a poem for Mary Wilson

The Ecuadorian cacao I use
to lace my coffee with had finished
the day before. So I switch to Venezuelan.
Ooooh. The Venezuelan smells so enticing.
It’s a multinational set and I’m saving
the Ghanaian package for the end time.

The internet is slow coming on line
as the coffee brews. At last, five green bars
on the router! Then the coffee gurgles
alerting me: remove the coffee pot
from the fire cooking it.

The news flash quickens my spirit:
Mary Wilson has died at 76.

She was never my favorite Supreme.
I reserved my 12-year-old crush for the tall one,
Florence Ballard. My mother understood,
and brought me a new 45 home each Friday.
I’d listen to the music and dream
about slow dragging with the tall one.

But Mary was always the one with the sweetest voice,
and the smoothest steps, and the brownest skin.
Mary was the prettiest one. The one with most talent.

No one believed the Motown sound would not
last forever. Like names I can’t remember,
the boy groups and girl groups disappeared
or disbanded with time. In Greensboro Sheryl and
Cynthia and Theresa gave the songs and steps
a local flavor every summer. We loved the summer,
and we loved the Supremes. But there’s more.

It was so good while it lasted. It took our attention
off the distant war, and the deaths of our brothers,
(so many died), and the murder of the President
we loved. We suppressed our grief and sadness with
Motown songs, the music of young America.

But over time the sadness came back, leaking through
the layers of reasons encasing it, bubbling to the surface.

It is hard to sleep at night. The medicine eases the pain
and aches of memory, slowly soothing us with dreams
we can still be invincible, that a brighter future is yet
a possibility. Turn off the sham impeachment news and
watch some old Motown videos. Diana is the last of the
original Supremes left. Worship in her temple.

another poem from the collection “Poems and Tweets in the Age of Trump”

Beat Reader

my copy of “the portable beat reader”
still has its original dustcover intact –
it’s one of those laminated kinds that
libraries use to make books last forever.

I break it out for week 6 of ModPo
each year. Found it in an online sale
from Fresno County Free Library.
It plainly says in the inside cover,
“You may return library material to any branch.”

The cardholder inside is stamped “WITHDRAWN –
WORN, SOILED, OBSOLETE.” My wife
keeps telling me to stop buying used books.
She watches too much of that “Hoarders”
show on television, and Real Lives, and HGTV.

Did this one ever make it to the blog?

January night

I wake up to pee. It happens in your sixties.
Enlarged prostate, the doctor says. There are pills,
but with a long list of side effects. TMI.
Black cumin seed oil cures everything, they say.

It’s 1:34 am, a frosty January night. I check the temperature
on the window. 10 degrees. Polar vortex. The apartment
is warm, even without running the heat. I check
the inside thermometer: 76F. I peep out of the window
that insulates and separates us from the elements –
No one, not one is stirring in the Bottom tonight.

I hope and pray the homeless have all found
Shelter and protection from the freezing weather.
I return to bed. My wife rolls over and clings to me.
Love is warm for the lucky.

On the [Inauguration] Installation* of Joseph R. Biden – Live from the Green Zone

Live from the Green Zone

Weather report: High in the low 40’s. Partly cloudy.
Winds from the NW at 8mph. Zero precipitation.
High fences topped with concertina wire blocked
the routes of my normal morning walks. They say
it’s only for a few days. Some say 65,000 National Guard
soldiers were bused in, 21,000 to protect the ceremony,
to keep the people out, to keep politicians in. An impressive
show of force – I guess that’s the new normal.

Spirit cooker Lady Gaga sang the National Anthem,
and Jennifer Lopez did what she does to entertain
the TV audience at home. I was represented by a flag
on the Mall, a final resting place for patriots like me.

How did we arrive at this point in the land of the free,
home of the brave? People voted. Dead people voted.
Living people voted multiple times. Black poll workers,
lest we forget, tossed out ballots for the other guy.
And when, despite their best efforts, the other guy
surged ahead, they “paused” the vote count and
trucked in pre-prepared ballots from warehouses
to swing state polling places to make up the difference.

We have the evidence. We have all the receipts.

It will soon be against the law to talk about it,
but this poetry lives forever. The election was a psy-op,
the attack on the Capitol, a live action role play
designed to fake out the people, the real voters,
and members of Congress. Regretfully, both worked.

