November 05, 2015

America is Sell

I wrote this when I was in high school, 1974 or so, I'm not sure about it's strength as a poem but it's uncanny how true it remains.

America is Sell!

Convince. Persuade.
Free expression?
Free enterprise.
Words are want-ads.
Unrighteous screams demand righteousness!
Political impressiveness
The hard sell,
the soft sell,
the "oh well" apathetic 
voice of the people,
slapped silly by the flesh-eaters.
Where are her guts gone?
Who soiled sweet liberty?
Land of my advertise.
Land where believing died.
America is Frisco,
Disco, I love my Crisco.
Oil boils, corporate fingers,
eager for the crude.
I am in the mood for good
old-fashioned white, blue
and read the paper yesterday.
Seems the world may burn away.

(This land is their land. This land is their land.)

January 24, 2015


Some things I like 
for the language of them:
Plant cell division
for xylem and phloem.
Catholicism for
extreme unction,
limbo, purgatory,
and Sister Mary Pious.

I could love a human
for vascular and cranium.
And though portent of trouble,
free radical begs affection,
like James Dean
with a cigarette.

It’s why I’m a philatelist
so I can say that word.

First appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of the The Tower Journal online magazine. 

November 06, 2014

Finding Inez

The old homestead
shows signs of neglect
and time. The ivories
once finger-plunked and worn
carted away in the bed
of rusty pick-em-up summer of ‘68
and Inez too – gone sixty years
her youth blown in the clean
white breeze like the gauze
of her underwear frozen
on the January laundry-line
them four
waiting on her
and spring
barefoot on the graveled
road while their father
spat chew and rocked
whisky on the collapsing
porch the old yellow
and that skinny slobbering shepherd
might not have clawed so under
the garage if they were fed better
and if it hadn't been
for the bones.

July 08, 2014


for Cynthia K. Harris

My brother digs in the village of his wife,
he brushes dust from artifacts, clutches pearls
he found lying around the site. Today he found
her rings; has spoken with the locals, a daughter 
and a son. He tries to keep from fury,
they are young and this is their first dig. 

He catalogues the stratosphere of his finds 
in the dwelling-rooms of the decedent: 
wardrobe of fine linens, scarves and jewels; 
her library and sacred recipes. It is believed

she collected these stones for use in ritual.
Her sewing room is a vast assortment of
notions and textiles: curious pastels, 
funky buttons and glittered craft-glue. 

Hands gloved, he turns each item over 
examining it for further evidence. Before the
expedition began he slept on her side of the bed
with her robe, a shroud, scented by her still.

He searches for proof of her. This is her paperclip. 
Here is a picture of her in the army, her diamond ring.
It’s as if she only just sat here in this leather chair 
and sipped from this chipped ceramic cup. He tells

 me this by texting from his location. I am states away
and I do not say that she is a matter of record now
an artifact more distant and less comprehensible 
than the light arriving from a dying star. 

This poem first appeared in July 2013, in Spaces Lit Mag

Cyn & Jim

January 29, 2013

Do Not Disturb

If I am a traveler come
to wander the earth

if a scientist meant
to catalogue it all

if a butterfly born to taste
 every flower’s nectar

If abundance
 means this day

if I am the taster
swallowing some poison
 meant for you

if a high powered microscope
to view things smaller than quarks

if a radio receiver built
to capture all the waves

if the woven blanket which
puffs the smoke-signaled message
from the sacred fires of ancient tribes

if a rocket ship of wonder meant
 to visit every rock and star
in the milky way

if, after all, you would ask me
to interpret this hieroglyph

November 09, 2012

Ghost of my Familiar

Ghost of my Familiar

Grief Must Be witnessed to be Healed
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

At breakfast Jessica asked
if we heard a cat mewing
in the night, somewhere
in the cottage.

The next night as I walked
to the bathroom the dark shadow
of a cat brushed my leg,

tagged along until I returned
my head to the pillow
and drowsed back into a dream.

When Abigail and I walk down
to the vacant camp at midnight,
we encounter a black cat,
eyes shooting moonlight.

Days later, she reappears in a
dream, on the porch chasing
spiders, sniffing an empty
dish. Her purrs stir the quiet.

When I wake, I remember the skittish
calico kitten I'd fed last summer,
how Denny said not to, he'd only shoot her
after I'd gone for the season.

