Friday, November 20, 2009

san francisco

lost again in alley scrubs
seeking a straight path
among inclining bricks

buildings odd and sharp
as needles loom over
us all braving a short walk home,
canyons of cracked asphalt
and singular puddles

alive with oil cans
and rainbows that
spread out in decaying circles
concentric and amorphous at once,

greased and glistening
from stuttering lights
hanging over a servants entrance
of a restaurant kitchen
where we seen strange men
in white aprons and t-shirts
wield their professional knives
and hoist more trays of
filthy dishes to a crowded
aluminum counter,

long cars and short cabs
drive by on the main street we walk to,
past dumpsters and cardboard condominiums
exposing an arm or leg only half concealed
during a dream of rain,

the slurred hissing
of tires on the street,
someone shaking a bell,
store fronts lit bright in righteously
fake light of heaven,

something is about to erupt
over the spires that prod the clouds
full of northern rain,

there's not a taxi anywhere
as we stand there
full of food
and shivering in the wind.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I am lesser than the sum of
the parts |
you found for me
after the trains arrived
and the ships rolled in
with waves brown
with old dreams
and dead fish,

medals for my chest
and steel for my knees
that never buckled
nor knelt before
strange aromas
of cash reward.
I kept my nerve
and protected
the shelves
that held each and every pot
our futures were contained in,

spiders and houseflies
come and go
as their nature pleases them to do,
the mail comes
and rests out of reach
until knees and will power
match their reserves
to match the staircase
if only to find out
the name of the
newest debt
that was invisible
until the uniform is exchanged
for an average man's clothes,
used and slightly too large,
threads from the pant leg
dragging along the floor,

coming undone
each image that flashes bearing flag and brand name,
undone and peeling
to expose not green fields
but only brick
and generations of
calcified glue
that replaced the smiling faces
with hysterical smiles
we've worn
as we enter into the night
alone and without reward.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Three women

So these are the faces
of your summers and falls
that have gone by
like billboards
zooming by in passenger car windows,

your daughters
bought funny hats
and baggy jeans,

you walked
where trees and canyons
met with canyon walls,

three women framed
by sunsets
and early dew or frost
conditioned with respective decades
of reading, of being read to,

reading the lines
of faces that seem
the roads between
the cities you called home,

these are
spaces I've felt
in the space between
my bones,
the sense of place
and purpose
nameless and untouchable
'though I've yearned
for years
for what I thought I knew,

but it's wonderful
to be between all the chatter
and each smile
and grimace you could manage,

it's goes unsaid
and we'll leave there, as is.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


eventually you roll up your sleeves
after you arise from the nod
to notice
the back of your shirt is covered
in grass stains and
small twigs
the shape of crucifixes.

there's another song
these fingers will manage
as nicotine tips strike
keys that click
and snap another
name that
occurs to you
when the morning sun
is right where you like it,
in your eyes,white and intense.

the name rhymes with
the things
you've done
and the things
that became broken
as you past through
court yards and gymnasiums
trying to keep your balance.

the name
sinks like a rock
to the center
of your dreams
where you are leaning
against a rock
nodding to the lines
the poet grunts
as he comes clean
with nick names
and a drum stick or two.

you look down
and see yourself
on the floor
not moving nor breathing
and look
to the page
you were trying to fill,

it is empty
as the air
between the words "I love you".

you return to the floor
to the floor,
reach for your heart
leave your hand flat over your shirt pocket

and then die.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A philosophy you can open bottles with

Clearing house, really, posting this poem here. I wrote it in 1980 after I'd gotten back from San Francisco , where I did a poetry reading with  the late and magnificent poet Leslie Scalapino at Intersection for the Arts, cheerfully arranged by poet and college buddy Steve Farmer. The Bay Area struck me as a location where anything that could happen already has, and this sense of things being slightly crazed at their core inspired to write another of my open-ended whimsies. -tb

For the glory of Candlestick Park
these matches defy
your vagrant bluster,
they light their intended ends
and. then fade to black
half—way across the pitching mound,
either curling up or bowing down
to the press box rafters.

Second of all, I would think
that you’d wish more than
a fine—how-do—you-do
in a borrowed car.
In later years,
they- who -know- such —and — such
and you—know—who
might say and even believe
that sex—wax is a very malleable thing.
One solution: practice your sailors’ knots
and keep the evidence in your back pocket,
in case you're asked about
what really went down.

Try this on for size:
hold a flame thrower
at arms length
and try to blow it out.
if you’re not able
to extinguish the flame,
you should check yourself
into the nearest
stop—smoking clinic.