The Library of Congress sent the National Youth
Poet Laureate to deliver the Inauguration Poem.
Maybe in her youthful innocence some poetic truth
emerged. But maybe she served as a virgin sacrifice
to the gods of political correction. I hope, I pray
for the former. You decide. Live from the Green Zone.

*I changed the title of this poem after the tens of thousands of National Guard troops were treated so shabbily by the new administration. So much for “God bless our troops.” Thank God President Trump came through in the clutch and provided them the basic human necessities.

Thank God things are not as they appear

Jupiter and Saturn appear to be
close together because the light
they reflect from the sun comes from
the same direction in the night sky.

But their proximity to each other
is merely an optical illusion
in our mind’s eye. There is no danger
of collision or collusion in the heavens.

Similarly, the COVID virus that haunts
and interrupts our lives is medically
an impossibility – a non-living thing
weaponized in a subtle act of war.
Its design is to shatter and fragment
our spirits and our faith in the future
of our dreams.

DM me when if you are in town.
We’ll meet face-to-face and remove
our masks after too long a year
of social distancing. I’ll buy the coffee
(or beer) and we’ll plot out what remains
of our sweet and certain victory.

voting is a joke – the end of the Republic

The jig is up.
Les jeux sont faits.
The chips are down,
the cards are on the table.

The Founders had a good run.
They developed a fine system of governance,
steeped in enlightenment truth and ancient logic.

But they made one too many compromises
based on human frailty. And in the end
that same human weakness brought about
the demise of their great experiment.

“Shall not perish from the earth”
was just an expression of hope. Nothing
was ever written in stone. Maybe they never
really meant for it to last forever.

What’s next? The best outcome at this point
is a slow, controlled and managed decline –
a gradual loss of freedoms we take for granted,
imperceptible deterioration in services we expect.

Oh, there will be hiccups. Folks won’t take
these changes laying down. There will be songs,
and plays and parades and peaceful protests.
But in the end, we get what we deserve.

Alea iacta est.

two fourteen liners on the present crisis

Most Americans don’t know scarcity –
the store shelves are always stocked
and there’s plenty in the land of plenty.
But when supply chains weaken – and they
will with the coming reset –
there will be empty shelves.
The first casualty has already fallen:
election ethics. Half our citizens
ignore it because their favored guy won.
What shortage can that cause? It can’t be
like that run on toilet paper last Spring.
What empty shelves? What about the voters
defrauded by stuffed ballots and algorithms?
How are you ever gonna make them whole?

The second casualty is honest people
participating in the electoral process.
Next year or next election they’ll stay home,
leaving empty places at polling stations.
Zuckerberg’s money won’t be there to pay
off thugs. The third and greatest casualty
will be truth. With our reputation razed,
we’ll be one more banana republic
with kangaroo courts. No white wash will work.
Our place in history will be preserved
among the ignoble – the sacrifices
of our ancestors flushed down the toilet.
And we, this generation, shall be known
by history as the sellers of our birthright.

Sunday pen cleaning

I confess it. I’ve become a painter.
But without canvas or brushes.
In fact, I create images with words,
Written between lines on yellow’d pages.

It gets messy in my studio sometimes,
When all the pens empty in unison –
It’s as if they are somehow connected
To each other, like they communicate.
They demand to be refilled at once
and often I spill drops of ink
at the margins and on the corners.

And it is at that moment –
And the cleanup – that being
a painter becomes me.

Things that change at 65

Medicare kicked in my birthday month –

we kept the family policy as a supplement.

Reduced honey in my tea to half a teaspoon –

in coffee, altogether – black and bitter
the old sailors would say – no drink needs

to be so sweet anymore – or milky –

eliminated cream for a healthy, collagen-

enriched, quickly dissolving solution.

Finally gave up the nine to five. I have
skills still in demand, but only on my terms.
Lucky I have it like that.

Replaced my aging iMac with a current
model – more memory, better speed
and a solid state hard drive.

