GREENBACK, TENNESSEE

featured in the poetry forum September 2, 2017  :: 0 comments

There is a man of God in the hills
Of Tennessee who says our Lord
Is coming. Today. He scans the skies
For signs. He builds his kingdom brick by brick.

People say they look for Jesus
To return but don’t mean it. This man
Does. “Holy, holy. His house has done
Arrived. He ain’t gonna be far behind.”

There is the throne of the Lord,
Built from old Coke bottles. There is
The chamber for the saints, made
From egg cartons. There are the

Words of the prophet, scribbled
Like graffiti on walls fashioned from
Plywood rescued from a dump.
You can’t and won’t miss the words

BEHOLD A PALE HORSE, since he
Underlines this citation with red chalk
He found in the garbage can of a bible
School which closed last year.

He tells the reporter who comes
To do the condescending story,
“Jesus started to speak with me,
In private messages, in 1982.

Before the Lord showed me his spirit,
I was that guy in the neighborhood
You kept your kids well clear of. I wrote letters
To presidents, popes, and professors.

You laugh: someday no one will be laughing.
People mock what they don’t get.
Our Lord was laughed at by killers,

Thieves, and low-lifes. As soon as
I can pay back the government folks
At the hydro office, I will turn the lights
On here at night so, for miles around,

People can see my signs, can know
The end isn’t coming, it’s here.
I’ll do em up good, when I’m done,
They’ll be lights that can never go out.

Won’t matter if I’m here or not.”

editors note:

We need these beacons to bully us into submission before… well, we don’t know exactly, but, by god, beware! (Congrats to Brian on his new collection, Weekend Getaway at Generic Hotel. You can get a copy here – check it out!) – mh clay

IN THE NORTHWEST WINTER MORNINGS

featured in the poetry forum May 14, 2017  :: 0 comments

In the northwest, winter mornings come late, opaque,
And one day when the sun hovers but does not rise,
I drift off, more tired than I knew. When I look north
I barely see an outline of light, just tracing
The top of the cedars. I look west and see our
Local church is having its last ever service,
The faithful come two by two, their breath trailing frost.

The last preacher of this last dream church now lays out
The final doctrine, that our light has come, and it’s
Us, and always was us. “Like Jesus said, we are
The light of the world; the bible also says, ‘Now
Faith is being sure we will get what we hope for,’
And what could be better than that? Go in peace.” I
See a few of the older ones standing at the door,
Lingering, hoping that at this last hour they’d sing
A song of the Lord, in this last house where such love
And sorrow meet.

And the preacher would like to, what a lovely thought,
But they cut all that out years ago, and it’s almost
Noon, and damned if he can remember one.

editors note:

We can hear the song, sung in the light. Can’t remember the lyrics, but we can hum along. (Congrats to Brian! He has a new collection released, Weekend Getaway at Generic Hotel. Get your copy here.) – mh clay

SHOAH

featured in the poetry forum February 8, 2017  :: 0 comments

Hi my name is Tony and I will be
Your guide today. Just kidding. I could not
Care less. Get the fuck on the bus and shut
The fuck up. I am a teacher at School
Of the Rock, Secondary, Catholic.
It’s my job to counsel and be a role
Model, all “within a faith dimension.”
(Those last four words right from our motto.)
The first stop on our tour is the, uhm, Shri
Swamin… Swamin… Swaminarayan

Mandir something or other. What? Who
The fuck knows. What? Probably named after
Some dude named Swami. It is (I am betting)
A Hindu temple. My old man, on all his
Sober days, said every religion was
Just bullshit, just a new way of stealing.
Anyway, get off the bus, make sure you’re
On the right tour, and ask your guide if you
Little shits have any questions. I’ll be
Out back smoking.

Next stop? Let’s see. Chris, you are a doofus
Times another doofus. Shut the fuck up.
There is nothing I would not give for a beer.
Next stop is… ah… Fo… Guang Shan Temple
Over in Brampton. What? Buddhist, who knows,
A lot of people over there believe
That stuff, or say they do. I know they get
A ton of movie stars in Tibet. Big,
Big, stuff. Anyway, I repeat, ask your
Guide your questions. You know where to find me.

