Is This Poetry?

You tell me.

Can it be a conversation

that starts in the dark

on the porch steps

some moonless new moon

summer night loaded

with oh so many stars

that you have to walk out

in the middle of the yard

to really take it all in

and decide to lie down

on the ground to

catch the best view

of the whole shittin’ show:

the Dippers (Big and Little)

Polaris and Cassiopeia,

Orion’s Belt, Venus and Mars,

the Dog Star, that gauzy

mind-boggling, jaw-dropping

Milky Way, plus the elliptical

flights of occasional satellites

or red-pulsing planes periodically

blown away by some showering

shooting star? You know

I don’t know much,

but this is enough

to convince me all is perfect

in its place like you here

with me silently flat on

our backs and stoned again

on the cool evening air

of stardust and sky,

that breath we share.


Mark Gibbons

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Pundits & Fools

The literate man,

the educated analyst,

had it completely right,


but he couldn’t relate

it to the crowd gathered

around their palms


scoffing at the idea

of reading way too many

finger-scrolls of high-


dollar words “they were

supposed to know!” like

“ideologues and sycophants,”


smart-assed disses on all

the president’s men (and molls).

He didn’t have the balls


to say it straight and call

them “blow-hards and

brown-nosers,” yes-men,


the tin-horn-greasy fucks

clamoring to kiss Trump’s ass

and feather their own beds.


The vines, those climbers,

cling-on-parasites willing to

step on the heads of the elderly


dead and let the poor, sick,

and forgotten copper-tones rot

on sidewalks or in their beds


till they can be deported

or entombed—processed.

Remember Soylent Green?


The Final Solution?

It’s the price people pay

for their own stupidity, sloth


and selfishness, electing

an amoral narcissist to direct

a caravan of fools.


—another one for John Prine

Mark Gibbons

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Chef Boyardee

was a wizard with a knife

if he couldn’t find

a can opener

or a P38


he could cut into

the metal shelf life

of a wide variety

the happy meals


that defined my youth

Dinty Moore or

Spaghetti O’s

Van Camps’ pork-n-beans


the Jolly Green Giant

hands on hips elbowed in

on Hunt’s and Del Monte

but Campbell’s held claim


to the soup game opened

wide for chunky Jiff or

smooth Skippy paired

to Welch’s grape as


French’s dogged Heinz

Wonder buns to go

with Lays or Fritos

cracking open a Pillsbury


dough-boy to giggle

for flaky crescent rolls

and sop-up exotic Ragu

save room for Duncan Hines


Chef Boyardee didn’t need

fresh food or a stove

he helped us survive

cold wars and winter


—for Kurt & Richard


Mark Gibbons

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Cool Blue Dawn

—for MilesDavis & John Prine

Bring me the top of the mountain

at the top of the world

this dawn top of the morning

to stand in the eagle’s lair, the air,

wind cool, steady, whipping

my hair, blue sky far as eye

can see, just me on this rock,

feathers ruffled, turning blue

till you arrive and that makes two,

three birds to share this view.


Bring me the backyard bluebird,

let it sing harmony with the finch

in the hedge, dance with the chickadee

hopping the spruce trunk, open for

the meadowlark’s heartbreaking solo

of hope hidden in weeds—let

Miles scream a bitchy hawk whistle,

make Bird squawk camp-robber riffs,

have Monk crow and whippoorwill

(the only way to go home)

and beg Coltrane to blow coda

of mourning doves supreme.


Bring me the music of birds today,

those are the best words

of comfort for the feeling of soul,

help us learn the language

we don’t know, this world, this life

we love, this light and noise

we agree exists, what we see

and don’t understand, help us forget

the threat we constantly fear—

knowing we are going to disappear—

for some reason it terrifies us to be

as fragile and beautiful as birds.


Bring me the dream of wings,

of freedom aloft, that promise of

flight when fate closes and opens

the door into birdsong and joy,

fearless in the new dawn

breaking over the unknown—hearts

reborn into a new kind of blue.


Mark Gibbons

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Sonnet Practice

I promise this will only go fourteen

and you’ll probably agree that fifteen

would be too much besides breaking

the rules which are the point in making


one of these goddamn love sonnets—

hitting the ballpark iambic mark. Let’s

not overlook the insistence on rhyme:

perfect, off, slant or some kind of line


that appeals to the ear, breath, and most

importantly somehow captures a post-

modern equivalence of the human dream

of holding love up to the highest esteem


and giving it voice and agony and sweat,

lord it over all the other bullshit!


