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[return to featured poem]


A Very Busy Ghost
After Long Silence
Alas, Utopia
All About It -- THE It, Not MY It
Amber: One and Two
Authorities are on the Scene, The
Back to the Garden
Be Still and Know that I am God
Build Thee More Stately Mansions, O My Pole
Beginning of a poem
Central Park, 1974
Co-Pilot to Pilot
Dating Game, the
Don't Agree
Emptying Nest, The
End of the End of the world, the
Falling Angels
Family Pictures
I'm Listening
Images — a Fragment
I've Done NOTHING!
Kill the Children
Lest We Forget
Little Sleep, the
Looking Out, Looking In
Macbeth Hath Murdered Sleep
My Church is in the News Today
My First Alcoholic
My Heart in Hiding
Naked Old Man Speed-Walks to Get
Kitchen Counter Between Him and Window

Night Walks
Night Of The Living Dreams
News Poems
Ohio? Oh oh!
On Dying in Bed
On Finding Out That I Was Doing Something Right
On Hearing Voices
On My Stool
On One Wanting to be the One
On the Passing of Suburban Shopping Forests
Only Freedom, The
Our Old Cat
Pictures At An Exhibition
Pigeon and the Psychiatrist, the
Put-On, The
Recent Silly Limericks
Round and Round and Round
Seeing the Light
Selection of Recent Short Poems (Nov 2012)
Senior Citizen Discount
Silence of the Iambs, The
Small Blessings
Some Variations on Birth and Death
Suicide Poets, The
That's One of Mine
Through Rose-Colored Specktroscopes
To thine own self be true
To Those Who Lie With Me
Tonight on Family Food
Torturer, The
We Am
What Can Be Given
When I Wasn't Looking
When Smart Bombs Go Bad
Why I am not a Serial Killer
Your Secret
You should write a novel — that's where the money is


Archive of Featured Poems by Dean Blehert


Sniper, you probably aren't a very nice person.
Why should I address you? There is no you there,
because we don't know who you are, and
least of all of us (if you can be called
one of us) — least of all do YOU know
who you are, and with each hit, you move
farther and farther from the possibility
of ever knowing who or what you are —
fading into that distance from yourself
you are rumored to be calling "God."

When I was in college, sometimes, reading
rapidly and intently for a test (library
fraught with smell of winter-wet wool),
I'd find myself looking at the page
from a distance — 4 or 5 feet away, as if
through a long tube, the tiny page still,
oddly, perfectly legible, easier than ever
to take in with a glance.

You see us through a long tube, targets,
but that's how you see your own body —
I don't think you can get near it, it's
electric, it repels you, but you think you are
getting even, though you aim at
the wrong targets, other people's bodies.

The way you see it, you are creating effects
like mad: Events cancelled, national headlines,
top billing on TV news, everyone wondering
when you'll be caught, why you're doing it,
who you are. True, it's not such a big deal,
shooting people. It doesn't require much intelligence,
it doesn't require charm, strength, integrity,
courage... — but you see it as a matter
of will: Anyone could do it, but nobody does,
just you, because they don't have the will.
(And yet, you can't stop, can you? There isn't
anything else.)

The way I see it, you can't create effects.
No one notices you much. No one gives a damn
about the you that has a name and address and
social security number (SSN for assassin).
Or if you're able to fake a personality,
it may fool others, but not you. You know
that putting on a face to face another
is someone else's game, not yours, because
you're never sure anyone is behind anyone's eyes.
As long as you can remember (not very long),
you've been alien, an extra-gallactic anthropologist.
(I can understand that, though when I feel
that way, there's also the joy of finding
life like my own among these odd creatures).
You move among us concealed in your human exterior,
a hunter in buffalo-skin among the herd.

At first, not a hunter, but a black hole
of lostness, a hunger so deep and constant
that its blackness takes on solidity,
passes for a surface behind which you live;
though the blackness is nothing at all,
and nothing lives behind it (or so you believe,
but you like to pretend you are not lost,
only hiding). You find the hunter role
good cover, a glamorous excuse for being nothing,
for not knowing how to be human, for having
to learn by rote to imitate our emotions
(requiring putting up with the repulsive clown
in the mirror) — for being invisible:
no scent to disturb the grazing herd of us.

So, hunter, you create your effects, but you create
so little, it's all synthetic, the rifle
does it all. What have YOU created? Fear —
borrowed from lousy movies, another damned sequel.
You can't make anyone laugh. You can't make
anyone love you. You can't make anything.
You simply feed off our ancient nightmares
like a blood-gorged leech.

I hope you don't read this until after
you are caught (if ever), because out here
among the naked parking lots, I don't want
your half-squinted attention.

If I write about you, you win.
If I don't write what I want to write
because of you maybe winning —
you win.
If I run with a zig-zag step and a lowered head,
you win. If I buy new underwear (just in case) you win.
If I regret ever having thought I might win a lottery
(supposedly as likely as my being shot by you),
you win. (But I never did think I might win
a lottery.)
If I — but what the hell do I care
if someone who wins by putting explosive, messy holes
in people's heads thinks he has won. Hell,
you are a sponge for winning,
like a sponge, mostly hole, a holey ghost,
taking in anything, like a dog his vomit,
gorging without tasting. How can I grudge you,
who have never loved, your winning?

You probably tell yourself you can take it
or leave it, the thrill of killing from
a godlike distance, unseen, terrifying, because
God doesn't HAVE to do ANYthing, and maybe
you can put it off for a few days,
but eventually it's as ticklish as
a cough that won't go away.

I used to regret the loss of forest,
but now the trees across from where I shop
make me nervous. So many things happening
in a large parking lot, so many cars,
moving or parked, in the lot, passing
on the road, what's the use, if you want
to kill me, you will kill me; right now
there's a window before me that won't stop
a bullet. I am, however, hard to find,
because I know who I am; you can kill
only my body.

I don't want my body to die now.
I want to lose weight first. And then
I want to enjoy my weight loss.

Though I write the stuff, I don't much care
for poetry. But I hope you are not a poet.

I imagine you joining the crowds, milling about
with people in stores, thinking, "if only
they knew," but on reconsidering, I doubt
that you are comfortable close to other bodies.
I doubt that you could deal with facing
another person across a table for more
than a tense moment, like a child's contest,
trying not to be the first to blink. Maybe
you can bear to move among us briefly
after a kill, seeing us, close-up,
as potential targets, our closeness being
a kind of magnification, a permanent
high-resolution sighting. Probably
you will be caught when someone notices
that the people you look at flash
tiny red spots on their foreheads
until you look away. How does it feel
to be a rifle?

Probably you are clinging to being a rifle,
lest you find yourself spinning across
the next gas station or parking lot,
to be embedded in the yellow matter custard
of one of those one must not be touched by.

Who can you tell? And what if you say,
"Look what I've done!" and we say,
"Sure, sure."

You are not as interesting as any
of the people you killed or wounded.
You get a lot more attention, and
why shouldn't you? It's all you have.
You are only interesting. You are utterly
uninterested. How can you be interested
in a world that has no innerness,
only mechanical process, no people,
only targets, faces that can be blown up
and popped like balloons, mechanical ducks
in a shooting gallery being knocked over
one by one by one, by one as mechanical
as the he imagines his targets to be (and
who takes pride in being methodical, right)?