Last stop… Everyone get back on the bus
And shut up. This one is called… Chad… Shad… Yad
Va-Shem
. What? Crap, search me, it’s way out
Of my pay scale. Funny, this one time, years
Ago, I did go on the tour, except that
It really bothered me, so I haven’t
Been since. School of the Rock wouldn’t dream
Of paying me twice. I do remember
Our guide said I reminded him why he
Worked there, that men like me were living proof

Shoah was always within easy reach,
That men like me made the trains to Belzec
A sure thing. I heard a kid laugh at that,
But I never got around to asking
What was so goddamn funny. I don’t get
These stupid tours. The prices always go up.
Most kids come back dumber than they left.
Like god from a machine will come down as
Fire. As if sin will be wiped clean. As if
My students won’t be coffin stuffing one
Day, just like me. They will fit
As well as better.

editors note:

Some still say, “Never again!” (But, some don’t.) – mh clay

RACHEL SUITES

featured in the poetry forum June 25, 2016  :: 0 comments

Allemande

The healing table laid just so. Jug of
Ice water, cooling pleasantly. Two
Different painkillers, both within easy
Reach. TV remote controls, all three
Of them, just to the right.

Courante

If you missed any of that, there’s more:
A Nixon book one foot away, easily grasped –
And something else on the Long March
Nearby, on the closest shelf. You can
Tell Rachel was raised by a nurse,
But if you can’t, beneath my healing
Table is a discreet unmarked brown
Puke bucket.

Sarabande

Love shoots out and manifests itself in
The world as it would. Checking it is like
Checking Niagara Falls; you can do it
But your success would be short-lived
And fruitless.

Menuet I

The anesthesiologist who met Rachel knew
She was up against a force. “I can tell….”
She said, trailing off. In my mind I finish
Her thought: “I can tell this woman is,
Despite herself, deeply in love. Nothing
Bad can happen to you while she is here
Or thinking of you. Nothing on earth escapes
This. She will protect you from all fates.
In heaven her light will make stars scarlet
With jealousy. In hell she will draw the shades,
Run the coldest shower, and stand there until your soul
Can rest.”

Menuet II

Funny how she could tell all that from your
Eyes, which were bluer than usual and red-shot,
Doing your best to look bored. You could tell
I wanted out, now, and tried to act like I could
Handle it. I couldn’t. I wanted to leave.

Gigue

How can you fall in love, in summer on the
Prairies, again in Vancouver in fall, all
Over again in Montreal, in a museum
In California, and keep falling, deeper?
Why is holding hands in the hospital
Ratification of what can’t be written down?

editors note:

Dances of love for what ails you. – mh clay

WONDER WORKING POWER

featured in the poetry forum March 6, 2016  :: 0 comments

On any Sunday morning in your mind,
Probably in winter, a man steps in
To a large baptismal font, or as we
Much preferred, tank. “The old now cast away
For the new. The old ways of sin now purged
For the new life of grace. Baptism just
An outward sign, but a sign nonetheless.
Let us pray.” The rolled up shirt sleeves, in lieu
Of his normal jacket and tie, tell us
That today a few of us will put on

The incorruptible. “Jason, join me,
Would you?” Jason we have known for years and
Works part-time at the local Petro Can.
Nervous at first, he tells us why he’s here.
“When my mother drank too much, we hid. My
Dad left early. He could not take it, so
My sisters and I, we kept hiding. Jill
Got married and so did Laurie. It was
Just me now, hard to hide when there’s only
You. I came to this church because….” He points

But doesn’t need to. “I… Greg invited
Me.” He motions his head shyly towards
Greg, in the same pew eight years, with the same
Yellow brown tie. They exchange smiles. “This church
Took me in and cared. Nobody else cared.
No one. Then Jesus took away my sin.
It rolled away… and now I am, now I
Am—” “Free,” our pastor whispers into his
Mic, in tears himself, as are many. The
Hurt of only knowing slightly, when you

