awaiting
I am waiting for someone to realize that you don’t have to
go anywhere to live deliberately, or that Thoreau went to Emerson’s
to eat deliberately, and finally that Ol’ Yeller went to the woods, yes,
to die deliberately. I am waiting for days yet unborn,
futuristic Vonnegut days, when highways will be preserved as the
monuments of our age. I am waiting for Michael Eisner to
appoint himself King and move the capital
to Disney World — from whence he could command
his legions of cartoon mops. I am waiting for fatness to become
large — fatness and nudity, and for Jenny Craig and Richard
Simmons — as a naked, fat, married couple –
to lead the way with videos and Twinkies.
I am waiting for an arm patch to cure all craving.
I am waiting for a vivid memory of a past life as
an amoebae. I am waiting for a real sense of social security.
I am waiting for adult education classes, subsidized by
state lotteries, to teach prospective super, mega-millionaires how to avoid
squandering their unemployment checks. I am still on hold,
awaiting my lucky numbers from the psychic hotline.
I am waiting for someone to recognize that Eskimos don’t have
public housing. I am waiting for the first world to realize
that we’re still hunters and gatherers, except now we hunt and gather
other hunters and gathers. I am waiting for the weatherman in Cleveland
to admit that he doesn’t know what the
&*^% is going to happen. I am waiting for a new millennium movie:
You’ve survived the earthquake, the avalanche,
the volcano, and twister, the perfect storm,
squall, zephyr, and overrun bathtub, but can you survive…
The Poem, with its crooked symmetry, tragic line
breaks, and sub-
merged metaphors? I am waiting for the end of this
impulse, for the end of black humor, of irony.
I am waiting for Ferlinghetti and people in general to just,
for God’s sake (I hope not more irony), stop
waiting. Last and least, I am still waiting for a bus
to take me home.
The Bursting Seeds
Out of rhyme
Out of reason
Out of time
Out of season