Poetry


John reading his poetry

“Walk With Me” – John’s multimedia capstone project (text included below)



Transplant

Even when I my self am transplanted
and flee from this scorched Earth, this
concrete jungle
to the countryside, for a
quiet tree-like existence
spent stooped over apples,
smelling them,
the old city will still be here.

Its alleys will still fill at night
with sickly, junked and jostled denizens
searching through the cold sweat of the bricks
for some warmth, some intimacy.
The old buildings, their foundations loosened
by time and the long winter winds,
will still lean against each other
like the huddled and silent steadfast
holding out the vigil through the night
for some distant morning.

I should like to grab the whole city
by its uptown skyscrapers,
each house by its chimney handle,
rip them up, their
copper plumbing dangling beneath
dripping water like roots
sling them over my back,
a knapsack of architecture
and carry them out of here,
down the long and desolate interstate

(the road disappears in darkness behind me,
tapering grey like a shark fin. Is it changed
by the darkness?
Is it a dark road, or a road in the dark? Will
it be changed when the sun beats its happy
chant into the asphalt?)

to some sunny hillside
that looks out on the sea,
where I will plop them down, like an
old dying tree in fresh soil.

Maybe this time
there will be no highway escape pod
and everyone will be stuck together,
trapped by beautiful meadows
to sweat out the illness.
Only roads and avenues of sweet grass,
without armies of rubber tires barrel over the Earth.
The metal pipe roots will stretch and bend,
twist around rocks and through deep clay
to some new under ground river

and maybe
through the holes of our old homes
the abandoned sewer underbelly
things hidden for so long beneath floor boards
will finally see a little light.


Dingy Inn Dreams of Cambodia

The curtains, pulled shut
over a neon sign humming
meditative on my window,
smell like the basement union hall
where my father drank bad coffee
with the machinists, all smoking.

Their red folds bring me other places too,
the scent of fruit juice and faint gasoline
floats from some lace by the wall and
thoughts of distant cities and jungles
run through my nostrils and then
I remember
the airport carpet
my fire escape
from quiet unpainted walls and these
dead car-choked streets.

A light bulb hangs
from the ceiling.
Its naked electric corona
washes out stains and
small details on the wallpaper
I close my eyes and its
hollow glow changes and grows,
becoming the sun that poured in
through my pores on broken temple steps
and slid off the backs of
stoic beggars and monks,
the same light
that turned floodwaters
into rice paddies.
I carried it home with me,
smuggled past Customs
in channels of grey matter and synapses
burning the backs of my eyes.

Suddenly, steady thunder stirs me
and I remember
The sun does not swing
when a train passes howling.

I can hear zippers and
shrink-wrap ripping and
shouting announcers through both walls so
I go back to sleep in the bathtub
wrapped in my bed sheets.

Later, towards morning
as dark night fades to glowing
I am woken by
bare feet scuffing sand on old tile
and a low drum
chanting like a voice.
Echoes, maybe from dreams,
but I hear them drifting
from the floor and drain
perhaps reverberating
through empty pipes
that run under lawns and strip malls,
all the way to the ocean and
somehow, beneath the waves
to another shore.


Angkor Wat, Cambodia

I step through the ruins at dawn
they wander out waist high
from sheet metal rubber tire living rooms
It is hot, and they dress lightly
in the thin and washed out
clothes of American children
They shout their
books gifts postcards flutes

One clutches at a paint thinner can
wrapped in
a rust stained yellow rag
and holds it to his nose.
He speaks slowly.

My foot casts a shadow
across their faces as
I step over them.
I have temples to see.


Slave Ship

I saw a drawing today
of a slave ship cargo hold,
of 500 people chained side by side
not men, women and children
only figures, outlines and shadows,
diagrams, blueprints and
bills of sale.
Expressionless and calm,
not sleeping or speaking,
only staring ahead,
hands rested at the sides or
in the laps like paper dolls.
Two in row Z, compartment 18,
fig. 3.5 have their heads turned
toward each other as if
talking politely.

