Presented below is a selection of my award-winning poems.
Adobe Tears won second place in National Association of State Poetry Contests. This is dedicated to my brother Michael, currently in an extended care facility for severe unremitting multiple sclerosis.
In my delirium I see Michael.
In our delirium we laugh and dance
And return all the balls of keep-away.
Our roof bows beneath the rainwater,
Heavier than a drunkard’s bladder,
Wetter than a crybaby’s bed.
Soggy and sagging with that sort of rain
That defines children too stupid to come inside.
My parents have just divided and divorced
And I am shattered between their fissions and confusions.
It’s too soon to have an order to my feelings,
Angels and emotions spring from my belly
Burst out to splot on the floor.
I become a puddle beneath the table
Something for the dog to lick.
Details, details, details
The magic act begins as mother
Balances the checkbook on her nose
Strains it through the eye of a needle
Burns it with superhero vision
Branding the page with dollar signs
Then laundering her money with tears.
This world is a boulder, child
It’s come to roll over us.
So come to my shoulder, child
It has nothing over us.
Oh my mother
She says I am precious and I am precious but how is that so?
It’s so much so as in darling as in beloved
As in it’s too rapturous
As in it’s too often too rapturous.
I am spread out on the floor
Painting by number the coloring book
But all of them are zero.
That’s okay, I have only white
And the roof weeps to wash my work away.
Michael stands beneath the leak
Mud running down his face
As he erodes away.
He is my older brother.
He was once my best friend.
Now half of him is standing here
And the other half is in ’71.
It’s 1971 and
The rattling train plunges through the night.
We’re huddled and hungry
Mama and her boys.
It’s 1 a.m. and our smells from a day and a half onboard
Separate us from the other passengers.
Separated also by the coarse woolen blanket
That bundles us.
Beneath her lids
I see my mother’s eyes flinch
As though she’s fighting for us
Even in her dreams.
It’s 1 a.m. and we’re moving to wherever the hell is Ypsilanti.
The train is cold and shuddering.
Running lights streak by windows like meteors.
It’s 1 a.m. and Michael is gone.
He’s fourteen and he’s my older brother.
He was always ahead of me.
Swifter with his feet and mind.
I walk down the jolting corridors to look for him.
I hear him sandwiched between the luggage
Laughing with and kissing a fellow traveler.
He was once my best friend.
But now on a long journey through the night and into night
He’s fourteen and making out and I listen.
In a year he’ll run away from home,
But now in a train between homes he’s making out
And I sit hidden nearby and cry
And wish that I was him.
For lighter fare, this is one of two poems I performed at the National Poetry Slam Competition. In writing this, I believe I invented a few new ways of mucking about with words.
The Mission From Mars
The Martians arrive with a mission:
They know the earth has tension in her shoulders.
The Martian masseuse throws up four hands and cries and sighs and says:
“What’s the use of throwing up your hands, crying, sighing, saying:
‘There are knots inside the heart of man
Tied inside of knots
Like the nautilus
(The nautilus knows lust (not a lot of lust)),
Nonetheless, moreorless, allthewiser,
I’m only saying: truth is stranger and blood is thicker than fiction or water.
It congeals like conJello.
So the poetry complains: “I’m not dangerous enough.”
Meanwhile back at the Montreal nocturnal emission festival
Bobo sings, “I’ve got noodles, I’ve got noodles like you’ll never know.”
While magi juiced on fructose wander the frozen desert–I shake my fist:
Spastic cherry-flavored law-givers of the tundra!
I say: My hallucinogens brought me better illusions than the American dream, I say.
As right wing angels dressed in fright wigs
Right-winged only flap one-sided
Down in spirals.
I never should have bought that half-priced reality.
Now that it’s spoiled who else can I blame?
The billionaire proclaims:
I got my start as a single cell
I’m just an overachieving sperm.
I nod but that’s what I do.
Scars bleed scarlet letters
The childery performs adultery.
As roses of passion bloom in my blood——Yes!
I’ve got bloody blooming passion roses!
I need 3 yrs of being held to squeeze out the pus of yrs unheld.
A picture of her face could paint and launch two thousand ships and words.
She tells me: I want to break into the business of celebrity look-alikes but no one looks like me.
I sympathize–I really try.
I buy her another case of vodka.
She shows me a tattoo on her chest saying “Caution Flammable.”
“Let me show you my toyhood,”
(I smile at her girlness.)
We read the Joy of Sex, the pop-up book.
Meanwhile other lovers neck and peck
Uniformly naked or else in unspeakable peek-a-boos
Needless to say,
The lovers sit pretty beneath the citrus tree
Mango in hand, mangoes in hands,
Men go hand in hand.
The abstract act picks at the lock of chastity
Meanwhile, back at the birds and bees convention,
I’m told the path to hell is paved with good intentions.
Well, hell, at least it’s paved.
The path to heaven scrapes the knees
Pardon me, as I segue into penguins:
— Violators shall be towed and toads shall be violated —
(Those Visigoths! They make-a me so mad!)
The competition just starts to luster
As the lusters just start to compete.
