I’M TIRED OF TALKING ABOUT ALL THE SHIT IN LIFE
I’m tired of talking
about all the shit in life
without mentioning the flowers
that transform it into something beautiful.
I’m weary of trying to be irrelevant
so I can feel I belong
to something bigger than myself
that doesn’t make me feel small and wrong.
A train whistle.
A car alarm.
An ambulance on the far side of town.
Three arbiters of harm
but no nightbird singing for the joy of it
and I’m sick of being the poet
who is writing all of this down
by an open window
at in the morning
listening to drunk lovers on the street
rage over which one cares the least.
Who’s the beauty.
Who’s the beast.
I’m lonelier than I’ve ever been
living in this abyss of a mind
that sheds its shadows like a snakepit
hissing like the background cosmic radiation
of a universe at the beginning of its afterlife.
But I’m handling it better
than I thought I could
at least for the moment
like a fish that used to swim through tears
learning to swim through glass.
I flatter my ass sometimes
by thinking I’ve grown wiser over the years
but it’s a crazy kind of wisdom
that makes me feel
as if my highest ideals
were making a fool of me
and all I can say is Let them.
I watch myself with wry amusement
getting older around the periphery
and I’m determined to age gracefully
without lying to myself
about being forever young.
I keep track of my face
like a sign of the weather inside
and I’m discovering new stars
through the cracks in the mirror
all the time.
Death can take what it wants
but I’m not going to give it up
as if it was his
So I live as if I were ageless.
And I look back upon my youth
as a bad dream that was as often
wounded by the truth
as it was healed by lying.
I was nurtured like a voodoo doll
on rooster blood and whiskey
without knowing who it was
they were casting the curse upon
but when they crucified the angels
they stuck like pins in my eyes
to blind someone I’d never met
and had nothing against
I saw the first full eclipse of my heart
without any sunglasses on
and I began to cry like a chandelier
when its last lightbulb goes out
for all of us.
And you’d laugh at the little boy
who’s still trying to get a piece of me
behind my back after all these years
as if it were me
and not my old man
who was a bad father to myself
up to the age of seven
when he abandoned his four children
like a raging alibi he had to live up to
to explain his perpetual absence
as the best thing he could do for all of us
and he’s been perversely right ever since.
I’ve found more mercy in the darkness
than I ever have in the light.
There are hidden jewels in the ashes.
And though the heart may be soft coal
that glows in the fire
like an exhausted fable of human warmth
deep underground among the roots
of my radical upbringing
I’m still a diamond-mine
of adamantine insight
that keeps one eye on the stars
and the other on the darkness
just to keep things radiantly real
between the fireflies and the streetlamps
and the secret arsonists
with hearts as big as fire hydrants
trying to unionize my volunteer fire brigades.
I oscillate between compassion
and savage indignation
at the state of the world
it’s getting harder to assume I’m living in
like a wavelength of life
that’s learned how to shed its skin
like the cataracts of the old myths
that tried to paint what they saw
on my eyes
like flowers in the sky
on the lens of a refracting telescope
under house arrest
like the rest of the universe
for staining the absolutes
of a bad guess
with sunspots of relative knowledge.
But I still prefer
the spontaneous clarity of creative expression
to the nuclear urgency
of the grailquests going on
in the hadron colliders of science
trying to make a blackhole
disgorge its singularity
like a cosmic egg
that hatched in the belly of the serpent
and turning scales into feathers
gave birth to the endless origin
of a universe in the shape of an oxymoron
that roars like a dragon in its sleep.
And though I’m as enamoured of the stars
as I’ve always been
I have less of a tendency
to underestimate the creative potential
of a single match
in a cosmic mass of hydrogen
to explode like a Tunisian souk in the face
of an inflammable bureaucrat.
And as you can see
by the way I’m writing this to you
I’m still willing to whore the truth a little
for the sake of a good metaphor
but that’s a psychological hazard
of what I have to do
to live with my unlikeness
to stars and flowers
because I was created
in the image of a god
no one can know anything about
like a posthumous father who didn’t die in the war.
And just as you once said I would
I’ve destroyed a promising career in poetry
for the real thing
though I often wonder if that means
I’ll die alone in a crowded garret
like the tragic farce
of a literary cliche
trying to compare
the drool from my fountainmouth
to the dew in the dawn of a new day.
Now I spraybomb my poetic graffiti
on the sides of the empty boxcars
that pass for my train of thought
on the wrong side of the tracks as always
and when they’re sidelined
by a red light up ahead
I undo their couplings
like handcuffs and co-ordinate conjunctions
that belong to the cosmology of an old universe
that fell under its spell
like gravity and grammar once did
and free them like roads and rivers and mindstreams
to make their own way in the world
without turning my art into a weathervane
if the true meaning of madness
makes any sense at all to the sane.
And I don’t know why
after all these lightyears alone in the abyss
trying to make contact
when my heart reaches out
to someone like you
it’s always in an extraterrestrial language
that starts with the ambidextrous hieroglyph for love
as if that were the one-word native tongue
that says what can’t be said for most of us
and is the hardest of all to speak.