Finally,soft drinks consumed
through a straw
tastes their best
when you're not laughing
or watching the horse you bet on
drop dead at the starting gate.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Cloud cover

It’s a morning of clouds
when it’s either the sun
or songs about the sun
that we miss,

Neptune rises with a
scepter full of
unlikely fish,
he’s covered in a net
of promises every song
and lyric of praise
weaved together
to contain his churning ire
in rhymed lines that
limit small talk, ideas,
brings every threat
to happy endings on the upbeat,

Zeus yawns and tosses a
random bit of lightning
to the earth, where it lands
in the center of football game
that fare badly for
all home towns,
both teams are suited up,
seated at card tables in the center of
the arena, helmeted and
stumped and perfectly stymied
over a chess board,
line backers and full battle gear
slapping each other
on the side of the helmet
as fans drool, throw bricks and
paper cups,
take the name of Zeus in vain,
Zeus calling Christ
on a cordless phone
to raise the bet,
Jesus just laughs,
“I’m letting that letting
this meter ride to the
hundred dollar mark…”

Gabriel walks across a horizon
on the notes
of Hayden
and Gillespie
whose darting tongues
are triple threats
on the lying lips of lawyers,
mouthpieces all.
Gabriel reaches for
handful of mist,
a fistful of rain,
a knuckle sandwich of
crowded choruses
that horn in on
what clear playing
field his imagination plays on,
there isn’t a score nor
a trace of a lyric law
which can furnish the
vastness of skies at
the edge of the atmosphere,
where music continues
on radio waves though
words and breathless concern
with precision, noted detail,
less nunanced positions
all fall silent, quiet as graves
full of buried language,
where sunshine turns orange
and icy before all becomes
black and it takes years for
our eyes to adjust
before we see something
like stars
or footprints across
what is no longer sky
or air
but only a vastness of nothing at all
where planets sit
appearing not just a little
like balls on an ebony
billiard table,
waiting for collision, some
kind of action,

“I’ll take that shot” says Zeus,
“Sounds fishy to me”
moans Neptune,
“You got my marker”,
says Jesus,
“things are slow in Calgary,
and my c-note is only half spent…”

Someone used to live here

The fish smell never
came out of the rugs
even after the rooms
on each floor
where covered in talcum
and faint
powders and then vacuumed
as deeply
as the screams of ghosts hidden in carpet bristles,
who crooning around the
edge of the whining pitch
the motor gives
as the machine roots
around the corners of tables
and sniffs what’s behind the drapes,
cries that come through the mahogany
and carpet layers,
every scent of every meal
is evident in every bit of food remembered as
it lingered, impaled
on the tines of the many forks
that found their way to
my mouth, full of talk
and red wine.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Slate -> The Fray -> Poems#62915

Slate -> The Fray -> Poems#62915: "Wild Card
Dirt under cuticles and
motorcycles coughing
to a start
and the way I start
hours ahead in the week
is all I need
to add pounds to my load
and the gravity
of all worry.
She loves me and I love her not
I get knots
in my stomach when lunch
is discussed
and this leads me to think
of prayer and meditation
that the bombing
will stop,
my jokes , that is,
the hammering stammer
of banter
that desires utopia
and the role of a saint,
the fastest disguise
down the fire escape.
On some days the bravest thing I do
is climb out of bed
and breath
the brain is aware that
there is light in the world again, the planet has finished a rotation,
to breath deep
in a room with out signature aroma
and become Hemingway
for mere seconds
for the love of attempted haiku
he breathed the air into
his lungs and it was cold and crisp
and good ...'‘
and then shower ,shave
and plot
all the victories that will be mine
like pink slips to expensive cars,
mine like bankrolls of stiff,paper cut twenties,
mine like a solo at the peak of the day,
mine like this laundry
and dishes
that say have anyway you want,
but have it done before sundown ,
or get outta town."

Friday, July 31, 2009


The nature of things
in the cold they cannot hear

the near human groan of the pipes,
tap water courses through

the veins of the house,
and nothing comes clean and

nothing makes sense and only
the dirt gathers interests

‘though there’s nothing engaging
about it, it’s a revolution on kitchen floors
with scuffed, slippery tile when trips

to the coffee maker
are spasms of what won’t

get done in a hurry or at all
lest the world conclude its business

and the crisp spring air cascades
through the house in swirls

like lithe, perfumed lace,through the screen door
that slides no more

and is always ajar
when a door is not room you can’t

walk into (say “mush) ,
getting sentimental over dishes and knives, forks and orts
as they are beheld months before

you’ll seen them again
as the layer of grime

that is gelled and congealed
on the tile floor

that contains generations of
dirt and dust, smashed ants,

notes to the milk man, indentations

from the heels of leather shoes
and sneakers, that bald remainder
that things get-dirty again
no matter how hard you

press your knees to the floor,
amazing, isn’t,
how utterly strange
that scrubbing pad feels in your hand,

trails of dull, lute warn water
running up your wrist
to your elbow,

where the water
gathers in
a pool that defies gravity
until the weight is too much

and it must let go
one drip at a time?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

