Honorable Men

 

Shakespeare was right

My Old Man knew it

And the Founding Fathers agreed

 

Greed, fear, and jealousy drive

Humanity goosestepping toward the edge

Desperate men are easily conned

 

The dupes, the pawns, the patsies spin

A little shit-smack magic

Twitter-rope and flatter the gleam

 

On those pitchfork tines

Where’s the peanut trick, Baby?

Who’s your daddy’s concubine?

 

Something’s happened here again

And what it is precedes despair

But it’s fairly goddamn clear

 

To the Buffalo and Billy the Bard

The Common Good needs the queer

Around to blame and hate, they love to

 

Follow celebrities and forget

The wealthy die every day broken

By the grave, truly Death is

 

The only thing to believe in

Really, capitalism is insane

Always in the name of religion

 

We murder each other hoping

For the dream of money and ease

An idea that distracts our attention

 

In the shell game of life

Too foolish to live for each other

Today, to share and care

 

To hold together in the dark

And simply love one another

Accept the truth—nobody wins

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THE KID

benny reynolds

It didn’t seem fair

to the horse

trying to buck him off,

Benny’s feet almost dragging

in the arena dirt. Literally

he was larger than life

for this butch-waxed,

popcorn muncher sporting

four-inch rolled-up cuffs

on his husky jeans.

Benny Reynolds ruled

the day all around

at the Powell County Rodeo:

steer wrestling, bull riding,

saddle bronc and bareback,

he dwarfed the stock,

made it look too easy.

And since the Old Man

had wrangled horses

in the Big Hole with Johnny,

Benny’s older brother,

he took me behind the chutes

with him when he went

to congratulate the Kid

and check in with the Melrose

boys. Of course I did

and didn’t want to go.

I felt embarrassed, unworthy

of meeting someone like that,

somebody of mythic stature: a King,

the Superman of Montana

Rodeo. I hung back a step

behind my dad, peeked

around him, felt my face

go red when Benny’s eyes

caught mine and he smiled at me.

John waved us in and offered

my dad a beer. Benny sat

on the opened tailgate of a pick up

truck, stuck out a huge paw

the size of my baseball mitt

and shook the Old Man’s hand.

He was all angles

under that black cowboy hat

and those arching eyebrows,

big boned, long armed and legged,

even long jawed. But all those

oversized features seemed necessary

to support his huge grin

when my dad kidded him

about “drawing all nags.”

He blushed, shockingly shy

as me, and nodded his head,

stole glances at the crew-cut little-

fat-kid while Johnny and the Old Man

sipped on Great Falls Select

and reminisced about names

I didn’t know and days working

on hay rakes and beaver slides.

Benny was quiet. He listened

and smiled. He did remind me

of “a kid” in a giant’s body.

He was what every child hopes

a hero will be—gentle,

kind, all modesty, humility,

and strength—possessing super-human

abilities—yet capable of calming

a panicked colt or scratching

a half-feral barn cat behind the ears

before putting out the lights

each starry, big-sky night, then

snuggling into his mama’s arms.

 

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Bravery

goldie

may be confused often

with arrogance

and stupidity,

chest thumping, posing,

the fear of backing down,

being perceived as weak

or afraid, afraid

to be compared to women,

the weaker sex

real men must protect

from the other real men

coming for them,

brave men who venture

out into the dark,

into battle, alone

or in posses

determined to possess

whatever they’re after

including women

(of course) who oblige

(hide their children)

and lie to survive . . .

man-unkind survives

souly because of women

and semen in spite

of ignorant men

who feel nothing

is more worthy than

bravery.

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Nirvana Unlocked

buddha_widescreen

The inmates sit

In a circle

On a cement slab

Behind bars

 

One blames self-made

Bad luck—one points to rage

Just one names cowardice

More claim anger and hate

 

They’ll never leave here

And all agree their choices

Sprang from fear—what they

Want is to understand

 

So they sit

And meditate

In silence

Face themselves

 

Meet the man in the mirror

Know he is guilty

Because all men are guilty

As all men are innocent

 

And incarcerated and free

All men need to forgive

Themselves—bring peace

Step back and see

 

Step back and watch

Pause—listen—just be

Prisons contain bodies

The human mind is liberty

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I Should Have Played The Piccolo

imitation-blues-cover

 

