life

 

is a joke

but not

a cruel joke—

just a joke.

 

What’s cruel

is how we obsess

on something,

get so serious

about it—

that we fail

to laugh

and love,

live today,

 

enjoy all

the punchlines

and the pains,

those cream

pies and boards

in the face.

 

What else are you

going to do?

 

Roll your eyeballs

and wiggle your cigar,

make light of being

in the dark.

Futility grins

and humility

shakes its head.

 

Each moment

delivers . . .

bah-duh-boom!

 

And then you die.

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Swallows and Rain

Dark clouds burn yellow over Lolo Peak

heavy with rain now puddling dust.

That sweet earth smell recalls my youth

on hot summer days when I waltzed

hay fields and conjured thunder clouds.

 

Bucking twine bales, building golden temples,

was muscle art to us. We danced and whirled

around the rolling wagon, a clean and dip,

jump and push through sun and hum and sweat.

We sculpted tiers like puzzle kings, compressed

the loaves of cattle larder firm as a stonecutter’s touch,

each corner tied tight and square enough to pass

the niggling pharaoh’s eye. He weighed the threat

of darkening sky molding his crop on the ground.

 

I craved much more than chaff and wind or

blisters that proved my worth. Vole and tractor

puttered black dirt, Blue-Boy nipped their heels,

a pregnant doe on Butler Creek hung bloated

dead (its broken leg tangled in barbed wire)

and barn swallows dove to bomb our stack, then

fled from our apple-missile attacks, left their nests

(rafter targets) hearts of mud and straw.

 

The pump-house hose and lunch break swim

quenched our dry, sticky skin like afternoon thunder

pushing winds of promise like weekend pay.

Raindrops began a syncopated increase—like gunshots

on opening day, bombarding the tin-roofed barn.

The wagon crew cut the elevator engine, ran

for cover to wait it out. I collapsed flat on my back

atop the stack, grateful for rain, inhaled the cool-

damp air. I watched a swallow watching me,

both of us dry while the torrent raged on. She was

collared by her bulbous brown-pebbled nest,

calm and grave as a sick pet. I took in, released

alfalfa breath, fingered eggshells glistening in straw.

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I Think

therefore, I have made

myself a poet by insisting I am

a poet after years of insisting

I wasn’t a poet even though I did

know it back then when

I kept insisting I was just a guy

who wrote the shit that came to mind,

those thoughts and observations

we all have, but most don’t

take the time to write down.

 

So I became a poet by virtue

of putting words on paper

and publishing them in books,

reading them aloud and

acknowledging the proclamations

of others calling me a poet.

I guess a poet is someone who

is determined to be a poet,

wants it enough to read and study

those deemed or claiming to be

 

poets—a mysteriously undefinable

club begging absolute freedom

for contradiction—that uneasy comfort

of nonconformity—constantly seeking

the safety of distance to confess

ignorance, fear, ecstasy, and suspicion.

 

Poetry—the delirious diary of existence—

those fragmented lingo-bits gathered

and strewn—a display intoning

straight-on-honest spews or veering

into-through the elliptical, surreal,

ba-jibbity voodoo of language

voiced and heard—our scribbled

account of dreams whispered.

 

I have made myself a poet

because I claim I am. Therefore,

just ask me, and I will tell you

I am a poet (I think).

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If Beale Street Could Talk

 

If Beale Street could talk

would America listen?

Maybe if she sang.

New Orleans gave birth

in bloody cobblestone blues

to beat black rhythms 

that blew up the cool

Big-Muddy Jazz river, Sweet

Home Chicago style.

B. B., Howlin’ Wolf,

Hoochie Coochie Man, Satchmo

bled while Lady Day cried,

so white folks might gain

an inkling of shadow pain

wading Beale Street’s tears.

 

Mark Gibbons

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butterfly effect

vertical bars

on the window

colored flashing lights

piles of newsprint

cigarette smoke

billows outside

a small stack of books

poetry on the sill

intermittent hammering

in the steam radiator

the alley-scape latticed

with poles and power lines

snow covers a ridge

high in the distance

an odd perspective

standing up there

in that saddle before

on warmer days

looking down on this

lake-bottom pose

just one year ago

a young man

chose to move on

for better or worse

who can calculate

that ripple today

the short whelp of a siren

an open garage door

red-blue lights flashing

bottles on the floor

everywhere held breath

and unfinished poems

 

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Winter Solstice, 2018

Late Migration by Greg Keeler

the long night

sips the chaos

of the day

shapers rape the dream-

time dark

that stew stirring

fat witchery

brewing jack boots

coming closer

doors slamming overhead

they cower in the basement

signal from the shadows

sweating and shivering

they cannot awake

the black night promises

nothing can be done

yet all is illusion

the practiced arts of deception

creation and manifestation

don’t wait hold on

make plans create

cultivate the seeds to bake

the bread loaves rising

from winter wheat

the sun will come

the dawn will break

new light and new days

praise the cold nightmare

incubated by death

the most urgent

and deepest

of dark dreams

 

