Poems

by Hew Wolff

A Scotsman explained to his mither / We are here because we want more / Once upon a time / Sometimes in a book I find / Sarah and Sam / let me be your hot flash / Roosevelt / The Fort / Kidney Calculus / Tooth / The bed of love / I have one regret / Once I saw a fly / Yoga haiku 2 / (She went all ecphrastic on my ass) / Yoga haiku 1 / The Farm and the Ranch House / 10 lines for my beloved / What I found in the Santa Rosa Mountains / My Search For Greatness / (Sleep is a dangerous choice) / (why do you leave) / What Helps / Hunger / Maria in the Garden / Duct Tape Lexus Blues / On the Roof / Christmas comes but then it goes / Stutter / Advice / The Death Times of a Damn Fool / 2007 / The Queen of Kleenex / (I am a romantic engineer) / Civilization / The River Fleet / This Next Poem / Nightmare / Dictionary Poem / The Rain / Recipes / (A joyful anniversary) / (When you come to lift me up) / (I must go to meet my fate) / (Walking home) / (Beautiful scars cover my body) / John and Tracy / All of You / Almost / Edwin the Bedouin / The Nights / We All Live Here / A Protest Against Tristram's Birthday / True Story / Bedtime / The Further Adventures of Jackie / Novel Romance / Someone Open Something / I Thought of You Here / From the Axe / I Can't Sleep / (Oh no)

A Scotsman explained to his mither (2017-08)

A Scotsman explained to his mither,
"When I strum my electrified zither,
the snakes driven hither
by Patrick shall wither
and all gang a-slith'rin' back thither."

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We are here because we want more (2017-01)

We are here because we want more,
listening to our hearts and crotches roar.
More land, more taxes, more Pinot Noir,
more metaphors and kinds of war,
more like me, more of the story.
Thomas More, John Muir, Michael Moore.
We're the urge and what the urge is for.

Once upon a time (2017-01)

Once upon a time they lived happily ever after.
He was born, he moved around, he did things, and then he didn't.
She was a legend, they told her stories forever, until they didn't.
They had two children, one survived them and one didn't.
This street is ancient, they'll turn that corner for centuries, and then they won't.
Stop me if you've heard this one before.

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Sometimes in a book I find (2016-02)

Sometimes in a book I find
a page that doesn't feel right,
a page that stumbles when it turns
and sticks instead of lying down.

Holding tight to either side,
I slowly open up the book,
as if that narrow paper crack
needs to get a little light.

I hear the hissing of the glue
giving up its greedy hold.
I see the brightness of the scar,
rough and raw along the fold.

It may be that I went too far
in flattening the moment down,
a page I never saw before
and likely never will again.

But still I offer you this work,
my fellow reader in the dark,
as sometimes in a book you find
your fingers brushing over mine.

Sarah and Sam (2015-09)

Sarah and Sam
deserve a sojourn in Siam
or something fancy and Bahamian
but there are lots of places to get steamy in.
This love needs something Oakland and Bohemian
with a slam poet's epithalamion
and a candy calavera
for Sam and Sarah.

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let me be your hot flash (2015-02)

let me be your hot flash or head rush
or lightning sunspot blush
our sudden dizzy breath
a wild weather shift
a shiver in a feather eyelash

Roosevelt (2014-06)

"Roosevelt!"
A young black woman calls her little son
and smacks him as they walk past me.
I wince, and settle down to wait for my bus.
There are two guys sidling up to a parked car across the street.
The one leaning down carefully to fiddle with the door
has a kerchief tied over his face.
No one seems to be watching.

I jump up and yell, "Hey!
Hey, what's going on over there!"
And as the guy pulls off his mask,
"You look like a bandit, man!"
"I'm not a bandit," he says, "this is my car!"
I retreat, saying "OK, sorry!"
and they grumble something about a white man
as I sit down again.

"I thought that was your car,"
says someone next to me, Roosevelt's mom.
"No, he just looked kinda scary."
"He lyin'," she says, "that ain't his car.
Lookin' all around and shit. He lyin'."
"Well," I say, "I guess I made him think twice," and she laughs.
The guys get out of the car and amble away.
On the bus I see the name tattooed on her chest:
Roosevelt.

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The Fort (2014-06)

I sit and watch the little ones
in the fort my brothers built with sticks and stones
on a big ledge across the pond.
Beatrice is setting up the fire pit
as a throne.
Kaz is banging rocks together
to make more rocks.
Ned is laying ferns on a slab --
it's the guest bedroom.
They are all talking at once.
Ned says,
"This mine pillow. Me go sleep now."
Kaz says,
"Do you believe I can break this rock with this rock?"
Beatrice says,
"These are the Five Stones of Paradise.
Now I'm starting to rule."

Kidney Calculus (2014-05)

Water is water.
A swallow is a swallow.
Two swallows make an ounce,
which is just about a fluid ounce.
8 fluid ounces make a glass,
a glass makes a cup,
4 cups make a quart,
one quart makes a liter, more or less,
and two liters make a day,
according to my urologist.
In the heat of June, July, and August,
the sweat is hard to measure.
So is the pain inside.
But we know some things.
One season is about 90 days,
180 liters,
720 cups,
say 6,000 ounces,
which means it takes 12,000 swallows
to make a summer.

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Tooth (2013-11)

Painters call it "tooth",
like the canvas is a shark
and each little thread
a separate hungry bleeding edge,
pearly in the dark.

There's a lot of truth,
how it grabs a running brush
with its pale grin
and pulls a solid crimson in
from a liquid rush.

Everyone needs teeth.
Roses prick and make you jump,
apples bite your frown.
Without the dirt to drag us down,
how would we stand up?

Tooth's our friend beneath.

The bed of love (2013-10)

The floppy pillow to hold up her head,
five pillows for her knees,
three more for sleeping on her side,
two hot water bottles.
Cozy flannel everywhere.
Stack it all at the head of the bed.
Strip the old sheets and slip in new ones,
moving everything around in a big pile.
Lay down the comforter,
the dark blue sheet to soften it,
the washable absorbent blanket,
and finally the blood-red sexy sheet.
Admire the perfection.
Now let's mess it up again.

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I have one regret (2013-06)

I have one regret
from 2012,
that the brief passion I shared
with tall young blonde Samantha
in a dark corner of North Beach
on September 26th
was a mediocre lap dance
for which I overtipped.