The Martians tell me:
You have to catch the sky and paint the night with plaid,
String threads around the stars.
But, most importantly, you must pluck notes from the air
Before they float away.
They race along the emergency cord of the runaway train.
They sail with the luna moth that flew off with your toupee.
I drink and I complain:
They should freshness-date reality.
The sign says “Don’t Walk,” but there’s no apostrophe.
Why should I listen to a sign that
Still I never move from the street corner: the prophet is about to say something profound.
He says, Making sense is an overfed dread.
Still, if I had to do this poem over again I would have punctuated more often.
Perhaps my best poem took a year to write. It is 64 pages long and, because of that, is not presented here. It won second place in the 2014 Tom Howard / Margaret Reid Award. The next year, they changed their guidelines to limit the number of lines.
Two Mistakes – prologue
The idea for this came to me after reading A Comedy of Errors. I couldn’t help but feel Shakespeare missed the better themes inside the story.
In brief summary, Shakespeare wrote about a pair of identical twins separated when they were very young by a violent storm at sea. One set of twins were slaves, one set were masters. One master and one slave were rescued and returned home to their native city of Ephesus. The other child and his slave were rescued by a different boat and were seemingly forever lost. The lost twins, who grew up in a free state, were unaware of their siblings. They go on a mission that takes them to the Ephesus. Mistaken identities ensue.
Shakespeare was often ahead of his time regarding themes. On other occasions he was a product of his time. It seemed to me that the question of nature versus nurture was left unexplored and that the consequences of slavery is not dealt with. I transplanted the piece, beginning it in the 1820s in Louisville, Kentucky, a city at the border of North and South. A steamboat explosion along the Ohio river separate the pairs of twins. One child and slave are rescued and taken back to their home in Kentucky, a slave state. The corresponding pair are placed in an ash tub as part of their rescue. They wash down the river to where they arrive in Troy, Indiana. There, they are raised by an abolitionist family. Twenty years later, circumstance leads the twins who were raised by abolitionists to go to Louisville where they encounter those raised by slave owners.
Although my piece retains some of the farcical nature of the original, it also undertakes a serious exploration of the nature of slavery and how the institution destroys both slave and slaveholder.
The poem is presented in metered verse. I envisioned my piece as being the book to a “non-musical” musical.
Main Characters, abbreviated for the purpose of this excerpt:
Annie and Frances. Identical twin sisters born to the Sharper family, Louisville.
Anthony and Remmy Cobb. Identical twin slaves, purchased as a birthday gift for Annie and Frances. Remmy is renamed Moses after his adoption.
Demetrius Darling, An abolitionist living in Troy, Indiana who rescues and raises Remmy and Frances.
Selections from the story.
At one year of age, the two pairs of twins are separated from each other after a steamboat explosion.
It would never have burst were it tough as Old Hans:
If the boiler ‘d been forged from the flesh of its stoker.
A hulk of a giant with brawn cast from bronze,
His two hands vast as shovels, his fingers like pokers.
But the steam pipes were brittle, their knuckles corroded.
With a blast of hot steam a bolt ripped from a seam.
The pressure increased and then soon overloaded.
Remmy, the slave, and Frances, both one-year-old are set inside a tub used to collect ashes and launched down the river before the steamboat finally sinks. Amidst rain and hail, they drift down the river.
Enduring a rite that was grimly baptismal
The two in the tub got a rude sort of christening.
The river, unwilling to choose between sides,
Sent the ark ever westward, their fates undecided.
To the river, it mattered not whether they died.
It remained apathetic to lands it divided;
They are rescued by Demetrius Darling, a Quaker and abolitionist. They are raised to adulthood in a free land.
In the 1840s, with Anthony and Frances fully grown, Demetrius loses the deed of his farm to a swindler from Louisville. Of Demetrius:
In a wreckage of shadows, alone and alone,
His soul crumbled to dust and then sifted through floorboards.
Now, he wept at the thought that he’d soon lose this place,
Shedding tears for the land where he buried his wife.
Anthony and Frances journey to Louisville to settle their father’s account. Anthony goes disguised as a slave; Frances is disguised as a man.
Meanwhile, at the Sharper family estate, Annie (the twin of Frances) has mixed feelings regarding her pending arranged marriage to a pompous aristocrat. While reading Thackeray:
Without breaking her rhythm she switched from her book
To her grievances, “Dare and the world always yields?
I’m just property.” Anthony shot her a look.
“To daddy, I’m merely some crop from his fields.
To be bartered for status.
Of course, her slave Anthony is even more the prisoner. As he polishes the piano:
Each key thumped as he rubbed in a smudge of bees’ wax.
He began at the bass end, the throatier notes.
Tensions peaked then released as he scaled whites and blacks.
Bitter tones were relieved by their sweet antidotes.
There were candle snuff notes that could put out a flame.
Some delivered a shiver without a deliverance.
There were notes for emotions that no one could name.
[the] Notes were steep steps on his way to the gallows.
Once the last key was beat, his ascension complete,
The piano lid dropped with a jolt swift and shallow.