I See the Moon

Kate, a young girl edging up on two years old, said her first complete sentence the other week, "I see the moon". I thought, "Wonderful".
I see the moon
has a face
covered in ashes,
he reads under the covers
with a flashlight
made of dawn.
The moon is what I see
when my eyes are closed
and the stars
swirl in circles
around the edge
where the ocean
teases the shore,
the moon clears his eyes,
his smile lights up the water to the sand.
I awake to the sun
pouring daylight
in my heavy, swollen eyes,
every beam of light
a baton that taps
the window sill
to strike up the band.
Birds, bicycle bells,
low voices from boxes serious as salt,
the moon has vanished over the horizon,
the moon has gone to sleep,
the moon has pulled
a hill side over his face
and dreams of clear, dark skies
and the night song of small things
and all things in between.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


More gifts than speech fail me,
more lies than flies cling
to the static embrace of
the couch I sit on,
attempting drum solos along the
faded arm to the
rhythm of chattering teeth.

All movement suggests turns
of phrase that is exactly what 1'm thinking.

Only smoke comes from
my mouth and stammering
punctuates the coughing.

It's as if you've been
with me since the
start of time,
and that may be true:
my heart stops when your hand reaches into
your pocket book
to withdraw a pencil,
my watch stops and the hands on the
dial match the hands on my face
feeling for weaknesses in
the mask of cool, and, yeah,
a swollen lip
to drum
with forefinger
and blistered thumb.

There's more than my throat
I wish I could clear,
you're looking at
me in feline squints
that left claw marks
in the gap between our call and response.

My understanding of
what's happening is so complete and
subtle that it’s as meaningless
as bricked windows
and it makes
you looking confused while I confess
that I smoke when you're not around,
that professional wrestling is my passion,
that your legs make the history books
every time you get out
of car seat.

What I'm babbling about is
the poets' disease
of turning experience into stanzas
and arranging ironies in an order that
produces sighs like leaks in which
each emotion finds expression
in every bump in the road that
the flat tire drives over,
life gets lumpy like a
a plate of rocks a the breakfast table

--but oh, but shit, here's what I really see,
what dithering keeps me from, your lips, soft?
full bloom crimson crescent
under the exact pertness of your nose
pointing up whispering yes
along a frayed sting of desire
to the unknown land
of your eyes
clear as prayers in storybook churches
as they gaze back along the stretches and coastlines
of love that exists only
in the permanent promise of empty fields,

My eyes are soothed
by the cascades of twirled hair,
a bonfire mane that pours over your face
like curtains obscuring
a beautiful room I suddenly want to enter, your lips,
that is, I want to kiss, your neck I want to stroke,
hands tracing the lines of my back with fingertips and palms while my hands are likewise exploring the depth of your breathing against
my skin as they smooth down the lines of your back to your waist, I want to smell your hair and have my stubble get
caught in it like a stamp on a letter, refusing
to let me go, I guess this is my letter to tell you what the stammering is trying to disguise.

That is, would you like to start something neither of us has to finish?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


As knives rest in their
block of sieved wood
and spoons lay along side
cups full of hot, simmering tea

cops are busy at the curb with
a driver whose haste and fast turns
against lights, around pedestrians
gets him stopped cold by the demand of

swirling read lights, a voice on a microphone
goes deep for grit and growls, somewhere boogie- woogie piano
music drifts in from an open window, car horns and church bells
sing together in off cadences,

the shelves are stuffed with legal papers
and plastic glasses.

Knives rust as they rest in the wood,
the tea takes on the taste of the metal chain
that the strainer dangles in the cup from,
an insane dictator makes a speech to countrymen

wielding a shot gun that he’ll fire into the air,
maybe shooting at a passing flock of doves,
this is what the newspapers say, what the
talk shows prove, middle aged men with grey hair

waving their fingers at one another, clearing their throats,
the cops hand the driver a ticket, the swirling red light
careens off the front porches of the neighborhood,
there is no home to drink the tea,

no one left to take the knives to make a sandwich
with loafs of bread all partially eaten,
a refrigerators’ worth of bachelor eating,
mailmen have only the addresses given them
until the numbers change, or the building is destroyed,

it’s Pearl Harbor everyday.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


not years after tears
fallen over ash

nor days of malaise
after counting the cash

keeps this head buried
under arms
flat on the desk

as if in grade school
during a drill of some kid,

eyes peeking through
fingers attempting a glimpse

of enemy wing tip
seeding the sky with parachutes

that would blossom and foretell
bad fortune,

the trees were bare
and the sky looked grey, cold,

I cough and go through tissues
and wrestle with issues
in a greased, electric fever,
there is no lever
at the base of the bed
to open the trap door,

there is no trap door,
there is no switch
to lower the heat,

nothing is so neat
as simple things
adding up to
a theory of history
and forecast of
events no one imagines
in their waking life,

the land of sleep
is humid
with rumors
that another morning comes
all the same

if were all the same to me,

one strand of light
and then another
through the slatted blinds,

the limbs have all their leaves,
the rooftops are soaked in sunlight,

another box of tissue
and a bad taste
on the tongue tell me
this morning

"here I am again".