For years

I never thought

Myself a poet—

I didn’t understand

Most of the poetry I’d read

Or care to decode it—

That convoluted

Cryptic high-dollar lingo

I needed Webster

To help me plow through

And still never knew

What the fuck

Was going on—

I couldn’t unwind

The syntactical mysteries

I’d find at every turn

Of phrase—another puzzle

And intriguing when I was a kid

When everything was a mystery to me

Like the sound of my tongue

Liquidy and clippity in my mouth

Articulating whispered

Gibberish and words

Against my teeth and lips

The roof of my mouth

A foreign music to echo

In the ear of the soul

That queer landscape

Inside my head—an edgy fear

Of the unknown

The universe of the mind

Like prayer—our search

For a reason to go on

Playing along in this game

We’ve evolved into buying

The belief in the significance

Of our particular

Existence having meaning

Believing those stories

Of myth or religion

Or science—the chatter

To support a collective mission

A unified awareness

That we must sacrifice

The glories of individual ego

And work like ants

For a better tomorrow

For a true day of reckoning

A day of understanding—

When the answer will arrive

Like a golden key

Gleaming on a purple pillow

Along with the secret knowledge

Of which door we need

To open to find

Universal peace and love

The big Why—

And if we buy into that notion

Of our ability to know

We give ourselves way more

Power than we know

We can have—and I want

You to know that I know

I don’t know shit

And don’t care to pretend

I do—I know today is

Upon me—and coyote will be

Back—where is the trickster

In the Christian-corporate model

There is no silliness in the boardroom

No laughter at the gates of Hell

I’ll take wily Old Coyote

Losing his ass again and again—

That roadrunner, oblivion

Is too quick for me—give me

Beauty or give me head

And fuck the rest of it

Men have been the managers

The progressive masters of fear

So let’s give women a chance

To screw it up some more

See what they might do

With this cursed boys’ camp

Of indentured servitude

Maybe trade a little tenderness

For drudgery or despair—give me

Free love and saddle shoes

I bet the Buddha was a gay blade

Who played the piccolo—

A poet and a Mommas’ boy

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Threading The Needle

singer

Mother’s sewing box

sat atop The Old Man’s chest

of drawers. It was made of cedar

covered with tin, painted gold,

the lid hinged. It held thread

and needles, stick pins and safety

pins, lace, yarn, razor blades and two

thimbles, a tape measure and

Sucrets tin filled with more pins

and a needle threader. 

There was a pair of scissors

and a Zip-Fix (the modern marvel

tool that fixed broken zippers

on the garment!) plus lots of

scraps of cloth, a bra strap

extension, a hand-me-down

pin cushion, basting tape,

and a hem ripper.

 

Of course there were buttons: all kinds,

shapes, and sizes, because at heart,

this box was mostly Mother’s

button-repair station. Granted,

she sewed on plenty of knee patches,

hemmed cuffs and dresses,

those dutiful extensions, but

she never claimed to be a seamstress

(though she darned a few hundred

wool socks in her time) mainly

she tried to keep buttonholes filled.

 

I don’t know why I was surprised

to find her inside the sewing box

(undisguised by the pungent odors

of wood and metal) but there she was,

pins between her lips and horn rims

perched on the end of her long,

German nose, digging for a bobbin,

some color that would match

the thread of her chore

paused under the pressure foot

of the old Singer machine

that vibrated the kitchen table

with every seam she’d treadle.

 

Her lines may not have been factory

straight, but nobody cared much

about appearances in a little iron-horse

town where the darkened bedrooms

reeked of cigarettes and whiskey

in the middle of the day,

and the church pews were filled

with women and kids.

 

I discovered it rummaging

through boxes of Mother’s stuff

I’d packed two years before,

after she’d died unexpectedly

at eighty-nine (hard for us to imagine

her not being around all the time).

I was looking for her recipes

and rolling pin when I found the gold

box and opened the lid, whiffed her

setting up the Singer and peering 

over her rims knowingly

as she asked me to sneak in her room

and grab the sewing box.

 

One always tip-toed, coming or going,

in the dragon’s lair where snorts

and snores sawed the thick, smoky,

booze-sweet air, shades pulled,

doors closed. That dragon breath

conjured monsters, battles,

fires forged in the gut—horrors

no one wanted to know. That smell—

vivid as Vitalis, moth balls, 

or fresh trout in a creel—taught me

how to navigate Hell.