Should know deeply, stings. A few seconds pass,
Very still. On a nod, Jason pinches
His nose and tilts his head, the pastor taking
Him in his arms, and after he has said
“In the name of the father, the son, and
The holy ghost,” briefly dips him in the
Water. Once Jason is back on his feet,
Winds whip up high. “Praise Jesus! Thank you God!”
He bounds out of the tank and we can hear
A soul leap free forever. A child sees

This and sees the hand of the Lord wiping
Away all tears. Later, when age gives what
You hope is wisdom, you think you’re either
Lucky, born into a family who
Cares, or you have Jason’s mother, in which
Case no sleep is ever sound enough. They
Don’t often baptize at the old church now;
Like speaking in tongues, or singing “There’s pow’r
In the blood of the lamb,” people have moved
On. Perhaps corruptible was always
A better fit. Or they’ve lost the eyes of
A child, who saw grace falling all day
Everywhere, as snow deep in winter.

editors note:

Salvation in sanctuary. All god’s chillun jus’ wanna be safe! – mh clay

FAITH HEALING 2015

featured in the poetry forum September 23, 2015  :: 0 comments

All the old tricks in place, no real change. Still
The earnest toupeed man with the deep voice
Implores you to send him your money right
Now, in God’s holy name. By faith alone
Can your small gift be made into the Lord’s
Temple. Depressed? Sick? Simply call this toll
Free line and God, or his word on this earth,
Will answer. He shall supply all your needs.

Easy enough to laugh at these moron
Frauds and their idiot donors, each one
Dumber than the last. So who is calling
These numbers? Who builds these tributes to greed?
The poet said “In everyone there sleeps
A sense of life lived according to love”
Nothing would ever shake it and nothing
Would cure it. For some lucky ones it all

Fits somehow and, being blessed, bless. Some flail
About for no cause, not caring whence they came
Nor where they go. And others – born into
A world far too severe – must watch The Man
From Toupee in the hope he can bring what
They never found by things seen with unseen
Things too far to help; as if part of man
Is programmed to be unhappy, and takes

No consolation from love past or love
To come, what they hold dear, or how bright their
Light might glow. As if part of us indicts
The dark. Which could be how the preacher from
The Church Of The Airport Marriott sleeps
At night, knowing he fools no one who sees,
That his funds come from those so lost they trust
Cash sent by mail means a revelation,
One that was always good and always true.

editors note:

I’ll sell you faith. With that and your dollars, I can buy a toupee. – mh clay

LOVE POEM LATE IN THE 2ND YEAR OF MARRIAGE

featured in the poetry forum July 6, 2015  :: 1 comment

(“This is the second of our reign.”)

What flew through the air today was sight not sound,
Although the trees swayed anyhow,
Stunned. Light broke through these dull
Clouds late, as if even the air around us
Had had enough of brooding, scowling skies,

Skies with no light or hope. And my wife
Out there for a walk as a metaphor for
All this, unplanned and unasked. For my
Long week she will find an excuse to treat
Me like I could be the only thing that

Matters, this instant and forever. On the most
Mundane Monday she finds ways to
Bring small lights and grace notes to a
Life otherwise contingent—deals on the phone
With those not in my control.

Not all compacts endure. But this one
Does, its essence an ionic bond,
And I can’t wait till you come back,
Though it has been mere minutes.
My soul pants after you, as the psalmist
Said. There could be no other analogy,

No other synecdoche, nothing on this
Earth has Rachel stand in for anything
Else. Even metaphor, Rachel as the
Sun, say, gets only so close. If there
Is the perfect word canvas, look at

A prayer wheel, set on fire with hope, where others see only
Dark; picture a murmuration of starlings
Where others see only shapes against
A late winter sky.

editors note:

Here speaks love as love, not metaphor; sweet.! (In the light of recent Independence Day celebrations, a fine write on Brian’s page; words from any president, two and a half terms in – check it out!) – mh clay

