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Years of Wednesdays: Poems from the Inland Empire Poets

                                    The Need to Know
                                    Waiting on the Two-Fifteen

                                    Spit Here

                                    American Hymn

                                    Upon Her Face Briefly Reflected

                                    last tangle in perris
                                    how after


                                    It's Noir
                                    The White Chicken Gives a First Hand Account

                                    Three Fates
                                    Taps for Sgt. Pete

                                    Launching Poems
                                    Rondeau: Small World



Summer evenings daddy took us to tent revivals
in small southern towns that smelled constantly
of honeysuckle and musty dirt
and had names that ended in ette or ville.
Stiff as picket fences we sat beneath giant black canvas
while the preacher pounded our eyes shut and mouths open
as the hot breath of July collapsed in dampness across
the red-flowered shifts mama had hand-sewn.
Always early, we sat front and middle
while the lost and those seeking the truth meandered
in from the darkness until they found the light—
a hard folding chair and collection plate, amen.
In late August, when the shrieking started,
we should have scrambled
like startled wasps to stop the sickening
attack of raccoons on the small litter of kittens
a neighborhood child had brought boxed to give away.
Instead, we sang above the clamor, a chorus of
Peace in the Valley seeping into the aisles
like blood into the gauze of an open wound.
We kept singing.  I’ll Fly Away.  Blessed Assurance.
Besides, who could have seen in the dim light outside,
while inside, the blindness raged on, and upward
into the brilliant flood lights of heaven?


Launching Poems

The world doesn’t need my poems.  Or yours.  Or the greatest
of the great like Yeats or Auden.  Auden actually said
that he intended to be a “great” poet.  But I know that your busy
contemporary life will be fine without poetry.  It’s difficult
to read poems, admit it.  TV is easier as entertainment goes,
and there are video games and vampire novels, decorative foods
to taste, drugs.  The world doesn’t need my poems, old or new.
This is my newest poem, that is, from my present perspective
as I type this literary voice into existence, not when I first
read it live or published it.  Yes, they still publish in the world,
a world that consists of peculiar you surprising me
that you’re reading this.  Maybe you’re perusing it centuries
from now, long since my fingers touched a keyboard.
Did thoughts of writing surviving into posterity
give even great Shakespeare, with his quill and odd spellings,
false pride?  Who needs his sonnets or soliloquies,
his debauched Richard III, or his verse tragedies full of quotes? 
You can speak, and so write your own poems, if you feel
the need, rather than read.  Yet, because you have finished
nearly to the end of this poem, I will tell you a secret
that I’ve been keeping from willy-nilly quitters.  I need poems,
and I want to believe that you need them, too.
I suppose only you know for certain what holds true for you,
for your style as a person.  But for readers who know
that I am dead (soon
enough that I might as well write as if) with Frost and cummings
and all the rest, remember this one thing:  love
in your own way, and if that be poesy, I hope you hear
hello vs. had had – not a mere museum art, or a task to learn
in English class, but something palpable, alive.

Previously published in Plainsongs
A week and a day into a newlyweds’ August cruise
to the Caribbean Islands, a band played the blues
in The Deep, a starboard bar.  The tender bride,
sun burnt snorkeling, became suddenly preoccupied
when she recognized the bassist.  Byron Hughes
was his name, and she wanted to stay and schmooze
after the show, jabber, and catch up on old news.
Byron annoyed the groom, and this went on alongside
                                           a week!  And a day
came when Byron’s constant strain ceased to amuse
tone-deaf Darrel, a now jealous husband, whose 
costly honeymoon was being ruined poolside.
The men yelled, shook fists, and Byron got snide:
Vows are stupid.  Out of tune, the couple would lose
                                           a week and a day.  

Previously published in THEMA



“Is Religion something that comes from the order
of everyday life … if so it can only bring chaos.
Silence is absolutely necessary… .  Any system
which is mechanical, which springs from thought,
however ancient, can only make the mind
more mechanical.”
                                                     — J. Krishnamurti