Once I saw a fly (2013-03)

Once I saw a fly stuck in a spiderweb
on a parking meter on International.
The clock went to zero and the minutes ran out.
Probably it happens all the time.

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Yoga haiku 2 (2012-12)

Intense and quiet,
yoga class breathes with one breath...
Did I hear a fart?

(She went all ecphrastic on my ass) (2012-05)

She went all ecphrastic on my ass.
Literally, literarily,
verbally, a little scarily,
very enthusiastic on my ass.

She wrote a sonnet sequence on my intergluteal cleft,
so sensuously Stygian,
so sweetly callipygian,
and a separate ode in Greek upon the right cheek and the left.

Somehow I'm a wonderment to her,
contrarily, contrapuntally,
fondly and back-to-frontally,
a firmamental fundament to her.

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Yoga haiku 1 (2012-01)

Legs in half-lotus,
car shrieks from panic button:
left keys in pocket.

The Farm and the Ranch House (2011-12, with Jan Steckel)

Near the top of a snowy hill,
the hounds rest on cozy beds
on the warm stone kitchen floor.
Subtle spices in their nostrils.
Wavering lights. Voices from the other room:
"Doo-o-na nobis...which Amaryllis?...too high for me..."

Lone coyote on mica ridge,
still digesting cat for breakfast,
sees colored lights below,
hears humans howl their carols,
smells charred bird on an ocean breeze,
slinks through ice-plant slopes.

Momentarily distracted by snowflakes through glass,
the cat settles in a bowl on the piano,
lulled like a sleepy child at a grownup party.
The balsam fir scent overpowers her.
The shiny dangling things can wait.

Back at the ranch house,
poodle (trapped under the La-Z-Boy again)
whimpers when they open the sliding glass door.
She smells coyote. At least the children
feed her turkey under the table.
She won't eat the Brussels sprouts.

The clock twangs midnight on the farm.
The lamb opens its mouth.
"What are these sounds I'm making?"
The donkey replies, "One night deep in winter they sing,
and when they sleep, we sound like them for a bit.
Maybe we'll get grain tomorrow, maybe an apple."

In green Pacific winter, midnight's a tick on the Timex.
Let out to pee, the poodle growls, "You don't scare me."
"I ate already," coyote says. "Who was that howling with you?"
"They blow a recorder to find me, and I sing back.
They're going to get you, you know."
"Not tonight," grins coyote.

"Just go back to sleep," sneers the cat, "we're patrolling.
Do try not to snore." The hound snorts peacefully and says,
"There'll be a walk in the snow tomorrow,
after the feast, with lots of people.
Go play in the tissue paper. I'll watch over them."

The little girl dreams of snowless mountains by the sea,
sucking on candy canes, unwrapping presents,
burning colored paper to colored flame in the fireplace,
watching great-grandmother draw a talking horse and cow.
The girl knows that's just a story, though. Not like Santa.

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10 lines for my beloved (2011-10)

Just love, unironic,
for years,
love proper,
in and of itself,
as such,
with poetry and Kleenex,

love per se,
sensu stricto,
with lubrication,

qua love.

What I found in the Santa Rosa Mountains (2010-08)

A nice old man at the golf course who said I couldn't walk across the grass.
A way around him, across a wet grassy ditch to the rocks.
The steep crumbling slope of rock toward the skyline.
A few golf balls and a snail shell, like little white rocks.
A white cross painted on a flat rock.
A view of La Quinta, flat and green between hills of brown rock.
The sound of the resort, cicadas and lawnmowers, rising up to the rocks.
A rocky peak to shield me from the morning sun and the town.
Huge peaceful boulders with deep crevices between the stone.
Messages written in chalk on the stone, AO and AMANDA 2010 SRH.
Ten granite rocks to build my own small landmark.
Someone else's stack of three rocks tucked in a side ravine.
A skinny tree as tall as me, rooted stubbornly between the rocks.
Small lizards scuttling over the rocks along the grassy edge.
A man grooming the grass who raised his hand.


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My Search For Greatness (2010-08)

I woke up the other day and thought, what would Jesus do?
So I went around telling everyone I was the son of God
and they should let go of their SUVs
and their retirement accounts
and follow me.
I called Goodwill to pick up my big-screen TV.
I told them, I am the Way, and I love it.
I blessed people at the mall until they threw me out.
I predicted my own death and awesome resurrection.
I even won a convert,
a confused-looking old lady in a doughnut shop.
You have to get them lost before you get them found.
As any good cult leader will tell you,
the only meaning in your life is through the divine.

Then I got up the next morning and thought,
but what would Genghis Khan do?
I bought a fur hat and started advertising at rodeos
for an army of expert horsemen.
I planned a series of lightning campaigns
to capture Texarkana, El Paso, and Houston.
And then I'd annex the Sudetenland.
I started outlining a bestselling business book
about my leadership secrets.
The world needs me.
Just look at the chaos we have now.
People need structure in their lives,
as any good warlord will tell you.

The next morning I thought, what would Pope Joan do?
Then I took a nap.
After that I started wondering, what would Andrew Carnegie do?
Probably start some kind of industrial monopoly...
It seems like that would take an awfully big investment.
Any good con artist will tell you
that you have to spend money to make money.

But it's important to change the world in your own way.
I plan to use unnecessary quotation marks,
say "literally" when I mean figuratively,
say "less" when I mean fewer,
and split six infinitives before breakfast.

I'm sick of being a harmless eccentric.
I plan to start a small quasireligious charismatic intentional community,
diversify into multilevel marketing,
get the sex scandal out of the way early,
dodge an investigation for tax fraud,
move my followers to Montana,
and start buying lobbyists.

Do it your own way.
If your name is Ralph Lauren, change it to Ralph Lipschitz.
If it's Cary Grant, change it to Archibald Leach.
If it's Elton John, change it to Reginald Davies.
If it's Madonna...if it's Madonna, I can't help you.

But the main thing is,
when you get up tomorrow morning,
you just have to do one thing.
You just have to ask yourself, what would Paris Hilton do?
What would Paris Hilton do, if she were you?

(Sleep is a dangerous choice) (2010-01)

Sleep is a dangerous choice.
Voluptuous and strange,
borne off course,
ranging wide on a foreign horse.
A choice,
strange, and forced.

He decides.
I hear a voice saying: he decides.
A strong voice, familiar, my own, inside.
He decides.
In the cellar he decides.