Now I hear the dark and mournful mewling
and I recall our cats, Frida and Diego, 
stalking a brown moth or noiseless
rodent in the cottage.

Jane says she dreamed of you last night.
You wore a beautiful golden ring,
complained you could no longer
hear Jim's voice; we always hear you,

your laughter, sweet
as redwood chimes sounding
against the span and stillness of our sleep.

July 21, 2012

What the Water Gave Me

Amy King

   About her most recent book, I Want to Make You Safe (Litmus Press) John Ashbery describes Amy King's poetry as bringing “abstractions to brilliant, jagged life, emerging into rather than out of the busyness of living.”
    King was honored by The Feminist Press as one of the “40 Under 40: The Future of Feminism” awardees, and she received the 2012 SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities. She organizes “The Count” and interviews for VIDA: Woman in Literary Arts and teaches English and Creative Writing at SUNY Nassau Community College.
   King also co-edited Poets for Living Waters with Heidi Lynn Staples and currently co-edits the PEN Poetry Series and Esque Magazine with Ana Bozicevic.

The Boating Party by Mary Cassatt
   A recent visit to the Baltimore MOA afforded me the opportunity to bask in the beauty of Degas, Monet, Seurat and other favorites. Impressionists’ are easy to love. Perhaps a little less easy surrealist art is an acquired taste. I don’t love poetry for its measured formulaic success in making a mark of beauty I love it for the way it makes me feel. This is the same thing I love about the strange.
   I might hang a print of the painting above in my living room or use it as a palette for a color scheme. But “What the Water Gave Me,” by Frida Kahlo is at times ‘unbeautiful,’ even incomprehensible. How am I to understand the strange images that float above the legs of the bather in Kahlo’s painting? My relationship with Kahlo’s work has evolved. And when I view it I view it in the context of the artist’s story.

What the Water Gave Me by Frida Kahlo

   Liz Hager blogs about Kahlo’s painting and about it she writes, “The painting is one of Kahlo’s most visionary and disturbing; the sophisticated water fantasy provides the vehicle for a densely-packed portrayal of the artist’s subconscious. It’s almost as if she crammed her entire life into this bathtub scene.  Kahlo returned to the same symbols over and over; many of the items included here can be seen in her other paintings, some without much alteration.” 
     Someone recently asked me why I love Amy King’s latest book, I Want To Make You Safe. That was weeks ago and I’ve mulled over my response. Why do I love the strange stuff of Amy King's voice?

               Without a sex-o-nista season, the pizza is burning
               the other room down, and these cracks aren’t
               as pungent as the crack the great state of Ohio deserves
               when you rock ‘n’ roll over; so grab your poles,
               go by the lake, and eat up to embrace whatever organ
               makes you gyrate those hips, lace those long legs up
               to our waists and turn out a turntable on this party face,
               sans with or without us, our great groaning lusts a marked
               increase in the moon’s ancient pull by the top of the stairs (69).
   I love it because, just like Kahlo's painting, I Want to Make You Safe is a collection of odd images floating in a tub above the bare legs of the narrator. The observer is alone in the artists head. King's poems are dream poems. When we are in the dream it is not odd at all; we don't question absurdity. That is how I've learned to see Dali too. In magical realism we suspend our disbelief. In surrealism and with the absurd we suspend our expectation of the expected and allow for the outlandish with the commonplace and other uneasy match ups. Such art forces us into a stream of conscious response and it is there that the meaning, if any, happens. 
   King’s voice is the body under the bath-water soaking beneath floating images both soft and hard. “Hello Lady Bird/ Hola, Smashed Guitar Parts,/ I take these strings to this neck/and cut the tumor in half—love is a surgery/ in participles, pus-filled insects./Additional commands keep the planet well-heeled.”
   Peculiar as the voice of I Want To Make You Safe may be; it is an accessible voice with its casual declarations, “A dandelion seed also looks for corners to lie,/so here am I/a seated tin can/with intrusive mice to lend a hand,”(38)  and conversational tone: “You think I am she. She is you and everyone who adjusts too well, (63).
   This is a book from the author more than by the author. It revives the unconscious experience where the mind jettisons a million thoughts into existence simultaneously and leaves the reader to select, to order, to give attention to what matters in the moment.
   Interestingly, Frida Kahlo made separate paintings of many of her “tub” images. I get that sense with King’s poems too; each piece contains the potential for tangents and journeys. 
   I like King's poems because they are semiotic: We think we know things. Pilfer the lint of dreams,/uproot every yellow, follow stigmata for dust./We have always been the first fruit and the first to rot./We are the ones that read the signs after we bury them./(5)
   I like King's poems for their asymmetry: Ohio is equidistant from the religious saviour/I've become and the promise of America's decrepit/class. The "critique of political economy" dangles/from the arch of my hot-pants tongue. Pencil lipped,/we're left wanting what? 
   I like the feminist King in the poem, “Men by the Lips to Women.”