What It’s Like Being President

July 6, 2015  :: 0 comments

It is strange, this work of being a man
And a nation. When I took the oath six
Years back, I became not just me but this
Country. I was its face. I would fly to
Other lands and my mere presence, and our
Flag, stood for USA. Until there was

A new president, for better or for
Worse, I was us. This is one thing abroad
And another here. Away, people in
Foreign countries hold back a bit, give you
The benefit of not knowing for sure.
At home there are no doubts. Millions did

Not vote for me and never would, and the
Millions who did mean nothing. We love
Our country so much we forget others
Might. Voting for not-my-guy is the wrong
Vote, not just thinking different. Something
Like that in every soul. Millions

Hate me and more millions yet will hate
My successor. To get this job is to
Accept free-flow hate, hate looking for home,
Boiling over, hissing. I could give a
Speech saying water was wet and my mail
Next day will be full of stuff about how

My kids can rot in hell, my wife can go
There too, plus you hope my dog gets killed. So
I (kind of) look forward to the head of
State days, when I am more symbol than man.
Today though is its own challenge, at the
Veterans’ hospital, giving what aid

I can to our soldiers injured on my
Watch. Some will live and some will sleep. I talk
With those who would and read to men whose speech
Has stopped. A little boy asks me why I
Weep, but no words come. Together we read
His father’s citation for bravery.

We say it again and then a third. On
My way out, a Marine’s mother holds her
Hands up, defiant—“Why does Y O U R child live,
While mine rots in Arlington?” I start to
Speak but wisdom tells me to be still. Her
Words are white hot and far from done and far

From quiet. She calls me every foul word
She knows and this is when all of my staff
Stops hoping to be president. The man
In me revolts at this but the nation
That lives in me must stand and wait. I stare
Into a fury undiminished. My

Role is to take this, be the face of wrong,
And everything wrong with everything,
Our first sin and last bad act, living proof
Nothing here could ever break right. Now her
Husband can only take so much grief, and
Leads his wife into the closest chair; his

Eyes have some pity, man to man, but on
My watch, on my watch, he lost his son, and
I must know the wages. On our way home
My staff says little. I say less, except
‘That woman hates me with an undying
Fire.’ No one disagrees. I wonder if

Tonight, when I see her son in sleep, when
I see him wandering in the shades, if
My sight will be pierced by the salvation
We hope saves those who perished from faith, or
My eyes blinded by the freedom purchased
At so high a price by soldiers sent too
Far away, and just one day too long.

CLASS STRUGGLE

featured in the poetry forum April 17, 2015  :: 0 comments

When I was a child, I spoke as a child,
I understood as a child and would act
Out my own version of Pilgrim’s Progress
On the beach, on vacation. My brother
Would get bored and wander off, so I’d be
Christian up against a Worldly Wiseman,
Fighting Giant Despair, and I’d walk the
Wall of Salvation. You know your childhood
Was odd when Bunyan is fun, yet he was
To me. At least I wasn’t in school: the

Beach was better than another church, and
No more preaching for an instant, sweeter
Still. Blessed in many ways, I never feared
Mother would sneak drinks, or Father leaving
As soon as he could. I only feared what
I heard on Sundays, God’s disgust with my
Sins; how all sin was the same sin, and you
Were as bad, if not worse, than your neighbor:
The Lord saw clean thru you; his hatred of
Sin was perfect, enduring forever.

My wife, late one night, described playing “Class
Struggle” with her Dad. The board game had been
Invented by someone, I am guessing,
With way too much spare time and students who
Slept thru his pensées. Instead of what her
Friends played—where you moved pieces around a
Board and with any luck won all the deeds
To the hotels and the money and the
Railroads–Rachel did not get to pick a
Token, since “No one chooses which class they

Are born into.” This game was severe: you
Lost points for pitying workers or blaming
Blacks or Jews. To win really big you had
To know your Marx, even the early pamphlets.
When she was a bad token all she could
Do was start wars or crush a union: the
Rules were strict. A good token meant she could
Be a shop steward who made ATU
Proud, whiter than snow, and got more rolls of
The dice for caring about poverty.