I crouch like a frog on the bed
and run my fingers through my hair.
I stroke all the skin on my head,
my lips, my ears, and down from there.
My shoulder blade says I'm not dead.
My belly tells me why I care.
I weave myself out of this thread.
My warm hands cover everywhere.

Clothed again in my own skin,
I decide.
I decide to take up the risks
of sleep and the word.

I won't worry the day away
over what never was,
but I'll stay up all night
for one good line.

One good line,
and Jan gives me an extra hug,
and Sue turns the page.
Pam gasps,
Paul chuckles,
Maria twinkles,
and Mark snickers.
Even Tom requests an encore
and Julia goes: huh.

One good line,
and for a moment
we all wake up.

And me, I just get through the night.

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(why do you leave) (2009-08)

why do you leave
your eyes open in bed
your tag sticking out
at the back of your neck

I think on purpose
your tag sticking out
your eyes open in bed
why do you leave

for my kiss
at the back of your neck
your tag sticking out
so I'll tuck you in

because I'm yours
your eyes open in bed
for my kiss
so I'll tuck you in

I think on purpose
for my kiss
so I'll tuck you in
because I'm yours

What Helps (2009-01)

I could take a walk, it's a sunny day
But that won't make this feeling go away
It runs beside me when I run
The sun is gray, like everything is gray

I could try a movie, or a sweet dessert
Or porn, the healthy kind of dirt
I love to paint, and that's good for pain
But fun will hurt, like everything will hurt

I hit it to restart it
I hit it to reset it
My heart is stuck inside me
My heart just doesn't get it

I only cry to my favorite songs
Hugs from my beloved help me along
Priests and pills would kill the joy
They just feel wrong, like everything feels wrong

I hit it to restart it
I hit it to reset it
My heart is stuck inside me
My heart just doesn't get it

I should get up and mow the lawn
And call my cranky uncle before he's gone
And help someone who needs my help
So I'll go on, like everything goes on

I hit it to restart it
I hit it to reset it
My heart is stuck inside me
My heart just doesn't get it

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Hunger (2008-11)

The gladiolus stalk towers
over the tiny bird.
Beyond the half-open blinds
of my office window
the bird clicks and buzzes.
It swoops and then stops,
reaching its tongue into the chosen flower.
The stalk trembles and bows down
over the tiny hungry bird.

Maria in the Garden (2008-06)

Who is this digging in our ground?
She has no wheels, no claw, no beak.
She's making sounds, as if to speak.
You with your fur, sharp ears and teeth,
sniff out the secrets between her toes.
You anxious parents hopping in the trees,
circle her head and squawk where she goes.
You with eyes tucked in your house beneath,
lie still in her lively hand, and doze.
Today there will be no fall, no fuss.
No paw crushed under a careless wheel,
no tiny wing torn by claws,
no shell cracked by a hungry beak.
Not while she is here for all.
Who is this watching over us?

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Duct Tape Lexus Blues (2008-03)

I'm drivin' in my Lexus
I got duct tape on my shoes
Yes I'm drivin' in my Lexus
I got duct tape on my shoes
These boots ain't made for walkin'
Got those duct tape Lexus blues

I'm drivin' down the freeway
And I wish I's on a bus
Said I'm drivin' down the freeway
And I wish I's on a bus
Ain't no place in the fast lane
For old school guys like us

I'm drivin' down 580
And I see I'm not alone
Yeah I'm drivin' down 580
And I see I'm not alone
Snail's climbin' up the windshield
Hang on buddy, I'll take you home

I'm drivin' to the doctor
Got a pee-jug on the shelf
Oh I'm drivin' to the doctor
Got a pee-jug on the shelf
Ain't no way this here sample
Gonna analyze itself

On the Roof (2008-01)

I brush my teeth over the big utility sink in the coldest room in our house.
When it rains in the winter, the ceiling leaks a little.
This time it was dripping on my head, and it was too much.
We called a roofer, and I went up the ladder after him.
He pointed out weak spots and told me how to caulk them, and that might do it.
The roof is shallow, and the shingles and vents and tar overlap, but not quite right.
It's another world up there.
I looked down at the neighbor's back yard and saw their ginger cat,
slipping out of a half-open window and between the bars.
We always wondered how he got around when his parents were out.
The roofer dug something out of the tar: a 32-caliber bullet, he said.
Fired straight up, and fallen back to us head down.
I felt its weight and put it in my pocket.
He didn't charge us a thing.

On a sunny day I came back with my caulk gun and latex gloves.
I stepped lightly, feeling the grit wearing off the shingles.
That room was added as an afterthought, maybe 50 years ago.
It has siding all around the inside, so you almost think you're outdoors.
So does the rain, I guess.
I prodded the bullet hole with my finger.
I spread the caulk on thick, like white icing, over the gaps and in the tiny hole.
I said hello to the cat, who rolled over and looked at me from his back porch.
Once I found him sleeping up here under the eaves.
We've seen him jump from roof to neighbor's roof.

Softballs and spent fireworks have also appeared on our property.
We put the bullet on the mantelpiece.
It's blackened and coppery.
What if the cat had been lying there?
Is my head harder than that sticky tar?
Would the the bullet fall more gently than it rose?
Was it launched in anger? Celebration? Curiosity?
Why shoot something that might fall on you?

I'm just waiting to see how the roof will hold.
I'm waiting for a good hard rain.


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Christmas comes but then it goes (2007-12)

The time from Christmas up to New Year's
is a feast of Camemberts and Gruyères.

But the time from New Year's till next Christmas
is just a barren, rocky isthmus.

So stay with me, like a lion with Daniel,
and make a perennial of this annual.

Stutter (2007-10)

You're looking at me, about to smile.
Somewhere there's a hot glowing coal, with a flame just barely forming.

I stutter.
Say,
state,
tut,
utter.
Saystatetututter.
Stutter.

Have,
even,
essence,
sent.
Haveevenessencesent.
Heavenescent.

Earthy,
here,
eerie,
real.
Earthyhereeeriereal.
Earthereal.

That's you.
Heavenescent.
Earthereal.

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Advice (2007-08)

Stop tugging on my whiskers now,
and listen closely, little one.
My lofty grizzled years allow
perspective on this race we run.
Life is serious, and so I'll shun
simile, homily, parody and pun.
Take off those headphones and attend
not to the sullen disco throb
but to my wise and simple end.
Because telling the truth is a full-time job,
and staying alive is half the fun.