They are interesting because they have
or had interests. They were interested.
They were alive. We don't know much about them,
because we don't need to. Their interests
(in friends, family, business, art, etc.)
made the world a more interesting place
to look about in. Interested people
don't attract our attention. They free it
to roam. They make the world interesting.
You make the world as flat as your eyes.

You pretend to pretend to be something hiding
where there is (you are certain) nothing;
yet, in the blackness you think you are –
because you can't bring yourself to be it –
at the heart of it is an endless ragged convulsion,
unapproachable, violent, like the heart
collapsing in on itself with the thought
of one's stupidest, most embarrassing,
most dishonorable action being exposed
to all, like the death throes of a gaffed
shark, like a dog shaking a rabbit,
like closing one's eyes fist-tight and
scraping one's head back and forth
across the pillow in an effort not to know
betrayal, like touching a high-voltage wire
to the tongue — and that's just what
you've put there to make something else
not be, not have been, ever — placed between
you and it, so that if ever you should try
to find out what's there, you'll be plunged
into an endless shit-storm of distraction
and thrown back on your ass, singed and dazed.

What's behind that? Something you did
that you knew you shouldn't, many such things
(back when you still knew you shouldn't),
but you had to do them to handle a confusion
that derived from something you didn't understand,
an idea with a word in it you didn't get.
Not too complicated.

Except that each solution became a problem:
Misunderstanding, not resolved,
was "solved" by going blank, retreating,
plunging into random action. The confusion resulting
included adopting as your own
the purposes you wrongly attributed
to those you feared — just as we,
fearing your bullets, begin to look
at everyone we see in passing white vans
almost as strangely as you look at us.

The confusion is "solved" by doing terrible things
(that puzzled frown frozen between the eyes
of a man who solves his confused marriage
by slaughtering his family). Remorse is "solved"
by electrifying it with the barbed no-man's land.
your flatness holds in check. The pain of contact
with that slashing voltage is solved by burying it
in a black numbness you insist is nothing at all,
though it is also all that you are.

And being nothing among the jostling, interested throng
is "solved" by becoming a hunter, who makes nothing
of others, using borrowed energy, unable to create
his own.

If we knew better who we were, we'd know
that it takes far more than one lifetime
for one of us to snarl himself up so tightly
in his own web of not being one of us.

We would know that, once, you were a good person,
and that, even now, you are certain
that you are right, and not only right,
but the rightest of us all.

But having said that, frankly, dear you,
I don't give a damn.
It's not that you are going down.
You ARE down. You are the state of down.
We'd see more clearly the rapidity of your plunge,
but that it's an ever more tightly wound spiral
occurring in ever more condensed space.
The direction we call down is inward.
You are spinning so fast you seem to be still.
You are becoming a spent bullet.

Those you kill will be back among the living.
One of them (whether you are caught or not
by us) will one day kick you down the sidewalk
on his way to school.

Or maybe there's yet a chance for you to recover
your humanity. If so, it's about as likely
as your winning the lottery.

Note: the above poem was written during the siege of the DC area by a sniper in the month of October, 2002. The suspected sniper(s), (John Allen (nee Williams) Muhammad and John Lee Malvo, have now been caught. The answers have not yet been sorted out. -- Pam

Through Rose-Colored Specktroscopes

They are everywhere, but we notice them most
in stark bathroom light cast on white tile
and porcelain: specks, tiny, but naked-eyable
bits of stuff, which, sometimes, as one is about
to flick them onto the floor or wash them
down the drain, begin to move all by themselves,

slowly, as if grazing, or in sudden leaps
(Shit! We've got fleas!); one can almost
envision their fanged and legged and antennaed
intricate beauty and hideousness beneath
a microscope; and perhaps one wonders
how many of these have I crushed, drowned,
inhaled, eaten without knowing it?

Other specks do not move, but are as mysterious:
Fiber? Hair? Dead critters? (Or playing dead?) Scraps
of dust (which is largely shreds of our own skin).

We live in a world of unidentified particles --
unless we are Crime Scene Investigators,
in which case, upon entering a large room
(says my TV), we instantly stride 15 paces
to halt at the key particle, the killer clue! --
pick it up with tweezers (never damaging it
or having to make two stabs at it), hold it
to the light or spray it to make it glow purple,
and say crisply, "A spore: this mushroom grows
only in a 20-mile circle around Hackensack."

But for those of us who do not live on television --
aware of sperm traces on discarded pubic hair,
but oblivious to the electronic snow
that fills our flat world -- for those of us
who must inhabit day after day the scenes
of crimes we don't know we are committing or even
that we live in "scenes" -- for most of us,
someone should invent a Hypertext Specktroscope
for speck inspection --

a simple enough device in concept:
You see a speck, you focus your scope on it,
press a button, and PRESTO, on screen appears
(text with illustrations) an explanation
of the speck: "One joint of the left anterior leg
of a cockroach wrapped in spider thread from..."
"Orlon, synthetic fiber, formula...," "dandruff flake
from the head of a...," "bit of beef cartilage flecked
with dental-floss wax..." --

(but NEVER focus your scope on a beloved's neck
or nipple or eye-twinkle -- bad manners and best
not know what goes into our sausage)

and by repeated presses of the button, one could get
more layers of information (a zoom process),
which would branch out on an increasingly divided screen:
One component of the synthetic fiber would be traced
to a coal mine in West Virginia
(and how many presses more
to herb and dinosaur?), another to the root
of a beet from Sri Lanka. Typically
a few layers in, the complexity would be overwhelming,

but there'd be that rare particle of millennial integrity,
that piece of lint, one's own sloughed-off skin,
that in six presses (a record!) would, with
minimal branching, take us back to the skin between
Cleopatra's breasts (which, unthinking, she fretted off,
covertly scratching, while hearing out a boring
petitioner); Caesar's spit (all those T's in "Et tu, Brute?")
or Christ's tear.

Someone whose hand I've touched once touched
the hand of someone (etc.) who shook hands
with Abraham Lincoln. I'm told the odds
of this connection existing are hard to beat,
and that, for most of us, only a few links
are required. We go through a lifetime
rubbing off on each other and furniture,
polluting the water supply and flaking
into the air, squirting, farting, spitting,
molting, exhaling, depositing, charring
to air-wafted ash, leaving something --
a film with a cast of quadrillions --
on everyone and everything we encounter,

all that we think we are
becoming eventually specks on someone's counter,
who, seeing what's left of us, thinks,
"No matter how hard I scrub, I can never
get this place clean!"

We are as dispersed as strawberries and bananas
in a blender, no reassembly conceivable, no
returning to the scene of the crime. What is
buried or burned is only "the remains,"
most of our substance having vanished long before.

In the room where I write, a sun beam reveals
a zillion dancing particles, the fluff we breath,
the not-so-amorphous air, each puff a mix
of molecules by the trillion, some that anyone
or anything you can think of once inhaled
or exhaled or was made of. Whoever you are,
some part of you is here with me. I think I just
inhaled a probability.

