For My Mother and Desmond Dekker

Sixteen years old
Doing my chores
On a summer afternoon
With the window opened
Out over the rolling hills
Of Southern York County
Desmond Dekker sings to me
On the stereo for company
I can hear the world waiting
In the soundwaves
Making their way down the street
Reaching escape velocity
On their way out out
Of my lonely little town
I will make it out one day too

Scrape the dried Elmer’s glue
Off the sink with a smile
Check the stiffness of my hair
In the mirror for the tenth time
Spiked towards the sky
Like a middle finger aimed at every sideways eye

My mother sticks her head in the door
“Oh! I like this song!
I remember when it was on the radio”
Back when I was young
She hums along
With a rare smile
Cracking across her face
Remembering a life
Thirty years gone

All the sudden
My mother is no longer
The narcissistic monster
Living as a prisoner
To her suffering
Tethered to this decrepit house
Raising a selfish afterbirth
Already racing for a world
With no room for her in it

I see you as you were, mother
Young and full of hope once
Summer of ’68 in the desert
With the radio on
A glint of moonlight
Catching in your smile
Your broken home caught
In the reflection of
A rearview mirror
With good things on the road
Ahead of you

Raised ducking for cover
Seeking shelter from gathering clouds
And the chill winds
Blowing ill from a cold war
Summer of ’68
With power’s proxies catching a spark
From fires lit before you were ever born
Your older brothers
Jump from from iron birds
And into the firestorm
With not a reason why
But to do and stay alive
One took a bullet
To the thigh
And never quite got right
The other made it home
And never talked about
The War Again in his life

You grew.

Into the mother
I once knew
Tiny and sometimes cruel, filling the world
Smart and sharp
With a quick wit
And the bitterness lingering
Below the surface to match it

You taught me well
How to stand up for myself
To everyone save
For you
You taught me to lock
All the doors at night
Hide my heart
Hide my light

I see you there sometimes
Out there in the shadows
Lonely and uncertain
Where I am sixteen years old, steel-toes
Stomping up the stairs
To the sound of Desmond on the Stereo
Singing for every mouth to be fed
And waiting for the war’s end
Where all our noble failures born
From the best of intentions are forgiven

I see you now, in the lateness of the hour
The mother who
Did the best she could
With the mess and neglect
And violence
She was given
Spent a life running
Looking for the calm
After the storm
Looking for her son
Without seeing the one she bore

I will meet you there
When sun finally breaks through the thunderheads
Where Desmond Dekker is singing
For every mouth to be fed
Holy forgiveness
And every war’s end

Desmond Dekker

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For My Mother and Desmond Dekker

Untitled

12:42 AM
Drunk, but not too drunk
Just marveling at
The taste of alcohol on my tongue
After five years of
World crushing panic
Every time I tipped a bottle back

Lying in bed
With candles lit
My last great love’s
Scent lingers on the pillow
Long after the echo
Of their laughter
Exited the room

Lingering on
Like cigarette smoke
Permeating hair
Painfully aware
Of toil dragging a body down
Taste the weight of age
Gravity gripping my face
Fear the grave
Lick my lips
Taste a long kiss goodnight
With all the beauty and bitterness
Of mortality on my lips, still

Untitled

On Island Road

Cooper City Florida, 1987
Voorhees and Krueger Come
To gruesome life on a suburban television
Screaming children run
Across a flickering screen
Fleeing bloodslick blades gripped
In the hands of fictional horrors unrelenting

The credits roll
The Screen goes blank
The groan and hum of the cassette
Rewinding breaks the brief silence
As the screams of so many murdered
Teenagers fade into the recesses
Of my young mind.
“What did you think of that?”
The words slide
From his tongue with cold eagerness
“Uh. A lot of people died.”