I’ve returned to pre-dawn walks
by the river. No longer need to charge
the inbound waves – instead I lie
very still and let them wash over me.
.
Every battery in the house is rechargeable.
All my pens are refillable with ink.
Most of my books are re-readable.
And I’m teaching myself to play
a new musical instrument.

this poem never made it to the blog…

#ThisIsMyPoetryBlog

A beginning and end poem
 
What did I know, 
in my freshman year,
about subliminal messages 
from members of the opposite sex?
She was older and more worldly, 
having just returned from a junior 
year abroad. 

I was in awe.
I read her my freshman year poetry. 
It was all I had.

She urged me to submit it 
to the college newspaper
for the annual poetry issue,
but she didn’t tell me 
she was the poetry page editor.
I should have known that, 
but what did I know? 
Her encouragement was enough. 

Three poems were accepted.
I was ecstatic!
What was I to do next?
I didn’t have a clue.

She invited me to her apartment
for homemade soup – I accepted.  

It’s not what you think.
We had long conversations
over almost daily visits
about exotic places she travelled to,
places I hoped one day to…

View original post 56 more words

another poem from the Cullowhee archives – Lost at night in Asheville

I took the wrong turn –
or missed my turn –
but still reached the poetry destination.
It’s easy to get all caught up
in structure and technique
when you are writing/reading prose –
but with poetry, anything can happen.

A friend – of a new friend,
and an old friend,
and a distant relative,
and a classmate –
introduced himself to me.
The world is so small.

And a homeless man sat at my table,
gathering change for a bus ticket
to Charlotte, he said.
I shook his hand but shushed him –
it was during the poetry reading –
as any good librarian would.
Though I had no cash,
I thanked him for his company.

There are plenty of gypsies
and monks – like me – in these hills.
These hills –  I am learning to love
their bending, curving,
never-ending ways –
they speak to the centripetal forces
already in my soul, and carve
a path of least resistance
through their mountain home.

December 13, 2014

From the Cullowhee archives – gardening

gardening has given me
a different relationship
with the environment
than what I had before –

weather, mainly.
I fret a bit when it’s been dry –
and I worry when it rains
too long or too hard

or too frequently –
weeds are so much more adaptable –
and I have seeds in the ground,
and skin in the game.

From the archives – sonnet #14

Back story. Back in 1990, we all had answering machines. I’d come home from work and a red light would be flashing. I would rewind the tape and listen to the messages. I had a friend on the west coast, a long distance relationship, perhaps. We would write poems, sonnets to each other and read them on each other’s answering machines. I got home from work late one night, and behold, the red light was flashing – a poem from KMC on the west coast. I scribbled one out and sent it right back.

Dear friend, I listen to your poems of late,
and contemplate the dreaded thought of life
without the prospect of your fond embrace.
I reminisce about that kiss one June:
too soon, too late to consummate; too true
to be denied; too pure to not be sure
that God intended for our souls to dwell
as one, exclusive, all-embracing love.
No matter what the future holds in store,
I did, I do I’ll always love you more
and more; though distance separate us far,
I’ll search the constellations for that star
that shines in you. And should I die, too soon,
apart from you, we’ll meet again one June.

1990

On viewing a painting

Last night a character from one of my plays visited me in my sleep. Let’s call it a vision. She told me, “Ray, the play is cool and all, but I need you to write something about me, alone, all by myself, without the other characters. A sonnet, perhaps.” I said, “OK, but what would you like me to write?” She said, with a lot of sass, “I came all the way here, doggone it (not her exact words), just write what you see.” Here is what came out when I woke up, before coffee:

The painting included a nude subject,
a woman of immense beauty, seated
at a table having coffee. The steam
slowly rises from her cup (I love how
the painter captured that!). Her left hand
holds a fountain pen – she writes a letter –
perhaps to a distant lover, maybe
to her child away at college. She stares
out into space – a pregnant thought commands
her attention. Her thoughts leave the canvas
and mingle with my own as I am drawn
into her world. She must work out, such tone
in her muscular limbs. I back away –
distance and perspective change what I see.

I never made it to Olongapo

I never made it to Olongapo.
Had orders once, but didn’t understand
the meanings of the words. Instead I traded
for a Norfolk fast boat, long and black.
Other places I might have tried but didn’t –
names and addresses I seldom remember,
just fragrances of sweat and tastes of tears –
memories of what futures might have been.
My claims to fame were straits I navigated,
deals I negotiated on the fly,
troubles I avoided, not from knowing,
oh no, not from knowledge, but from respect
for the unknown. My lights burn dimmer now –
I barely recognize those tracings from the past.