The sun beam drives my imaginary device nuts
with beeps, flashes and a barrage of error messages:
Divide Overflow! Insufficient memory! Reboot!
(My text grows hyper!)

Friends, let us applaud ourselves, for we
are doing our duty: conserving, recycling,
patching together new bodies, generation
after generation, from old molecules and
older atoms (and don't we know each other
from atoms?), life after life after life --
Friends, we overflow our cells! We are


I can imagine the cataclysm -- explosion,
flood, asteroid collision, implosion of the sun...
I can envision billions of bodies or no bodies,
an ashen globe or its ashen quadrillion fragments --
all that I can imagine.

What I cannot conceive of, in all that silence
(and any silence is an opportunity,
so this final silence would be the opportunity
to end all opportunities) -- what I cannot conceive of
is the absence of 10,000,000 poets -- the absence
of even a single poet -- to tell the absent us
in trillions of words (collectively), how hard it is
to speak at such a time, but that now,
after the end of the world, more than ever
we must speak out;

no 10,000 or 10 billion
e-mail messages about gatherings of poets
live (remember life?) and on the web
to mourn, to share, to celebrate our (we poets',
humanities') renewed commitment to survive,
if only as dispersed atoms and exotic rays
dusty whirls of cosmic gas;

I can't conceive of no lyrical affirmations,
no acid condemnations of those to blame
(The System, corporate greed, philistines,
Arabs, Jews, Communists, Blacks, the press,
the administration, right-wing extremists,
liberals, environmentalists, men, etc.);

the fresh and powerful new voices joining in,
the performance poets rapping out their rages,
brags and politically correct empathies,
the brilliant poems that make us so keenly aware
that we are all, everyone of us, cinders --
and perhaps that most of us deserve it,
and certainly only the poet could feel
the death of a whole world
in the crushing of an ant
or the shadow of a falling leaf -- if only
there were still ants and leaves and sensitivity.

No, this is inconceivable, beyond silence;
it cannot be, this oxymoron: A catastrophe
without poets, the greatest conceivable catastrophe
without the greatest flowering or at least vegetating
of poets. It is inconceivable, like a perfect God
with zits, and therefore impossible. Yes,
thanks to our poets, the end of the world
is impossible.


On My Stool

My stool has all the forms of clouds in the blue bowl of heaven. I can see anything I want in it.
My stool is as ominous as tea leaves. There is nothing it cannot foretell.
My stool is as various as the weather, embracing all seasons, storm and calm, flood and drought. Like the weather, it is endlessly a subject of interest, treated like family when regular, but a dangerous antagonist when it turns on me.
My stool gives me great pleasure when it leaves me easily, abundantly and with body. A good stool begins a good day. A bad stool or none at all poisons the sun.
My stool smells better than anyone else's, except when I eat something that makes me a stranger to myself.
My stool knows me better than I know myself, surprising me with the pungency of my excesses.
My stool is what my body creates without my help. I enslave brain, fingers, limbs, mouth. I decide what to put into my body. But my body decides what to make of it. My body glows with pride when I admire what it has made.
My stool has given me solitude in a noisy house and leisure to read great literature and pulp novels in the midst of mad activity.
My stool is good luck, for it leaves a horseshoe printed white on my bottom.
My stool invites contemplation, for to savor it fully, one must sit over it -restless legs soothed to leaden sleep -as patient as a brooding hen. My stool is a little world made cunningly. Creatures live in it and are nourished by it.
My stool comes from parts of my body where I have never been, will perhaps never enter. If my stool could tell what it has seen...and it does!
My stool is only mine. No one else treasures it, not even those dearest to me, nor I theirs. None except for my own body is as intimate to me as my stool. If I prefer not to touch it, that is only out of respect for my body, which has rejected it, as someday it will reject me.
My stool enriches my language, giving me
a load of crap, much good shit, the latest poop--not worth a turd-- and manure, excrement, defecation, waste and feces--all wonderful things for things to be said to be--and much much more.
My stool infiltrates language with the giggles of children, for each family has its own secret word for the act: I learned to go squeeze, but my younger brothers and sisters would go boom! (and tinkle too). But some secrets are best shared, as when a million children in hiding smirk to hear, "We're number two-- we try harder!"
My stool gives me all this-- explaining, perhaps, why we describe it not as something we give, but as something we take.
My stool teaches me how to make noises of disrespect, scat-singing as it goes. I train my mouth to imitate its noise, for what good is freedom of expression if one has no way to express one's appreciation for the world's passing scene?
My stool teaches me the vanity of fine cuisine, for look what it makes of whatever I eat, whether subtle sauces or coarse humble brown bread.
My Stool teaches me grateful acceptance of our universe when I consider that the anus could have been given tastebuds.
My stool is forgiving, a trumpet fanfare absolving me of my sins of the night before, my second helpings, snacks and rich desserts, releasing me from my night of head-throbbing, stomach churning penance, taking from me my burden. My stool allows me both universality and individuality, for each day at my stool, I am possessed of a secret, a little life all my own of which one may not speak, into which none pry, and yet I share this secret with every human, every creature.
My stool must be very interesting, for it is a forbidden subject. Even admitting an interest in one's own labels one mentally disordered. One mustn't admit to looking much at one's stool. It should be made discreetly, quickly, to vanish, as must (before one emerges) all implicated body parts.
My stool leads the way back to earth whither my body will one day follow, its intricate systems as nourishing to grass and blowflies, its expulsion as great a relief to the living as if it, too, were stool, this life a long digestive process, in the end whatever is not of the spirit
becoming the waste of spirit. If this is so, each stool is a little funeral ceremony, or part of a lifelong interment, for no stool is an island.
My stool teaches me what I am not. Thus my stool teaches me everything.


Lest We Forget                     And an explanation to a reader

Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
An elephant never forgets, but this is
personal, not political. We must make that distinction
or all our politicians would be institutionalized
for forgetting their promises.

Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
In his day he was called "Teflon" because
nothing stuck to him; now even memory
turns slippery.

Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
Nancy went to his birthday party without him.
Was he missed? Probably not - so many people
know how to "do" Ronald Reagan...

Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
What was it he said about the dead storm troopers?
That they, like those they killed, were victims?
Was that a remembering or a forgetting?

Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
He said Americans should be proud of being
American. Was that a remembering or a

Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
He used to know a great many things by rote -
that is, by heart, such as movie scripts, the
speech he took on tour - who knows how much
else he was or seemed to be was memorized,
is now forgotten or comes back only
in random bits?

Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
He's forgotten about sending arms to Iran
for hostages - if he ever knew. If he ever
knew, he's forgotten he knew. He does not
at this time recall. He may have been an
honest man. If not, he is becoming one.

Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
Nancy is taking good care of him. If he were
still President, probably we wouldn't be told.
Would we notice?

Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
He used to be a spokesman for General Electric:
"Progress is our most important product!" - can
you still say that? Come on...Progress...? Progress...?

Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
He is - has always been - such an easy target.
Now he's a sitting duck. It's not sporting to say
these things. He suffers from a disease. It could
happen to anyone. It could start at the top of
our nation and trickle down to the rest of us.
Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
It's not so bad: He can still play golf with
Hope. And now even his own children
speak well of him.

Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
He is loved and hated for wanting to shrink
government, for failing to shrink government,
for forgetting the poor, for remembering the
rich, etc. He is loathed and adored for saying
it is not evil for a person or nation to prosper
and be strong. Now here's the odd thing: Nearly
everyone hates or loves Ronald Reagan for something
he said or is said to have said, and everyone
is certain that somehow events have justified
this love or hatred, but hardly anyone remembers
(or ever knew) just what Reagan did or what
came of it or how much of what has happened since
came of it. Today's newspapers are already a gray
blur. Tell me, who are these candidates really?
Even our pain becomes unreal the moment our
President feels it. What is the difference
between such knowing and forgetting?

Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
He proved that an actor playing the role
of a political leader is impossible to
distinguish from a political leader. Is this
something we should remember or forget?

Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
His baiting the Evil Empire and his "Star Wars" plan
were so stupid that maybe they ended the Cold War.
Lebanon, Libya, Grenada... His idiotic economics
brought us huge economic expansion - or was it
ruin? Or was that because of the liberal congress?
O listen, I can't think with such stuff. I remember
only "Doonesbury" and that full forelock awaft on
helicopter wash that drowns out his smiling voice.
Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
Does he still have a full head of hair? Does
Nancy tint it? Does he stammer more now, quaver,
jowls shaking? Can he still grin that grin?
Is there anything he must forget to be able to grin
that grin? Is he cheerful about forgetting?
Can he joke about it? Isn't Ronald Reagan
a pretty good guy? Nicer than Nixon, anyway?

Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
Even as we speak Ronald Reagan is forgetting
things. There is so MUCH to forget! He has
just this moment forgotten "Where's the
rest of me?" and now he's forgotten preferring
to be in Philadelphia...and there goes "There
you go again!" But there is more -
so much more to forget.

Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
We, too, are alive but forgetting things.
"Surveys show that 60% of those under 18
don't know..." - that we fought in Vietnam,
that we didn't win in Vietnam, who Roosevelt
was or Truman or Ike (Does anyone remember
Gerald Ford?) - and one-year-olds have
forgotten almost everything, though some
have remembered how to grin that grin.

Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
And us? With each new miracle drug, we forget
all the earlier miracle drugs that are now
called evil drugs. We all know that things
have always been the way things are and so
must always be so.

Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
If we can forget fast enough, we will, at last,
be able to live in the eternal present, having
no past nor future - 100% guilt-free,
without plans, budgets, debts or regrets.
Someone will take care of us - maybe the Government,
for hasn't the Government always taken care
of the People? Ronald Reagan, of course, preached
self-reliance, but Ronald Reagan probably
isn't allowed to go for a walk alone now
lest he get confused - all those Pacific Palisades
mansions look pretty much alike.

Ronald Reagan is alive but forgetting things.
Soon we will forget Ronald Reagan. It is said
that what we forget we must repeat. We will
forget Vietnam (he helped us) and have to do it
again. We will forget the Holocaust and have
to do it again. We will forget slavery and
have to do it again. We will forget religious
intolerance and racism and ignorance and greed
and cruelty and have to do them again. We will
forget ourselves and have to do them again.
We will even forget forgetting and have to
forget again. And so we will have to do
Ronald Reagan again. He will die and be forgotten,
but when we need him, once again Ronald Reagan
will be alive for us, forgetting things.


My Church is in the News Today

My church is in the news today.
A movie-star member of my church is making a movie, so they did a story about it and somehow managed to bring up all the usual crap -- what a huge puffed-up twisted loaf they bake from so tiny a pinch of fact for leavening!

My church is in the news today.
I hope none of my friends read it. If they do, will they say, "He's one of these nuts"? or "This must be a lie, or Dean wouldn't be in it"? or maybe they won't even think of me, like the one who keeps confusing my church with "Christian Science or whatever."

My church is in the news today.
Why do they keep saying these things, year after year? They must think we're dangerous. So they are trying to make it dangerous for me to be in my church or to tell people about it.

My church is in the news today.
I've spent over 30 years studying my religion, and am gradually coming to a pretty good understanding of it, of part of it...but what a waste! I could have read this article and known all about it, just like you!

My church is in the news today.
But after all, don't readers have the right to know, to be warned? Perhaps my church does bad things. Perhaps the founder did bad things. Ah, but if the movie star were Lutheran, would they say, "...well-known member of the Lutheran denomination, whose founder was a rabid anti-semite and encouraged the nobility to kill the peasants without mercy during an uprising?" If he were Catholic, would they say, "...well-known Roman Catholic, his church killed and tortured tens of thousands during the Inquisition, and currently numerous priests have been accused of molesting altar boys...". If he were Moslem -- "...whose founder led holy wars..."; if Jewish -- "...whom many people consider the murderers of Christ and poisoners of wells..."; if Hindhu -- bring in suttee, the caste system; if Atheist -- "...sharing the beliefs of Stalin and Mao, murderers of millions..."; if Pagan -- well, wasn't Hitler one, really? You can skewer just about anyone, though Unitarians are hard to pin down, which is why so many people who don't want to be pinned down are Unitarians. Even the Quakers have to live with Nixon. That would be outrageous yellow journalism -- the editors would get lynched. But they do it to my church -- have you noticed? -- and that's OK.

My church is in the news today.
It must be news, because it's in the news, though except for the excuse for the story (which is awfully flimsy), all of it is ancient distortions, quoting the same 3 or 4 professional debunkers (I wonder if they've ever done anything bad, and if so, if the news should mention it?), and, as usual, quoting the first half sentence of a church "spokesperson's" 30-minute rebuttal statement.

My church is in the news today.
One day, after reading something by the founder of my church, I fell in love with the world again, felt like a newborn babe, wanted to touch trees and talk to everyone I met. That wasn't in the news today.

My church is in the news today.
They make us sound more silly than evil (should I be relieved?), because look what we (allegedly, though they don't grant us "allegedly" -- only murderers get "allegedly") believe in! If the movie star were Christian, would they say, "...a member of the Christian faith, he believes that, in a mystery ritual, he eats the flesh of Jesus Christ and drinks his blood, though observers report that the flesh is a wafer, the blood a paper cup of grape juice"? Or, "...a secular humanist, who thinks he's a pudding of fatty tissue in his head and that he came into existence when lightning electrified primordial muck"? (Or from under a cabbage?)

My church is in the news today.
It's only 50 years old, but you've probably heard about it and probably think you know all about it because of articles like this, though I can barely recognize it in the articles, but what do I know -- I've only been a member for 32 years.

My church is in the news today.
What if my church could help people, even save lives? How many lives will not be saved because of this article? I mean, if my church could save lives. I mean just what if?

My church is in the news today.
Here's the big scoop: It makes money, unlike other churches and institutions, which get their buildings free and feed their ministers manna and never receive money from their parishioners. You've got to watch out for churches whose parishioners give them money. Anything that costs money has got to be a scam, right? Or anything to do with religion? I'm ashamed to be a member of a church whose members are willing to donate money to it.

My church is in the news today.
The byline is a giveaway -- that guy has made a career out of my church. I met him once, a little bright-eyed pit bull asking "friendly" "reasonable" questions. A noise in the street. A journalist.