When a person is cremated, there are often what appear
like stones, pearls or gems which are left
in the ash.
                     In the case of saints, masters, and founders
of Religions; these relics are preserved and kept  precious.
the Buddhists call them ringsel.
                                                   The newspaper ran
a short information piece titled “Buddhist relics to be displayed”
which was on the third page of the paper, at the bottom.
I woke Saturday hoping to get to the community center
where the relics were displayed
with as little effort
                                  as possible.
It’s easy to have peace in a monastery or a ashram,
but you never know in the city.
                                                I thought I was at the right spot
to catch the number twenty up a long steep hill,
because I had a thirty five pound stone as a meditation
cushion.  I saw the number on the sign, but when the bus came
to drop off passengers and I went to load my bike
the bus driver yelled at me,
“STOP, this is not the loading zone for the twenty!”
In a bit of shock I calmly asked, “Where is the loading zone... .”
He replied, slightly less vociferously, “At the end of the block.”
I went to the end of the block and loaded on the early bus.
                                                            As he exited the bus
I spoke up,
                    “Any more orders sir.”
                                                          Obviously my feelings
had got the better of me.   
                                          He replied in a gruff tone,
“What is that supposed to mean?”
                                                          The man denied talking down
to people and said, “I talk like this to everybody.”
                                                                                As usual
I shut up with much more feelings than I could express. 
When I reached the bus stop I got off and I rode
the rest of the way to the community center,
my mind not sure what to expect.
The relics were in a large hall at the community center, I took off
my shoes and walked into a large anteroom full of chairs,
with a informational video playing and a chart on the wall
showing bios on the masters whose relics were collected here;
there was a table with Tibeten chatchkis
for sale and a collection box for donations. 
I took my meditation stone and bell
into the room where the relics were.
The large square table was richly decorated with gold statues
of the Buddha, flowers and stations for devotional activities
next to the relics collected in small containers of gold
and glass under four plastic cases  with little cards telling of the saints
that the ringsel and other relics came from.
                                                                   The Buddha was there,
so were the ringsel of his most famous students, later masters
like Nagarjuna, Mahakasyapa, Milarepa, and the stones from
“five hundred Arhats” in a grand pile. 
                                                            I filed about the alter,
noticing the Tanka, or devotional pictures, of Manjushri, Buddha, and Tara.
I went to the monk bearing the bell shaped container holding
relics of the Buddha
for a personal blessing.
                                       I knelt and heard some chanting in Tibeten
and then a brief English section, “…may the blessings of the Buddha
be upon you.”
I prepared and sat with my bell and my stone, feeling the ideal energy.   
My meditations were greeted with a knowing smile and a mantra card.
I, the only one of the many people there actually meditating
instead of praying and prostrating in front of the Buddha’s
image and the relics, which supposedly contain miraculous energy.
A week later, in my meditations I still can only see images of that bus driver
and hear the talking I would like to have said, feeling in my body
great pressure near my solarplexus. 
                                                           Instead of feeling the blessings
of Siddhartha, whose two-thousand-five-hundred year old relics
were inches from my crown chakra, reality bursts in and causes pain.
All the relics in the world, all the holiness possible to achieve or feel
cannot protect me from my own mind:  the source and salvation of all
my suffering.
                      I can only count my breath and listen for the silence.


The Need to Know

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”
Lower lip clamped between teeth
Unable to twist dishrag any tighter
she flings it away
   Why today
She sits
fingers tapping  drumming
horse hooves pounding
A stampede
on kitchen table
A single drop of perspiration
clings to the tip of her nose
as if it fears falling
She hears the front door open  close
Footsteps padding across carpet
kitchen door is knocked open
He pushes through
Sets paper wrapped package
on counter
and stands with hands on hips
a smile cut across his face
teeth broadcasting a pearly
   I’ve got it
   Is it…
   One hundred percent
Fingers tremble  smile widens
as he rips paper
   It’s beautiful
   Should do the trick
He unfolds the coverlet  shakes it out
throws it over her shoulders
tugs it over her head like a hood 
   Must we  try today  can’t we wait
   No dear  we need to know
   Then do it now  get it over with
He grabs the fabric with both hands
trying to yank it over her face
Meeting fierce resistance
he tries again  and again
His muscles strain
almost to the point of popping
Inhaling deeply
he makes one final  useless
downward heave
   Son of a bitch  why won’t it go
   Let’s stop now darling  it’s obvious
  You can’t pull the wool over my eyes

To everything there is a season
— Ecclesiastes 3:1
It happened
on a fine Fall day
Sky so blue
it hurt your eyes
scent of freshly hung linens
and deafening drum
of dragonflies in the air
The kind of day
you could spread your arms
tilt your head back
close your eyes
and know you’re
gonna live forever
  Have you booked your flight yet Leon
  I’m on the two-fifteen 
  I think there’s still room
  Not goin’
  Come on Leon you gotta go
  I’ll check with Helen
  she’s on the four o’ clock.
  I told you I’m not goin’
  but it’s what we do
  I’m not a fuckn’ lemming
  That’s not true you know
  they don’t follow each other
  off cliffs
  look Larry
  you don’t even know
  where you’re goin’
  That’s right Leon
  none of us really know
  but it’s not the destination
  it’s the journey that counts
  I’m still not goin’ 
  Okay it’s time   gotta go
  been good hangin’ with you
Larry fluttered to the ground
and tumbled on the asphalt
along with the other passengers
on the two-fifteen gust


Clotho spins the thread of life,
Lachesis measures every length,
Atropos cuts it off.
When Clotho looked around for me,
she spun out and played my line.
Stretched it out for all to see,
at the time it seemed just fine.
Lachesis being in the know,
watched for the fullness of the moon;
allowed each season a certain flow,
so my end does not come soon.
Now Atropos is slow to clip
that fate which belies us all.
With one swift and sudden snip,
I too begin to fall.