Splendid Wake #8

Join us on ZOOM for Splendid Wake 8 to celebrate the history of poetry in the nation’s capital.

Date Time: Nov 8, 2020 02:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

Join from PC, Mac, Linux, iOS or Android: Click Here to Join
Passcode: 029021

Miles David Moore will discuss the history of the IOTA Poetry Reading Series.

 Raymond Maxwell on Howard’s Hidden Poets.

Joanne Rocky Delaplaine with a tribute to Stanley Plumly, poet, teacher, Maryland Poet Laureate.

Sydney March,  A Memorable Twilight,

John L. Brown, Poet and Diplomat. Remembering Lyn Lifshin, Karenne Wood, and Mary Bowman.

Henry Crawford, Master of Ceremonies.

The event will be live on ZOOM on Sunday, November 8th at 2 p.m.

Please register ASAP: https://tinyurl.com/y2449vf7

From the archives – My Feet Spoke to Me

One day walking home from work
my feet spoke to me. They said:
“Ray, we don’t want you sticking us
in your fancy brown custom-made
dress shoes from Portugal.
They are tight, and our toes
can’t move around freely.”

“OK,” I said, “let’s try
an older pair tomorrow,
something more worn,
more broken in.”

My feet said, “OK, but if we don’t like it,
you won’t like it either.”

I said, “OK, tomorrow we will wear the ECCO’s,
the Baghdad ECCO’s
that are well-worn and broken in.”

The next day my feet spoke to me again.
They said, “Ray, we don’t like the ECCO’s either.
We discussed it among ourselves and decided
we want the brown leather Saucony’s,
you know, the running shoes.”

I said, “but I can’t wear running shoes
to work with a Suit.”

They said, “If you don’t, we won’t like it.
And you won’t like it either.”

So Sunday night I cleaned up
the Sauconys and gave them
a good buffing with cream polish.

Monday morning my feet were smiling!

November 2012

Bob Kaufman at Saturday poetry group

All those ships that never sailed

All those ships that never sailed
The ones with their seacocks open
That were scuttled in their stalls…
Today I bring them back
Huge and transitory
And let them sail
Forever.

All those flowers that you never grew-
that you wanted to grow
The ones that were plowed under
ground in the mud-
Today I bring them back
And let you grow them
Forever.

All those wars and truces
Dancing down these years-
All in three flag swept days
Rejected meaning of God-

My body once covered with beauty
Is now a museum of betrayal.
This part remembered because of that one’s touch
This part remembered for that one’s kiss-
Today I bring it back
And let you live forever.

I breath a breathless I love you
And move you
Forever.

Remove the snake from Moses’ arm…
And someday the Jewish queen will dance
Down the street with the dogs
And make every Jew
Her lover.

*********************************************************

And here is my memorial to Bob Kaufman based on the form above:

All the letters I never sent

All the letters I never sent,
poems I wrote but only shared
with special friends (those
who dug the cut of my jib).
I warehouse them (most but not all)
like museum extras, far from the eyes,
and outside the reach of saints.

All the morning walks I stopped
taking after my fall,
from fear, misplaced perhaps,
that I might fall again and get stuck
somewhere off a beaten path
where no one could hear
my pleas and groans.

All the lies I never told
because I never felt the need
to misrepresent, to be
anybody or anything other
than my own true self.

I still fall in love too easily,
so I’m told – but there’s always
a link, a connection
worth tracing, a node
in a complex network
where we can meet.

And yes, I still get seasick –
the surface is no place
for lovers to hang out.
Once we reach
the dive point and submerge
the ride gets smoother.

a poem about a work of art

My body is missing that uphill walk
Each day from the Metro to the Mecca.
Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights
affords me reprieve as I start the week.

The dragon tree – a plant that heals and dyes
A crimson red – is my first stop. I drink
Her blood and feel at once her curing power.
Reptiles seek terra firm where they can.