He who hesitates is lost,
lost as a foolish fuzzy sheep.
But don't forget to count the cost,
so always look before you leap.
There's nothing clear under the sun.
I think that's somewhere in John Donne.
Many hands make light work.
But too many cooks will just go berserk.
Well, I heard once from some poor slob
that staying alive is a full-time job,
and telling the truth is half the fun.

It's a wise child that knows his own father.
But DNA testing is not worth the bother.
A man's reach should exceed his grasp.
Except when he's got a bra to unclasp.
In the dark, all cats are gray,
but blondes are much preferred, they say.
You can be a snob, but listen to the mob.
Well begun is half done.
But half an ass is worse than none.
And telling the truth is a full-time job,
and staying alive is half the fun.

The Death Times of a Damn Fool (2007-03)

Oakland, California.
Sitting in the World Ground Café, I pick up a free paper.
It's called "The Death Times of a Damn Fool".
It's all about me.
That's creepy.
The first headline is:

DAMN FOOL FALLS FROM OWN ROOF, BREAKS NECK
Oxford, England.
It was nighttime, and my homework was done.
I wanted to see the city.
I want to see as much as I can.
I sat with my legs dangling over the window ledge, looking up to the roof.
Maybe I could follow the sturdy metal pipe that went through the overhanging tiles.
How old was the pipe?
Would it pull the tiles right off?
It was two stories down to the concrete path.
There was nothing else to hang on to.
I reached around the eaves and scrambled up, with my heart thumping.
I enjoyed the sparkling view.
I scraped up my good trousers, but it was worth it.

DAMN FOOL FRIED BY POWER LINE UNDER OWN NOSE
Boston, Massachusetts.
On the sidewalk, I found a barrier blocking my path.
Tree branches had fallen, and a power line.
I like to go forward once I start.
I'm private with my emotions.
There was no one nearby.
Someone down the block caught my eye, waving me away urgently.
I stared blankly.
I stepped over the barrier, the green leaves, and the cable.
I walked past it all.
I saw my rescuer shrug.
I kept going.

DAMN FOOL DROWNED ON OWN WEDDING ANNIVERSARY
Jenner, California.
Jan was sleeping in our rented cottage that clung to the side of the valley.
I was taking a morning stroll to explore.
I stood on the sand at the mouth of the Russian River.
On the other side were seals, just a pebble's throw away.
I don't like getting wet, but I wanted to cross.
I took off my boots and hung them around my neck.
I waded in to my ankles and felt the water, cold and fast.
I turned back, walking barefoot over the rocks.
Later we drove to the other side, a long way around.
I jumped onto a rock in the pounding waves.
One wave came too close and scared me off.
Then we saw the signs on the beach: undertow, riptide, danger, strong swimmers drowned.

DAMN FOOL SHOT FOR NOT MINDING OWN BUSINESS
Oakland, California.
It's the last headline.
I put down the paper.
I have to walk out into my neighborhood.
I have to turn a corner and find, suddenly, two young thugs menacing an old lady.
She clutches her coat and refuses to cry out.
I forgot my cell phone.
I look around, and yell something, and step between them.
I do not just let that happen.
But a bullet smacks me down.
It's like nothing I've ever felt.
And I'm gone.

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2007 (2007-01)

I knew exactly where I was going:
to the ground floor of the science building.
I stepped into the elevator,
the doors closed,
and it took off sideways.

I looked at the other passengers.
They were calm and bored, like anyone in an elevator.
It knew just what to do:
slow down, rise or fall, make a turn, speed up again.
It flew fast and smooth.
It didn't stop.
A little porthole showed the city outside, rushing by.
I told my neighbor I wasn't used to this kind of elevator.
She said, "Oh, I'm from Houston, we have lots of them there."
Once or twice it paused to tilt 45 degrees.
We stepped onto the diagonal footrests in the corner.
Then it straightened out, and we were off again.

Later I thought of your rages and the way I ride them out,
I thought of waiting at a bus shelter for the thundershower to pass,
I thought of taming the horse by clinging to its mane.
But in the elevator I didn't know
that I was dreaming and it was the morning of New Year's Day.
I just watched as it slowed down toward my stop, a place I'd never been,
a forest of huge buildings,
sculptures and scaffolding and people working on them,
everything new.

The Queen of Kleenex (2006-10)

The Queen of Kleenex reaches out
and puffs of cloud leap up into her hand,
and then at her command
they fly around the world erasing doubt.

"If snot were gold," her mother said --
well then she'd have a soft and glowing throne,
a wadded pile that shone,
a nest of golden roses for her bed.

Her tissue issues her decrees:
good wishes, e-mail, sticky notes of love
that flutter like a dove,
all these are borne aloft on Kleenices.

I pile the boxes up, and grab
a pocket pack to learn the Kleenex Way.
The brief instructions say
to SOULEVER, or LIFT, the tab.

I peer at this until I see
SOUL EVER LIFT is what they really mean.
So my beloved queen
will rise, and float, and rise along with me.

We'll build our fluffy castle high.
Our paper raft on paper rivers drifts.
And when we wrap our gifts
it's cellulose, not gold, that gets us by.

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(I am a romantic engineer) (Oct. 2005)

I am a romantic engineer.
I make notes.
I love quotes.
When I twist two wires together tight,
I hold one hand behind my back.
I watch for shocks.
I think because it feels right.

My beloved is a wild storyteller.
She could plan a whole battle
or find a cousin in Seattle.
When she holds a slippery sentence,
she won't let go till it's done and polished.
She's brutally modest
and everyone knows her kind attention.

I hold my beloved with both hands
to feel the spark jump through my heart.
To breathe I let her go with the same hands
only to hold her closer, heart to heart.

Civilization (Aug. 2004, Oct. 2005)

I love the creative destruction of recycling.
Breaking down a cardboard box tells me how it was built.
Some factory stamped a rectangle from a giant sheet,
and with cuts and folds and glue, up jumps a perfect container.
With a printed logo, it's just the thing to package
the new, improved Left-Handed Widget (TM), version 2.0.
All this from busy bees with clever design.
That plastic wrapper, blowing down the sidewalk,
is something I couldn't make on a desert island.
This box holds civilization, like the bishop's pocketwatch.
I work, and you work, in an industrial cathedral,
and some of its skill is ours.

