What Work Was (after Philip Levine)

[Photo Credit: Flickr / Charley Dailey]
[Photo Credit: Flickr / Charley Dailey]

We sit on our stained sofas at home
waiting with eyes glued to screens. For work.
You remember what work was – if you
ever find yourself saying kids these days, you can
string together figments of what work was,
though you may not be able to get it today.
This is about waiting, shifting from one cushion
to another, hearing the downpours surround
your tiny, shabby apartment, but holding off
on infiltrating. It already has you trapped,
too frightened to move a muscle lest it cost
more than what you’ve rationed this week.
You imagine your brother, working off
the coast of Brazil and enjoying every
cent of his engineer’s salary.
You imagine your sister, volunteering in
Haiti or Nicaragua to heal foreign children,
her practicing to become a doctor. Fortunate
that their passions and future fortunes align.
Your inbox dings at you with all the impatience
of a starving puppy – eating away at you until
you open it. The man who sent it took his
sweet waiting time in sending it, has said
No, we’re not hiring today, for any reason he wants.
Another follows, and then a third and fourth,
and you collect them all in a pail, let them mingle
with your almost-tears, save them for washing
down the hours of wasted waiting.

You love your brother, the man he helped you
to become when your father lacked understanding.
He’s at home now, trying to sleep off four weeks
of offshore weather, fifteen-foot waves,
and a twenty-something-hour flight home.
You love your sister, the woman she’s becoming,
so wise despite all her youth and blind faith
in humanity and divinity. She’s going to save some soul’s body
someday, and you’ll buy her a cheap bottle of port to celebrate.
How long has it been since you’ve told them you loved them,
hugged their shoulders, sang a stupid song in tandem,
and recanted the secret sibling rules once again?
You’ve never done something so worthy, so noble,
so useful in all your days – not because you’re too young
or too dumb, not because you’re jealous or even ill, no,
you’ve just been begging for any employment for so long
that desperation has taught you only waiting and suffering,
and you’ve now forgotten what work was.

The Hero Dies at the End

(Original text, with subtraction via Sharpie.)
(Original text, with subtraction via Sharpie.)

Read the opening chapters
and the unvarnished experience
might leave you speechless.
Think in black in white –
proud of country and
hate for enemy.
Isn’t that the quintessential
outlook of the American
fighting man, delivered
with swagger, unmatched
lethality? An unapologetic John
Wayne would notch
kills into his rifle stock.

But the larger truth: a man torn
between duty, family and
unending war killing him
with the stress of being
death’s constant courier,
a character amid carnage.

The two men spoke briefly,
but the actor didn’t recognize
the narrator. He was complicated,
saw the gray areas, had to fight
to get things right with his family
and wife. Charismatic, calm, terrifying
how the war changed her husband
irrevocably. The personal toll
of conflict questioning whether
the war was worth all
the months without breaking.

[NOTE: Found/blackout poem crafted from a TIME article titled “When the Hero Dies at the End,” as written by Isaac Guzman about Bradley Cooper’s portrayal of former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle in the movie American Sniper.]

Poetry Is

[Photo Credit: Flickr / Paulin'a]
[Photo Credit: Flickr / Paulin’a]

sacred throb
angel voice
liquid desire
god please
wet my lip
with urge to lick
this salty kiss
that naked dance
fish here for fire
through broken window
blood said scream
what death is
born of dream.

[This poem was crafted using poetry magnets. Go buy you a set!]
[This poem was crafted using poetry magnets. Go buy you a set!]

Watch, Redefine

(Original text, with subtraction via Sharpie.)
(Original text, with subtraction via Sharpie.)

proved to be
anything but –
shrink down,
reimagine touch.
Pour heart and soul,
it’s brave because
they’re unknown.

[NOTE: Found/blackout poem crafted from a TIME blurb that appeared as part of the 2014 Holiday Buying Guide focusing on smartwatches.]

What Her Moan Doesn’t Mean

[Photo Credit: Flickr / Luv Verde]
[Photo Credit: Flickr / Luv Verde]
for said egg
girl can like life
summer sweat
from being
his bare whisper
I do
through smooth sweet forest

for said shower
woman will
hug breast
lather hair and
cry rare like diamonds
frantic after red smear
bitter with pantless recall

for said spring
mother must
heave hot pounds
want gown still
singing always
though sad about the lie

[NOTE: Poem crafted using poetry magnets.]

Someone I Loved Was Never Born

(Original text, with subtraction via Sharpie.)
(Original text, with subtraction via Sharpie.)

Liz climbed onto examination table
for ultrasound one June morning –
grainy images of growing fetus,
its big head and tiny legs,
swoosh of heartbeat unusually relaxed.
To carry pregnancy to term meant
hitting jackpot, could let herself believe
she was finally to be mom.
She was due week before Christmas.
Her husband kept eyes glued to screen
as technician slid wand across belly.
She held breath, waited
for familiar to fill room.
Technician stopped suddenly,
set down wand. Doctor said,
I’m so sorry. There’s no heartbeat.
For next weeks, couldn’t stop crying.

[NOTE: Found/blackout poem crafted from a TIME article titled “Someone I Loved Was Never Born” as written by Sarah Elizabeth Richards about the shame and secrecy that shrouds miscarriages.]

The Worst Part

(Original text, with subtraction via Sharpie.)
(Original text, with subtraction via Sharpie.)

Toward the end of this senior year,
Daniel began to slip into a world
of paranoia, evil spirits, and voices in his head.

The worst part, says mother,
watch him suffer
and refuse treatment,
little choice but to care for him
as he deteriorated,
as an imminent danger to himself, others.

Daniel was hospitalized at least nine times
over the course of four years,
almost always released after days.
He’d dump his medication at the door,
and the process would start all again.

The last time, having declined
into a floridly psychotic condition,
Daniel wandered into a leafy neighborhood,
encountered a 67-year-old retiree,
and beat him to death with a flowerpot.

He has become a tragic touchstone,
yet another in a string of
young men with mental illness killed dozens.

And every time one version of the same ensues –
ailed Americans blame the mental-health system
for failing deinstitutionalization.
Disagreements catalyze a civil war in the community –
a distraction – no more likely to be better predictor
of who will pull trigger next.

[NOTE: Found/blackout poem crafted from a TIME article titled “Dangerous Cases” as written by Haley Sweetland Edwards about laws designed to compel those with serious mental illness into treatment.]

"How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live." — Henry David Thoreau


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