We turn magazine pages,
right to left, right to left,
we fold our laundry quietly and
push our shopping carts down the aisles
and watch the news at dinner and
think that tsunamis are sad
but that people are no longer
chained in the dark, together
in a ship’s hull beneath the water.

Like the captain on the decks above
who heard only the persistence of waves
against the wood,
or the driver who hears only the drone of his tires
over the asphalt,
we see only the t-shirts and televisions
on our shelves,
and metal is more soundproof than wood.


Hartford Stays

When I came up, the city in my mind
was always in a summer heat wave,
never winter, beautiful and crowded
like stacks of colored plastic bottles
filled with sunlight.
Shoes hurt my feet, so I
went without them , pushing my soles,
flat and wide, into the dirt, roots
between my toes, dragging them
across cement, textures ringing
on my skin like instruments harmonizing,
the simple pleasure of stepping off of
asphalt in the sun onto shadows.

Sometimes now,
when my mind feels small and dark
I have to go out to the street and
listen to cars driving by,
voices from living rooms,
someone running out of sight,
wind and electricity humming
through lights and wires, horns and
drums leaking from a basement
down the hill, until I am here again,
connected by the quiet music of
a neighborhood, the sound of
things changing or not changing,
with or without me.

I miss ignorance, not knowing
that the future is advancing, that no one
sees or hears the way I do, that
everyone is lost, even when
they are not. I used to follow
without doubt, but now
I observe and define, stepping
carefully, safe. Streets and people
seem the same everywhere
and my memories are disordered and
blurred. I move like a ghost, invisible
and blind, and the world seems to be
waiting just ahead, calling back
softer every day.

Lately, I have been riding around sidewalks
on a bicycle, thinking about nothing.
I am remembering how
to forget, to trust the bike
after the ground seems to fall away
when I let the brakes go down a hill,
the way thought falls apart as
the sun flashes in my eyes
through branches passing.

When I get home, I
think about how my children,
and theirs, will feel
the same things that I do,
thinking our times were different,
that things have changed.
Sleep comes, and I feel
the whole world turning at once,
the same speed beneath.


Sonny

I met Sonny in the psych ward and
did not think of bright days in parks or
light pouring through trees
His leather jacket
leather hat leather skin
are folded gently downward
He needs new kidneys
and teeth

I came back in April,
June, ’99 and then ’03
Sonny smiled every time
and tried to talk but couldn’t.
His words fell softly from his mouth, dismantled
and his eyes are glossy like his sunglasses and
gravity has grown him into
a pear.

His olive face would look much better
in an arm chair
than a hospital bed.


An In-patient at Donnelly 2 South

As I sit in the tepid halls of
the psych ward I can feel the
troubled breathing of men who left
their homes to pull at their hair and
sit down screaming in front of anywhere.

One glides past me again.
He walks to the window and turns,
afraid of what he’s kept from
he steps with his torso cocked back like
he is proud of his belly button
and a smug grin peels through his beard
though his eyes are desperate
and as he wheels around
and silently moves through tubs
labeled “Soiled Linens”
I can see he has wet himself.
He always looks me in the eyes.

Outside he was the guilty peripheral vision
of passersby who did nothing
in here he is the lonely project
of pink shirted night shift nurses
who long to put their children to bed themselves
and wake him up clean shaven.


Schizophrenia
for my brother

His mind was a
brownstone boulder
crushing his shoulders like
sleeping alone crushed my father.
He was a cold junk soldier
who called his voice God’s
and carried a plastic bag purse.
Though his head was
unhooked from his eyes
the fires he felt kept him warm.

Was he insane or just
a shaman flung forward
in time by accident
into my mother’s womb?
He wore orange hairnets and
shaved his head
leaving an uncut
clump of hair
in his blind spot.
His hands held his head under
water until
we drank it for him and
I can still hear the
thousand holy dollar store trinkets
clattering around his neck.