I love the raunchy delicacy of flowers.
The iris puts out its lovely symmetrical sex,
painted and powdered and scented like a hooker,
opened up for the flies or anything with wings.
Then you cut it down and box it up in plastic,
keep it moistened and chilled, on life support,
and put it on sale in the airport dispensing machine.
I give it to my grandmother visiting from Duluth.
I watch it stand on the piano, slowly withering,
paling and falling and never losing its grace.
When you're dead and gone, and your hometown and religion too--
the flowers bloom again.

I love the orderly rot of composting.
I throw the stinking leftovers in a pile,
trying to look away while I turn it with a stick,
and while I sleep the ants and worms come out
for the free 24-hour all-you-can-eat buffet.
The pile spits out the plastic and grows deep and dark and rich.
When I die, don't put me in a fancy box.
Throw me on the pile with the forgotten avocadoes.
Shred my poems and sprinkle them on for carbon.
Heap on dead flowers to keep away the feral cats.
And when my bones are clean, make them into a sculpture,
for the tomato vines.

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The River Fleet (Jan. 2004, Sep. 2005)

There was a river, and they called it the Fleet.
Maybe a young girl, doing the wash.
Maybe some ducklings, with their busy small feet,
swimming through the reeds, rocked by the wake
trailing a fishing boat that's loaded with meat.
Straightening, the girl stretches the ache
out of her shoulders, and wrings out the last shirt.
She's the one who spits, right at the drake.
Fisherman laughs, and thinks that no one is hurt--
not the frowning girl, striding on home,
not the old river with its burden of dirt,
not the hungry ducks, sniffing the foam.
Here's to the Fleet, on this good morning and day,
shining in the sky's brightening dome,
rushing on forever, stopping only to play
briefly with a boat, spinning it round,
then rushing on toward the Thames and the bay.
Look at all the things divers have found,
sunk to the bottom and embraced by the muck.
Here is where a life's savings were drowned,
silver from emperors now down on their luck.
Here is where a bronze crucifix fell,
hands reaching outward like a butterfly stuck.

This Next Poem (Jul. 2005)

This next poem is about the death of my cat in October 1993,
so before I begin, I should explain about our special inter-species spirituality.
Our relationship existed on a higher mental plane,
and when it ended, most of my chakras just went down the drain.
That was a really transitional period of my life.
I felt like I had nothing except my poems and my ex-cat and my ex-wife.
And then when I took Sundragon to be cremated,
the pet cemetery mixed him up with someone else's giant lizard, and I got a little aggravated.
They were not very polite when I explained to them about our special bonding cathexis.
Later I looked them up on the net and found out they're a chain from Texas!
With all that negative energy they made such a mess
that for my self-esteem I finally had to sue them for emotional distress.
But I am so blessed to have the spirit of poetry and creation
to keep me centered through that and all my other litigation.

Also, before I begin, I have some copies of my chapbook, "Garlands and Maypoles".
Oh, no, actually I don't, because I ran out of staples.
But soon I'll have a multimedia DVD with a logo in silver or gold, whichever is cuter,
just as soon as my nephew gets back from camp with his computer.
Also, I might have some trouble reading the poem in this light
since I revised it again while I was in kind of an alternative reality last night.
I put in some stuff about how Bush and Ashcroft would have called Jesus a commie,
and about 9/11 and Israel and who really caused that terrible tsunami.
So you can tell I'm not just a soulless corporate drone
even though during the day I sell mortgage products to strangers over the telephone.

In conclusion, before I begin, I would also like to say
that my philosophy is also deeply influenced by Starhawk and Alastair Crowley and Japanese anime.
There's some other stuff that's important for you to understand --
yes, yes, I see you over there with the stopwatch in your hand --
but I still need to make the announcement about my reading at the Tibetan Oyster Feast --
and come on, I haven't even started reading my piece!
My time is up already? God, you're worse than my old gym teacher!
I'll just have to come back and tell you all more after the feature.

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Nightmare (Nov. 2004)

There's something there.
You have to listen.
The room is warm.
It's dark.
It's quiet.

There's an orange light.
They're whispering.
You're awake.
You think you're awake.

They're going to do something.
They're near the bed.
They're rustling.
They're fading away.
They're still there.
This is their last try.

They want you to jump.
You have to hold still.
The room is warm.
It's dark.
It's quiet.

There's an orange glow.
They're waiting.
You're awake.
You think you're awake.

They don't have to do anything.
They wait for your fear.
You think what they might do.
They might touch the back of your head.
They wait.
You pull the covers around your neck.

You try to focus on the light.
The glow has a shape.
It's a tiny picture.
It's a spider.
It's not real.
It burns like fire.

They want you to cry out.
You have to stay silent.
The room is warm.
It's dark.
It's quiet.

There's an orange light coming into focus.
It's glowing brighter.
You're awake.
You think you're awake.

Sweat crawls on your neck.
You look behind you.
There's the shadow of your shoulder.
You look at the light.
It's the heater switch.
You're in your hotel room.

They're gone.
You can breathe.
The room is warm.
It's dark.
It's quiet.

There's the light of the heater switch.
You're alone.
You're awake.
You think you're awake.

Dictionary Poem (Aug. 2004)

You know the bird that couldn't fly --
that's the ancient moa.
And bugs too small for the naked eye --
those are protozoa.
But have you seen a desert rat
living in a bottle as big as a vat?
Only in a poem.
Because that's a jerboa --
in a jeroboam.

When you're sitting under the shady trees --
you have found asylum.
When you wonder "what kind of trees are these?" --
that would be the phylum.
When the wood sucks water from the ground
and the bark draws food from the leaves all around,
then you have a poem.
Because that's the xylem --
embraced by the phloem.

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The Rain (Jun. 2003)

Someone is calling my name. It's the rain.
Always the same, like the brain of a drum.
Shameless and painless, it comes for us all,
Dangerous, humble, to fall with no aim.

Let's go out walking. We may not come back.
Stalk what's amazing, attack your regrets.
Pay off your maximum debts now. Don't balk.
Jack up your bets. Play it raucous, but play.

Run in the mud in the hills in the dark.
Puddles and chills are remarkably fun.
Spills in the park, in the wonderful flood,
mark us as one, with one blood for all wills.

Recipes (Dec. 2002)

1. How to take a walk.

Pause.
Leave your easy chair and home, and find the open road.
Take the path you know the least. When in doubt, turn right.
Don't forget the pause, but don't linger on the corner.

