For the Life of Me

 

it’s all a mystery

what makes us tick

 

what matters

the whys

 

how we deal with each other

how we handle ourselves

 

one man cries

one woman hits

 

one billion-plus will never quit

two billion more don’t give a shit

 

what they say when they don’t

know what to do

 

so we work

we play

 

we busy ourselves

we poke and provoke

 

we make up stories

to entertain and explain

 

to teach our children the system

navigating the terrain

 

give them reasons to believe

they have a stake in this

 

and help them continue

walking through

 

what we don’t understand

solving the puzzle

 

one piece at a time

is the main motivation

 

for opening our eyes

once we become bored

 

with our distractions

and toys

 

with practicing

self-control

 

our place

in what we define

 

as this

space/time continuum

 

wrestling the messy

animal inside

 

that heart-pounding

Poe pendulum

 

swing of love

to fear

 

the roller-coaster ride

where art resides

 

gripping the load bar

blind enough to see

 

the possibility

beyond the trees

 

that molecular forest

where eventually

 

maybe there will be

some good reason

 

an explanation

for the life of me

 

Mark Gibbons

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Smut Poets

Sally opens the door and jumps on my friend,

hugging, kissing, and dragging him

into the kitchen. I follow. She yells,

“Polly! Mikey’s here!” tells my pal

to take off his shirt. Paul strolls

sleepy-eyed out of the bedroom, gives us

the brotherhood handshake. Billy Joel,

Cat Stevens, and Rasputin come to mind.

My buddy introduces me as “another poet.”

 

Paul blinks, steps in for a better look,

steps back and asks, “Who do you read?

Bob Hass? Jorie Graham? Lowell?”

I never know what to say, where to start

when asked that shit: who’s your favorite?

Name names, and there will be a follow-up

exam on what you know. So I spit out,

Bukowski, I guess. His eyes dance intensely,

“Yeah? Bukowski? He’s a smut poet.”

I laugh, not sure if he said “smut” or “slut,”

and feel the adrenaline pump, my heart beat

faster. Could be, I agree like some

dumb-ass sidekick at a fantasy salon

where the hair dresser runs her fingers

through the client’s hair while he grins

stupidly half-naked in a kitchen chair.

 

“You want a beer?” the poet-boyfriend

asks me. Sure, I say and sit down

on the worn-out love seat, watch Sally

press her pelvis against Mike’s side

then lean back and start snipping his hair.

Paul hands me a Heineken, and I quip,

What? No Rainier? He throws a questioning

glance at me, then says, “That’s all I’ve got.”

I raise the bottle, salute, and take a pull,

notice a bead of sweat in the hollow of my pal’s

neck, his hair combed down over his eyes

like Cher. She nudges between his knees

to get in closer to cut his bangs, and I see

one of her breasts loose and jiggling

through her baggy blouse sleeve.

 

“So you’re not a fan of German beer?”

Paul asks. No, just German poets,

I laugh. It’s good, but a little spendy for me.

We watch Sally straddle my buddy’s knee

then move in over his thigh. “You sell

weed?” he asks. Sometimes. When I have it.

I take a sip of beer. “We’re looking

to score a lid,” he says when something hits

the floor, and Mike grabs Sally around the waist

wrestling her onto his lap almost

overturning the chair. She screams and

pushes free, playfully warns him,

pointing her scissors at his crotch,

“Be nice! Or . . .” She snips the blades.

We all laugh (and watch her glorious

tits dance and sway) as she bends over

to pick up the comb she’d dropped.

 

“Okay then,” Paul grabs his double-breasted

P-coat, “Gotta go, Babe, I’m late. So

how much do you want for a bag?”

Depends. Fifteen right now if there’s any

left. “You’re shitting me, right? I don’t

want fucking ragweed, Man!” I shrug,

Does the job for me. He looks at me and smiles,

“Okay, Bukowski, we’ll check it out.”

I take another swig of his Heine.

 

Paul grabs his books, hooks Sally

and kisses her neck, gives Mike

the brotherhood grip, and flips me a nod

before lunging out the door—his hair

and coattails flapping. Sally finishes

Mike’s trim and brushes him off.

She rubs his arm and kisses his cheek.

They hug goodbye and agree to try

to get together more often. I thank her

for the beer—don’t mention Paul or pot

or the beautiful romantic poetry

I witnessed beneath her blouse.