I drank orange juice with him while he
smoked my grandmother’s cigarettes
on our porch and every night
I listened to him
whispering over radio wires
under his blanket.
He could hear the
night sky speaking and
all we could see were
airplanes and satellites.


Graffiti

I will
leave my painted gravestone burning on
tunnel walls for tramps and seagulls to run
their eyes over in the morning light before
the hot banana sun comes and washes it out.

And I will
use my fingers to carve a name
into city forest trees so that when
roots cover me like grey paint and police tape
the bark will remember
and before
the wind from office building alleys
blows away our gallery
of stickers and posters
we will have struck a note
at least inside ourselves.

I will trace my shadow on to shop windows
to block out the mannequins.


Walk With Me

I climb fire escapes of the mind and
spit spray painted poems at the wall
plugging colors into cracked cement pores
to trap this city’s ghosts in the bricks

From this perch I pray with pigeons
to the haze at dawn and to
wails carried on dirty wind
running through alleys like fingers through hair
and when I sigh my breath
evacuates clouds of thoughts
hanging between buildings,
I see them rise like heat
writhing and reaching
dismembered mental tendrils
and I know they are not trapped by this atmosphere
but gravitate towards alien transmissions
from local constellations.

Our lands have been salted and
made infertile by empty bottles
and bullet casings,
the soil supports no roots and so
we must plant seeds in ourselves,
watering them with our own mystical
rhythmic verbal flow.

This fevered howl is echoing from
every sewer and every storm drain,
from every empty factory and dying block, from
the fronts of bodegas
and behind every fast food counter

because this city has its own brick sound system
words reverberating from our hollow bodies,
wind voice instruments
and pipes crawling up the sides of buildings,
chicken wire fencing wrapped around yellowed grass.
because rust is just the Earth in backspin,
rewinding and rewriting our metal compositions

But sometimes these streets are too cold
and the houses seem huddled,
leaning and pushing,
and sun light can’t penetrate this condensing landscape,

we stay lit with electric lamps that spill out
onto the asphalt which
only absorbs and
gives back nothing
and sometimes, these towers only
seem to pen me in
blocking out distant hills

lighters flicker silently
in a thousand dark side streets,
and rocks are the last things fire should touch
I hear their drawing breath like
the final sighs of cancer patients
but this infection is distributed
like vaccinations against remembering
handed out in delicate blue bags
from stoops where the only law sits,
like kings on thrones, not in blue but red
not badges but bandanas
not robes but hoods
and the tools of the trade are
sold at every gas station, pipes as
small glass tubes with a
tiny paper flower.

I’d like to grab this whole city
by its chimney handles and skyscrapers,
rip them up, their
copper plumbing dangling beneath
dripping water like roots
sling them over my back,
a knapsack of architecture
and carry them out of here,
down desolate interstates
raw sewage draining out behind me
in long lines, a dark rainbow
poison drawn from wounds.

I will replant it under untainted skies
in fresh soil
with good nutrients for growing and
tend to it every morning until
one distant sunrise
the pipes will stretch
and bend around rocks
to some new underground river.


Trolley Through Hiroshima

I sit across from my reflection
in the glass I am foreign to myself
and in the dull yellow light
I am foreign to them.
Big hands and sloppy clothes
their tongues flicker in their mouths like candles
mine sits, dead pink weight.

As their words mix with
the machinery of the train
and the rain outside
it is as silent as
the days after the bomb.


Work Chains

I sit in my little house with its
wicker things and 1915 wallpaper with pictures of
root vegetables
I can feel the work chains slide
across my back and though
the shackles are not tight
the metal is cold and
I know what they are there for like
a surgical room waiting for use

As I try to sleep I can hear
vague crashes of whales
sinking ocean liners outside though
they are still only stories
until I have seen the sea.