My church is in the news today.
Honest, I'm not an idiot, I'm not a zombie, I'm not out to get your money, I'm not weird, I'm not outlandish. How do I prove a negative? Of course, I could SHOW anyone willing to look, but the article leaves you feeling you know all about it and have no need to look further. The article's tone is smug, clever. One wants to be with the writer, not with those he so neatly skewers. One reads and is coated with that smug veneer. One becomes too hip to want to know more.

My church is in the news today.
We help drug addicts come off drugs. We teach ghetto kids to read and write. We...but none of this is news. I never see it in the news. They're the news, they must know what news is.

My church is in the news today.
Why would anyone want to attack my church? Of course, a well- known pharmaceutical company dropped $4 billion dollars worth on the market after my church publicized the dangers of using its anti-depressant, and the publisher of the paper is a big booster of "mental health" and the drug companies, and... -- sorry, I keep forgetting, we're talking about news here, and none of this was in the news. (Do you think the mental health folks could feel threatened by us? There are several million of us, and not one of us uses psychiatric medication or counseling, and none of our children is drugged in school. If this spread....) (And how do we manage to survive without help from psychologists and psychiatrists? I guess fanatic zombies don't get depressed or have attention deficits. But it might make you wonder.)

My church is in the news today.
Why NOT define this as news. Most readers have no direct experience of my church, so we're an easy target. Next come the Fundamentalists (never defined, always evoked -- and you know how bad those fanatics are, right?) -- even I forget at times that it was the politically correct liberals who tried to kick Huck Finn out of school libraries. We start with the new religions, the ones easiest to label extreme or weird, the most "threatening", and quietly do the spade work that, one day, will undermine the more established churches (who stand silent, thinking it has nothing to do with them until it's too late).

My church is in the news today.
We talk about tolerance and rights; yet we stomach Trial by Media, don't even realize it's happening or that WE are the jury. Remember, years ago, how the news announced (full clarion) that the newly elected Lieutenant Governor of Illinois was (gasp!) a follower of Lyndon LaRouche (who?), going on to imply that this might be a sinister development (never saying why, just sprinkling about the words "alleged" and "extremist", but never saying what was extreme about them). And over the next few years came a spate of La Rouche articles, each (as if quoting each other as authorities for each other, then finding some public official to say ditto) invoking "extremist". And by the time La Rouche was put on trial for reasons never clear in the stories, then jailed, we all nodded, yes, good, they got that creep, none of us, nodding, having any idea what he'd done, what he deserved. Since then, at least a dozen times, I've heard someone refer to "La Rouche's followers" contemptuously, asked "What's wrong with them?" and gotten the admission: "I really don't know anything about him." He sure got dangerous when one of his followers got elected.

My church is in the news today.
This is what the news is for: To create our opinions, along with the sense that these are not opinions, but well-established facts, established by...well...you know, experts and...just everybody! Or, if opinion, then not derived from newspapers, but something we hip people have always known, a wink to the wise being sufficient.

My church is in the news today.
So here we go, the latest dirt about my church, get your pre- fabricated opinions while they're tepid -- another church to cross off your list of things worth learning about. It's like reading the movie reviews to decide what's not worth seeing.

My church is in the news today.
It saved my life at least twice. That's not in the story.

My church is in the news today.
Clearly (I've read the article, I don't know why I read them -- like a rabbit fascinated by a snake?) -- clearly my church is a cult, beneath respect, dangerous, and yet I and many others (some say millions of us) value it. I wonder why? Do you wonder why?

My church is in the news today.

My church is in the news today.


The Put-On

(featured from 12/15/99 - 1/17/00)

The dress-teaser prances out, bare-assed,
before a rowdy crowd of women,
then, piece by elegant piece,
to their crescendoing encouragement, dresses
in style.  When she gets to the finale, beyond
restraint, florid-faced females surge forward
to touch her mink stole.

The next dancer dresses up
as a bride in full regalia, at last lowering
her flowered veil before hundreds
of tear-blurred eyes.

It's a humid night.  The next dancer lingers
too long in lacy panties, angry yells urging,
"C'mon, quit stalling!  Put it on!  Put it ALL on!"

And O!  What a tease - lifting the gown to cover all,
then swirling it aside again and again, at last,
to moans of blissful relief, allowing silken
and brocaded fabrics to supplant the wearisome flesh.

"O O O! What a darling hat!"  "My God!  I love
that hair!"  "I'd KILL for that dress!"  "MORE!
MORE!  Put on an overcoat!  A scarf!


My shoes by the dresser look too much like me.
I'd know them anywhere,
sooner than I'd know my feet.
The shirts hanging in the closet
know my attitudes better than I do.
This bedroom is full of me.
I'm not needed here:
Read me from my half-read books.
Even the lint balls on the carpet
whisper my secrets in lint language.

This is a kind of oblivion:
to star in my things, to know
that my tale can be told by an idiot.
I'd like to slip away, be someone
this bedroom has never dreamed of.

But as soon as I move my body from the bed,
shoes, shirt, pants, socks, billfold
gather round to button me up
in the old decisions while my digital watch
flickers my time--I am surrounded. Behind me,
the bed knows exactly what to expect.

Here--in my notebook: a blank page,
a strangeness (Is it you?) and
this place where we can be alone
together, even surprise each other
without our shoes.

When I Wasn't Looking

(run as monthly poem from 7/16/99 to 9/8/99)

it became the next day,
not a simple matter:

It entailed delicate maneuvering
of ponderous planetary, solar
and galactic masses
into a new, never-before-achieved

No less the pain-staking care
for minutia: the gentle
herding home to bed
of Saturday night crowds,

leaving a select skimming
of pimps and night-owls and kids
tirelessly atingle with the daring
of being out so late,
droplets of dew on each grassblade,
changed numbers on a billion
digital watches, streetlights
turned wan with watching,
morning papers, slight greying
of one of my hairs--

all done without my noticing.

I've Done NOTHING!
(run as monthly poem from 6/16/99 to 7/15/99)

The evidence points to us: We're White,
American, middle-class - but
If we're the villains, why aren't we rich,
powerful, svelte, darkly handsome, commanding?
I don't even own a vest, a black hat.
What's the point of being a villain
if I can't sneer and have people politely
taken for a ride ("See that Mr. Doe
has a comfortable journey, Jake"). If a
tough guy cracked wise at me, I'd say
"Uh...". I'm a good person, honest! Unless
(and I can't believe it) our childhoods were
utter lies, this world's raw scars indicate
that somewhere saunter huge packs of lean,
serene, mustachioed men of dark power,
nothing at all like us.

When Smart Bombs Go Bad
(run as poem of the week from 5/16/99 to 6/16/99)

Dear Editor,
I understand and share the outrage of those who condemn the tragic bombings of buses, apartment complexes, the Chinese Embassy and other inappropriate targets in recent raids, but I think it important that we try to understand these bombs, not dismiss them as dumb or monstrous devices.

After all, for every smart bomb that goes astray and wipes out women, children and old men, 100 bombs correctly wipe out the uniformed husbands, sons and parents of those women, children and old men.

