recent poems stuck in the self-censorship filter

Planning Saturday Sonnet

If it rains tomorrow morning I’ll brew
A pot of Vietnamese robusta
And slowly ramble through O’Hara poems –
Meditations in An Emergency.
But if it’s clear, we’ll take the morning tour
Of Lafayette Square with our new friends from
The National Civic Art Society.
And maybe later, brunch at Hay Adams,
And maybe take some snapshots of buildings
Up and down 16th Street. We’ll imagine
Being way uptown and seeing the dome
Of the Jefferson Memorial sit
Atop the White House. Or so it’d appear –
Like two stars in the heavens that seem one.


Moving to substack!

To all my faithful readers:

We have built strong relationships with readers over the past several years here on wordpress, going back to 2012. This week, and weekly, I will be moving tranches of poems, small subcollections, over to substack. Gives me an opportunity to review, edit, and in many cases, re-write. I will also be posting poems read out loud.

I hope you all will be able to check my poems out over to substack. My wordpress blog will remain active, of course.

Here is the substack link:

Thank you all so much!


Watching Agatha Christie on PBS on Sunday

I read my new poem aloud to my wife –
She’s more of an Agatha Christie fan
But she paid attention anyway.
Which part did she like the most?
She never said – but I saw a twinkle
In her eyes when I mentioned my mother
And the pot-bellied stove providing heat
For worshippers inside the Baptist church.
The estate licensed the name and style
Of her favorite bard: her mysteries
Will continue to entertain her fans. Forever.
My wife prefers the classic to the modern:
The high and tight tales to the low and loose.
The storyteller impulse never dies.

Memorial Day, 2021 sonnet found me a new cousin.
He’s a third or a fourth counting all
Our common DNA threads. I recognize
His great grandfather’s name, same as my Mama’s
Uncle, who served in France during the war
To end all wars. Same uncle who used to pray
Long prayers in the cold country church heated
By a coal-burning potbellied stove
Just in front of the pulpit. Mama, I’d whisper,
Shivering, why are Uncle Ben’s prayers so long?
She’d whisper back, “Hush boy, your uncle is
Talking with God.” I remember feeling
Empowered to know that someone so close
Had such contact with the Almighty.

memoir writing blues

It is useful to go back & fill in the details,
to add a bit of color to the black & white.
I omitted some details in the first draft,
perhaps thoughts not yet processed, maybe stuff
I wanted to avoid, to forget. It is not
all goodness and light, you know, and
“life ain’t been no crystal stair.” I have broken hearts,
including my own, and buried broken bodies
too hastily in shallow graves out back,
including my own, or deep in the sand
of soft, wet beachfront where sunbathers dwell.
The first draft sheds light on darkened areas,
but it’s the rewrite that quickens the resolve
To clear the air and to finish the deed.

Follow edit notes here:

NaPoWriMo 2021 #31 – End of Another Cycle

Always there’s an upbeat to end on –
A U-shaped curve. Life’s narrative arc
Is a comedy, at least we hope,
In the strictest sense of the word.
Another Cycle comes to an end –
A resolution and a denouement
That gathers and ties up every loose end
like rope, whipped to prevent unravelling.
A free body diagram dangles
In space, never showing its constraints
Or the forces it exerts. Good drama
Is the same. It withholds conclusions
Until every jot and tittle is laid bare –
And the finish is as clear as the start.

NaPoWriMo 2021 #30 – The president is Ignorant

“I think after 400 years, African Americans
have been left in a position where they are
so far behind the eight ball in terms of education
and health, in terms of opportunity.”
————–President Joseph Biden, 2021

Our president is ignorant,
And that’s being charitable,
Since ignorance is not a crime
Or a sin – Except when it
Is self-imposed and lorded
Over others as gospel truth.

He buys and sells the 1619 myth,
Ignoring the facts of history,
Then pumps it out to the public –
Strengthening the critical race theory
we are already being force fed.

He locates us behind the eight ball,
the black eight ball, without agency,
and makes it about distance (far)
and time (400 years).

The metaphor of the black eight ball,
He must be fully aware (since he uses it),
Is a function of obstruction of view,
Not time or distance – Except as it
satisfies the narrative his ilk accept
And promote of guilt and victimhood.

The president is ignorant
And that is being charitable
Since ignorance is not a crime,
or a sin, like other crimes and sins
committed in his name.

NaPoWriMo 2021 #29 – windows and mirrors

A painting can be a window
Showing you things outside
Like mountains and rivers
And people driving cars.

Or if you live in the city,
Matrices of streets with houses
And people living inside
can be viewed from afar.

And underneath the streets,
Hidden, wires and piping
And beneath that, the swamp
that connects to the river
That empties into the sea.

A painting can be a mirror,
Hanging on the wall of standing
On the floor – showing you
What’s deep inside your psyche –

Stuff you normally hide
With makeup and plastic surgery,
With masks you wear
To resist germs and cooties
That seek to enter your body.

There are paintings that are neither
Transparent nor reflective.
Those that can’t do, teach.