Mark Gibbons

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apology

sorry i didn’t call

couldn’t force myself to

pick . . up . . that . . fucking phone

should’ve done that

on the weekend

but i’ve gotten through this

shit before

 

didn’t work this time

timing is everything

right? wrong

like so much

in the world

and in my head

which finally triggered

that alarm

in the heart

slammed the doors

and locked the exits

 

don’t worry about me

punching walls

crawling in holes

and hanging

with john barleycorn

are the limits

of my self-

destruction

 

sorry to let you down

but the ship

was taking on water

and i couldn’t bail

fast enough

life rafts

were deployed

 

nothing worse

than being the focus

of a drama offstage

what i want most

is an audience

who loves me

and my poems

 

i know you

have been down

this dead end

road old friend

failing to rise

to the challenge

of selling yourself

in the name of cold

cash and credibility

 

so please give

my love and regrets

to those i know

i left in the lurch

like you i am just

one more lost fool

searching the dark-

hearted wilderness

           —for Sheryl Noethe

 

Mark Gibbons

July 2017

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DECADES

My son’s thirtieth birthday.

His mother turns sixty next week,

and her mother, eighty,

is coming to celebrate the dawn

of the decades with us, them,

me, and my other son who turns

twenty-seven in April close

to his brother’s conception date.

Numbers, accounts, descendants,

family. Our DNA marches on.

 

Dylan told us not to trust

anyone over thirty, so why have we

listened to him for the past

forty years? My old neighbor

told me everyone over forty votes

Republican, but a decade later

he discovered his Butte grandfather

ran guns for the IRA. Today

 

The newspaper is looking for stories

about the infamous Grateful Dead

concert here forty years ago

where according to many sources,

“nobody liked the show.” Sure,

 

I was stoned, and what do I know

sitting in the field house nosebleed

seats grinding my teeth, and riding

the waves of adjusted perception,

Jerry’s blues tiddly-rumpling

in front of that “wall of sound,”

a mellow rock and cocaine roll—

three and a half hours of tonal flow?

 

As the legend goes, on the anniversary

of that show, somebody threw a plastic

pitcher, hit Bob Weir in the head, and

The Dead walked off the stage.

 

Up in the rafters for hours on end,

when they walked off from the encore,

I figured they were all in, most likely

as tired as me. After all, I wasn’t

quite twenty, and they were close to

being as “untrustworthy” as Dylan.

 

“Disappointed” some said described

the show, but I guess I was too high

up in the bleachers riding the flow

of music that just rolled and rocked

on and on, then played and played

and played some more. I figured

I’d gotten more than my money’s worth.

 

It was the Grateful Dead for

fuck’s sake! That was just a decade

before my son was born

which was another drama that went on

three times longer than I figured

it would, culminating in a life

change, fatherhood, something else

I knew nothing about going in.

 

Let’s face it, we’re along for the ride

and grateful to be here, I imagine

even if we’re Bob Weir. I know

I’m thankful for this gathering

in the guise of numbers, decades,

anniversaries, Earth spins around

the sun, another one for the books,

the records, and those beyond

keeping track of it, all that

silly shit we do to count coup

on the old wolf, father time.

 

Mark Gibbons

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The Rosy Dark

photo by David J. Spear

Mornin’ Glory

your cheery poem

forced me to

polish my rose

colored lenses and

watch some football

maybe sip a glass

of beer consider

the whiskey

anything but the fear

pressing my lungs

and heart flat

as the lack of empathy

and compassion

absent in my neighbors

my fellow citizens

sitting next to me

glassy-eyed trapped

by the habitual shiny

consumptive dream

that new/old

religion cheering

our home team

on to greatness

resurrection

another victory

for Michael Dickel

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David

The doctors gave him six months

six years ago. They called it

a fiendishly aggressive melanoma,

 

eating away at his face and jaw.

Each morning he packs the wound

with cotton, applies the flesh

 

toned bandage — Phantom of the Opera

mask. Malignant forces tug

at the corners of his eye, his mouth, his ear.

 

Morphine dulls the pain. He drinks

his meals, smokes the occasional

cigarette. An ex-Mormon,

 

he read the Bible for the first time

last year, found his namesake, the shepherd

boy, stone and sling, heir king to eternity.

 

No pestilence, Goliath of the modern

age, can abate the warmth, brilliance of sunlight;

the aroma of steeping coffee; or her night shirt

 

folded on the pillow. This is how it feels

to be alive. He is sorry for living dead

for so long; doesn’t regret the brute who reels

 

from the blows, staggers on, refusing to go down.

David knows the sad isolation of a bully.

He wrote the book, Despair of Materialism —

 

autobiography of a car salesman.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen, one by one.

Confession was good for Saul. Heaven

 

exists inside us all if we are willing

to walk through Hell. Would you thank

Cancer for knocking at your door?

 

Irony is not dead. Christ descended from David.

Consider the lilies, the ravens your soul, and ask,

Of how much more value are you than the birds?

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