And bombs that go bad are not BAD bombs. They are bombs that got in with a bad crowd; bombs, typically, that didn’t fit in, so that all the other smarties picked on them; bombs that had no other way to attract the attention they so desperately needed; bombs that looked to US for guidance in all that turmoil of gust and fog, but found themselves lost, alone, aimless; bombs brought up on TV shows and movies full of random STUPID violence, where ANY explosion is cheered as long as it’s big and loud.

Remember, no matter what monstrous things these bombs have done, they are not monsters…or if they are, they are OUR monsters. We need to communicate with our bombs, understand their needs and how rough it is for them in today’s heavy weather and high-speed, impersonal warfare. We must TALK to our bombs. We must TEST our bombs early and often to detect those with the potential for unsmart violence; get them counseling BEFORE they go out of control.

But first we must learn to LOVE our bombs. If we want well-educated bombs of which we can be proud, we must make the world a secure and caring place for our bombs. Our bombs are our future, and our future is the WORLD’s future. Hug YOUR smart bomb today!

Sincerely Yours,

Dean Blehert
Laser Guidance Counselor
and Editor of Detonations

Run as poem of the week 4/4/99 - 5/16/99)

(Yes, yes, I know this is not a week, but you'll have to excuse me, this is computer time.)

From beneath the earth
where we cannot move,
a worm.

From beneath the water
where we cannot breathe,                                  
a fish.

From the fire
we could not withstand,

From our own guts,
where we will never go,
we send...where,
we choose not to know.

What can you be?
Where can you go?

If the air were a wall,
if your own flesh were a wall,
if you could see only as far as your retina
and could not unsee that,
if the future were a wall,
mirroring the solid past,
if...can you hear me?

From where?

We Am

I am I; you are you;
but you and I is another being
with its own unique anatomy:

It can stretch from Washington, D.C.
to Los Angeles and feel no strain.
It can talk loudly to itself
in a crowd, yet no one will look
askance. It can be amazed
to discover itself in the most trivial
preferences, memories, distastes
and mannerisms. All that is stale
to you, to me, becomes fresh
in the eyes of youandI.

As the distance from D.C. to L.A.
exceeds arm's reach, so what we create
exceeds us. Yet we are each expanded,
because we touch each other in places
we didn't know we inhabited
until we felt the delicate tugs
and tremors at the remote seams
of our worlds,

straining where this new being
we've become kicks up its baby heels
and wriggles.

Now our bodies ape us, moving
to make a new body for someone, silly
dolls, parodying what you and I
have done these last eleven painful
years of giving birth to us.

Written on the airplane taking me
from you, but we are here,
stretching ourselves.

p> Don't Agree

Don't agree with what doesn't agree
with your dream. Don't even wonder
if maybe they don't have a point there.
Don't even bother to disagree. Just
put your dream there, not a disagreement
with a disagreement with your dream, just
the dream, put it there and put it
there and when it has been proven impossible,
put it there, and there, where you keep putting it,
it is.

Your Secret

Your secret is safe with me:
How once you stood very still
before the mirror, infinitely sad
and infinitely noble; how, wishing
others could see what you saw, you
stood there, suddenly infinitely silly;
how you have done strange things to your
body parts, but have not spoken of this;
how, when you admitted you were wrong,
there was more to it that could not
be said; how each person you dislike
would become as intimately pliable
as your own smile if you could say
a certain thing to that person
so that it was heard and understood;
how it would feel to just kick the wall
hard, repeatedly; how it would feel
to touch that wall, to pat it gently;
how every object in the room has a face,
can think thoughts at you; how you cause
all this; how mornings were different
once; how you are older, but not really,
not older at all; how nobody knows
how you feel; how you were only trying
to help; how you stand in front of the mirror
and are achingly finite; how when you
said everything was fine, it wasn't; how
something pressed against your face
when you said everything was fine;
how you wonder what you did
to deserve this; how you cause all this;
how you have long conversations with yourself;
how you wonder sometimes if you have
ever NOT been talking to yourself, if
anything ELSE has ever happened;
how there were times when you knew
something else was happening, but now
it is hard to recapture that certainty;
how something is ruining your life;
how you've decided nothing is wrong
with your life--that's just how life is;
how you aren't happy with that decision;
how many decisions you are not happy
with; how it's too complicated to change
all those decisions now; how something
is ruining your life; how you caused
all this; how your mother, your father,
others were to blame; how you, how they
were only trying to help; how by squinting
at sunlight on waves, you've seen patterns
no other has seen; how once as a child you talked
nonsense words in a room by yourself;
how badly you hurt your mother, father,
others; how you have explained this to
yourself; how you know you will die; how
you know you do not die; how something
is ruining your life; how you are almost sure
no one has noticed this; how your life is fine, just
not quite right, just a teensy bit not
what you had hoped for, could perhaps
be better, of course...; how it would be
good if you could just drop everything;
how if you could just be freer, if you
just had more time...; how you're not
sure that would matter; how nothing is
really wrong; how it's probably best for
now not to change anything; how
something is ruining, how you caused,
how you cause, how badly you want to tell me,
how you must never tell anyone, how you will
hate me if I fail to know what you must not
tell me, how I'll become part of what is ruining your life
if I miss what you must not tell me. Thank you --
I got all that.

Back to the Garden

The neighbors hang in their gardens
scented plastic bags that fill up
with Japanese beetles, clumsy bronzed
little samurai that clamber slowly
over the heap of each other and do not
escape. We hang no bag. They flit
and couple on our shrubs. Some leaves
are now only a lace of vein threads,
the sketchy plans for leaves, beetles
consuming all but the threadbare idea.
But many leaves are left to us,
and my poems have consumed forests
and anyway you call most of these
weeds, and the beetles are prettier
and less greedy than bulldozers,
leaving at least the ideas of leaves.

The Silence of the Iambs

Borges tells of time stopping for a year
as a man faces the firing squad, bullets
paused in flight while he, in his mind,
composes sonnets, works out chess problems,
solves scholarly riddles...and then
time resumes. Time stopped for me during an
open-mike poetry reading. There, just after the words
"...touched the soft silence of your..." - soul?
heart? left ear lobe? But the poet was unmoving,
mouth open, her eyes in their sudden rigor, oddly
calculating; the other faces I could see were all
frozen in polite introspection, as if each,
if it spoke, would say, "I think I had too much
coffee" or "Did anyone notice my fart?" Nothing
moved. The water held its slope in the glass
I'd been lifting to my lips. Threads of cigarette smoke
hung in frayed silken twists. A petrified ribbon
of coffee bridged from lip of pot to cup,
as a waiter waited for someone never to say "NOW."
For a long time (so to speak), the interrupted poem,
too, hung there. I spent - it seemed - hours
trying to think of a next word that could save
the line from banality. In vain. For hours more
I memorized the gleam of her teeth, the contours
of paralyzed smoke. I composed letters to several
editors on various burning issues. I composed limericks
that began "The soft silence of..." - for example:

The soft silence of fleecy white lambs
Can't compare to the silence of clams
(Clams, unshelled, you should touch
Very gently, not much...)
Or free verse: Silence of the Iambs!

