It is my time to walk away;
the ether has stretched itself over the days
of my passing. The light has grown dimmer
and the hours have run astray
of the steady fall of the calendar
The turning of the clock is a piece of paper
falling as white as the one yesterday.
The steady murmur of the usual clamor
no longer settles on my ears.
A chair for one, a meal for one, a single glass
poured from from a single pitcher
I do not hope to listen
and if listened, understand,
and if understood, know another
that would disrupt a single gray strand
of this senescent ether.
I do not think I can stand to make a stand
It is my time to build a shelter
a thing of small joys, of the stoic pleasures
still left to me. I have no desire
for a kingdom. A hut thrown together
from the meager leavings of my mind
That will suffice, a gray place for the gray times.
There, in the shade of its certainties,
in the familiar surprise of its incongruities,
in the remembered ache of its little discomforts,
I will write myself into the dust
As each day will fall as a numbered piece of paper,
as everything merges with the mist of the ether,
I will write myself into the dust.
The mad dash from corner to corner, then the sudden halt,
the pause to contemplate, perhaps, the shape of the known
universe. As if it would understand each infinite part
of what exists, learn it, love it, then move on
and so until there is not a thing in this room that does not
bear the mark of its searching feet, the insidious trace
of its yearning feelers. Insect, pilgrim, I cannot
offer you the certainties you seek. You have wasted
yourself, as I have, in the furious sprint to where
we thought we should be. We ran with fear like a clock
in our hearts, with the promise of grace at the far
corner. Now, we are here and when we look back,
our past is lost and the world is new like a temple
forged and re-forged in its mad god’s temper.
The goddess behind the sole red bulb lives
In a cloud of smoke. Incense sticks and cigarettes
And our worn-out lungs are the clouds she craves
Like a moon patching its fair face from the mad distress
Of the night. A patch of redlit dark to my left forms the waiter
I drain another glass, go ‘A bourbon, a scotch, a beer.
Repeat.’ The walls breed cockroaches. The lone window
Wears the latest spiderwebs. Here, all things grow
Out of themselves, connect like fingers fumbling over
A dark table, finding what they seek, forming a clasp
Like a covenant, like the endless promise of an empty glass.
It’s the patch of man again. Time for ‘A bourbon, a scotch, a beer
Once more.’ There is a deep quiet people leave behind
After they have left, hands clasped unbroken.
Out of their absence swept clean from their tables, the dead eyes
Of the ceiling that pass off as flaking paint. The goddess
Rises now in this emptied space. Smiling, her picture
Announces, ‘Your time is up.’ ‘A bourbon, a scotch, a beer
To go.’ I will seek the turning street, watch time descend
Like a cartoon anvil from the sky. But this is not the end.
(NOTE: Every once in a while, a song gets stuck in my head. It repeats itself at the strangest of times throughout the day. It plays as a background score in my dreams. The Glee version and the John Lee Hooker version of “One bourbon, one scotch, one beer” both have been playing on my mind a lot these past few weeks. Hence, this poem.)
You call yourself a vagabond. But have you ever
Written words that turned against you
That corrected themselves, the horror
Of knowing yourself as a misspelled line
That said things you never knew
This is the final crisis, brother, when a lane
You never walked can interpret
The dread of what it is to be you.
I do not need the flagrant cities you have known
The one I live in is a gilded swan
He glides in soft ease through the waters of the dead
He fumbles obscenely in living time
Where else will time pass itself, if not among
The feathers of this dying swan. This uncorrected song
That was never played, that I must grasp
Unwritten, that I must dispel in the gasp
Of a line. A poem is written. Live where you are,
Brother, this grave city is mine. Wander,
As I wander through meanings opaque
As Orphean shadows turning me back
To the song unsung, that forgotten death
Of an open lane, the swan gliding away. Always, away.
We lost because you were kept from singing.
Because correlation must be causation
If I am to live, to keep believing
That a win matters. That the kingdom
Will be nigh. The falling grace of your neck,
The secret turn of your lips behind a veil of hair
is the stuff of song. The note that breaks
The sky into stars, the death of the word in an air
Slowly melting to a solid state. Because I
Must war against the invisible. The real
Is a ghost that the eye cannot abide.
