Category Archives: Poems

Night and Day: a poem about your creative life and your work life

At night you write editorials
On managing depression
By day you justify the difference
Between online and in store pricing
At night you design covers
For your unpublished works
By day you honor expired coupons
For entitled jerks

At night you rehearse monologues
In front of all your mirrors
By day you perform a script
For fear of secret shoppers
At night you record podcasts
With a progressive slant
By day you’re a captive audience
For political rants

You’ve got a long commute
When you follow your dreams
You get motion sickness
Between the extremes
You get whiplash
Covering all that ground
Between the sun and moon
You get all worn down

At night you draw sketches
With intricate crosshatching
By day you find gaps in shelves
In need of patching
At night you drop beats
Over vintage synthesizers
By day you compare coverage maps
To those of your competitors

At night you pack stanzas
With evocative verbs
By day you bottle rage
For some good Yelp blurbs
At night you teach yoga
To friends looking to get a grip
By day you bend over backwards
Just to get a good tip

You’ve got a long commute
When you follow your dreams
You’re a crash test dummy
Between two extremes
You get jetlag
Covering all that ground
Between the sun and moon
You get all worn down

Speak of the Devil: A Creepy Poem

3 a.m.
Another glass
A crisis of conscience
This too will pass
The bathroom tiles
Are doing that thing
Where they sink into the dark
Leaving only the towel rings
Gaze into the abyss
Like a lover unblinking
The abyss wants to know
“What are you thinking?”
So tell it
Go on proclaim
Lean into the void
And say my name

Speak of the devil
And I shall appear
I’m up on the ladder
With the ground to my ear
You’re just one Bloody Mary shy
One Candy Man from kingdom come
One Beetlejuice from party time
One name away from

Just say, “When”

4 a.m.
Pop another bottle open
Now is not the time
To be making good decisions
The kitchen walls
Are doing that thing
Where a gash cuts through them
And they bleed all over everything
Thank God you got someone
Who cleans these sorts of messes
Who gets you out of jams
Who gets you out of dresses
Someone who never sleeps
Who catches you when you fall
Who answers to so many names
Who comes when you call

Speak of the devil
And I shall appear
I’m up on the ladder
With the ground to my ear
You’re just one Bloody Mary shy
One Candy Man from kingdom come
One Beetlejuice from party time
One name away from

Just say, “When”

(Knock-knock)
Let me in

Poetry Today: On Bestselling Poetry

I will not write poems on the shitter
For Tumblr or Twitter
For Instagram views
Or ribcage tattoos
I will not write quirky quotables
For scroll bar vegetables
For boards on Pinterest
Where fonts speak loudest

I will not write limericks
For Hallmark sunsets
Too many tranquil oceans
Are littered with devotions
I will not spread good vibes
For up-votes and fast subscribes
For thumbs or hearts
Or Emoji art

I will not break platitudes into parts
With rhythms of fits and starts
Or throw out the metronome
To pass a sentence as a poem
I will not hide behind positive messaging
When I find reviews threating
Or ask you to grade intentions
When I’m lacking inspiration

I will not use “whispered” liberally
For a cheap sense of intimacy
Or say, “All the angels came together
To forge me the perfect lover”
I will not push more gooey snacks
Sugary sweets in shiny packs
And junk food entertainment
On brains craving nourishment

The words that speak to me
Are surges of telepathy
They dig like hungry dogs
Into my internal monologue
They’re not hackneyed hashtags
Or designs for your splash page
They’re not shareable or wearable
Or I don’t fucking care-able

I keep telling myself not to pander
To the lowest common denominator
Not to sellout my principles
To get a click-bait book deal
I keep telling myself persist
Get on that bestsellers list
Milk and Honey earned its rank
And that book is mostly blank

A Fair Price: A Poem About Underselling Your Art

I drop a pocket watch
Into the collection plate
Because I’ve got
All this time to donate
I pay to play
Live at a loss
Tick off the days
And shrug off the cost

I’m a giving tree
Money grows on me
I make it rain gold
Roll in my debris
I work for free
Free space, free time
Free rein, free mind
Free verse, free rhyme