I held long eloquent arguments with my dead mother
about the importance of being a poet. I thought up
brilliant ways to make money from poetry. I tried,
again - again in vain - to redeem the poetus
interruptus or at least to predict what, if anything,
would come next, and, suddenly, I noticed
that the smoke was moving, twining, winnowing
the light, a lovely translucent creature...
Ah, time had resumed, and...I forgot to notice
how the line or the poem concluded. It must
have done so, because I found myself applauding
mechanically, trying to recall my money-making schemes...
but all my hours - days! - of contemplation
had blurred like last night's dreams, only
a few limericks remaining.


Senior Citizen Discount

What do they charge us for a movie
when we're dead? I'll bet there are
a lot of good deals for Morbid (or Graduated)
Citizens. Probably the dead hang around,
delaying getting new bodies to live in
just so they can sneak into movies free.
They cheer when someone on screen
gets killed - but it's all in fun:
They know the poor bugger is still stuck
in that body - just an actor.
They cheer very softly. It sounds like
stale popcorn shifting in the bag
or the crackle of an old sound track.
They like to hover over fresh buttered
large popcorns, basking in the oily
salty emanations. Careful, you might
inhale someone.

Seeing the Light

I once wrote that it’s OK if others don’t see me
if, in my light, they can see one another.
Perhaps there are others, unseen,
in whose darkness we lose one another.
It becomes a duty to see,
not only a duty to oneself,
lest one stumble over others,
not only to others, lest one step on them,
but to the darkness, made lighter by our merely
seeing though it.

Our Old Cat

It’s her liver going, says the vet.
She keeps coming to us with bleaty meows:
"DOOO something!" I think I was absent
the day they taught us how to repair faulty cat livers.
Livers aren’t really my organ, you know.
I’m a poet. I deal in hearts, guts.
The only thing most poets know about livers
is how to ruin them. She’s always had
a strong nagging meow, but only recently
has it acquired this goatish tremulo.
And her "love bites" are more insistent than ever.
A guy could get hurt stopping scratching her too soon.
The vet says if it were him, he’d put her to sleep.
I don’t feel any huge objection to her getting on
with dying, but it’s hard for me to have her killed,
just on a common courtesy basis: Someone comes up and says,
"Please scratch me some more," or "Please give me
some attention" and I say, "Sure" and kill her?
Seems a violation of trust. If there is truly a Heaven,
it’s a place where you get to explain things to your dogs
and cats, and they understand.

Why I Am Not a Serial Killer

Because, even when I'm sitting at the counter with nothing to read, and the guy two seats down bogarts even the sections of the paper he's done with and scowls at me askance like I might grab the funnies from his lap, I know I don't REALLY want to kill him.

Because, even when I'm sitting in a room, and suddenly I'm bigger than the room, and all the other little bodies (and mine too) seem small and molish, and their talking is far away and futile like everything human, why would I want to make one body destroy another, one ant attack another?

Because I know nothing about duct tape, knots, machinery, carpentry, electronics, guns, fingerprints, anatomy, knives or any of the other esoteric stuff on which all those brilliant serial killers are inexplicably expert.

Because so OK, you don't read and buy my poems and make me famous, OK, but, still...well OK, but maybe you'd better start reading my poems...

Because I doubt that the neighbors would say I was SUCH a quiet, polite person...

Because when I get really really angry, it makes me laugh. Being a serial killer with my sense of humor would be like trying to make love over incurable ticklishness.

Because what would people say?

Because once I started, how would I stop? That's also why I never got into chess and bridge and wine-tasting.

Because it's bad enough that I've failed to help you.

Because if I force you out of your body by destroying it, how will I find you?

Because, big deal, we've been around for millions of lifetimes and I've been there, done that already, and we're still here, all of us, so what was the point?

Because I can't hope to compete with governments.

Because to do that, I'd have to decide that no one really exists except in my brain maybe, and once I'd done it, I'd never be able to get out of that brain.

Because there are so many of you -- I just wouldn't know where to begin.

Because I have so many things to do already, and I don't want to take on anything else right now.

Because, supposing I were one, do you think I'd say so here? Wouldn't this poem be a great way to lull you into false security? But then would I include this stanza? And isn't this the sort of teasing, twisted talk you expect from a brilliant serial killer?

Because when the beautiful sexy girl gets slashed or choked in the movie, I think, "What a waste!"

Because what if you're bigger than me?

Because even if you are, one bullet or knife from behind can't be beat, and, really, it's too easy, these bodies impossibly fragile, so what's the point?

Because the point is to create an effect, but those on whom or which I create the biggest effect are suddenly not there or just crumpled piles of rags upon which no effects can be created -- nothing further can shock or please them. And soon the living (now that I know how easily they can be reduced to crumpled piles of bloody rags) are no more than potential targets in a video game, their terror and headlines no more to me than the scrabbling and squeaking of rats in a cage about to be dropped in a plastic trash can and gassed. Who is left huge enough to appreciate my enormity?

Because the worst thing that happened to me in my childhood doesn't even interest ME, much less readers expecting a revelation.

Because when I'm very small, I don't feel up to it, and when I'm huge, I know that no one else can do anything to me, so if there's anything to avenge, it must have been done to me by ME, so I'd have to start by killing myself, which would probably make for a short and unserial career.

Because there are better games to play -- though more difficult. What could be more difficult than being a serial killer? Almost anything.

Because I didn't torture bugs or cats or start fires as a child, which, I understand, are prerequisites for the job.

Because I have this malfunctioning brain which make me crave LIVING female bodies into which I can thrust my appendage and, therein, ejaculate, which, for me, is an orgasmic experience, particularly (and this is an especially sinister fetish) if the female is there and alive and enjoying the weird ritual as much as I do. I'm sort of a serial love maker, though, adding to the perversity, I find I am almost obsessively drawn to one female in particular and have kept her in my bed night after night for years, taking pleasure in fondling her, talking to her, even sleeping beside her. I don't know the source of this sickness that makes me want her alive. I don't think I could bear to sleep with her dead body. For some reason the idea of her suffering or dead doesn't turn me on. But maybe with Viagra...

Because, unlike the serial killers in novels, real ones are mostly stupid (I read an article about that), and I'm pretty smart.

Because I cheered for the good guys and booed the bad guys, so I'm missing another prerequisite.

Because the Lone Ranger, Sergeant Preston, Roy Rogers, Batman, Superman, the Hardy Boys and Obi Wan Kenobi wouldn't like me anymore.

Because Pierre Bezukov, Natasha Rostov, Konstantin Levin, Kinsey Milhone, Leopold Bloom, Phillip Marlowe, Elizabeth and Darby and Emma, Peter Wimsey...because these and many others wouldn't talk to me any more.

Because even Gregor Samsa wouldn't talk to me any more.

Because even Humbert Humbert and Charles Kinbote wouldn't talk to me any more.

Because Andy Sipowisc would despise me.

Because Andy Sipowisc would look away from me and grind his teeth and not even call me a scumbag.

Because Andy Sipowisc has lost so much, I don't want to cause him any more grief.

Because, obviously, I'm living in a fictional world, so how could I kill anyone real?