Now walk.
Don't worry where you're going, just look at where you are.
See the tree roots and the clouds, and rainbows on the lawn.
Listen to the roses, and talk to all the cats.

That's all.
At the crossroads, choose again, the same way as before.
Your path will wind around your head, strange but never far.
When you've seen a thing or two, go home and check the map.

Again.
Take the path you know the least. When in doubt, turn right.
Don't worry where you're going, just look at where you are.
Your path will wind around your head, strange but never far.

2. How to clean your house.

First clean the easy places.
Sweep up the muddy traces.
Take out the trash.

Then pick a tricky corner.
Move the piano over.
Polish the brass.

The rest, do some other Sunday.
Every eventually
comes round at last.

3. How to make pancakes.

A story so old
begins with the eggs.
Beat them in a bowl.
Don't leave any dregs.

Mix in milk and flour
till it looks like batter.
Vanilla? Baking powder?
They don't really matter.

Your pan's hot and greasy.
Make squiggles and shapes.
Holding, releasing,
Xes and 8s.

For a minute of care,
a second of glee.
Make some to spare
and save them for me!

4. How to write a poem.

Unfold the work so far done.
Hear its cry.
Listen for the next line.

And then, and then, yes, and then,
then you see
words that you had not seen.

Keep it up, bit by bit.
Let it grow.
Then you'll know the last note.

Recite it. Don't write it down.
Make it stay.
Drink it like a deep stain.

If you can't keep what you thought,
how will we?
Throw away the bad meat.

And when you know how it goes,
set it free.
Show us what your heart sees.

You can draw ten thousand lines
on somebody's wall.
You can play three silences
in a crowded hall.

Make a score, a script, a scheme,
a screenplay, a scansion,
a skipping-rhyme.

5. How to find inner peace.

Well, you can hear a lot, you know.
Like Rhonda snoring in the room below.
The echoing, appalling wail
of last night's cat, and even beyond that,
a workman thudding home the nail
that's holding up the wooden curtain rail
some ten or twenty years ago.
Yes, you can hear an awful lot, you know.

But keep your ear against the ground
and listen for the farthest breath of sound.
The growing grass beneath the tracks,
the bed of rock absorbing every shock,
the galaxies in parallax
serenely sweeping in their tracks
the dust that swirls all around.
So keep your ear pressed tight against the ground.

And listen to what's always there:
the silence hiding in the busy air.
The silence, not the motor's hum.
The silence, not the compliments you got.
The silence, not your aching thumb.
The silence, not the siren songs that come
from radios and everywhere.
Just listen harder to what's always there.

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(A joyful anniversary) (Oct. 2000)

A joyful anniversary,
my amatory bursary!
(Forgive these lines their skipping feet
and silly nursery-versery.)

Happy Halloween, my sweet!
I incrementally repeat.
It's time for streets of fancy fleet,
for circumlunar Circery.

Joy to my beloved Jan,
my joy in reciprocity!
For you the best, the best I can,
my life and love and prosody.

(When you come to lift me up) (Feb. 1999)

When you come to lift me up,
I'm up above the line, my love,
A raft on a river flying high.
Here you come again,
Rising like a shiver or a laugh
up my spine and up the sky.



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(I must go to meet my fate) (Dec. 1998)

I must go to meet my fate.
Here I am -- my fate is late.
And it's so unfair, you know,
To be on time without a date.

Good things flow to those who wait:
Grumble, squirm, and salivate.
To and fro the waiters go --
I want what's coming to my plate.

All this woe the gods create,
Hooking humans on their bait!
I could throw a better show
For half this comic, painful rate.

I will go to make my fate,
Bravely storming heaven's gate.
From a nobody below
To lord of some surreal estate!

(Walking home) (Sep. 1995)

Walking home,
One more time of many times,
With the chill and the sea fog,
The quiet emptiness of the streets,
The darkness of my steps,
One more step of many steps,
And putting this into words:
If I can embrace these things,
If I can make them all my friends,
Then I will have no enemies.

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(Beautiful scars cover my body) (Jan. 1995)

Beautiful scars cover my body
Hooks go through my heart
Look at me
Look at me
You can still see the place
where James used to be

Beautiful scars cover my body
Hooks go through my heart
Look at me
Look at me
I'm just like everyone else
Conceived in joy
Born in pain
Dressed in my sickness and health
Look at me
Look at me
You can still see the place
where James used to be

Beautiful scars cover my body
Hooks go through my heart
Look at me
Look at me
You can still see the place
where James used to be

John and Tracy (Sep. 1994)

John and Tracy in the
backseat talking
The new US invasion and the
price of beer
We almost hear the ticking
He says the boat is rocking
It's Tracy and it's John again
bringing up the rear

Steve wants Mexican and
I want Cajun
The movie's over
Madonna's got the guy
We wait for John's decision
He says that Tracy's fading
Then she says it's bedtime and
we all look in her eyes

We like to see some action, and we like to feel suspense
We're tired of these little games of passion and defense
We like to bring some happiness to the friends that we adore
We love suspense and subtlety, but we love the action more.

Steve's in Canada and
things are boring
John and Tracy have been
playing chess
That game was old this morning
They don't like people staring
Amy gives them three more weeks
but I don't want to guess

On vacation, it's the
same old story
Steve likes his place better,
I like mine
We still aren't getting married
My mother's getting worried
I saw John in April, he says
Tracy's doing fine

We like to see some action, and we like to feel suspense
We're tired of these little games of passion and defense
We like to bring some happiness to the friends that we adore
We love suspense and subtlety, but we love the action more.

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All of You (Mar. 1994)

My sweetie she comes home and she flops down in the chair
She says, "This job is gonna put me in the grave.
I just can't give you any of that tender loving care,
'Cause I'm too tired to work the microwave."

I tell her that I love her, but it doesn't always help
I tell her she's the lady of my dreams
I tell her I can push those little buttons by myself
And then I'll bring her chocolate-chip ice cream.

I say, "I love your wavy hair, I love your perfume in the air,
I love your toes and fingers and your spine;
I even love your spleen and all the parts I've never seen,
And every single rib, like it was mine."

She's looking kind of peaceful with her feet up on the couch
She says, "It's good to have my crazy man around
But what if someday he begins to have those little doubts
And he leaves me with my fifteen extra pounds?"

