What Art Is

My son did one
of those Pollack dribble paintings
on cardboard, a masterpiece
of texture, color, and warp.
I stuck it on the basement wall.

What is art?

Throw shit and see what sticks . . .
throw hard enough and it will
stick for awhile.
We never know for sure
about the sticking.
All we can do is keep tossing shit.

Art is what

It is if something sticks for you,
if only for an instant.
Maybe that’s all art is.
Or maybe art is just the act
of throwing. Do you wonder

Is what art?

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News From the Front

Light on landscape is art
if someone sees it that way.
Sound is music
to those who hear it,
the heater fan’s whir
backed up by Dylan
and the engine’s purr,
maybe your voice joining
the choir in your head
stomping boots or shoes,
whomping leather gloves
in time and solidarity
to the Workingman’s Blues,
your breath billowing
in the cab, fingers and legs
cold-stiff, yet the sun burns
warm on your face as
you begin another mundane
Monday depressing
the clutch, engaging reverse,
rolling back to roll ahead,
shift to first, accelerate
into the street, the flow
of the week, squinting
and savoring the heat
on your skin, you smile
at this gift for taking it all
in, this living to sing
softly till the long night
begins, a melancholy tribute
to working class women
and men who created a life,
this art of living the blues.

—after Dylan again

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Whiskey Boxes Floating in the Middle of the Air

Mongo waltzes whiskey barrels up a plank-
ramp into the old, barn-red Dodge coupe’s trunk.

His crouch-n’-dig stance like a lineman
pushing a blocking sled or a lumper lift-

grunting a gun safe up a staircase one
riser-bump thrust at a time—rhythm, pace,

balance, and gut—impresses the Miner Poet
driving this thin air dream, humming Irish

ditties and blues refrains. Blood ringing
in their ears, they pass the flask, chew couplets

and spondees, compare arched-brow stares,
recall cold nights and dark days weathering

bipolar storms. They toast and crave a low
pressure front, an imposed isolation,

winter’s whisper in the soul, that cozy slow-
down cabin fever zone all artists need

to splay their own particular noise, unload
the distillation and fermentation

of what is inside-out—those fears and joys
uncorked—the sweet-burning breath of God.

—for James Jay

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Taking Steps


—for gary lundy

aware cocky youth
knows no hand rails
umbrellas no spare
anythings it collects

itself throws down
shots and dreams
gobbles rain or sun-
shine so it grows

wants and deals
out the naked hour
youth dances to be
grass your coming

intensity scream-sings
out feels it all today
listen hear the knock
of age care less fear

full soft sighs cry
scan the night sky
search the blue soul
what lies up below

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Ciara

Mist, the marine layer rolls
along the ridge behind Ventura,
the slope green from fires
last fall. A bi-plane circles
overhead, momentarily drowning
out the construction clatter and whine
of table saws and saws-alls, air
compressors, a chainsaw, generators,
planers, sanders, and hammer taps
competing music for the chickadees
and finches, the back-up beepers,
the mourning dove’s coo, crow caws,
too, diesel engines, tires rolling
across asphalt. Nothing wrong here,
a perfect symphony, this song
where lemons grow beside tangerines
and avocados. Still Ciara only
cares about me. She waits
for me to throw the ball, the stick,
the rock, anything at all and keep on
doing it until one of us dies.
Her black eyes stare at me, two
opaque windows masking the fields
she runs frantically, wildly
burying her bones, tending the herds
she works in her dreams, doing for men
whatever they need, that service
she trades for love, this black bitch,
Irish queen of a small green plot,
her lot, this California back yard.

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The Pagan Ghost

Ed Lahey speaks, crawls out
today from my berserkly pit of
copper verse despair, spits-up the green
blood of my cabbage patch mind.

He strides down Galena,
eyes squinting through dirt,
smells a gaggle of gold geese,
horny as Old Sally’s goat.

