Upon Asking The Old Man Why He Never Wrote

He didn’t have time to write

He had to work

He had to eat

Writing was a luxury

For college boys

For rich kids

For those who had nothing to say

He didn’t have time to write

He had to work

Had to feed and clothe

He didn’t have time to dream

Time to entertain the crowd

Who prattled and pattered

After drama and rumor and swooned

Over pencil thin mustaches

Tuxedos and push-up bras

He didn’t have time for nonsense

Didn’t have time to play

He went to work

When he was eight years old

He didn’t have time to write

He had to earn what he could

Nothing was given to him

Except the last rites

When he was twelve years old

Pneumonia and nothing

To be done but plan the funeral and

Wait  He had to work

He didn’t have time to die or write

He had to dig and serve

For rich kids

He had to eat

He had to feed

His brothers and sister and mother

His father digging somewhere

Prospecting with a bottle

He didn’t have time to write

But he stole time

To read time

To drink and think

He didn’t have the mind to drink

With the right people

With the In Crowd

That class who looked down on his kind

He didn’t have time to read

Between the lines

Or lube the greasy wheels

Whose pantries overflowed

With moldy loaves

While they sneered

Bemoaned and groaned

About the god-awful sounds

Of the growls from the street

Those empty belly roars

Of the filthy brats

Walking by outside

Seen through sheers and lace

He didn’t have time to write

He had nothing

To say

That anyone would buy

And he had to provide

He had to eat so

He had to work

He could hear the cries

Of his little sister and brother

He didn’t know how to write that

Down  He felt that ache

In the pillow-muffled sounds

From his mother’s midnight bunk

He didn’t have time to invent

Those words for pain

Like Frank McCourt

He had to work

And what time he stole

He stole to read because

He didn’t have time to write

He had nothing

To say

Isn’t it obvious that

He was a poet

Who didn’t have time to work

And write since he didn’t

Have time to dream

He let Martin Luther King

Junior do that for him

Back when he was fifteen

He joined the CCC’s

He didn’t have time to write

He had to go to work

Turned down a scholarship

To the University to play

Basketball and rub elbows

With the In Crowd

And maybe write poetry

Because he was a poet

But he didn’t have time for that shit

He had to pay the rent

He didn’t have time to dally with words

When he took a wife

Made a child

Was drafted into that good war

The big one

Not the one to end all wars

The second one

The one after the end

When dead civilians took center stage

Eclipsed the soldiers

In the body count race

No he didn’t have time to write

About all the death he carried

He had to work

He had a family

To support

To feed and clothe

So he didn’t have time to write

About the pope blessing

Mussolini’s bombs and planes

About the corpses stacked

Like cord wood along the tracks

He stole time to read

To argue

To disagree with the celebration

Of civilization’s victory

He drank


After all he was a poet

With no time to write

He needed that time to drink

And work and think a bit

Did I mention he had to work

And feed and clothe  Also

He had to bury his mother and dad

In their bullshit and beads

Had to bury Kennedy Bobby

Medgar Malcolm Gandhi

Drink or drown in a sea of blood

The wealthy sailed in golden boats

He had to bury his dream

Keeper Martin Luther King

Chose drowning in drink

A dress rehearsal for The Escape

Got ready to crumble into dust

He didn’t have time to write

He was a poet

Who never wrote

A self-made political scholar

Just another wage slave

A blue-collared white nigger

Powerless as children and women

A guy who couldn’t even steal

Time to read

Wouldn’t permit himself time to dream

Yet he was a visionary

He was a force

An Irish-American class warrior

He was a drunken poet

Who never took time to write

He was just a man

A son and a distant husband

A piss-poor soldier and complex

Dad  He had responsibilities

So he worked and drank

He was honest and liked

By most feared by the masks

A smart witty-sad angry man

Just ask me

My father told me

Everybody loves their old man

They have to

Because he’s their dad

The Old Man

The only one they’ll ever have

No matter

What kind of a son-of-a-bitch he is

My Old Man was a poet

But he didn’t have time to write

He had to work and drink

And moan alone when

He thought no one heard

He taught me to rebel

Or maybe that was in my DNA

But I realized poetry

On the page

So when I found a diary

He kept for a few days

During WWII

I thought I’d share it with you

For me and my dad

Long dead

And no way to stop me

From showing you he was

We are all poets


March 15, 1945—

Been working

Like Hell

These last few months

I must weigh

Around 170 lbs now

And have had the piss

Scared out of me

Quite a few times

During that break

Through—the Bulge

They have lost

A lot of men and

It’s all bullshit


He was twenty-seven

By then he’d been working

For almost twenty years

Summers he’d hayed

For ranches up the Big Hole

So he knew bullshit

When he smelled it

And he knew war

Because he’d smelled it

He spoke poetry

Read it and knew it

But he’d never say that

He was a poet

Who leaned more toward Service

Than Longfellow

He didn’t have time to rhyme

Because he grew up

In the Cabbage Patch

On eggs and potatoes

Shanty Montana-Irish  His dad

Dug and drank and dreamed

My father didn’t

Have time to dream

His family had to eat

So he had to go to work

At whatever he could get

And work overtime at

Not taking any shit

Class warfare was a tradition

And in his DNA

Like whiskey

So he had to hope

I’d know what to say

When I sat down to write

And I know my hope

Is walking behind

Me in someone else’s shoes

And their voices are strong

And their arms are true

And their children’s children

Will give peace its days

Under the sun and will

Raise a glass or three

Of Irish whiskey

To an ancestor from the 20th Century

An unrealized poet

Who never wrote

But worked at being

As good as his words and hands

My heroic and liquored-up

Dad  The Old Man


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