I say, "Listen to me, darling, and I'll tell you once again
I guess you didn't hear those things I said
There's something deep inside of me that says I am your man,
From the bottoms of my feet up to my head.

"I love the way you giggle and I love the way you sneeze,
I love each little wrinkle of your nose
I could sing forever about either of your knees
They're sweeter than the petals of a rose.

I say, "I love your wavy hair, I love your perfume in the air,
I love your toes and fingers and your spine;
I even love your spleen and all the parts I've never seen,
And every single rib, like it was mine."

Almost (Jan. 1994)

Now you have me.

You don't like our weather? Wait a minute --
That face will flicker like a school of fish turning,
And change into something quite different.
Now you have me.

You want to know what I'm feeling right now?
I can't remember the real story, it's much too complicated.
Look: I'll do the trick again slowly, so you can see how it works.
Nothing up my sleeves.

Am I making sense?
Am I being consistent?
Excuse me for a moment.
Speaking of my feelings, did you ever see that movie?
Now you have me.

This is as accurate as I can make it.
The map shows where the current is strongest.
At the crucial words, turn away from the audience slightly.
Tag, you're it!

"He said I was cute!
I wonder what he means?
He said he wants to live!
He said he wants to go to the bathroom!
I wonder what he means?"

"He's talking in riddles.
What are you getting at?
Just say it!"

See the diamond shine, how it bends the light!
But you can't see the center, can you?
So what's the point?
Now you have me.

She asked me: why?
Because I love to put my face in the dirt.
I love to be at your center.
I love my humiliation and total power.
I want to make you scream, to frustrate and satisfy.
I love to say and not to say,
To move like a chessboard knight on pleasure bent.

You have me not.
I run under streetlights at night.


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Edwin the Bedouin (Dec. 1993, for J.N., help from T & T)

Edwin of Arabia was known both far and wide:
That fiendish outlaw, Ed the Dread, a man from whom to hide.
He terrorized the caravans from Florence to the Nile
Until one winter night there came a sudden change of style.
While just about to ambush the Angolan Jewish Choir,
He heard their song behind the dune and there became inspired.

He leapt into the startled band and cried, "This man behold!
I now resolve to be a citizen both pure and bold!
Go in safety, gentlemen! Let nothing you dismember!"
And joyful tidings followed ever since that fine December.
Edwin the Bedouin, defender of the peace!
Protector of the great unwashed, and may his tribe increase!

The Nights (Dec. 1993)

When I held you and I saw
the water
running off your face
You were gone already
far away

And when you said goodbye
is when you moved into my place
and I still have to pay,
you'll never leave

Hold me
Hold me
Hold me

I have no strength in front of you
Hold me
And everything you said was true
Hold me
I can't remember how it feels
to feel OK
Hold me

When I held you and I saw
And when you said goodbye,
the water running off your face
You were gone away
You'll never pay

Hold me
Hold me
Hold me

I have no strength in front of you
Hold me
And everything you said was true
Hold me
I can't remember how it feels
to feel OK
Hold me

Hold me
Hold me
Hold me

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We All Live Here (Oct. 1993)

This is my place.
It's small but it's home.
Pacing back and forth,
one end to the other,
there's not much room.
But this is my skull.

Here is my family.
Not friends, not enemies, they're just there.
They feed me, I feed them.
We can only be together.

Red Scrawl says this:
The walls are too white.
Cut yourself with a knife.
Open your heart.
You're a well full of blood:
make it sweep through the air,
make it smash like a wave.
That's Red.

Cool Brook says this:
Sit and rest for a while.
Stare out those little windows.
Let me fill up the air around you,
let me stroke the back of your neck.
I'll make you so calm and slow,
you'll never need to move again.
That's Cool.

Hard Wall says this:
You'll smother in a vacuum.
Bash your head on the wall.
Who's tougher here, anyway?
Slam your bones against the flatness.
If you hug it, it can feel you,
and you can feel it too.
That's Hard.

Hard Wall,
Cool Brook,
Red Scrawl,
and me.
We all live here.

A Protest Against Tristram's Birthday (Sep. 1993)

Tristram's getting older! Oh help us! Oh no!
Stop him now, before he strikes again!
Impudence -- outrageous -- this boy dares to grow!
Toss the old tradition down the drain!

We have no precedent for this,
A shameless waste of youthful bliss,
But maybe all is not amiss.

Be a boy! Have courage and keep yourself pure!
Put off getting older for a while.
Jumping beans! Not everyone has to mature;
Stick it up your nose and go in style!

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True Story (Sep. 1993)

I did it, I admit it, and I know that it was wrong
But something in the smoky air just made it seem so right
The drinks were all too weak and the temptation was too strong
Bless me, father, bless me, for I told the truth last night.

I told a guest her makeup would look better on the dead
I softened my opinion with a smile
I mentioned that I'd rather take an octopus to bed
Than walk that handsome lady down the aisle.

See how the groom is all aglow,
The bride about to cry!
Her period has made her low
And he is slightly high.

They called me sacrilegious, and they took away my glass
I told them that the gospel is the gossip written down
The justice called me other things, but I just let it pass
My words are pure as falling snow, or oil from the ground.

I shouldn't speak too harshly of that ancient, bitter judge
He never found the perfect man for him
And love is written everywhere, if only on the edge
The ceremony cannot do it in.

It's with the children, bored to death
And playing in the dirt
It's in the mudpies and the cake
And underneath the skirt.

I know that truth and falsehood is the business of the great,
Democratically elected or inspired from on high
I know I shouldn't mess with it, but now it's much too late
I took the fruit: so help me God, I cannot tell a lie.

I'll never get a girlfriend, or any honest work
If I can't tame this beast inside of me
I'll passionately serenade the plainest office clerk
And scream at all the people on TV.

I won't need any more vermouth
My shrink may now retire
In the midst of lies we are in truth
It's warm here in the fire!

Bedtime (Jun. 1993)

We lie down once again
With no lion or lamb
And the dreams gather in as we open our hands
They come in flying low
Like the leaves whirling round
A tornado that's nosing its way toward the ground
When you stir up the clouds
You don't know what you'll see
How familiar a crowd full of strangers can be
There's a tiger who purrs
As he beats you in chess
There's a vulture of mercy in full evening dress
It's as dark as the wind
And as warm as the rain
In the lines of your skin and the folds of your brain

Sometimes I just want to give it all up and go to sea
Give it all up and fly away

We wake up once again
We don't know where we've been

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The Further Adventures of Jackie (Jun. 1993)

So they sent me to a convent, and then to the Marines
Outranked by God
I thanked my Dad
And sang a battered hymn to the republic;
But they had no place for me
I need to feel my soul is free
I need to show my shoulders on parade.