“But how do you get by?”
She has the nerve to ask
Artists really only need
Some ink and a flask
You’re the one getting
Something for nothing
The least you could do
Is pay attention

I got prizes inside
I’m spitting diamonds
Holster your checkbook
And open your hands
Who cares how these jewels
Came unstuck
For all you know
They fell off a truck Continue reading A Fair Price: A Poem About Underselling Your Art

Be Consumed: A Poem About Sharing Too Much of Yourself

There’s no time for hors d’oeuvres
No time for plating
You’re my last table
And I’ve kept you waiting
I arrive naked
With just a lid on me
I lift it and say,
“I hope somebody’s hungry”
 
I work a knife into the meat
All the way around I twist
Until I’ve carved a bacon strip
Right out of my wrist
Now lean back
Open wide, say, “Aaahh.”
As I unspool my forearm
Into your gapping maw
 
When I’ve stripped my hand
Right down to the gore
You bop up in your seat
A puppy yapping for more
So I move on to the other arm
And carve off bits of bicep
Strength I never put to use
A grip on things I never kept
 
I feed you the parts
That I can afford to lose
But you keep yapping
And I just can’t refuse
So it’s on to the vital organs
It’s on to things I’d rather not share
Still you’ve got an appetite
And I pride myself on being a good waiter
 
I open my skull
And give the best service I can
The best years of my life
All my best laid plans
By the time I’ve scooped my brain out
And fed it to you like bits of popcorn
I don’t know any better
Than to give my last beating organ
 
Take the napkin from your lap
Dab the corner of your lip
Don’t bother opening your wallet
Don’t bother factoring a tip
This meal is on me
(Or it was me I guess)
You live to consume
I lived to impress

This Year I Will Not Hibernate (Audio Short)

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(If SoundCloud is down, download the track)
(Download the instrumental version here)

These last few winters, the arctic chill has given me a good reason to stay in, to sink into my introversion. I’ve made a habit of hibernating, stocking up on movies and curling up to the warm glow of a TV screen. Come spring time, my prolonged isolation makes it hard for me to reenter society. Real people don’t talk like they do in the movies.

This spoken word mantra is my attempt to break myself of this habit, to brave the cold and do something with my nights, to stop waiting for the groundhog to give me the all clear, to help kick old man winter in the keister. I hope you enjoy it.

My Poem for National Poetry Day

Minneapolis

Most people live within 30 miles of their birthplace. I’ve been living in the same neighborhood for 15 years. I wrote this poem when I was 24. I’d been living on my own, in Minneapolis, for 6 years. I wasn’t making it in the city. No matter where I went, I felt like I was on the outside looking in. My outlook was bleak. Of all the unpublished pieces in my archives, I’m sharing this one for National Poetry Day because of its harsh brutal honesty.

In the Mouth of Minneapolis

Your check bounces at the impound lot
The city repossesses your job
Your schooling
Your girlfriend
You’re a convicted pedestrian
Serving out your community service
Not by the hour
But by the blister

Automatic teller machines scold you
Like a mother wielding a report card
The city shrinks down
With each negative digit
To its lakeside parks
And wooded bike paths
Now food and shelter have an expiration date
Your bar tabs condemn buildings
Beer pitchers turn from brown to yellow
From yellow to “Thanks guys, I’ll get the next one”

Traffic lights flash red as you cross the street
Lamp posts dim as you walk beneath them
Minneapolis does not want you to know where you are going
Minneapolis does not want you to leave

Your list of cabbies and escorts
Dwindles in your cell phone
Menu, options, erase
Menu, options, erase
The city shrinks down
To its chained table sets
To its three legged love seats
With the springs at your back

Now all you order is water

The man behind the desk
Looks at your wheatgrass hair cut
Your brown moss stubble
Your wild berry pupils
Last months employment history
Tattooed to your face
Minneapolis garnishes your wages
Before you could even offer up a clammy hand shake