The music stopped for Sgt. Pete.
It stopped just yesterday.
They found his body in the street;
outlined the spot on which he lay.
He was not a man of means,
just lying on his back,
clad in his only pair of jeans
as he’d overdosed on smack.
The cop looked at the needle tracks,
which marched along his vein.
For him the only source of love
was with a shot of pain.
A fix would keep him for a day;
the next was dressed in fog.
He had a soft and gentle way,
much like a puppy dog.
He never eased his ache or hurt,
Vietnam demons saw to that.
He died without his shoes or shirt;
just left his dirty crumpled hat.
He always made a frantic quest
to blot away each day.
Sorrow clung to him like the pall
which covers him today.


inside a child-drawn heart
nesting within
a carefully chosen
square of sidewalk
are the words
if you love me
spit here
and an arrow
pointing to its center
this lover was not satisfied
with the usual two boxes
and that safe little check mark
a quick line down
the pencil stopping for breath
then with eyes clenched
the longer line up
do you...
love me
not love me
no   she wants spit
in the center of her heart
nothing that can be erased
because if he is going to take it back
he is going to have to scrub it out
she might have asked
for one hair off his pretty head
or skin or blood
but instead it is this
if you are going to love
do it mean and wild
do it in a way
that would shock
your mother


"For some people it’s hard knowing
what’s noir and what’s not."
– Max Bloom

for Max Bloom, who knows

 If there’s a hitchhiker
   border crossing
      or sudden change of plans
if someone’s named Vera
   The Wall
      or Lola Molina
if there’s a knife fight
   gun fight
      or bare knuckle justice
if a guy
   lights a match
      with his thumb
if someone’s after payback
   a payroll
      or the lay of a lifetime
if the dead
   are buying land
      out in the valley
if there’s a car
   a cliff
      and a claims adjuster
if a wife buys a black veil
   before she needs
      a black veil
if it’s night
   if it’s raining            
      if the music’s complicit
the drugs are illicit
   the whole set up–
if the guy you’re rooting for
   winds up hugging
      a manhole cover
if even
   the moon
      ends up in the gutter
and if nobody ever
   had a chance
      to begin with
                           it’s noir.

from NoirCon 2012

— from an Associated Press Story

I love the red
by the barn—
my sturdy
nesting place,
my refuge
the night
laid waste
the coop,
killed all
the laying hens
but me.
buried them
in the far yard,
and Laslo,
the brown dog,
dug them
back up,
nuzzled each
gray bundle
against the long
hen house
and, there,
all morning
stood guard. 
brother of my heart.


with his only dominion her
how can he ever hold his own
struggling for minimum sleep
after a night of useless gluttony

the magic clearly gone
how can he manufacture feeling
in a word factory gone to rust
after decades of thrusting

the end of the line approaching
how can he extend the rails
the funding so difficult
after all the cost overruns

sitting in a stuffed blue chair
how did he end up in motel blah
at midnight in reno nevada
after all that self congratulation

each day could beget a poem
from leftover thoughts clanking around my mind
like uncooked rigatoni in a metal pot
waiting for water, a lid, heat

some days there’s no water
some days no lid
many days not enough heat

and when there is it often waves off
in all directions
and nothing gets cooked

soon the tangled tangles are tangling
as they do in 50 percent of all poems
so i grip this one from the top with both hands
and shake it out like a dusty carpet
(this all happens in the middle of the night)

to my amazement a gold ring rolls out
and describes a perfect semicircle
before coming to rest
and that’s my poem for the day


or, The Postmodern Poet
By the flash of sparking wheels and lightning coil,
the bones are laid, the sinews stretched and strung,
and organs rigged; the flesh is stitched and hung.
A switch or two is thrown, dials set to broil.
But look: the background's cardboard, paint and foil;
the gadgets don't connect; the cables flung
around the floor writhe out to klieg lights slung
in the rafters heating what smells like meat on the spoil.
Throw back the sheet to see the creature, and retch.
The madman's knitted bone to bone, and skin
to patch of skin without a plan or sketch
as if he'd never seen its living kin.
And no amount of juice or eloquence
will stir the butchered jumble to life or sense.
First published in The Formalist
I am the hour, and she, the minute hand:
one out of sixty changes, she finds me,
and for a moment, we advance as one.
But soon, the space between us will expand;
the spring exerts its force, and she must run
though each escape will prove she is not free.
If she could stay, I doubt she would agree
next time around the dial. As Fates command,
the earth herself must sweep around the sun.
And so, she cannot stay, we cannot be.
The spring exerts its force, and she must run
the measured track along the curving strand.
We’ll meet at last, and stand in unison,
some time around the dial, as Fates command,
when all the world winds to finality.
The spring exerts its force, and she must run;
one out of sixty changes, she’ll find me,
next time around the dial, as Fates command.
“villanoid” form created by Ryan Peeters