I’ve failed to grasp anything I ever sought
so I reversed it
and developed a talent for letting go.
I burned my starmaps
and let the seeking go on by itself
and forgot what I thought I was looking for.
Most of the time.
I may not be enlightened starmud
but you always had a way
of almost making me believe
you could see me shine.
And I hope I did.
And I really hope I did
because one of the worst things in life
is to love someone
and make your heart
the gatekeeper of the flowers
they’ve opened up in you
and not let them look upon their work
like an art that can only be mastered
by breaking your own timing and discipline.
If you get the inside out down to the last drop
the only way you can be sure of a cure
is if the grail is empty.
At least that’s what I used to tell myself
whenever I thought of you
and let the fire follow its own smoke to nowhere
as if that were a better place to be
than wherever I was at the time.
Like me tonight here
listening to the predictable emergencies
scream like banshees
at the windows of a dozy town
with only one funeral home
that’s been in the family for a century.
I hear the hushed whispers of the ushers of the dead
treading softly on plush carpets
to muffle any sound of life
that might wake the corpse up
as if they were escorting him to his seat
with flashlights in the dark
and telling him to enjoy the movie
he plays a bit part in
for the rest of his afterlife.
I don’t know why
this should make me angry
but it does.
And hearing you’re ill.
That your beauty is in jeopardy.
That all your butterflies
are learning to adapt to the darkness
like industrial soot
as your lucidity recedes
like a comet in passing
that doesn’t portend the beginning or the end
of anything the earth is overly concerned with.
Life and death issues that go on in the grass.
Tiny horizon events
in their frames of reference
as if some thief
just stole their portrait from the Louvre
where it used to hang
and discovering it wasn’t known enough to sell
dumped it like a black velvet painting
in a garbage can
that can’t tell an Andy Warhol from a Rembrandt
though the ants
live well off of both.
And what I don’t understand
is why nature is always smiling
like a pothead in harmony with everything
when the spider tears the wings off the butterfly
as if it were opening hatemail
and not a loveletter from God.
As if razor wire had been used
to make a dreamcatcher
and blood ran like roses down its thorns.
And all the mirrors in the room
were works in progress
in a house of horrors
that’s been gentrified
by flowers that bleed like glass
that’s learned to hold back its tears
like a watershed deep in this desert of stars
that weaves its magic carpets
out of the lifelines
that flow like the themes of lonely rivers
into the wavelengths
of great believers and deceivers like us.
When I think of what’s happening to you
I’m more convinced than ever
that mind is just a mirage
in a bag of water
with nine holes in it
keeping track of the time
like a waterclock
that never wakes us up in time
to get ready for life.
The moon beheads her own reflection
and dumps it like a goat skull
down the unreal waters of a wishing well
no one can drink from
when I imagine that even space
must be overwhelmed
by the intensity of your solitude
when you feel what your body is doing to you
is worse than any rapist
but it isn’t considered socially acceptable
to scream or haemorrhage in public
though your eyes accuse the gods of being liars.
I’ve never known what I had to say
until I’ve said it
because as Dogen Zenji pointed out to me
verbal expression is not thought.
Thought can be the alloy of image and sound
but it’s not elemental.
It wasn’t born
with the same potential
for picture-music that hydrogen was.
It’s a warm-up act for better voices
than the most exacting discipline of reason
could ever dream of having.
we were always sidereal enough
to realize that a straight line
is only an inexperienced curve
that hasn’t been given enough space and time
to bend its innocence like an arrow
to a flight path without a star map.
You were Deneb in the constellation of Leo
your birth sign.
I was the bad neighbourhood
of a rogue zodiac
born on the wrong side of the tracks
with a couple of houses missing
and homeless stars
with no myth of a return address
shacking up at the back of the rest
to hit up on their own shining
with no fear of arrest until the morning
when the sun rose like a wrecking ball
to tear down the building
like that house we lived in
where I first showed up on your threshold
they torn down and turned into a Giant Tiger parking lot.
Ten years since we’ve walked beside each other
but when I saw you the other day
and how tortured your body was
how shrunken and twisted
by the pain of the humiliation
and the outrage
of what has befallen you
as if Lyme disease
were one of the plagues of
and you were one of the lean kind
that followed the harvest
of the honey and wheat
your body used to be
like a second full moon in October on the wane
I didn’t see a scarecrow.
I saw a blue heron walking on the water
with a psychedelic cane
decorated in auroras of paisley
that shimmered like the northern lights
and I immediately saw
the hippie had not died in you
and though you were absurdly wounded
you still preferred chasing your visions
like waterbirds disappearing into the distance
off into the sidereal aloofness of a mysterious god
who keeps putting different faces
on the same namelessness
as if all the shadows and echoes of everything
were the sacred syllables
of the one voice that keeps calling out to all of us
as if we were all alone together in the same lifeboat
looking for a lighthouse in the fog.