Minneapolis wants you to work for her exclusively

Girls walk by with their pastel cardigans
Stitched to their shirts
With their eyes so big and blue
You know they’ve seen Europe
You’re invisible in your frayed shoe laces
Your tan line for a wrist watch
Minneapolis has laid a claim to you
Minneapolis wants to go steady

When you walk under bridges
When you pass through bus stations
You feel like you’re viewing homes
Un-taxable real-estate
Your hands in your pockets
Eyeing the benches
Kicking the dirt
Checking for outlets

You thought you were just passing through
On your way to someplace bigger
Thought you could get by on your looks
On your youth
Thought you could sweet talk
A record contract, a publishing deal
A bachelors degree, and a wedding ring
Out of this city

But Minneapolis will digest you
In her seedy underbelly

Too Many Options

The last suit in the closet
The last one that fits
With bleach splatter pattens
And holes in the armpits
Every string frayed
Every edge ripped
Every loom line showing
Just where it was stitched

I’ve got too many books
So I don’t don’t read anything
I’ve got too many movies
So I don’t watch a single one
I’ve got too much information
But no knowledge to flaunt
I’ve got too many options
But not the one I want

The last tie on the rack
The last one to lose its shine
With remnants of a pattern
And deep Windsor lines
Every fiber faded
Every weave undone
Every red power lie
Exposed and gone

I’m in the heart of the city
So I don’t go anywhere
I’m surrounded by bars
So I stay home with my liquor
There’s a crowd outside
So I don’t talk to anyone
I’ve got too many options
But not the one I want

Soul Donor

Busted
Busted

Something haunts the attic of my imagination, locked in an old trunk, it watches my movements through the keyhole. While I stack character traits, it lies in wait. While I lay scenes on the card table, it bides its time. While I wave my marker, connecting plot points across the wall, it stares at my rolling chair with bright green eyes, a prince watching a throne, waiting for his time to come.

Entering the attic of my imagination, I find streaks through the floor boards. The trunk sits beneath the window, the keyhole positioned to see out into the real world. Trying to drag it back to its place, I give up part way. Distracted, I read the notecards scattered across the table, I toss half of them to the floor. There’s just no room for them anymore. I need this section of my imagination to process something I’ve been thinking.

Jotting a word down, I set it on the open space. The card says: INDECISION. The floorboards creak. Thunder claps off in the distance. I set the word OBLIVIOUS in an empty spot. There’s a thump. The lights flicker. I set the word UNREQUITED down. There’s a crash behind me, a click, followed by the groaning of a rusty hinge. Turning around, I find the trunk has moved. Its lid has opened on its own.

Peaking inside, a swarm of locusts engulf my eyes.

The trunk was filled with all of my romantic compulsions. Every time I develop feelings for someone, the infernal crate starts filling. The self doubt, the jealousy, the fear of rejection, all these things start rumbling. I can stack books atop it, hammer nails in, put it in a dark corner of the room, but sooner or later the trunk bursts open.

Once that happens, darkness takes over my imagination. My characters break down, my plot points get painted over, and my scenes get scattered. The story I’m developing disappears as the specter of a doomed romance leaves its mark on everything.

2. Trunk

I wrote the following in my early twenties, back when my best ideas were abandon in favor of an overwhelming urge to vent. Its wordy, silly, embarrassing, and completely honest. Recently, I dug it up and gave it the musical treatment. I hope you like it.

(If SoundCloud is down, download the track)
(Download the instrumental version here)

Soul Donor

The third law of thermodynamics
The one we all love to hate
I poured my heart into something
That didn’t reciprocate
I syphoned out all my good parts
To feed your perceptually aching machine
I slowed myself to crawl
Just to keep it going

Like a vampire blood donor
Like an eleventh hour Valentine
I put so much of myself in you
But you’d never be mine
You’re feeding off my entropy
I’m running out parts to give
I’ve been dying long enough to know
That dying is no way to live

It’s safe to assume
It’s safe to foresee
Even if it makes
An ass of “u” and “me”
It takes an addict
To spot another addict

Ah fuck it, I admit it
I really am psychic

The only law that Murphy had
The one that we all try to break
I left so much room for error
Our foundations were bound to shake
I always came when you were jonesing
For the high only I’d provide
Who knew you could quit cold turkey
And let this whole thing slide

Who knew you’d leave me in this bath tub
In this motel up the street
Dry ice freezing my skin off
You only take the parts you need
When I signed on to be your lover
Did I sign on as a soul donor too?
How could I hate myself enough
To give my love to the likes of you?

