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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The Thing About You

you always say the same thing

which is nothing

and everything

until things get changed

and rearranged because the thing is one

thing leads to another breath

and the next until death pulls you into

the black unless we move through

into something we can’t comprehend

a transition where anything is possible

like a poem or place or something

with feathers the pure beauty

of no walls the nothing

that is there and isn’t

where all things matter and

nothing matters at all

that safety zone you can always go to

when the shit-hits-the-fan

those times you feel

nobody gives-a-fuck about you

when you think time’s finally run out

of luck (’cause you absolutely believe in

shit-house-luck—and jockeying for position)

even then it’s the same thing

with you writing us back to this spot

another silly-assed rhyme some

looping linguistic lullaby like

show me the way to go home

or make it one more for my baby

or i’ll see you in my dreams

dancing and doodling on the lip of

the grave you’ve been raving about

all your cheery days rattling on

like a drinking song at three a.m.

that’s the thing i love about you


Mark Gibbons

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At eighteen we decided to seal the deal

with a license, stifle the gossip

about living in sin, and cohabit

conventionally. I remember my dad’s

terse reaction, pause and expression . . .

which I understand better today.

He knew I’d made up my mind, but

had to say, “You know you’re promising

the rest of your life to that girl?”


I knew the rest of my life was now.

It still is. I guess we both believed

we could keep that promise . . .

maybe that’s what love is

because I don’t really know

what love is, but then I don’t think

I really know anything, really,

except what I think I know. And

I’m willing to let go of all of it,

every-one-thing I think I know,

except those I tell myself I love.


Yes, I believe we are lucky, but

I’m the first to proclaim

good luck is the result of hard work . . .

though everyone knows life isn’t

always a matter of luck or choice,

choice is all we can control . . . because

sometimes love flies out the window.

We both chose to live dawn to dusk,

this carnal dream of each other

together close to the ground

each day, our youthful lust

bound to a primitive survival-trust,

base as the behavior of wolves.


for Sam and Cache

October 14, 2017

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A Million Ways to Go


My first summer out of high school,

five hundred miles from home,

I moved into a basement apartment

with a new roommate from Hardin


who dug rock and roll and marijuana,

indulged my photography and poems.

We pooled our money and bought a lid

of Rez weed. Well, I took the ride


with the dealers, two guys he knew,

sampled a joint in the back seat as they

cruised, no headlights, across the prairie

in moonlight sucking on a pint of Jim Beam


while my pal, Dal, got a hand-job from his

girl. We spent the night at his parents’ house

where they both cooked dinner, then his dad

washed the dishes—that was a first for me.


Happy-go-lucky, we knew how to succeed

in school and work at the mental hospital,

how to get along and have fun. We had to

go to the park to smoke with the gargoyle


because the old landlords upstairs were

eagle-eyed and owl-eared. For ten weeks

we were best of friends. Then we went on

the journey of our lives. I was married a year


later. We lost touch over the decades, wrote

a few letters, but life, time, took over. Forty

years later Dal came for a visit on a return trip

to the homeland, Montana. It was the same,


easy, like Harold and Maude and Cat Stevens’

songs we’d spun on the stereo that summer

after watching the film for the first time. So,

last night to celebrate Dal heading west,


I rented the movie and watched it again

for the umpteenth time. It was all I could do

not to bawl like a baby out of sheer joy for

first loves and the dark comedy of prank


suicides, his Jaguar flattened upside down

on the beach, seagulls squawking, the camera

slow-panning up the cliff where I knew Dal

would be standing, smiling, gazing out to sea


before turning to stroll and tune his banjo, hop-

skipping into the fade. There are a million

ways to be. We know that there are. So live!

Do what you want. Be free. Sing out! It’s easy.


Mark Gibbons

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I cough into my hand a palm-full

of maggots, blow my nose

and flying ants fill the room. My white

handkerchief is a nest of trouble.

I’m sweating. I know something

is wrong with me.


my army is putting bullets

into the backs of civilians’

heads—Chilean, Panamanian,

Nicaraguan citizens—their hands bound

behind them. My army is driving

over soupy Iraqi children

in my tanks. Our soldiers

are testing fire, cutting-edge

laser weaponry, on brown skin

because they can, and they need to

prove it will work on flesh (just because

it cuts cars in half doesn’t show

what it will do to a man). Can-do, my army

follows orders, entertains the detained

press corps uptown with Bloody

Marys at the Marriott Hotel.

The barrio makes a better testing ground.

My country ‘tis of thee and the rockets

red glare. Our land of the free,

this home of the brave, houses the greatest

terrorists in the world today.


That’s why we’re winning

the War on Terror. We call it collateral

damage: if you get your ducks in line,

there will be minimal collateral damage.

Don’t worry, my army will

root out all the evil-doers

with bunker busters and cruise

missiles. My army’s smart bombs

know their way. They will get every last

one of the buggers, the vermin;

every brown-skinned socialist, banana-republic-

pest; every rag-headed, twin-

towered, Koran-spoutin’ tempest;

and every reinvigorated Pinko-

Rooskie added to the script. Orwell

would be proud . . . and so ashamed.

Interventions and preemptive strikes

are a matter of national (and global)

security. My army will establish

and insure for generations (this

brand of corporate) democracy

and freedom for the world.


I sneeze and the flying ants

turn into flying monkeys.

I cough and the maggots hatch

into high school boys ready to serve,

ready to follow, ready to win one

for the team, and ready to prove

above all they’re men. Maybe

these maggots weren’t the kids

who staked cats to railroad tracks.

Maybe these maggots didn’t

throw a pig in the river

just to watch it die, watch it

try to swim and cut its own throat.

But before they’re through

taking orders from those fucking

monkeys, they’ll wire Toto’s

testicles to a car battery

and take a pair of dykes to the Tin Man’s

chest—determined to add

his ticking heart to their collection

of shriveled ears. What you don’t want

to hear, what you fear more than

death, is that by the time they finish

with Dorothy, none of us will

ever find our way . . . back home.

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