There is No One Such as I

There is no one such as I…
God’s own juices flow here.
The plain upon which I falter is my hell…
Peace is not an accord,
But a gift discourteously declined.
Why do you ask what I have done?
The past does not suit you, nor me.
Had I been purple at the proper instant,
I would not now be gray.
Seekers whisper wry imaginings
In front of my shoulder blades.
My only sin is distraction;
My only vice, reputation;
My only virtue, absence.
Empathy dances from spire to spire,
Futile cerulean St. Elmo’s fire.
Muse, muse, where are youse?
My lips are pinned I cannot bestir the frost.
My blood is black, my heart a cavern
I cannot fill even with a howl.
You do not feel my kiss on your lips;
I steal your shoes and you bless me.
Grace is a sham and
God is left-handed.
His embrace is less than endocrine,
More than smile.
The passing days are instant.
There is no one such as I….

Wall of Jars

a hospital in
ho chi minh city
has a wall of jars

with pickled
fetuses aborted
(they say)
by agent orange

i feel a flicker
of glee
quick as lust

still killing the
murderous little bastards…

today I discovered
the beauty
of a boy in a
round wicker boat

Dog Talk

When my dog talks to me
I know that he is discussing
Quantum Physics
From a different

When he dreams
I know that he does not exist
In this world
While he dreams…

His incisors
Are perfect utensils
For cutting meat…

He allows me
To take his temperature

When I sing
He harmonizes
In fellowship…

When I scratch his belly
He starts his motorcycle,
And I never ask,
“What’s in it for me?”…


[i]for John Sweet[/i]

God whirls around you
And you do not see him.

You are Heisenberg.

If God chose to
Appropriate your poems,

Your brittle images –
So lucid that they make

The back of my eyes ache –
Would be lost to me.

An entire universe would
Cease to exist.

You have prayers,
But God knows that

You are not yet ready for Him…

The Squirrel and the Bonfire

Her first words to me were, “NUH-uh!”
And my moniker, preceded by “Mister,”
And a self-assured presumption that
The little-sister idiom “NUH-uh!”
Would stock IMPORT in my universe,
And that the wily honorific, “Mister,”
Would warm my cockles
With conjectured, chaste
Reflections of scrubbed-cheek guile,
Me and my old fart,
Pot-belly, gen-gap ways…

Well, they did, eventually.
Days become years,
Little sister blooms into big sister,
And then into the flows of womanhood:
Forms and echoes and gestures
So sweet they remind us old farts
Of what never really goes away…
The caroms of the very young
Submit to the antics of youth;
The misery of her first hangover
Etched into her face a gray portrait
Of how she will look when she is eighty.
Never again, never again…
But the young never stay old for long,
And they never master a theme
On the first pass. Party brute!

Careful examination of any person
Reveals the form of their development.
Knowledge knobs and deficiency-wells
Jut and maw.
Spires, passions, ridges, hard-won lessons,
Furrows of ignorance…
The warp of their gestalt
Is quite unique, quite real.

Rare in the young gestalt,
Amongst the bumps and curves
And skids of knowledge
(That us old farts
Took in stride ages ago,
That the young can’t get the hang of,
Like baby monkeys fishing for termites
With a stick)
One observes a sense of purpose.

She has found one: Sports Therapy!
(Whatever that is)
It fits inside her existence like a skeleton,
Defining shape, imparting form,
Setting healthy limits to frenetic motion.
All is delineated by this passion,
From the jockness of her boyfriend
To the opalescence of her eyes,
From her chipper disposition
To the firmness of her butt…

The young are clandestine
And do not share their commerce
With old farts, who watch rheumy
From a distance, now and again sage,
Often yearning for what
they once were,
But no longer understand.
The young are inaccessible.
Two generations cannot occupy
The same path at the same time;
Gen-gap is a natural law,
Like gravity and pathos.
The bumps and seams of experience
That defines a generation’s wisdom
Must be as unique as the atoms of its metal,

Or all would cease for lack of purpose.

Some young early attain the age of reason
And meld with us old farts in that
Venn coincidence of acuity
Vital to all generations,
A mutual denial of the inscrutable,
An affirmation of the mutual.

No proof is possible, but it is nevertheless
True that the wisdom of each contributing
Generation is perfectly, splendidly equal,
Precisely proportional, flawlessly apposite.
This is a matter of profound disbelief
In the older generation,
And hapless frustration in the younger.

At times her wisdom is so marvelously vulgar
That she blushes to her breasts
And hides her face in a towel.

But manifest innocence is a perfect breastplate,
And a pure heart washes a dirty mouth.
She refers to me as a “MOM,” which means “Mean Old Man.”

That is her real gift,
A fabulous facility for slicing through
The bullshit and cobwebs that
jaundice the terrain of this ol’ fart

To intermittently afflict those about me.

She don’t play those games. She calls me
MOM when I’m a MOM so I know I’m
Being a MOM.
But she sometimes shares a soft hugging breast
(As some women do)
In celebration of the occasional warmth
I manage to display.

Sagacity in the young
Should be heralded abroad,
Like a royal birth…

So, in the mirror of her leaving
My heart turns once, a rolling pang,
And an amused tear climbs from one eye,
Left for right, and flees into my shave,
A diffusing balm for a sweet loss.