I will not rise like
Nightmares from sweaty brows
through ceilings into attics because
I ride the morning train.


Village Children

They were not mystified
by us
White elephants that stumbled through
their straw living rooms hamfisted
but only smiled and laughed
at our red ears that seemed frusterated by
their foreign advice.

They wore cotton tees
faded with US wrestiling heros
unwashed but clean
from broken franchises and
Our beards and armor
Did not impress like the Conquistadors

Their elbows had been burned by
unattended cigarettes
left smoldering on table edges and
with eyes unfocused by the sun
they saw through our
greenback shawls.

They smile with concrete floors and
dust tin roofs
We weep with airplanes


Terrorismo En El Cielo

I was driving on the parkway
last week
listening to the people outside
yelling for
hot cans of soup and
for their fathers to come home,
when I saw on the side
of the typewriter factory
we all worked in
a billboard reading:

“Terrorismo?
No buscas ayuda
en el cielo.”
(Terrorism?
You won’t find help
in the sky.)
with a winged old man
looking like
a lame horse
waiting for the gunshot sling
from his dirty
creased
jockey,
and I thought
isn’t it helpful
that when we look at the sky
it is the same one
the disembodied “they” see?
That when our necks are burned
while we kick around
n our dusty red earth town
it is the same sun that burns
their necks?
That when we stumble
out of a darkened tavern
it is the same
stark white sheet
that makes us squint and trip?

The people don’t seem
to see the sky much anyway,
their eyes cannot get past
their yellow plastered factory ceilings
or the tin sheet-metal shack roof
where they sell bananas and shrimp.


Dump

He sits on a lawnchair
mint green, old, heavy metal
His skin is glassy with grease
and the mound before him
sweats oil
His nose is red as the earth
below
gristle and dogs his wife and kids
No plates, no forks
only a skillet for breakfasts
The dusk frames the heap
a corona of gold light
smog and flies
He lets the animals pick through it
but the men will have to wait


Joey

Joey was a bigboy boxer and he practiced on us
His friends would stop messed up
in his driveway
and stand over his hood
lit up like a grave at
2 AM

He dealt
and dropped out
and every afternoon he would
peel back the screen from our porch and
take my fathers union hall cigars.
His ship dock unloading arms boxed
our shoulders and fell at his side when
Grandma Marie came out
shrieking in sweat and Italian
pink nightgown draped in the day time permanently

His eyes hung like
blue lanterns that only lit up
the dark trees around them
but never saw the meadow.


Navajo Cups

The wood in my cupboard
croons like the red sheet rocks
the eyes of the Navajo stare through
at their holy distant god stars
from the century-deep grave
that we dug for them.

Although there are only two of us
in this big cold house
the cups inside could quench the thirst
of a Cherokee mob
and send them sweating to D.C.
to take back the trees,
the cabinet’s roots.


Night Driving

The road never seems to touch us,
and the car murmurs
like an elevator or airport at night.
The yellow streaks are silent
and still,
gliding between fields of wheat.
And instead of a city of lights outside,
the dashboard glows
with little electric merry go-rounds,
gas lamps and hotel lounges,
quiet drugstores.
And my father frozen at the wheel,
his face unmoving,
blue and craggy like a freeze-dried orange peel,
holding the light of the speedometer.
He died ten years ago,
ten miles ago.
Weve been driving ever since,
dependent on cruise control.
And we never seem to reach the ocean.
And morning never seems to come.
And there are no more stops.
The last was an outpost,
a post office on the frontier of nowhere.
It sent no letters,
only fished them from the depths.
And we are not anywhere anymore.
No Midwest,
no Northeast,
no Mason-Dixon Line,
only endless night,
palpable and resonating,
reverberating
The road sounds in the deep,
dryly echoing the dark,
and there is a gas lamp
illuminating the end of the path
and a great heaving maw,
then nothing.
Morning never comes.

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Posted November 27, 2012 by Anna