It’s safe to assume
It’s safe to foresee
Even if it makes
An ass of “u” and “me”
It takes an addict
To spot another addict

Ah fuck it, I admit it
I really am psychic

3. Ghost Hand

An Object Gathering Dust

Toy soldier gathering dust
Toy soldier gathering dust

If relationships in my early twenties taught me anything, it’s that I left women with a sense of buyer’s remorse. I didn’t turn out to be the man they saw in the shop window. My first impression ran out of steam. My bravado deflated into cowardice. The image they tried to project on me, no longer fit.

There’s how a man ought to be, then there’s me.

In 2006, I wrote a poem about a toy soldier losing the admiration of his owner. What started as a piece about a waning romance, became a critique of the ideal man. The poem broke down the expectations set by the greatest generation, chipping away at Americana idealism.

This has always been one of my favorite pieces, but every time I set out to share it, I held back, thinking it was too personal. It took the support of my readers to shed those reservations. I hope you like it.

An Object Gathering Dust

Window shopping on main street
A gust of wind
Snatched the scarf from your neck
Blowing it across the boulevard
Leaving it on the window sill
Of a vintage toy store

Where you saw a clean cut,
Broad shouldered, toy soldier
Decked out in World War 2 apparel
Iconic in its shrink wrapped chivalry
A throw back to an era
Of courteous square jawed gentlemen
Who lived to open doors and hold hands
A Norman Rockwell day dream
A sparkle toothed smile
Complete with the sound of a glass tap

This toy soldier
This prince charming
All your girlhood fantasies
Wrapped up in cellophane

You altered your work route
To walk by my window
Your left hand shaking
Your right hand deep in your purse
Clinging to your wallet
Fighting the urge

One night a dream
Carrying a vision of your man
Walking down the white staircase
Of an aircraft carrier
Burned itself into your mind’s eye
You had to throw fifty dollars on the counter
To appease the Sandman

My attempt to make myself look like a plastic toy soldier
My attempt to make myself look like a plastic toy soldier

You took me home
Unwrapped me
And sat me down
As the guest of honor
At the head of your tea party table

You stared into my half moon eyes
With all the love the world had
For Jimmy Stewart
For Humphrey Bogart
For Frank Sinatra

In Michigan I was a lump of plastic
Lying on a conveyor belt
But in your arms
I became the spirit of a decade
A symbol of an America
Revered by the rest of the world

When I slept beside you
You dreamt of an approaching cavalry
Parading through small town streets
Of boy scout meetings
Of slippers
Newspapers
And corn cob pipes

You were Audrey Hepburn
With her man on her arm
The belle of the ball descending the staircase
In her long velvet gown
An airbrushed pin up
On the nose of a jet
That all the fly boys
Just had to tip their hats to

A sudden flicker of random eye movement
And we were French kissing on Ellis Island
With fire works off in the distance
Our hands cupping one another’s elbows
The moon framing our silhouettes
We became the skyline

But one day you woke up
To find that the green of my uniform had washed out
That my jaw had chipped at the edges
That the half moons of my eyes had faded
And my frozen salute had lost its meaning

You still took me out to the bar
But my smile couldn’t compete
With touch screen Gin Rummy
You buried me in your purse
When my shadow
Eclipsed today’s cross word puzzle
The spirit of the 1950s was gone
America was a different place
With a different skyline

I went from a Christmas miracle
To an impulse item
Yesterday’s playmate
To today’s inanimate object
And all the love you had to give
Went back to being a lump of plastic

You took me off your pedestal
And put me on your shelf
Never to be played with again
A relic of your sense of romance
Looking down at you through incense clouds
An object gathering dust

Here’s looking at you, kid