I am the love you light yourself with
and my gender is powerless in this,
We are metered only by our own machines,
While the book is a clock that forgets mechanics.
Her hands can count but would rather wipe warm dew,
The pall from your lips and kiss the lids,
Of your eyes from sleep. Here am I, is he,
with yoke and shadow removed, she is, her in me,
apart from you, man reading men by the lips of women. (31)

   The voice of the narrator feels interior, talks to herself; we cannot censor this dream, this voice allows all; she speaks the tongue of the contemporary god. King tells me that she likes Ana Bozicevic’s (King’s life and work partner) take on her work that she " scats out these casual masterpieces of rhetoric, then promptly forgets where they came from, makes experiments at careful authorlessness seem funny and humorless in comparison." 
   Be assured that despite I Want To Make You Safe’s surrealistic feel King does not kiss to be clever. These are not facile poems; they are written in the context of contemporary queer narrative.
I like I Want to Make You Safe because it is intelligent. King does tip her hat and in a way she reinforces what I’ve been thinking. One of the names she drops in her work is Claude Cahun’s. (9)  Claude was born Lucy Schwob. She began making photographic self-portraits at age 18 and continued doing so through the 1930s. She took the name Claude Cahun and assumed a sexually ambiguous identity. During the 1920a Cahun lived in Paris with her life-partner Suzanne Malherbe. Cahun and Malherbe (known as Marcel Moore) worked their art together, making sculptures, photomontages and collages and writing collaboratively.
   André Breton, founder of the Surrealist movement, called her “one of the most curious spirits of our time.” Although she produced a huge amount of work, as well as significant writings, Claude Cahun operated on the fringes of the Parisian Sureallist (sic) movement. It was not until the 1980's that she was discovered (by François Leperlier), and soon became seen as a forerunner to queer theory and feminist art.” 4.
   It is easy to draw a parallel between Calhun/Maherbe and King/ Bozicevic since both pairs of women shared their art and their lives. Both are pace setters in their respective communities and both seem committed to art and an innate right to self-identify.
   In his Surrealists Manifesto, Andre Breton says, “"Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express -- verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner -- the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by the thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern." 5
   And there is other evidence to support the idea that King’s writing is dreamlike. Her poems feature an element of surprise they include unexpected juxtapositions and non sequitur. Andre Breton believed that Surrealism was above all a revolutionary movement. Perhaps the same is true of King's work.
And there is other evidence to support the idea that King’s writing is dreamlike. 
   Analyzing last night’s vivid dream is daunting; but re-dream the dream and the strange is readily accepted. Amy King’s poems are like that, they are not easy to understand; don’t try.  Instead read them in the way you might a dream where the odd and discordant becomes part of the landscape. And then read them again, closely.

A brief chat with poet Amy King:

Bluemoon Northeast: I’d like to include one of your favorite poems from IWTMYS here, which poem do you chose today?

Amy King: “The White of Sacre Couer Against a Blue Parisian Sky”

Bluemoon Northeast: I note that you do some name dropping in your poems. Among the names dropped are: David Wojnarowicz, Tina Modotti and Claude Cahun. Each of these artists and writers share a strong and specific artistic identity and a reputation of being something of an activist or revolutionist. How do you see yourself and your work in this context, that of being and artistic revolutionist and an activist?

Amy King:  I think the labels are intricately linked – there are simply gradations of each. For instance, one can be seen more as a “cultural worker” via art. But the art work can resonate among folks and inspire action, which echoes the “activist” label. I’m quite fond of artists, though, whose work and life somehow speak similar political messages. Watch out for a paper I recently wrote on the life of Leonor Fini, an artist who never officially subscribed to being a member of the Surrealists, though her work and life certainly resonated politically and still inspire others, like myself, to be an independent agent when the group one is affiliated with reinforces / requires various oppressions.