Mark Gibbons

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outside my window


the grosbeak clings to the top

of the wire fence, hops to the ground,

pecks around the dried leaves

and puff balls, flutters back to the fence,

cocks her head and looks at me


looking at her, then turns her back,

drops down again and springs

onto a lilac shoot where she bobs,

tilts bill and beady eye, fixes sky, before

she flies to the galvanized gatepost.


she’s not as colorful as the male

strewn between the house and hedge

yesterday, nothing left but feathers and feet,

which made me think of the headless cat

we found last year in the back yard


right where those puff balls are at,

and the mountain lion that thundered

across our porch, almost catching

our smelly cat, who keeps littering the lawn

with squirrel tails and hollow bones.


my own weak and carnivorous

constitution has given me the opportunity

to sit down today, stop, look around

and listen — witness the world

outside my window — victim of a bad egg,


no doubt a good egg, a lucky egg,

a rotten lottery ticket claimed

to put me here, right now, in this sweet

flitting moment — a breathtaking

plunge that opens my eyes.


Mark Gibbons

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That Now of When

Kurt Wilson photo

Listen Hear

I mean really listen here

Try to pay attention

As if you were blind

Like your life depended on it

It’s difficult to really hear someone

Speaking to you

Let alone two or more

Plus everything around you

Pulsing in and out

As the voice in your head

Keeps chiming on about

The here beyond and behind

Under the constant tinnitus

Ringing its distraction

And the rhythm of two

Battery clocks ticking

In sync to your heartbeat

Along with the intermittent

Drip in the kitchen sink

The muffled purr-rumble

Of cars outside passing by

Some near some far

A forced air furnace

Waging its winter war

Keeping you cozy for

Noting thinking being a spy

Locked onto the ping pong

Nuances in the immediate flood

No working words

Rule the body presence

Like background shading

They are another aspect

Of a landscape painting

We mostly hear

With our eyes hands listening

For the heart keenly attuned

To light to air

The warmth and fear

My nose inhaling

A mysterious melody

Mixed with blood and death

This what of if I listen for

The You in Us

That Now of When


Mark Gibbons

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First of February

Fifty-five degrees

I walk downtown

Toward the river

& Charlie B’s


A gale blows in warm

Chinooks I remember

On the eastern front

Of the Rockies

Thirty years ago


Augusta wind in

Missoula Montana

Halts me again

Like a cartoon spinning

In place on ice


Legs & arms churning

But going nowhere

That strange encounter

With the hand of God

Digging the graveyard song


Reminding me of

My fragility

Every step a risk

Every scoop a breath

We all ride the wind


Mark Gibbons

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All the Livelong Days


The Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul

& Pacific had nothin’ and everything to lose

that summer in Missoula. Our job—the Catlin Street

crossing replacement—four men, water and tools:

spike malls and pullers, shovels and picks,

rail jacks, tie tongs and wrenches.


Shirtless under August sun, we dug and pried

at broken ties exposed below the rails, weathered

in creosote, sand and cinders. We scanned for tacks

to tell us the date a tie was spiked and tamped.

Like fingerprints or DNA, those tags were metal proof.

Drenched in sweat, we baptized the roadbed—


Track pranksters burned black as tunnels. Our hands

blistered and bled and cramped. Back on our feet,

bent at the knees, we begged for Christ or the lions

to be merciful if tongs didn’t bite. Our spines burned

till tail bones went numb. Half-done and lightheaded,

we broke for a drink. No one ever had to pee.


An old gandy dancer shuffled up in suspenders,

leaned on his cane. “You boys’re lucky!

When I was your age… didn’t have no goddamn machines!

That was back in 1929. Those days

you earned your pay! Snaked those ties out

full length! An’ guys standin’ in line to do it!”


Eyes down, we dug for Copenhagen cans

and wondered, “Was the old bastard blind?”

“You got the wrong railroad,” Billy said,

stuck a scoop under the Old Timer’s nose,

“they ain’t bought a new shovel since the day you quit!

Next year we’re goin’ back to steam!”


He squinted and glared, spit in the dirt,

stared us down one by one. We went back to cussin’

hardwood and steel, didn’t watch when he limped

away. I felt beaten and sore as this wounded

railroad, hoardin’ tie tacks cached in my pocket.

One, a 1929, would have made that old guy’s day.


Mark Gibbons

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The Golden Years

Fresh out of his bath,

steam rising from the wet-peaked

hair atop his shoulders,

the old man stared

between his legs, his bald head

bowed as he sat on the edge

of his bed. “You son-of-a-bitch,”

he said. “I’ve lived my whole

life for you, and now . . .

look at you! You’ve gone

and let me down.”


Mark Gibbons

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