Well they sent me to a convent, and then to the Marines
But I need to show my shoulders on parade.

So I went to med school, and joined the CIA
I hoped to be helpful
With my cloak and my scalpel
To heal the shattered limbs of the republic;
But I was uncivil in this service
I could not keep my fears beneath the surface
I could not keep a mask on all day long.

That's how I went to med school, and joined the CIA
But I could not keep a mask on all day long.

So I fell for a lawyer, and I bought some perfume
I laughed like a hostess
Whose bathroom is spotless
I gaily settled in to the republic;
And I felt that my legs were bound
I love to kiss the wrong way round
I love to splash the sherry now and then.

Yes I fell for a lawyer, and I bought some perfume
But I love to splash the sherry now and then.

So I lost my virginity, and I won the Nobel Prize
I was addicted to the knowledge
Eating liquids, drinking solids
I caught a better glimpse of the republic;
But I couldn't find a way to make my shame go
I'll never be a winner on a game show
I'll never read a mind that's not my own.

I say I lost my virginity, and I won the Nobel Prize
But I'll never read a mind that's not my own.

I've never owned a restaurant, and I've never fired a gun
Or taken dope
Or been the Pope
I'll learn the Battle Hymn of the Republic;
I'll boldly go into the crowd
I'll do whatever they allow
And maybe I can do a little more.

I've never owned a restaurant and I've never fired a gun
But maybe I can do a little more.

Novel Romance (May 1993)

There we were in the late afternoon,
Ordering wine with our steak,
When you screamed and you swooned and you ran from the room
The waiter cried out, "You forgot your soup spoon"
I thought I had made some mistake;
But I could not ask you what I might have done
No gentleman could follow you where you had run
So I sat down and cleaned off your plate.

My mother said you were no match for a man
Expelled from both Harvard and Yale;
But I knew when I saw your tattoo of Japan,
Your Sunday-school hairdo and truck-driver hands,
That you were my own fairy tale.

You never had much of a taste for champagne
Those bubbles that got up your nose;
If you hadn't taken the overnight train
To the big sold-out show by that girl -- what's-her-name --
We'd never have met, I suppose;
But you liked my pink cufflinks that went with your hair
You slept with your head on my chest, and elsewhere
And the rest of it everyone knows.

My mother said you were no match for a man....

You came back to me with your shoes in your hand
The waiters did nothing but stare;
"I'm sorry," you said, "I forgot who I am,
I needed a mirror and that's why I ran
Are you done with that shrimp over there?
Stop drowning your sorrows in fancy French names
Let's skip the recital and walk in the rain
For dessert I think I'd like some air."

Your father said I was no match for a girl
Who was heir to a car-dealer's throne;
But you knew when you saw my umbrella unfurl,
The crease in my pants and the spring in my curls,
That I was your sailor come home.

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Someone Open Something (Apr. 1993)

Jane is dreaming of a swallowing sky
Someone someone someone
Jane is breathing but she doesn't know why
Someone open someone
Her angels and demons don't ever come by
Someone open something

Someone, someone, someone -- someone, someone
Just lift her off the track
Show her a cathedral -- a cathedral
That's fallen in a crack
Paint the evening landscape -- evening landscape
With sunrise at the back

The sidewalks hammer and the days leak out
One like another like one like another
Like the leaking sidewalk and the hammering days
One like another like one like another

Someone, someone, someone -- someone, someone
Just lift her off the track
Show her a cathedral -- a cathedral
That's fallen in a crack
Sing a song so sweetly -- oh so sweetly
And sharper than a knife
Paint the evening landscape -- evening landscape
With sunrise at the back
Remember for a moment -- just one moment
Remember you're alive
Forget about your troubles -- all your troubles
Forget about your life

The sidewalks hammer and the days leak out
One like another like one like another
Like the leaking sidewalk and the hammering days
One like another like one like one

Sing a song so sweetly -- oh so sweetly
And sharper than a knife
Remember for a moment -- just one moment
Remember you're alive
Forget about your troubles -- all your troubles
Forget about your life

I Thought of You Here (Feb. 1993)

I see you when I close my eyes
I see the sun.
It makes me grin that stupid grin
Like curtains blowing in the wind,
A bag for keeping nothing in,
You know the one.

If I thought about you all the time
I'd burn my brain.
Just climb into my pocket here
Come with me when the weather's clear
The open air is cheap and dear
And knows no pain.

I leaned my back against a rock
You're far away.
It's still here when I've gone home,
Long after sunsets, after poems
Warmth is rock and rock is warm
You're far away.


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From the Axe (Dec. 1992)

You are a phantom, baby
You are a pretty face, you are a cute black jacket
You are a friend of a friend, a dream of a movie of a party
I don't believe in phantoms but you sure can pull me through.

How many dreams will I need?
Many as visions before the miracle
Many as rumors before the fact
Many as tracks of a wounded animal
Many as chips that spit, spit, spit from the axe.

I really love you, baby
I want to know your name, I want to know your story
I want to know what you look like, where you've been and how I met you
I kissed you and I felt you up, it's the least that you can do.

How many dreams will I need?...

So many of you, baby
So many longing nights, so many hungry mornings
So many faces, arms and legs remembered or forgotten
You're the one for me, and you and you and you and you.

How many dreams will I need?...

I Can't Sleep (Summer 1992)

A beautiful mistake, a crack in air
As if a knife
Had carved a window into God knows where
And gave it life.
The pupil in the eye of some great cat
For eating light
In daylight squeezed until it's almost flat
And big by night.
An open wound, a walking tongue of flame
I'm here to bleed
To listen to my name and speak my name
Is what I need.

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(Oh no) (Nov. 1989)

Oh no
Not hope again.

I was talking to Death,
who said, listen, you can't keep ignoring me
I won't go away, you know I'm right
So leave them and follow me
because they don't know you and I do.

But then Hope came by
and said, It's Tuesday, it's getting late
Get up and wash your clothes
and go into town
Me and my friends are waiting
I know that thing's been with you again
and that's OK with me
But I'm bigger than it is
because I am many people
and Death is only one.

And I said, All right.

And Death said, I'll see you later sometime.