And I didn’t think I was being cruel not to pity you
when you told me point blank
you were dying
and I understood your clarity
didn’t have enough time left
to commiserate with people who couldn’t handle it
and there weren’t enough gardens to go around
where the living could seek sanctuary from your fate
by closing the gate to their own.
In the unlikeliness of this life
that evaporates like an atmosphere
into the vastness
of every single breath we take
like a planet that isn’t massive enough to hold it
I’m glad we were lovers
and that among all the bills
and fights about nothing
and immense reconciliations
we got a chance to look at the stars together.
I remember you one night
bending over to pick wildflowers
at the side of the road
and your blonde hair
looked like the ghost of a willow
in the moonlight
and caught like a doe in the carlights
I saw a glimpse of life
that wasn’t so much eternal
as it was profoundly perennial
in the form of a woman
that went beyond beauty and love.
And I knew the flowers
knew more about it than I did.
I stood by the car
like a stranger watching
a sacred ritual he doesn’t belong to
and isn’t holy enough to disturb
as you filled your arms
with towers of blueweed
and plumes of white sweet clover.
And that smile on your face
as you walked back to the car
like a cover girl
that had just been airbrushed
And though I didn’t fully understand it then
that jewel of a night
became a koan of insight
that has burned in me
like the eye of a dragon ever since.
And it doesn’t look through a glass darkly
into the terrifying immensities
and dwarfing transformations of life
as if the heart and the mind
were illegal immigrants
in a hostile universe
looking for a birthright to be.
And it’s not a crystal ball
without a past or a future
or a blackhole without an event horizon.
It’s not a gravitational lens
that bends the light
to its way of seeing.
No one’s put wings on it
like an orbiting telescope.
It’s not a third eye
or the holographic projection
of a pineal gland
painting pictures in space
to amuse the mind
and keep it from going mad.
I don’t know what it is
and it’s unlikely that I ever will
but it doesn’t look upon
the evanescent intensities
of human experience
with the severity of a dream
that nothing we do or say
can wake us up from.
It’s the clarity of the stars
that last summer
we ever looked upon them together
not as distant sources of light
but as a spiritual kind of weather
that only migrating birds know
and trees and flowers
letting go of their blossoms and leaves
and seraphic lions rising in the east
and two humans
stopping at the side of a country road together
to be silently astonished by the beauty of the night.
The starmud and the mystery.
It’s that softness of earthly light
that gathers around intangible things like form
as if it would protect them and keep them warm awhile
by wrapping them in one of its veils of lucidity like skin
that fits each of us
like our seeing fits our eyes.
Like our vision fits the stars.
Like our dreams fit our waking aspirations.
Like life fits the personal history
of the cosmic mystery
into every cell
of the most fallible of human hearts
like a summons to explore their lives
with courage and longing and wonder
like a message in a bottle from an island universe
we sent out like the light of a star a long time ago
like a loveletter we mailed to ourselves
in case we never got back this way
and someone were to ask where we went.
Or fireflies in a mason jar as big as space
wondering where all the light’s coming from.
Or love fits the shoreless ocean of awareness
into that teacup of insight
I had of you that night
and that wounded scythe of a smile
well-pleased with its harvest of flowers
turning into a question mark
by the time you got back to the car
as you wondered out loud
whether it would have been better
to leave them on their own.
I didn’t know what to answer then
but if you were to ask me now
I’d say every constellation
would be made an orphanage
of nameless lucidities
if someone like you
weren’t out gathering them up
to make this cold palatial place
feel a little more like home.
And I’d point to the point
at the bottom of the question-mark
that makes up the head
of the sphinx that sits like Leo in a desert of stars
And I’d say
You see that?
Do you see how
she answers her own question
like an exclamation mark making
a deep and gracious bow
like a woman bending
to pick flowers by the side of a road?
That’s a first magnitude star.
That’s a lion of compassion
that can kill you into life
without leaving a scar.
As above so below
that’s the totem of a woman I know
who could heal you like a hunter
who poured all her ferocity into love
like rainbow-flavoured psychedelic sunshine
like moonrise in a wishing well
that wasn’t the blood sacrifice of an Aztec skull
but a cross between a pearl and a rose
as if the universe were one big oyster shell
that didn’t treat people like dirt
it was trying to wash out of its immaculate third eye
because they were spiritually grubby and hurt.
That’s her star.
That’s her spirit.
That’s the fire of a feline avatar
who could see in the dark
how frightened and helpless people are
to open their eyes like her
and then showed them how to do it
as easily as the full moon moving into her sign
like the sail of a lifeboat
like morning glory on the vine
by the side of the road
into the great mystic bay of her heart
as if she were gathering flowers
by the armful.
She could draw blood
and sharpen her crescents on your psyche
but when you tasted the wound
you swore you were drinking wine
in a big busy kitchen
full of hungry misunderstood street kids
and hopelessly homeless poets