I wonder if her father actually
Enjoyed this game: Worker v Parasite
Is always rigged one way or the other,
And, just like my Sunday school lessons, dull.
At some point in each life the child must wake
Up and know his mother human, and his
Father, fallible, and yet we seldom
See someone who truly breaks from what
They learned from the first teachers. My Father-
In-law had troubles with the unions;

They were rough with him, then rougher. But he
Made sure his daughter knew the words to Pete
Seeger songs and she’d never take work, or
The people who did real work, for granted.
I go to no church: and won’t, and yet each
Poem of mine owes something to Psalms I
No longer sing. There’s more to that book than
We see—the poet lays down his bed in
Hell, and “thou art there.” No one outruns what
Made them new. Just today I get an email

From a studiedly neutral, carefully
Bi-partisan group, telling me there is
Still time to “Fight for a world that is fair
And just,” a gospel learned from prophets, a
Pure blazon that man must always mean more
Than money. And how good to see these words,
And fair and just are what we would most love,
Even if some of those prophets saw all
Too clearly, and there’d be another great fall,
Leaving not one stone on a stone.

editors note:

Our dialectic debate ends with an unanswered question, “After the Fall, will there be left any force of will to go on?” – mh

EL PERRERO

featured in the poetry forum December 22, 2013  :: 0 comments

¿Cómo cantaremos la canción del SEÑOR
en tierra extraña? (Psalm 137:4)

We woke before the sun. The days were long,
Dusty, hot, but I didn’t care. Outside
Was where the animals were, that is, where
I needed to be. Goats, chickens, wolves, dogs,
Anything not me. I could (& did) watch
For hours. My schoolroom was my grandfather’s
Farm: the rest of the world could have melted
Away & I really couldn’t have cared
Less. Fighting an itch, not fighting an itch,
Amounts to the same thing. I fled to my

Dreams & stayed a year in San Diego,
Becoming me, but a different me.
I loved this new country: I could not speak
The tongues of my first employers, but the
Dogs I understood just fine—they wanted
Out, out, out. Until their owners hired me,
All they got was the suffocation of
Unthinking love, love that knows no bounds or
Heights. Trapped on pedestals, robbed of work or
Purpose, they bit, attacked, snarled, bared teeth, ran.

Love is free or it is nothing. But they
Were denied even that, inside all day
And all night, stuck in halls, backyards, & high
Walled dens. Love can put a hell where heaven
Would be, & these dogs were captives. In this
Place people will pay you good money to
Say the ludicrously plain; I prospered,
And moved my business to L.A; I
Am now quite wealthy. I must hire helpers
Each new year. My friends back home are happy

For me but (still) amazed. “They pay you HOW
Much to walk the dogs????” And of course it’s not
Quite so simple as that. My clients here
Have strange problems–the kind that happen when
They’re idle, bored, or alone. Yet the dog
Seems to care. So he or she is now turned
Into a miserable little thing,
Wearing tiny coats, or pink shoes, or signs
That say “I Love Peace.” They are force-fed love
Until they puke. Then the owners are stunned

When their poor dog, with no escape, turns on
Them. You should hear the calls I get! “Fluffy
Won’t eat!” “Timmy won’t wear his suit!” “Chulo
Snaps at me!” Then I get there & find a
Dog who hasn’t been for a walk in months.
We love cause/effect except when we are
The cause, the first mover. I will never
Go back to Mexico; this is home, &
The USA has heaped blessings on me,
But I wonder sometimes if we should set

Every dog free, send them to the farm
My mind visits…..where dogs were just as they
Are, no one’s special pet, chasing fireflies
In spring, guiding us through early fall nights,
Running after each other in the lakes,
A nimble reminder we live in a
Kind of paradise, to let the past be
The past; to never fear what could be, some
Note to yourself about life: our time here
Is mostly sweet & we have no idea.

editors note:

Turns out it’s not just canines who live a dog’s life. – mh