NaPoWriMo 2021 #28 – Medical appointment

What did the doctor say this time?
She said my systolic pressure was too high.
She said cut back on the coffee.
She said I need to lose those extra pounds
on my waistline.
She said I was pre-diabetic and offered
some pills for me to take.

Did she ride you hard on COVID?
Yes! She said I should take the vax.
She said her mother died from COVID
(but I don’t do guilt trips).
She said the risk of side effects
was one in a million.
She said the risk of death is too high.

What about your heart?
She said my cholesterol was too high.
She said I was due for an echocardiogram.
She said my defibrillator battery
had at least six years left on it.

She said don’t wait another two years
before making an appointment.

NaPoWriMo 2021 #27 – From the dictionary of obscure sorrows

Midsummer, n. A feast celebrated on the day of your 26th birthday, which marks the point at which your youth finally expires as a valid excuse—when you must begin harvesting your crops, even if they’ve barely taken root—and the point at which the days will begin to feel shorter as they pass, until even the pollen in the air reminds you of the coming snow.

I don’t recall when I turned twenty-six:
There would have been no feast, just supper
As normal in the crew’s mess – pot roast
Maybe, with carrots and potatoes.
But I do remember when the days
Started feeling shorter as they passed,
When the tide rushing in for a quick kiss
Began to ebb, the twilight of our time
Together. Youth, the wasted source of strength
Spilled over the top of the containers
We carried, whether cup or bucket,
Then hastened its retreat into the depth
Of our experience. It shows up now
And then, a trace of paths we chose or not.

NaPoWriMo 2021 #26 – Live from the Oscars 2021!

If you stay long enough at the fair
You’ll see played out in living color
The many intersecting timelines
Of projected realities – right in your face.
They always return to the scene
Of their crimes – or to be biblical,
The dog returns to his vomit:
The fool repeats his folly.
I went to bed early and missed
The Glenn Close live action short –
Hey, you lose when you snooze!
But I have School Daze around here
Somewhere, probably on cassette.
I’ll have to dig it up and check it out.

NaPoWriMo 2021 #25 – Grandola Vila Morena

It’s a song that fills my eyes with tears
Whenever I hear it. Grandola
Vila Morena. The sound of soldiers
Marching, a signal on the radio
To free men in the countryside:
Rise up against corrupt government!
“It is the people who lead!”
Not leaders who buy expensive houses.

The villanelle reminds us what freedom
Used to sound like, used to seem to be.
Place a carnation in the barrel
Of the rifle. Here in freedom land,
We march in step with the machinery.
Disaster lurks as rivals bide their time.

NaPoWriMo 2021 #24

I wanted to write about going
To Municipal Wharf to buy fish –
But fish on Friday is no big deal.

One more play to read in the Cycle
Then full time planting in the Garden.
If you haven’t guessed, I’m burning out
On the everyday poetry thing.

It’s a rainy Saturday night here
In the bottom. Just read a blog post
About Maslow borrowing his theory
From the Blackfoot and getting it wrong –
It happens when you steal – inverting
The base and leaving off the top rung,
The highest level of the pyramid.
Six weeks in the village wasn’t enough
To get it right. My grandfather said
He was from the Blackfoot Nation but
What did he know of tit for tat?

NaPoWriMo 2021 #23

The kidnappers told them
pancakes grew on trees
in America, land of the free.
That’s what Daddy told me.

The lure of anything
better than what you have
continues to fuel
the world slave trade.

We are surrounded by
new challenges, new
options, choices,
decisions to be made.

It’s still too cool to plant,
but not too soon to aerate
the soil, expose
its underside to sunlight.

NaPoWriMo 2021 #22 – Earth Day Blues

She said whale songs sound sad.
I felt the same way about the blues
For years. I only heard the mourning,
And never focused on the swing,
The affirmation at its core.

This is a short poem for Earth Day,
A reminder that the whale’s song
Is a swinging celebration:
A modal mixture from the deep,
Interacting with all life in its rise.

Listen to some whale songs today.
You will see what I’m saying here.
There’s a triumph and a healing,
A discovery, a coordination.

NaPoWriMo 2021 #21 – Hedley’s Blues

They ask us to require this sacrifice.
Eye for eye. Tooth for tooth. Blood for blood.
This sacrifice will somehow make us whole,
Cure our ailments, fill the gaps you left
When they sold you down river for a song.
Those who bought you never knew stolen goods
Was all you were, living on borrowed time
And leaving casualties in your wake.
You were the sacrifice, the fatted calf,
your unwilling blood a fitting offering
To the gods. Once. Spilled on the seeded ground
Of hopes and dreams – your intoxication.
There’s no balm in revenge. So there’s no need
For a present value calculation.

NaPoWriMo 2021 #20 – Korean Sijo

Sijo are written in three lines, each averaging 14-16 syllables for a total of 44-46 syllables. Each line is written in four groups of syllables that should be clearly differentiated from the other groups, yet still flow together as a single line. When written in English, sijo may be written in six lines, with each line containing two syllable groupings instead of four. Additionally, as shown in the example below, liberties may be taken (within reason) with the number of syllables per group as long as the total syllable count for the line remains the same. However, it is strongly recommended that the third line consistently begin with a grouping of three syllables.