That must be broken, rebuilt, a dark castle
Forged as you sing. Now, I can rest though we lost
I will dream of my kingdom, of towers of song.
A desert, though flat and broken, endlessly broken,
still consumes the eye until the mind sinks
into sand. And though, it is only transient,
you can slip away, transcend.
Here, there is only the promise of a fall.
Everything looms perpendicular. The right angle,
the keen edge, the eye cuts itself on all
it sees. The ear must shred its signals
from this primordial din, to still believe
in the possibility of song. Lips carved
in a rictus leer, I let myself be deceived
that this is all there is, that there is only the sprawl
of stories repeating endlessly like a mad program
we cannot break. And though, I do not know my part
I know I cannot fulfill it. I await
the promise of deliverance, to be one with the desert.
The shadow of doubt never leaves you. It settles
like a mugger. Eyes in wait. The gentle
passing of your days are now nothing. You shuffle
yourself from moment to moment. Stress a little,
never a lot. It’s bad for your heart, you remember.
You pull yourself from your morning tea to a quiet supper.
You pray. You tell yourself your prayers
anchor you to the sky. Something lurks
throughout your day. Spreadsheets form like falling walls.
You catch yourself thinking of the shapes of skulls
around you. Terror beckons, but you must keep calm.
You smile as you were taught. You long for home.
It is when you think you are certain.
It is when you think it is done.
The floor turns to swamp. The walls, fractured trees.
It grips you by the ankle, a scare of slashing teeth
You fall through the endless water. It chews its patient
way up your spine. You struggle. You fail. It rends
the silent prayers that made you. You are broken: a stream
of floating debris. You turn to the waiting sky. Scream.
In darkness, every room is a tomb, open
like the pages of an old notebook. Their scent,
as stale as memory. Every night is a half-life
a ticking countdown, what dreams may come, then light
like a mushroom cloud at the edge of the horizon
The streets are littered with walking corpses, called out by the dead sun.
Nothing bursts into flame. The world persists.
I sip my tea. I call out to things, “You exist!”
There is no echo. I wonder what my voice
would sound like if I wasn’t there to throw it.
I am told there is a background hum
to our universe. A cry that never ended. A drum
struck once, a hollow boom, before noise
overtook it. My days are spent in silence.
I don’t need this window to recount the lies
I’ve told myself. There is no denouement
no clash of cymbals from the beginning of time
I have waited. I am waiting. Beloved, if you’re real, please stay away.
They left no monsters to guard me. You’re not needed. I’m safe.
He has that smile, the benign yet certain kind
that you only see on those who’ve never
had to watch things grow. Oh, he’s sure
of himself, of the change he bears
like a hidden treasure in the folds
of his skin, of the star-eyed oaths
he swears, of the steel-slick cold
much-practiced gaze he throws
from his stage, of the thunder
of loudspeakers hosanna-ing
his name, of himself as the future
that must be, of his golden reign.
I don’t know a lot about a lot of things
I do my work to earn my keep. I think
when I must as a luxury I’m allowed,
and I watch my days roll away: clouds
too distant from his thunder. Too
slow to keep up with the future, too
tired to read the hidden horrors
in terrible oaths. I can’t see much farther
than tomorrow, and I much prefer
the certainty of days gone past:
like an old remembered trail in a forest
of dead trees and silent bones.
Whatever happens, my years will pass on.
Tree after tree, my trail will unfold itself
and you with your smiles in this commercial
I think I’ll add you as a cracked skull
a thing half-remembered in my forest.
It was a place we were never meant to be.
I wish I could tell you I told you so,
but I remember walking with you down that road
to the bones of Ur, to the corpse of the city.
In the black of the night, there was no distance.
The eye saw no farther than the farthest dark.
Our torches caught the dust, the flaking bodies
of trucks, wheelbarrows no more red, the arc
of a crane arm, dead in its rising. What was it
crunched with each step (I wonder now)? What
air pushed us past (why do I remember its hiss?)?
What cursed moon chose that dark hour
to light what loomed before us. What towers those,
like silent time in rows; windows spaced like empty eyes
staring (always staring, ah, those eyes!) at us?
What voice was it that screamed (was it mine?)
What echoed forth (do you remember?). And, at each door
that fed the mouth of each nescient tower,
a single chair with a pile of tinder
and a nameplate. The first bore yours.