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When I’m on the Long Island Railroad
The trains stops and momentarily
I feel that we’re moving but in reverse
As if to be at rest is lost ground –
Only inches, true, but anxious lost ground.

The train cuts a razor course
Across roads, and cars digress,
Splitting, so we progress,
Fixed in point, pitiless to distance
Cutting forward, fearing distance.

And yet I feel us moving back.
Inch by inch at every stop we inch;
Forward motion fakes the feeling.
From February to March, maybe,
I’ve moved a quarter mile back.

And between the suburb and the city
I feel the pull of constant progress
Always forward, so rest can’t move me back
To the times when I sat by a window
In the breakfast nook watching sparrows.

Evening Avenue

On Evening Avenue, the streetlights are always half lit
A sunset always permeates the space between
The circlet of a girl’s silhouetted chin
And the primordial mess of her hair
And it usually reflects back to you at a sidelong glance
From the mother walking towards you
Or a refracted flash from a driver’s ed Taurus
Might momentarily blind you
As you walk the length of the evening from it’s birth
To the night at it’s end.

As you walk down an after-dinner way
Ask yourself again what made you come this way
Or why you unexplainably sat next to someone on the train
And heard him write the novel of his life
Though narrated, unreliably, in fits and starts
Ask why you sat that way, or came this way
Or what made you leave early, or come late.
After all, at the hour just before night
Any path you take can lead you to or from the leaving sun
And you’ve not forgotten why you didn’t know
How your left or your right might lead you
To a half-light momentary suburb-like glow –
Come here again tomorrow night
And every closing storefront,
Every ten-minute-late evening dinner date
Will change, and no colors will look the same.

No, you’ve not forgotten
And the reason why you wouldn’t know
Might be a girl in a distant low-rent salon
Or a high-rise forty-second floor flat
Filled with new uncertain friends
Grouped around an ancient text
Wringing out their hands and hearts
Ringing out the feedback from the line array
That broadcasts the bloated doubts
That brought them there –
Yes, the answer might be here
In amongst the shelves of these closed books
Waiting to be read
By a man like the man on the train
Who at least could speak his mind
Like reverberating sunday evening church refrains.

Yes, an evening road like this might lead to many places
But when you find yourself
Remaining, listless, by some bleak Victorian porch
Imagining all the past embraces
And faces filled with evening sundown grace
That must have lingered in that place
Recall slowly to yourself
The other evening faces passing
Crossing differently at different ways
And let your eyes become the lanterns of the porch
That led you, years ago, to a home where wringing hands
And ringing bells
Wrought the iron in your heart
That keeps you walking down the evening way.

The L

Looking the length of the train
I see Legion and The Lord in every face
Lorimer at the L
Looking the length of the city
Looking I see the face of a lord
In every length of face
Long to short
Long Island City to the shore.
Leave me here with the legion
Left to fix
Left to right
Learning, large to small
To live life with an L.

Looking the length of the street
I see Legion and the Lord looking back.

Something Like a Manifesto, Age 24

The more silent the poet
the more poetry he speaks
and the more he speaks
the more he feels the need to speak
and can’t help but say more
and say more of the same things
in different ways, saying
“Do you hear? Am I understood?
I’ve said it well
but I’m a slave to saying it again.”
All critics who call this poet dilettante
fear what needs to be said most
and instead say what fear heeds least.
“Do you hear? Am I understood?
I’ve said it once,
I’m afraid of not saying it again.”
He fears the loss of words –
poets only fear the loss of passion,
and where words end, passion blooms.
There the poet’s fear falters
but the critic, wide eyed,
falls into the gaping mouth of poetry.

All poets are critics.
No word can withstand scrutiny
when juxtaposed against another
and only those words that say
the thing that most needs said
are said beneath po’s condescending glare.
Poetry is criticism actualized.
The actual is poetry.
Poetry is critical.

The scientist writes with a scalpel.
Precision magnifies the illusion of infinity
until the stars befriend quarks
and questions pass away
in the face of knowing.
“Do you hear? Am I understood?
I’ve said it once
and I’ll never say it again.”
The layman who calls the scientist pedant
fears the true nature of reality
and realizes only nature’s fear.
Many scientists are laymen.
The true scientist fears nothing.
Where nothingness ends, reality resumes,
the scientist is fully known
but the layman falls prey to science.

***

In this fight between doubt and faith,
in the small hours between giving up
and giving again, convinced of mere selfishness,
belief retains a hairline split –
irreconcilable isolation
adrift in laughing bitter digress,
a split between the fixed point
and the endless sea,
between the single word and the iliad
and the poet finally finds
he believes only what chills his spine,
while the scientist admits
to trusting only
in the poet’s post-mortem spine under scalpel
and both come to find
that neither possessed a spine all along
and only the critic and the layman,
the least of these
not many wise, not many nobly born,
not influential, but called,
these possess the spines
that cause the whole of humankind to walk,
to speak and not to speak,
and the poet’s tongue is finally stilled,
and the scientist finally free to dream.

On Uprooting

If you’re going to uproot
yank hard.
Half-hearted yanks won’t move roots.
Your hands will prove raw
dirt will keep the tendrils taught –
unless you yank hard.

It’s not indifferent, either
to yank hard.
Uncertain grabbing
Only bruises leaves and stocks
you need to kill everything you pull.
It’s not easy and it doesn’t seem right
but yank hard,
and you’ll clear enough space
to find the good dirt where love knows to sprout.

If you’re going to uproot
make space for compost.
Even what you kill can keep your garden
and shoots from other tills can keep it too.
All life throbs in matter
and joy knows which dying stems
tomorrow’s newborn grief will birth
and so she moves from age to age
in Abba’s ever-shifting sculpt
and whether shadows on the cave
or things in themselves,
breath and lung can only work as one
and all life heaves for each.
So if you’re going to uproot,
yank hard.

To Bow

Read this five times a day
While facing east. 

Midday, sunlight streaming
He’s kneeling, bowing
Reverence breathing.
I don’t know why,
But I hold back tears.
“Despair is a man alone before God.”
In silence, not ashamed, 
His prayers emanate.
His wife waits with perfect grace.
I’m taken by the urge 
To bow before them both
Not for Allah, but for undaunted devotion
In the glaring face of Westernness. 

Memory

You, like little ice picks, haltingly,

Oh my snowy one,

You break into my trajectory

And say, are you reality, or just symphony?

Oh, I don’t know.

 

Blue brittle vicegrips, brokenly

Chip my teeth away

And break them into potpourri

And the scene goes from alchemy into anarchy

Like anything else.

 

But your words play on my heart like piano keys

Left in concert halls,

Eternal unremembered melodies

That you play to me, as your legs move in harmony –

Oh, let me go.

 

And these, needless words made foolhardily

Just for artiface

Conceal the emptiness of memory

Badly made into allegory, or fake history

Oh, it’s enough.