I am six years old
Spread on the floor
While parents wrestle with oblivion
Behind closed doors
He says ghosts live
In the corner of
Every room, watching
This scares me more than the movies
For some reason

His mother’s apron
Hangs limp from a hook in the kitchen
I imagine now, every corner filled
With aprons, suits, dresses
Suspended
Haunted
Lifeless

The cathode ray glow
Filled with cheap horror
Keeps my restless ghosts
At bay until the morning

Less than a block away
My parents sleep
Ashtrays on their night tables
Who smokes in the house around
A first grader with asthma anyway?

Late night cable
Takes a turn for the worse
Filled with wet mouths
And hungry curves
Speaking a language
I have yet to learn

He unzips his pants

There are power lines outside
Humming static against the
Thick night sky
The heat is oppressive

I know I should feel something more.

Right here
In this town
Sneaking around
Feet pound
Late night blacktop
Still clinging to the sun’s last heat
In this house
On this street

I feel nothing.

Do you know how
To give into hate?
I now know how to give in
To hate.

IMG_2073 (1)
Photo credit unknown
On Island Road

7/25/18

’67 Airstream with the radio on
Sweaty Appalachian air thick with heat
Cicadas sing me to sleep
Out in the restless southern dark

The night called me home
With song and blood
Skin never quite shed
Right here
Where god spoke to me
For the very first time
Once upon disaster and nuclear atrocity

Outside the trailer door
You can still smell the scent of it
In the air like a thousand sleepless hours
Passed in this city before this moment

This city
Always in my heart
There was never any choice
I loved this place ever since the moment
An angry kid first set steel-toed boot
To heat-cracked pavement
In the rush of misspent youth

I love it now, still
Walking alone on tourist-choked streets
As an outsider to my former home
With aging eyes searching for familiar sights
Across this beloved skyline
I lost my heart in the shining
Concrete and glass relics
Built for a collapse yet to come

Down in the dives
My friends and I
Drink our liquid bread down
Grown like bitter weeds
Breaking through cracks in the concrete
Poisoned plants from poisoned roots
Choking on words wielded like weapons
Smoking cigarettes and talking trash
Breathing in bitterness like our lungs could last
Building lives out of sculptures of ash

7/25/18

8/17/18

Angelic Upstarts on the stereo
Steel toe boots all laced up and ready to go
Thirty-seven years old standing in the shadow
Of the last twenty-odd years
Stomping to the beat
Of leveling monuments built to misery
With the songs that taught us to spit blood
In the face of defeat
Ringing like thunder in our skulls

Watch your tears fall like rain
I swear I have lived this moment before
Raised the dawn through so many nights like this one
Wrapped up warm and safe with the sound
Breathing in the solace of the stereo
Bound as we are, always
“By six strings to this world”
Next to every single person
I ever loved

The stories we tell matched in their horror
Similar in scope
Touched as we are by the darkness
The people who raised us named love
We learned well to wear our scars

Rebel sounds on the stereo
Soundtrack to the world crashing down
Songs for all the inferno hearts
Caught in the conflagration
Buried in wreckage wrought by industry

I have learned the painful truth
There are vicious constants in this life
Cycles of history, repeating motifs, old ghosts
Wash, rinse, repeat, but never quite feel clean
Clean, like the breaks we always wanted

From the poisoned hands that
Shaped years weighed down by ruins
Are you angry?
Let’s get fucking angry
Just like we were when you
Were 14, 22, 37
The anger that comes with losing years
Locked away in dark rooms
Losing the battle with getting out of bed
Mourning every lost future
You never got to live

I want it all:
Unrepentant and violent
As I have ever been

I want to give myself
To fugitive time
I want to lose myself
To blood spilt nights
And a knife slipped
Between the ribs
Of every enemy
A boot stomping on the face
of every bad memory

I want the crashing noise
Distortion drenched and damaged
Freaks dancing in the night
Hanging on to one another
For life

Screaming out the sorrow
Rage bellowing forth
Life a river of ash
Coughed back up from
Lungs that breathe once again
Bodies rejecting the poison
Mended wings taking flight
From every house fire
We could never fight

