Fussy Little Forms: “Slough”

A “Slough” is the poetic form of a muddy bog, or shedding dead skin, or stuff I say to my wife as we drive.

Small dark globose astringent fruit of the blackthorn
ZoroasterCan you say “Wickaboxet?”
Come visit the museum of spores
The tater-tot world of the arcane
Fetch the fiddle Mary!Vacant lots: vacant are our lots in lifeMadman mud man, grave digger with a trowel for your mouth
Drear, drear, the sheep do shiver in the rain
Willows weep as weep they must, their draped shrouds prepare for us the wayYarmouth
Mayfly may be the maybe-fly could would should fly, the can-fly, can’t-fly, will-fly, won’t-flyShooby-Do
For Slough Sunday

The Sunday Muse

The News

April, early morning, birds have the microphone –
the squawk box in full dither – I scan up and down 
the sundial sniffing for signal with my beak
as if some frequency of light and shadow on my face
will clear the static.

The Byrds – classic rock, no,
"First known use of 'chugalug' was in 1945" – talk radio, no,
A woodpecker's twhack knocks on my bones:
"Hey old man, I'm tawking to you!"
and each tap bends another creaking nail,

Filches in the bark of my tired muscles for grubs or honey
or whatever leaves me flightless and famished 
in my walk down this dirt road every morning,
octets of birds and peepers a Met Opera 
broadcasting Tosca on public radio,

Those strings of my father's Puccini and Verdi 
lifted from vinyl and woven into nests that spiral outward, 
my mother belting "Praise the lord, and pass the ammunition!"
waking us with her birdshot voice – 
are those notes or holes in the sky?

Sun comes on the loudspeaker, it must be recess.
I hear you say "hey" and finally I'm here, present,
your hand, feathered in mine.
A quiet settles in.
I get the news.

The Sunday Muse

Diner, June 13, 2019

The caller said your father had died.
We were sitting in a booth
at the Greek diner.

Who better than Greeks
to know Tragedy?
Our waiter is from Guatemala.

Maybe who better than 
to know tragedy.

The restaurant is empty.
Who better than empty
to know loss.

His wife will burn him.
She can send the box 
if anyone wants it.

If anyone wanted forgiveness,
I would tell you
a burnt heart 

closes like a door 
as the last customer
leaves for the night.

We pay the check 
and leave a tip
in the jar.

After we are gone
the waiter will spread our coins
like ashes.

First published Sept 2020 in the I-70 Review

The Sunday Muse

This Little Piggy

let's play footsie with death again one little piggy two little piggy
hickory-dickory TikTok rockets doomsday clocks ten seconds to midnight
ten-nine-eight-seven-six little piggy how many nukes can a nuke-chuck chuck 
little piggy little piggy blow your house down I smell roast pork little piggy

The Sunday Muse

TSM 200

In which the poet is interviewed by the poems. “Tell us about yourself.”

Tell me about your eyes.I am a periscope
squinting above the surface
of coffee.
Why is your soul caramelized with soot?My vacation in Eden was a hot time,
but I wandered too long in the garden
without sunscreen.
Why did you abandon the piano?My father re-pointed the bricks of our house
with Mozart. It was beautiful, but his fingers
tipped the scales.
I heard you can breathe underwater.Do you want to see my fin collection?
Some people have shoes,
I have a closet of dorsal Nike’s.
Did you once throw your fate on a wheel?No, that is a lie
spun from mud and clay.
What is it with your hair and the birds?When taking trash to the dump on Wednesday,
first one, then another (!) seagull
pooped on my head. True facts!
How did you survive in the desert?I decapitated myself by rolling up the car window.
I was tired of the complaining
and that thirsty mouth.
You cried watching “Valley of the Dolls?”As a boy I was in love
with Patty Duke
What do you do when your back is to the wall?Write a sex poem.
You write of the co-evolution of wolf and shark.When I stumbled on the carcasses
of two frozen deer on the beach,
words flooded my lungs with hunger

The Sunday Muse

243 West 63rd Street

black and white keys are bullets from a piano 
loaded in your eyes then fired by trigger fingers
curled around the doorknob where you lived 
at 63rd and West End someone calling out "who's there?" 

when I would stand outside listening for the ricochet 
of silences as if there would still be echoes 50 years on
instead of shots from the projects across the street
and tasting the gunsmoke of heroin-grey sky

smelling jazz salts revives me from 
touching the numbers on your door,
the rooms now empty of music, no piano in the kitchen
fact: our apartment was a block from your house 

Thelonious Sphere Monk Circle of 5ths 
where the rhinoceros statue was cemented head first
by its horn in the ground as if a fat-man trumpet player 
made a swan-dive of scales from the balcony above

the rooms now full of music the color of money, 
tickle the ivories tickles your teeth with diamonds
until the piano player calls it quits and closes the shades
each note recluse as the door bangs open

the new tenants brush past me coming down the steps
in overstuffed coats as if whatever music was left in the walls
they've hidden in pockets or packed for extra warmth 
and smuggle down to the subway take the A train to Harlem 

where the notes escape like a flock of birds
riffing into the sky

The Sunday Muse

The Firepossum

I look over and see a firepossum 
trundling in from the storm –
eight baby owls on her back,
her crown of scarlet begonias.

She heads to a stack of journals,
feeds on the garbage I call poems. 
Spits and hacks out most, but a greedy 
smeck smeck smeck from time to time.

I say "Firepossum, play dead!"
and she filches around in her pouch –
has a bootleg tape of the Red Rocks tour –
Jerry and Co. jamming on Row Jimmy.

Wikipedea says the firepossum
is a mythic beast that rises in flames
like the Phoenix from ashes 
of suburban shopping malls in Arizona.

The familiar of muses
who blow into the mouths of the owls 
like feathered ocarinas
tuned to the key of see? 

She climbs into the burning hearth,
disappears, leaving an empty room 
and owl pellets – I hold in my hand
inky bullets 

of hair, bones, claws, and teeth.

The Sunday Muse

TSM 197

There is no poem here, just my uncle
in the first hours of August 6th, 1945
watching in darkness the Enola Gay gain speed
on runway Able, North Field, Tinian Island.

Mid-morning the sky – a blue and turquoise axe handle – 
swings down a flaming red blade
on Hiroshima. He said they saw the light
1,500 miles away, a second dawn.

No poem. Talked with the ground crews, 
went to mess, played poker 
with his tail gunner 
and the navigator.

Will meaning come later, if ever?
If he drew to a flush of hearts, he does not remember.
Or if Tokyo Rose played Blue Skies
on the radio.

The Sunday Muse

TSM 195

I thought snuff poems were illegal
since at least the 90's –
No more candles in the wind, thank Jesus,
no night stars blowing out one by one,
all the tropes of hope and light gone up in smoke –
arrested, up against a cop car, spread-eagle
and cuffed with zip ties.

A young poet I knew went to police academy
to play cops and robbers – bad idea –
our metaphors mug honest words
at knifepoint,
disturb the peace of stolid, taxpaying nouns,
graffiti defacing
the library wall of verbs.

she forgot
all art is theft
and poetry is murder.

The Sunday Muse