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She Takes Me

edges and centers

rivets and feathers

nothing holds

ever so

let it ride unfold

slouching gyres come and go

laving on paint

thick as Vinny Van Gogh

from Top Sail to York

from Flagstaff to Cork

nobody sings like Aly McGee

when the moon rises fast

blood red over Atlantis

bow your head and listen

to your lover’s vampire lips

lilting the wash of sweet dog

bones still chasing birds

in the backyard of heart

nothing is buried

only finally forgotten

unless it’s scribble-sung

in stone keep on

digging the cool surf on sand

caress your toes

let it take your soul

way down below the ocean

follow your tow

headed sons on the beach

then kneel and watch

the red sunrise

kiss the sky

the color of their eyes

Oh Ghalib

it’s where you want to be

 

for JimBo

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DAYLIGHT IN THE DARK

What I like about Ray is

the way he notices the little

things that don’t count toward

the business end of the day:

peeled paint, mossy shingles, pine

needles & cones, the freshly dug hole

& mound of dirt beside the garage —

shovel leaned against the fence.

 

What I like about a Carver poem

is it reminds me of smoked salmon & blue

cheese, Guinness beer; walking the alley

after dark & running into deer; the way

a patch of snow becomes water dripping

from my nose & eyes, cold burning

like a blister on the palm of my hand;

my wife’s raven hair tossed by March wind.

 

What I like most about the poet

is his attention to moments

lived & buried; to necessary tasks;

to questions that question the answers . . .

no one else will ask. What I like

about Carver is the way he focuses

on pulsing blood & breath — on waking

& walking through the day: ordering

 

hunger into words savored long after dark.

 

in memory of Raymond Carver

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Dough-Gods

Throw things at the wall

and see what sticks!

 

My Old Man knew the artist’s mantra,

so he tossed my mother’s hotcakes

at the cupboard door, called them

“dough-gods,” “sweat-pads,” and “pot holders.”

He did it for a laugh, our nervous laughs.

Of course he was drunk and knew

it pissed her off—two birds, one toss.

 

That inebriated act was his most successful

art form, and priceless because it lasts

forever, passed on and on in us,

the stories of failure, anger, suck-it-up

and don’t-give-a-fuck. Dumb hope and loss

continually washing inside, the tides of

pain and fear and love. Enter the myths

 

of salvation and redemption, explanations

for getting out of bed and coming to grips

with the fact that you can’t escape yourself

just like everyone else floating the blue sea

alone—in the same boat. My Old Man

taught me how to be a bastard, a self-aware,

hard bastard, harder on himself than others.

 

And Good-Christ he was unmercifully hard

on others who only cared about feathering

their own beds—that curse is in my head.

His mantra I’ve passed along to my sons

directly and unwittingly, “Take inventory

on yourself every day, and remember . . .

you can shit me, but you can’t shit yourself.”

 

Mark Gibbons

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in god’s world

questioning gods and wars

are acts of treason.

hell is the reward

for questioners;

death for traitors;

prison for not playing

by the rules. not

doing what you’re told

can get you killed

in war, and isn’t it

more or less always war

in god’s world?

 

don’t be deceived

by snakes or moles.

come inside the temple.

the exterminator

will keep you safe

from the vermin

out there who scratch

damp, fecund dirt

and wallow like swine

in their own

sweet pungency.

 

take your questions

into the rooted ground.

you say you want to be

alone and know

what you cannot

know before the silence

you relish, that void

you can’t imagine,

shuts your sneering

mouth for keeps.

 

in a hundred years

no one will remember

your face, your name,

but the questions

will remain.

they are older than the words

that phrase them—

old as rain.

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Expose’

 

To write poetry

is to know

 

comfort, the temporary

calm, security

 

floating in the eye

of the storm,

 

to be left alone,

the slipstream

 

gatherer affording

time one needs

 

to imagine

empathy, the privilege

 

of dreaming

struggle and pain,

 

chronicling the moment

to moment hunger

 

and fear of those

not born into

 

the leisure you know.

To write poetry

 

is to act politically,

record the language

 

chosen by you to

disguise and reveal

 

what appears to be

important, your view,

 

completely aware

no one has a clue.

 

Mark Gibbons

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Dead Man’s Curve

            for Chris LaTray

Back in the fifties we were afraid

of dying on Dead Man’s Curve

just east of town on Highway 10.