Bluemoon Northeast: What other poets or artists feed your muse?

Amy King:   Loads. Right now, I’ve been engrossed with the work and lives of a loose-knit group of artists: Frida Kahlo. Leonor Fini, Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo. And many more.

Bluemoon Northeast: What is next for you?

Amy King:  I’m testing the waters of poetry still, integrating more “real life” material of the aforementioned artists’ lives into this upcoming work.


The white of sacre coeur against the blue Parisian sky
marks passageways that blur whenever we enter this city's face.
By our bankrupt dreams, we hold out for starkness,
remember its eyes to dine in.
But I'm of little use to persons undercover, craving
in these buildings' recesses the corners of smiles,
eyes that bulge behind curtains, looking for anything
that will pull the cork, boil the blood
of displeasure tightened by the work of pleasing bosses
and each neighbor whose fence moves a little closer
each year, moaning to stroke the package
left nightly on my doorstep--of pearly liquid, bottled and tied
with a ribbon the color of fairy dust.
They, a secreted them, would have us die to erase that glow.
Mostly at the height of moon's night do her shady limbs
work across properties and lawns they guard with their lives,
whatever these are, whatever they become, however they burn.
For your listening pleasure, I turn as old as I was born,
stroke the bumpy skin of our whisky illness, manage the pyramids
we've never climbed or crawled within,
enter the Morocco never wrapped by your feet
kissing pebbles, visiting your veins, telling you mythologies
that include how we are the sores of hope riding
the backs of tomorrow, mountain peaks we climb
and shout the names of those to come and those who've been,
each of us who happens to be the world's greatest against every
shade of sky, and every sky that cradles our dying heads, still living.

May 22, 2012

For Michael

I’m always borrowing grief, a cup of sugar.
This is the neighbor’s grief not mine;
the neighbor’s cup. Let me take that sure
walk through the rocky meadow down
to the place next door and return it.
I've not seen you in so long.  What
should it matter that you are gone?
It is not like I’ll need to fill up the space
left by your absence from my day.
I can’t say when last we spoke or met.
Yet, the loss of you is keen and bitter
as some bad root that no amount
of sugar will temper. It burns into me.

April 26, 2012

Ten Suggestions

(The Goddess came to me ((I saw her in the mirror)). She suggested that I write these TEN SUGGESTIONS down. That's her yelling not me.)

I’m your mother all of life passes through my vulva. Worship whoever you’d like; I’m still your mother.

I like sculptures of anything from stars, to earthly animals, to Poseidon himself. Life is art; imitate it.

Call me anytime.

Nothing is holier than today.

Your parents are exhausted.

Death is inevitable.

Sexuality is a sacred private gift.

Give things away.


You are my favorite.

April 09, 2012

Song of Worshiping a Dark Star

At dusk there is nothing but the thin bird’s call
but the fungal         the man who meditates on
the mountain      the woman and the masseuse
There is nothing but       this tree this green ink
 These numbers the woman              chants out
the still windmill in the distance           nothing
draws my attention draws
 in a breath                It is what I have said here

nothing is missing in the   white space evening
sky bends to fog     nothing feels like the fuzzy
edge I run a finger-tip along       the mountains
and the horizon                 nothing is that color
nothing is autumnal it falls from the gnat’s wing
nothing is                the retro-red stove burning
 in the clunky        lodge of awkward wood and
 rough sawn people                  nothing repeats
like beans       nothing is my center
my pink sky                  nothing dwells in the gut
 with heavy boots   the pachyderm in the womb
nothing the cook tells the wife  nothing
 is that bird                               flat upon the glass
is                   different than those bird droppings
nothing is different   search the hands the lines
 of them the veins of them              their soft
wrinkles to find     nothing lift the telephone
receiver   where           nothing burns the air
that fire  of white                 which   occupies
 the cavities the small spaces between toes
the spoon scrapes nothing from the pot
there is that singular   tree in the distant
forest   it is taller more symmetrical than
 others                      The Tree of Nothing
 no bird’s nest in barren   metal limbs no
leaves twirl away from those odd branches
no cell division deep in its core       nothing
transmitted  at least it looks like nothing
to me.                                 About you I can
 say nothing,                           nothing at all.