 

But no outside fragrances ever

penetrated the sewing box.

It was as stable as the woman

who dug through it 

searching for thread and a button, 

just the right color and size . . .

stitching, patching, threading

the needle once again to secure

our cuffs and collars

against the cold and wind

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DEAD LIFT

hyster-lift

The Hyster battery is dead

again. You hook up the charger,

turn the dial to boost.

Better check the drip

buckets, snow on the roof,

the sun’s been blazing all morning.

The pack van’s loaded

with scrap cardboard

for a run to Pacific Recycling.

No windshield scraper,

but the heater works. Transmission

is iffy at best. Don’t ask

about the brakes or tires.

Remember to add oil,

throw your tool box in,

and roll down the windows

to vent the exhaust. Your slogan—

“Don’t fix it if it ain’t broken.”

Like the ’64 Chevy

straight truck, holes in the floor,

or the ’68 Freight Liner

cab-over tractor

with Arm-strong steering,

this fleet was in condition

during Nixon’s second term.

The break room refrigerator

motor is burned up.

Better leave your lunch outside.

Paydays, after work,

drive your check to the bank

and pray they’ll give you the cash.

Have faith in the Hyster

battery. Don’t turn your back

on the hydraulic lines. Find

a reefer before spring thaw.

After noon you fire up

the Ford gas-tractor,

shovel rusty snow

off the worn flatbed.

Halfway to the mill,

you break down, again,

have to walk three miles

for a phone. Both fuel

tanks are full. Both

fuel pumps are shot.

You’re going nowhere

slow. Don’t watch the clock.

The overtime rate

(nursing mechanical death row)

helps lube your complacency.

You’re no gambler. Know that

tomorrow morning the sun

will rise, the drip buckets

will sing, and the goddamn Hyster

battery will die—your laughter

extolling the beauty of decay.

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Jackknife

case

Lying on one side, bottom facing

me, you’re a customized mid-sixties

Chevy nose and grill, the horizontal lines

of the Case three-blade pocket design.

Around back I see the cluster of folded

shanks pressed tight, aligned, begging

mechanical action. Always promising

to be discreet even though your top—

which is actually the side where the Case

insignia (long gone) was glued—clacks

where the simulated bone-handle plastic

was cracked when I dropped you on

the garage floor, then accidentally backed

over you. Each hinge snaps open hard

firm, folds shut an echo in your belly

clear and sharp as the bite of a woodcutter’s

ax in the trunk of a tree a fair distance away.

I like you’re heft, even though it wears

holes in my pockets, you’re the perfect

size and weight in my hand. You let me

cut, chop, trim, scrape, clean, pry and screw.

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THE MEANING OF LIFE

summer-solstice

 

The earthy gravity of Seamus Heaney’s poems

and the sweet taste of John Powers whiskey

mixed with a few foot-surgery Percocets

 

could explain the face droop I feel, the heavy

shallow breaths, but on top of the dumb-slow

hours of pain and recovery, it was the blind

 

pick-up (no caller ID) and the pace and tone

of my niece’s voice that foretold the tale

ahead of the words: her father, the Little

 

Hungarian, had left to find my sister, his

Bull-headed Irish lover (gone now for not

quite a year) and tend the roses of their garden

 

in paradise. And however you want to spin it,

your metaphor about what happens after

we die, I can testify to their story here,

 

a love story for over half a century, one glass

half-empty, one glass half-full, they were

a team who’d thrown in together for better

 

or worse. It was a hell of a ride. True opposites.

They never gave up on each other. Call it

love, commitment, ignorance, or fear.

 

Call it what you want. Year after year

they kept trying to keep a full-glass together.

The meaning of life is in the living.

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THE RIVER QUEEN

geisha_by_kaiprincess

Cleopatra does vaudeville

as the bells chime

in time, in time—

 

the pushy broad is no mime,

yet she swirls white-faced,

she kneels, she dips—

 

the pushy broad is the writer

of this Black-Geisha script

reaching palms open,

 

she reaches past the tomb,

past the past, backing into

bloody memory of misquotes

 

and asps—her statues

swim from Egypt, slither

to the Yucatan—at last

 

she boards the ark

wearing nothing but her dark

rose and smile—her push

 

is more stroke than pose.

 

          for Lorilee Evans-Lynch

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