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Map of the World

Each unused piece of the puzzle
falls to the floor
as we make room for fruit drinks
and places to rest our elbows,

This map of the world has
holes in the cardboard ozone,
lakes where there should be
mountain ranges across the
severest edges of Asia,
gaping oceans of nothing
where neither land nor sea
define the tides or the shape of
the wind blowing over flatlands
and highest peaks,

Quite a world, you would think,
coming into being without
all its parts present in the roll call,
and even the curved and islet shaved
bits finding peace as they are pressed
into place, forced to make nice
with border cuttings that make no sense
nor which force the wrong populations
into the same small area,

And even now things get worse
with desert, which comes on a tray
that’s set on the table, we make remove
our cups and saucers,
take away our magazines and ashtrays,
the tray is moved onto the table top,
and the puzzle moves forward, to the edge,
and by the time the first slice of pie is
served on a dish with small forks
wrapped daintily in thin napkins
half the puzzle goes over the table’s edge,
into the brief outer space between
surface and floor,
half the map of the world
has ceased to be,

Irregular bits of the former world
resting in dissociated shards
on the heel marked floor boards,
and it’s not over yet,

Dear brother drops his
dessert dish and now
what used to be the
half of the planet
dreamed about in
a romance of travel
is completely, thoroughly
devastated and covered in cake
and runny icing.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

What you cannot see

We would all believe in God
if he were handing out candy bars
from a bag that even His long hand
could touch the bottom of,

We might all smoke the same cigarettes
if our lungs would last

a thousand years of deep woodsy drags
and long harmonica renditions
of Bird's serpentine serenades,

Guns would be allowed in churches
if Jesus were a wanted man in Rio,

Maybe the sound
of traffic would
be flute music
and dialogues starting with
"Please" and "Thank you"
if we could buy more time
like it were bandwidth
or an empty store next door
we could lease,

But I go on instead
with the meanest of expectations
about what the neighborhood
has planned for me,
my foot hardly hits the first step
from the porch
when a cell phone
makes noises like
water flushing down deep pipes
and the woman answers it,
brings it to her ear and
begins to speak at a volume that
would make Satan bang on the
ceiling with every witch's broom
he could find,

Every other son and daughter
of an imperfect marriage
between heaven and hell
yakking it up with all their hand gestures
even though there is no
in front of them,
speaking loudly short of yelling
with every move they could bust
because what they can't see
cannot be disproved
and who or which might
beat them up or steal
their seats at the cafes,
grim thoughts that make
the five dollar coffee drink
in front of them
taste flat as cans
that have just met
a the back tire of a
a really big truck.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Oakland is all trees in the fog

Oakland is all trees in the fog
based on sight lines coated with
balcony cocktails.

Great towns with names
that belonged to generals
who are not around
to see the pretty lights
along the harbor drives.

Every unmarked grave
is where the promise of
literacy fails another child
left in the backseat of a car
who is just waiting to be picked
like a cherry.

I say cell phone
you say call me
I say I’m in jail
you say call me
I say this is my one phone call
you say I’m losing you
I say nothing at all.

An ugly tie around the neck
will keep the dogs away,
but they will do anything
about bad drivers
who have no sense of territory,
they leave their car parts
all over the city.

Steve greets me at the
airport when the rain begins to
blast the cities on both sides of the bay.

We are on a tour
of dive bars
that snake up the sides of the Freeway
all through Hotel Circle.

The pants are lacquered stiff
over the bottom half
of a manikin,
and we go from off ramp to off ramp
photographing with cheap cameras,
stiff, crusted pants
set against the power lines
and Burger King signs
that configure the sky over
the permanent streams of cars
coursing north and south below.

Hours go by
at the news stand
when you realize
that your date
is not showing up,
and it’s a shame
you say, to be so full
of news with no one
to argue with
until the hands of your watch
creep ‘til twelve
and your wound so tight
with verbs and adjectives.

Tonight is such
a rattled pane of glass.
that even a pale moon
seen from a foggy window
such as happens in
best selling novels
and anthologized poems
cannot deliver you from evil
or the inevitability of a slap
with a flat palm, hard like
knuckles playing piano,
solid like prayers
cemented into church walls.

Half of what
you buy is always
left on loading dock
when it's five after twelve noon,
pleated pants and imported Cd's
waiting on a tuna sandwich
and an over- carbonated coke.