The stage is set. When Moses and Frances arrive, mistaken identities create a storm of problems ending in a duel and a perilous flight to freedom.
What are the two mistakes? Slavery, as an evil, destroys the slave. Slavery also destroys the slave-owner.
I’ve won awards for my poetry from both the Science Fiction Writers Association (SFWA) and the Southern Florida Writers Association (SFWA). This poem was part of a challenge to write a science-fiction-themed sonnet. It received honorable mention.
A jealous star blots out the midday sun.
A cellist’s bow glissades on superstrings.
Our fluted hollow bones all sing as one.
The heavenly and heaving bodies bring
A nodding from the bobble-headed moon
Whose wobble starts to shake the highest hills.
A tremor and a tremolo its tune,
We dance our way across the dells and kills.
With tongues of fire our lips dissolve and seal.
Our shrouds in shreds, our sinning flesh aflame,
Consumed by light our lucent hides reveal
Beneath two suns we can’t conceal our shame.
We sacrifice our souls to find some shade;
Two hearts are carved beneath the Aztec blade.
The South Florida Writers Association awarded the best entries for rhyming, metered verse. I took second and third place, respectively, for these poems:
Is it a Poem?
When you read it out loud does it want to be sung?
Is its tune much too wild to be danced without permit?
Must it be wrestled from soul to be nestled to tongue?
Does it stick like a burr on the beard of a hermit?
Does it scribe valentines in the just-poured cement?
When proposing to love does it kneel in the heather?
When sitting alone does it start to ferment?
When it walks out its thoughts does it wear out its leather?
Does it really think Warhol had something to say?
Could it scratch out a lyric to mankind’s cacophanies?
would it agree with mehitabel and say tojours gai/
Or is it just an epistle of private pissed-off-anies?
When placed in the dark does it strike up a match?
Then when you blow on the flame do the words start to wriggle?
If rolled as a scroll would a plot start to hatch?
And if creased would release a shriek and a giggle?
If all of these answers are no or else yes,
If you still can’t be sure and you don’t want to guess:
Then fold over its corners and free it from hand
To sail in the wind. . . will its dream ever land?
Long shadows of the dawn draw back and hide
Beneath your mother’s waiting canopies
The other kin of dark are all inside
Enclosed in closets, caves and cavities.
The mid-day sun was made for hungry leaves
That feed and frolic in the tickling winds.
For moments the bent morning light reprieves
The life that the ascending sun rescinds.
But lanky-legged shadows think themselves
In innocence as lasting as the sun
That when the hours of day have climbed to twelve
They’re much too tired from play to turn and run.
So back and forth sways noon, the palindrome,
And shadows melt before they’ve gotten home.
You’re Never Too Old To Be Young
Finally, here is a light-spirited poem-song.
You’re Never Too Old To Be Young
There once was a man named Jimmy O’Shea.
His hair, what was there, was silvery gray.
One eye he kept upon a lass,
The other he kept in a drawer in a glass.
The lass was lush, his blarney lusher
Into his flat he lured the blusher.
When her drink was done with nothing more
She went to his chest to search through his drawer
And there she found his eyeball
She thought it was a highball.
She downed the glass leaving nothing left
And spilt the eye into her cleft.
Then she shimmied her shimmies ’til Jimmy said gimme.
Then jumped from her chemise into her jammies.
The lass, she had a ball!
Alas, Jim saw it all!
And that was Jimmy O’Shea.
Oh! You’re never too old to be young, mun!
You’re never too old to be young.
He liked females and tales far-flung!
No, you’re never too old to be young.
And then there’s a granny named Fanny Flanagan
Who never thought she’d know a man again
Until she took a class in the Arts
And had to paint with restraint a man’s Southern parts.
The model they chose, a Grecian god he
Had a heavenly smile and a hell of a body.
When he exposed his pose he couldn’t fake it
His mood in the nude was utterly naked.
Fanny’s heart stopped but her feet didn’t dawdle
She cuddled the caudal of her boneyfide model.
Then she hung her frock upon the hunk
On a peg near his leg as they left to spelunk.
Oh! There’s very few gals who can make a mannequin
The way that lass called Granny Fanny can!
Yes, you’re never too old to be young, mun!
You’re never too old to be young!
She liked her art and men well hung!
No, you’re never too old to be young!
And then there’s the lawyer named Percival Funk
A stingy begrudging curmudgeony skunk.
He never would smile except it would cost you
And he’d make you stoop down for the penny he tossed you.
His posture ’tis said, succinctfully put,
Had his head up his ass and his mouth full of foot.
But his claim to real fame more came from his tongue
He was known far and wide for the curses he flung.
When crossed he’d accost his challenger thus,
With a curse he rehearsed encased in a cuss:
“Alack, alas! You have no class!
It’s plain you’re insane you’re a pain in the ass!”
Oh! There are very few men who can curse so unmerciful
As that scurrilous cur, subversive ole Percival.
Oh! You’re never too young to be old, mun!
You’re never too young to be old.
Never in life have you met such a scold.
Oh! You’re never too young to be old!