(Sometimes you just gotta watch it burn)

I want you to heal
Like you mean it
Like your life depends on it
(Because it fucking does)
I want to watch you walk tall
So tall
Twelve feet tall
And drunk on the blood
Of everyone who ever meant you harm
Staggering through streets
Like they are yours to walk upon

I want to watch you thrive
I want to watch you grow
Old, sturdy, and wise
Stronger for every
Single scar you were
Ever made to wear

8/17/18

Apocalypse Summer

A burning yellow sky summer settles into place
Like a toxic haze across a bone-dry Rain City
I wear Leather like armor for skin too thin
A wet bandanna over the face
To walk the late night streets of an apocalypse maze

The sound of my best friend’s paws on pavement
Make for the surest, sweetest company
Against the hushed highway hum rending
The burning world to the bone

The air smells of smoke and ruin
As we walk the path of ash
Empty streets paint portraits of dead time
Old photographs, too late at night, one more backward glance

Come four AM, we give in to rest
Windows shut tight, and the curtains drawn closed
Electric air filter running on overdrive
Filtering out the filth, working as hard as the night is long

Lie in bed and wish to want nothing
Here in this stuffy and darkened room
The sepia toned cinema of memory
Spins off of the reels in the golden gloom

I remember you.

You were always so gentle, my love
Or at least as gentle as your scars allowed
Before we grew to love one another
You were just another face in the crowd

Could have been anyone or anywhere
Lining the haunted avenues and alleys of this town
Living hard and cold in the land of
“I got no friends, only people I know”

Ash falls like snow, there is no way home
No reason to look over my shoulder on the way out the door
The past is a dead country
Sinking to the east, burning down to the west

In solitude
I long to set sail
Away from a burning empire in its dying days
Away from bruised hearts and industrial haze
Untouched by loneliness, longing or sorrow
Into the beauty of the possible and futures unknown

Apocalypse Summer

A dedication

I am always writing about warriors
Underdogs rising up to greet hard times
Just like I am always writing about love
I wrote this clumsy poem for you
Because you and I are the kind of warriors
Who never got our stories told
In the storybooks they write for little boys
To teach them that the world
Just owes them everything
You and I know something about love
Clawing its way back up from shallow graves
Meant to be a soul’s final resting place

We were born from the darkness
That the people who raised
Us and named us called love
We were brought up battered
But never as broken as you believed once

Out here where the horizon stretches into infinity
The road ahead fills the sky with possibility
Breathing in and out steadily
As mileposts pass by in the night
Push the pedal to the floor
To drive you fast enough and far enough
To outrun the ghosts that come for you when the sun drops low

Breathe in breathe out
Push your panic through gritted teeth
Long enough to pull off the highway
In the middle of the desert to see
The majesty of a sky full of stars
Towering in its enormity above us
The moon rises ancient and yellow
I want you to fold up this moment
Hold it to replay on
Days when life knocks you down

Polish my boots oxblood red
In a dingy New Mexico hotel room
After you finally surrender to rest
With Hope standing guard
Dream of grinding the face
Of every single person who ever hurt you
Into the 115 degree asphalt outside

Hate comes easy
Violence follows just as unrepentantly
Witnessing a pain as pure as this
I want to hunt down each
And every last maggot
That feasted the flesh from the bones
Of your youth and snap their
Fingers from their hands like brittle twigs

Breathe in.  Breathe out.
The warm waves of the Atlantic
Rush ceaselessly over the sand
Wade in the water
Give thanks to the tiny victories
Every battle, hard fought and won
Every hell pushed through
That led you to this shore

I maybe never felt as proud
As I felt watching you
Standing tall in the sun
Stretching out into your soul
Strong as bones
Brave against the memory
Of every nightmare never enough
To break you into pieces
Breathing slow
While the waves crash
Let the bad dreams pass
As they always do.

A dedication