There’s a knot of air stuck
deep in the stope of his throat.
He’s heard rumors underground
of money words he’d chewed

and penned deep in the honeycombed
belly of Butte then abandoned for
ivory thumbprints—Missoula kisses
for the ink of miner ghosts.

Call it poetry, call it love, call it
coffee stained sheets—call it cat shit
clutter, our pagan mother. Listen,
now! Listen here! Lahey speaks.

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LATE SNOW

You won’t mow
The grass today

This morning
8 inches of heavy

Wet snow –
Branches drooping

Several broken
The roses frozen

Your neighbor weeps
Her garden buried

Silent & white
You wonder

What happened
To the birds –

The air shocked
By the possibility

Of a freak
Spring blizzard

Memorial Day
Plans quashed

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Laundry Sutra

sheets
bulky warm
no extra rinse
Luna purrs
in her bed
not enough
whatever she needs
to stand and walk
over to me
have me scratch her
head Psychedelic
Pill fills my ears
and water runs
in the house pipes
Sunday paper
poems know
Ginsberg film
shows at The Roxy
this afternoon
so I read
Elegy for Neal Cassady
Allen would be
ninety
and Neal dead almost
fifty years
queer
this way
we live in our minds
yesterday
I walked Cinderella
to find my sister
bright blue
up there
with the widow-makers
and fresh growth
of green wild
flowers and tamarack
so green thick
so high
this view of life
and time shut off
the sprinklers
hang out the sheets
she loves it
here
guitars wailing
riding the Horse
the Ginz raised
consciousness
in me today
yesterday high
as Neal
on the right track
as Neil
nailing it
my sister’s laugh
I’m goin’ back
this life goes
by fast
fill your pockets
pick up that stick
keep going
till you
stop
might as well
do another load
Connie loved
Cinderella’s rock
dress the ball
on Petty Creek
doing whatever
needed to be done
like folding
clothes or
doing another load
of diapers
Purex and piss
maybe whipping
up a batch of
buttered popcorn
or million-dollar
fudge marshmallow
sweet treats
for her kids
always
there/here
on Cinder Mountain
you’re leaving
there too soon
we’re leaving here
so soon still
breathing here
gone soon

—for Connie

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THE MOUNTAIN

We are the walking
wounded, blow upon blow,
day upon day, we cringe,
gird, panic, and endure.

The grass is greener, of course,
until you crest the ridge
and tromp through knapweed
down to the dry creek bed.

For every cool cedar bottom
there is the sun-baked
hillside of rattlesnakes
and loose scree slides.

Groomed trails are hard
to find in this bushwhacking
life. The best we can do is
learn to read the terrain,

trust our eyes, know we were
lost before we started, breathe
into the chest pains, slow
down, look around, appreciate

the trip, the stumble, the fall.
Listen, smell, maybe chant
or sing. Those storm clouds
will rain. The darkness awaits.

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OLD BIRDS

The irascible old radical
cussing on the toilet
in the rest home
wasn’t John Muir, Bob Marshall,
or Robinson Jeffers,
but he lived in the wilderness
of his mind, a Buddhist
warrior who called Ginsberg
a cock-sucking Commie-Kike.

He knew he was losing
it and there was nothing
he could do. Anger
was his constant companion,
and he hated it, certain
the fucking game was rigged.
After sitting on the shitter
and mumbling for 10 minutes or so,
we asked if he needed anything.

He suggested we read poems,
so we obliged, stood outside
the opened bathroom door
and read him our verses
while he sat and shat,
praised and panned them
before drifting off again.

When finally we announced
we had to go, he stuck out
a hand we each took
and shook before leaving
him there hunched over,
eyes closed, the same posture
we’d found him in
nodding in his wheel chair
when we’d arrived an hour ago.

As I closed the door,
I wondered where he’d gone.
Perhaps back up into mountain air
to search for wolverine and lynx
there, or maybe he was living
a haiku in his head,
just floating out to sea.

for Dexter

 

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