The owl is a nighttime bird of prey
Always watching, eyes wide open, spirit
Beast of the gods. A lion devours
A deer without compunction. His nature

Dictates relieving hunger pangs. So what?
A serpent wraps himself around a tree
That bears sweet fruit – tree of good and evil.
The pink fountain no doubt is feminine:

Her dotted eggs await incoming seed.
The darkened Moors below also await.

From the archives

A poet who used be a swimmer
and a chess player showed me her sonnets.
It didn’t take long for me to try one.
Fourteen lines and it was love at first sight.
She swam on a precision team. She played
chess with homeless men in Dupont Circle.
In her day job she analyzed and crunched
complex numbers at a government bank.
We sent letters with sonnets we’d compose
back and forth for several years before
the spell broke. We went our separate ways,
our poetry paradise forsaken.
Could it have ended any other way?
What is an end? Sonnets still fill the space.

On Sunday morning Full Measure is better than Meet the Press – a sonnet

Sonnet written in response to a Facebook message from a well-meaning friend on a Sunday morning.

I don’t really know or care what “troll” means,
and I have lost track of who follows me
on Facebook. What I know about events
in Michigan could fill a thimble, maybe,
though what I do know is that the far left
and the far right have consensual sex
whenever it suits them. All these group names
are a distraction – focus on the signal,
not the noise. The volta is late, it seems,
but don’t count it out. Good disruption hides
beyond the fear and hate that plague us,
that’d nail us to a tree. All that’s left
is the resolution couplet – the close,
a dangling modifier lost in space.

p.s. This tape will self-destruct in 60 seconds. Enjoy the music.

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Experimentation in Standard Time

We discussed Richard Wilbur’s The Beautiful Changes in our group this morning and the middle stanza reminded me of this effort from 2013, Enjoy.

#ThisIsMyPoetryBlog

Experiment in Standard Time

Autumn urban afternoons
get shorter and sweeter –

standing in the middle of “I” street
I await a very specific angle on the bow,
as my ship called Earth comes about:
a unique perspective on how time passes –

in the distance you can see Virginia:
how many beats per measure
are there in Standard time?

the future is reaching back to join us,
to warn us, to help us alter course
to starboard so we can pass port to port –
the present and the future,
like two ships, passing in a storm.

We post to a blog or sing a song:
we write some non-rhyming words
we call poetry –

and time is a social construct,
a contractual agreement we accept
from fear of things we don’t know –
dawn to dusk, high noon
to the darkest part of night –

a 24 second shot clock.
We sink…

View original post 18 more words

From the archives – Bus Station

(Note: I rode a lot of buses in my teenage years. Up and down. Back and forth. And on those bus trips, lonely and bored more than anything else, I began writing poetry. Here is one of those efforts from the archives. End note.)

Bus Station

Newspapers and M&M’s
Coca-cola and a cigarette
Happiness/sadness
In its purest state –

A devil sitting there
Emotionless, expressionless,
Temporarily permanent

“We remind you that federal regulations permit . . . ”
prostitution . . .
poverty . . .
ignorance . . .
drug addiction . . .
and every conceivable form of immorality . . . . and
“ . . . cigarette smoking only in the rear of the bus . . . . ”
where black people are still forced to sit,
“ . . . in seats clearly marked
for convenience.”

…now loading at Gate 3…
your schedule for:
Danville…
Lynchburg…
Charlottesville…
Washington…
Freedom?

Dear Mr/Mrs Paternalistic White/Black Supremacist,
how many men/women have you destroyed today
with your lustful liberality
with your calloused conceited charm
with your sinister southern smile,
how many of my people have you destroyed today?

How many have you paralyzed:
from the waist down?
from the neck up?
on either side?
How many have you paralyzed?
Did you reach your quota today?

1974

poem for a Saturday

an irregular riff of my heartbeat
awakened me last night –
interrupting a pleasant dream.

I am alive! And I can overcome
the dull monotony of deathlike sleep
if and when I choose.

Maybe it was the coffee I drank
too late in the afternoon
that stirred me from sweet sleep.

The dream? I was in a field
of overgrown wildflowers –
hunting for sassafras roots
my father planted in his youth –

The old men used to say no caffeine
after lunch. I never thought
it would apply to me.

Happy Autumnal Equinox to everybody!

John Coltrane – Equinox

https://modpo2015.wordpress.com/poems-of-note/john-coltrane-equinox/