They promised us a cure,
but the vaccine makes us sicker.
So now what’s the solution?
Is there a way out of this madness?
Meanwhile, elected officials
Need to STFU about that trial.

I am ready to de-mask.
The big guy can’t protect the children –
Wants to be judge and jury –
yet plagiarized his way through law school.
Never forget what they did,
How they sold our freedom for a song.

Let’s never forget what they’ve done –
They sold our freedom for a song.
It needn’t all weave together –
But a stitch in time saves nine.
I really don’t mind staying at home,
It’s all in how you frame it.

NaPoWriMo 2021 #19 – gardening blues

Weekend community gardening
Is mainly a social thing. Folks gather
to work on group projects, exchange
seeds sometimes, maybe cast
furtive, secret glances at each other
while tending to their garden plots.
There may be discussions of politics.
Do you have your vaccine done?

But on Mondays, cool, cloudy Mondays
like today, the garden plots are empty,
except for mine. I can unmask if I
want to, work at my own pace.
The ground is still soft from tilling
last week. It rained, but the clumps
of dirt are dry, hard. I break them
up again, stirring in compost, bat guano

and old coffee grounds from last week
to enrich the soil. Building the rows
is repetitive and mindless. Four vertical
and five horizontal. The rows I make are
crooked because I‘m not paying attention.
Not that much. I‘m thinking about planting,
about the future. I’ve broken a sweat.

NaPoWriMo 2021 #18 – Sunday sonnet

I don’t know what it does for my soul,
For good or for ill, when I listen
To the music and sounds of my youth
For hours on end. My wife thinks I’m crazy
When I bob my head and tap the base line
With my fingers on the table. Oh man!
Minnie Riperton just showed up!
That YouTube algorithm is on the one!
Luther and Aretha arrive. Tracy
With those sweet locks and that guitar, picks
And strums the blues like nobody’s business!
Amy, before the drugs and booze conspired
to rob her and us, pops us. All my loving,
All my loving, I will send to you.

NaPoWriMo 2021 #17 – a moon poem

They say there’s a moon
Overhead at night.
I couldn’t tell you truly
As I haven’t been outside at night
Since the lockdown came.

This poem’s about the moon
In theory. The prince is dead.
How did he die? He died like this.
A waxing crescent moon guides
A lost navy man back home.

The queen is now alone,
With her lady in waiting, smiling,
and bank accounts galore.
But the Beatles already told us
Money can’t buy me love.

I could never be a royal.
Their lives are open books.
Except when there’s an eclipse,
and darkness and cold surround
For a passing moment in time.

NaPoWriMo 2021 #16 – Off the rhyming prompt

Today’s optional rhyming prompt
is just not my cup of tea.
All my poems used to rhyme
but at some point they stopped –
I freed myself from that
requirement when I could,
when I learned why it was
merely an optional prompt.
Now I lean towards fourteen lines,
these days, though I vary
the lines’ length. The main thing
is the telling of the story –
the pleasure of the text,
the deep love the words convey.

NaPoWriMo 2021 – #15. A habit from my mother

NaPoWriMo 2021 #15

My mother put salt in the coffee pot –
not enough to make it salty, or even
to affect the taste at all: just enough
to change the chemistry, the bitterness,
just a few grains on top of the grounds.

I continue now when I make coffee –
just a few grains. I learned in Africa
to add a bit of freshly ground pepper
and a couple shakes of cinnamon
in with the salt grains. In her memory.

Every morning I honor my mother
and remember her grace and dignity
In this small way. Sometimes making coffee
and drinking it is much more than it seems.

NaPoWriMo 2021 #14 – Name origins

After American slavery ended
(Some may know the story)
my great grandfather took on
the last name of the family
he worked for, that is, the ones
who owned him as chattel, as property.

It is an American story,
a rite of passage, perhaps,
to full citizenship. Almost. Maybe.

Maxwell. Scottish. To this day.

That family was originally from Scotland.
their blood still runs through my veins.

My dad was the first Raymond
in his clan. There have been many since,
Cousins who wanted their sons
To be like him. Minus his faults,
Of course.

Protector. Wise Counsel.
The name took many shapes
as it migrated across Europe
from Arabic and Hindu roots.

Rahman, the Beneficent God,
showing mercy to all creation
(in this world), became,
after the Islamic conquest
of Spain and Portugal,
Raimundo, King of the world.

In Spain he was Saint Raymond,
Patron of expectant mothers,
the falsely accused, and priests
defending confession’s confidentiality.
He joined the order of Mercedarians
and freed hundreds of Christian slaves
from Muslim captivity.

My father always said it was a good name.

NaPoWriMo 2021 – #13

Going to work in my garden this morning,
Gonna try hard to ignore the intense evil
that surrounds, the crisis at the border,
Our adversaries’ threats. Just a few hours
in the garden and everything will be alright.

Sometimes in passing moments of weakness
I feel anxious about finding a new job,
a hobby, an appropriate past time,
But I know I won’t keep it long, too long,
I’ll just create a reason to leave it.

Cause I stopped needing more stinking money,
Slave wages you think you are entitled
to pay for my contribution to your bottom line.
I’d rather spend my time writing these poems.