It was right above my house, so

I imagined some dark and rainy night

a speeding car would loose control

because of booze or snow or failed

brakes, poor judgment or plain stupidity,

and go flying through the guard rail,

land on my roof and crush me in my bed.

 

Of course it was all in my head,

coloring my dreams like the derailments

I feared (which came to be a daily reality

in twenty years). Back then, before

interstate highways, controlled access,

seat belts or air bags—any thoughts of safety

or restraint—we grew up standing, elbowed

over the front seat, staring at the road

ahead on no-shoulder two-lanes

driving too fast and too slow, often a six

pack conveniently nestled within reach

between the driver and the suicide seat,

all passengers wreathed in a cloud of

“mild” “satisfying” “Kool” blue smoke.

We were riding high on confidence,

building an empire, post World War II.

The sky couldn’t limit us (at least not

for a decade) till death caught us alone.

 

Usually that happened at night,

headlights sailing off Dead Man’s Curve,

that ninety-degree turn around a wall

of vertical stone, barely enough room

for two cars to pass mid-curve without

scraping the cut-face or shaving paint

off door panels or the wooden guard rail,

not to mention fallen rock continuously

littering the pavement: fist-size to

footballs to oil pan killers—anvils

of mid-turn surprise. A lot of folks died

in these legends fabricated in my mind,

their spirits trapped with rattlesnakes

in hay-bale-sized boulder scree

below the curve and above the railroad

just a stone’s throw from my house.

 

Ghosts of the dead were everywhere.

Little white crosses marked the spots

where someone not so long ago

was casually hurtling down the road

at one hundred feet per second

and came to an unexpected halt,

didn’t survive to tell the tale, left it

to us to reconstruct in recurring

nightmares: driving at night, two cones

of light catching the flash of white

guard rail before crashing through

and launching off Dead Man’s Curve

 

to float/drop two hundred feet

into a fiery explosion on

some unsuspecting house below

like a Hitchcock movie or

James Bond flick, an amazing Hollywood

special effect, where all the clueless,

fragile souls dreaming like me

spiraled up in a plume of black smoke,

wouldn’t be around to see the graphic photos

or read about the grisly scene,

unless this dream was like that old

Twilight Zone episode where

they’d find their names in the paper

the next day sipping coffee

while scanning the obituaries.

 

Mark Gibbons

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Family Plots

                   for Colin

Avoiding the work of weeding

is a habit handed down from my dad,

a piss-poor farmer who’d only raised

Hell and a few eyebrows.

Panicky days I wish I could be

the good gardeners my brothers are,

plant some burgandy lupine or painted pansies

neatly in short-clipped grass.

 

But I must find my own

headstone, discover my faith in earth

rich in blood. The sandy hole

we dug on Petty Creek holds the fired

remains of our father. Funny,

 

My Old Man liked reading

cemetery markers, wanted to be buried

in a gunny sack. We did it wrong:

left him bound in a strong plastic bag

sealed inside a cardboard box.

We dropped him square in the ground,

staged a silly B-movie conclusion.

Only Mother’s tears played right.

 

Weeks later, my brother and I

resurrected Dad, our final family plot

as outlaw sons. Afternoon grave-robbers

digging gold dust and whispering our need

to be good boys again, we cut his smothering

shroud, freed the flinty ash at last,

our skin and bones, to breathe deeply

the burlap—soil and stone. We put him back

in the dirt, sent him home.

 

Mark Gibbons

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Stars

You’ll have to excuse me

or I hope you’ll excuse me

actually I don’t really care

 

Well I do but I don’t know

how to tell you I’m sorry

you are so insecure or

 

Arrogant that you feel

it’s imperative to pose as

if you harbor some hidden

 

Knowledge or wisdom

we all should admire

and respect how important

 

You are in the hoo-haw

of wherever you exist

that story you’ve written

 

For yourself the game you

follow the role you play

the truth is you are not

 

More important than me

and of course I am not

more important than you

 

Or any other bug spewing

words or tobacco juice

aspen leaves flashing silver

 

In the breeze trout holding

green-golden in a stream

the child the dog the sharp

 

Crack of a rifle shot blood

on your plate we are here

and we don’t know shit

 

About anything so what is

the point of pretending

to be more than we ain’t

 

When all that really matters

is the ecstatic joy we are

breathing mysterious as stars

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