We share a common bonfire, she and I,
Me out here, an ol’ fart,
She over there, a quick squirrel
Cavorting without a cage
For rapturous young purposes,
And I smile, even as I pray
That she does not set her brush afire.


It’s a matter of timing, you see,
Whether one survives. Survival is
Related to whether one zigs, or zags,
Or pirouettes perfectly, or just
Hunkers down at
Exactly the right instant
By accident.
You take Jimbo, for instance.
Thirty-five years ago a pack of cigarettes
Cost eleven cents in the Ship’s Store
Outside CONUS.
That’s a buck ten a carton,
Any brand you like.
Lucky Strike was the favorite,
Short, sweet, harsh.
Pall Mall was a coffin nail,
Second only to king Camel –
Shredded bullshit –
Smoked only by the bravest.
No one smoked filter tips,
Which were for pussies;
They did not serve up that one
Sweet, raw cut of tobacco
Which you could spit out
Cool as Bogart.
Winstons were acceptable,
Even though they were filtered.
I don’t know why.
Maybe because Winston-Salem is in Carolina,
In the South,
Where everybody smokes.
Menthols (Kool, Salem)
Were for pimps and benny-boys.
The US Navy expected us to smoke.
Boys are manlike,
Susceptible to man things,
Which the Navy knows.
The best way to control a man
Is to control his vices.
Why else would they stock the Ship’s Store
With smokes less than cost,
Or perpetuate a myth as salty as the “Smoking Lamp,”
Or slip four-butt mini-packs
Into each and every C-rat carton in the Fleet?
Smokes were General Issue,
Like Beans and Weenies, and Fruit Cocktail,
And Undersized Asswipe.
The Navy wanted us to smoke
So we smoked.
We were good at it, too.
Gung Ho.
Squared away.
I knew one Texas boy who could blow
A humongous smoke ring clear across the compartment,
Then, with the same lungful,
Blow a second smoke ring right
Through the middle of the first one!
He was held in high regard.
A bosun striker with buck teeth
Could blow SQUARE smoke rings!
(Two dimensional ones, of course,
Not cubes; Not even a bosun’s mate
Is THAT clever).
Every hand smoked his own style.
Some smoked fast – hot boxing, we called it.
Others lipped ’em, wetting the mouth end with their spit
And making it hard to bum a drag
If you were squeamish.
No one held his cigarette like a damned Civilian,
Between his fingers, hot end up.
Sailors learn early to cup the burning coal
In the palm of the hand
To shield it from the spray and the wind
And the eyes of the lookout.
Everyone smoked while the eagle shit,
Except the college boys,
Who never amounted to much anyway.
If you ran out, you bummed:
“Borrow a smoke?”
“Got a fag?”
“Bum a weed?
“Gimme a nail!”
“Catch you payday,”
“Chief owes me 7 for 5,”
“Man, I’m havin’ a nicotine fit!”
If they had jacked the price up to
Ten bucks a butt, we
Would still have smoked, because
That’s what the Navy wanted us to do,
And that’s what we did.
Even if they had passed a reg against smoking,
We would still have smoked –
Bootlegged them, or growed our own,
(Like the applejack we brewed
In the paint locker),
Or smoked broom straws or worn out swabs…
The skipper didn’t like the look of cigarette packs
Rolled up in our skivvie shirt sleeves, like James Dean,
Or in our dungaree shirt pockets,
Or in the breast pocket of our dress blues.
Petty officers would dress us down
And Shore Patrol would stop us on the street.
So we carried our cigarettes in our socks,
Where they sometimes got sweaty
If we didn’t carry them in one of those
Plastic cigarette case things that
No self-respecting Bosun’s Mate would use,
Only Cooks and Steward’s Mates
And other bottom feeders.
One time in the South China Sea in 1962,
When Laos erupted the first time,
Me and my mates were chipping paint
Around the Main Deck cloverleafs,
Sweating in the 120-degree sun,
Laboring hard and loving/hating it.
A tenderhearted OOD passed the word
“Now Hear This: The Smoking Lamp is Lighted!”
Bless you, sir.
I reached in my socks for my pack of
Genuine, Unfiltered, King Size, Coffin Nail,
Lung-searing, God Bless You Pall Malls
(The same as Jimbo smoked).
You guessed it:
They were soaked clear through from
The sweat running down
From my balls into my shoes,
Sogging my smokes on the way by.
In polite society, my shipmates might have
Declined my kind offer of a refreshing smoke,
But not in the South China Sea,
Not on that ol’ tub of a ship,
Not in that heat, and
Not at that time.
Nobody didn’t smoke ’em clear down
To the fingertips.
I guess it must have been the right thing to do, too,
Because, so far as I know, not one of us
Who smoked those ball-sweat butts
That day ever caught cancer.
Jimbo was discharged from the Navy in that same year
And I never even met him until 23 years later
When we’d both been out of the Navy so long we
Almost weren’t sailors anymore.
If Jimbo had joined the Navy maybe one year later
Than he did, he might – just might – have got stationed
On that same ol’ crock tub as I was on.
He might have been my shipmate,
Chipping paint off the cloverleafs
Right beside me,
And he might – just might –
Have smoked one of those ball-sweat Pall Malls
That day, and maybe he
Wouldn’t be dead now of lung cancer.
It’s all a matter of timing, you see.

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