Because my parents would be disappointed.

Because my first wife would say, "I KNEW there was something not quite right about him."

Because I've written thousands of poems, and now they would be read by millions of people, but they would have a meaning now that, perhaps, I never dreamed of.

Because I might hurt someone.

Because what if I killed someone who WASN'T a total asshole?

Because I might get hurt in some gruesome manner hard to think about.

Because gruesome things are hard to think about even when one DOESN'T do them or have them done to one.

Because when they caught me (and if they never catch me, what's the point?), the newspapers would expose terrible trivial things about me -- mocked for eating my own boogers in grade school, that sort of thing -- but they'd do that if I won the Nobel Prize in Poetry too, especially the tabloids.

Because cats wouldn't let me pet them.

Because friendly dogs would become intolerable, their undeniable eyes.

Because what if I try it out and I like it?

Because what if it's BETTER than sex?

Because I don't believe it's better than sex.

Because once I tried it out, if it was NOT better than sex, it might now be all I had left, sex (or sex with love) now being out of reach.

Because even if it IS better than sex, you probably crash afterwards (like cold turkey) and have to do it again or live in a gray, mechanical, dead world.

Because a LOT of things are better than sex (like some walks I've taken, some books I've read, some friendship, some writing I've done, some conversations I've had, some looks exchanged, some action and excitement and achievement, helping someone and them knowing they'd been helped and me knowing it, soup I had at an Afghan restaurant -- the first time I tasted it...) -- at least these things are better than MOST sex and the sex they're not better than was accompanied/preceded/followed by some of these other things (like friendship and good conversation and long walks and that soup), and if being a serial killer is better than all these things (all of which it would preclude) -- but how would a serial killer know about such things? The serial killer knows about such things in quotation marks only, just as he often knows what he is supposed to feel and how to create the correct expression on his face, just like a REAL person.

Because when you pick up book after book in the bookstore, and the back cover blurbs all say "better than Elmore Leonard" or "Watch out, Elmore Leonard!", that tells you that Elmore Leonard must be the one to read, so when anyone trying to sell you on the value of something supposedly wicked (like drugs or murder) says "It's better than sex" (as they always do), doesn't that tell you that if you're going to be a serial something, you might want to try serial sex?

Because I have imagination and because it doesn't really take much imagination to dream up nasty ways to slice up bodies or pose them or bury them or leave rhyming notes on them or array them in symbolic postures or send mocking communications to the top cop in town, but what really takes imagination (which we all do except for serial killers and their templates, all the people on medication to remove feelings) is to look at the bodies around us and know that there are beings there just like us, and to know that one is there and is someone and to say hello to another and know that another is there and got and understood that hello the way it was intended -- now THAT takes imagination, and if a serial killer ever had that imagination, it's his first victim.

Because what if it didn't end in a cerebral (then, briefly, brutal) showdown with a cop almost as brilliant as me, giving me an opportunity to say purringly eloquent things about you idiot mortals and maybe go out with a vivid bang? What if I became a serial killer and no one noticed? What if I became just an unattributed statistic (so many disappearances each year, probably muggers, druggies, kids running away...)? Or what if I got caught in some embarrassingly crude way -- coat stuck on a fence, intended victim shot first, kicked in the balls, tripped on a curb or a dog or a root, found knocked out by the fall or worse, stabbed or shot myself in falling, slipped on a banana peel and cracked a hip? Snuck into the bedroom and stabbed -- an inflatable sex doll and, startled by the POP! -- shot myself in the foot with the gun in my other hand?

Because if I wanted to kill real assholes, I'd go after psychiatrists, but then they wouldn't like me, and what sort of press would I get in a world full of hostile psychiatrists, because when you're a serial killer, if the psychiatrists don't love you, who will? Well, maybe a few lawyers, journalists and politicians, but they don't want to antagonize the shrinks -- where would they get their drugs?

Because I get great pleasure from crossword puzzles, so why would I need to create people puzzles?

Because I'd already know whodoneit, so where's the fun?

Because I'm a nice person.

Because I'm really NOT a very nice person, but I try not to be too awful.

Because serial killers have become a fad. It's so common.

Because I would start to have to be careful about what I said and appeared to feel, and if I'm going to do that, I may as well put on a tie and suit and get a good job and make money.

Because serial killers leave rhyming clues, and do you see any rhymes here?

Because the pay is uncertain and there are no benefits.

Because who could I tell about it?

Because most places execute by injection now, and I don't like drugs.

Because it's too cold in Minnesota and Michigan (where they don't have capital punishment). I live in Virginia now (where they do).

Because I can't eat a meal without getting food stains on my shirt and pants, so how in the hell am I going to get through a bloody slaughter without leaving clues and walking away in bloody clothes? (And my wife can't get me to throw away old clothes.)

Because I don't like killing things. I don't even like hurting things. Not even bugs. So if (like a serial killer) I saw humans as mere bugs, I wouldn't want to squash them. I'd want to catch them as gently as possible in giant coffee mugs and deposit them (alive and well) outside the front door of my house. I guess I could be a serial people-catcher-in-a-cup-and-deposit-them-in- front-of-the-house. But wouldn't my giant mugs give me away to any suspicious cop?

Because most people seem to me to be pretty good people.

Because many people are interesting to get to know.

Because everyone dies anyway, so what's the rush?

Because Hitler and Stalin in most photos don't look very happy. Whatever they're doing, if it's better than sex, it must be better than sex that's worse than the worst sex I've ever had. Maybe it's better than ejaculating broken glass, but I doubt it.

Because slicing a person up suggests that one doesn't know what to do with a person. "I'll be a serial killer, and THEN I'll get all the girls...and cut their throats and shit in their belly buttons and then cut them into little pieces and wrap them in plastic and bury them in an outhouse." It sounds like a little kid describing some mythical method of making babies given him by a mischievous older sibling. It isn't debonaire after all.

Because, say I try it and don't like it, can I put it behind me and start over?

Because there are so many people, so few hours in a day.

Because if I'm qualified to set myself up as God and decide who should die, I should also be able to decide who should live and as easily make the dead live as I make the living dead. But I haven't heard of any serial re-animaters among us. As soon as I can manage that, I'll reconsider.

Because secretly I am gripped by a frigid hatred of all of you and prefer to see you trapped, writhing, in puny humanoid bodies, unaware of your immortality, utterly preoccupied by physical needs, addicted to condensed, low-energy, cheap thrills like sex and eating, mistaking for thought your ponderous justifications for your crude obsessions, expecting oblivion when your brains become blobs of putrid fat, expecting the world to be created for you with no contribution from yourself.... It might be merciful to destroy as many of you as I can, but you'd just creep back in baby bodies, more stupid and addicted and feeble than ever. And if I killed all of you off for a long time -- blew up the planet, for example (which isn't even "serial") -- who would appreciate it? And if I missed a few, each survivor would be a perpetual mockery of my efforts. There must be better games to play.

Because we are not these bodies and are capable of games we cannot now imagine ("Last one to the center of the sun is a humanoid!") or so I imagine. Killing doesn't seem to free us from bodies. It introverts. We return to the scene of the crime. There must be better games to play.

Because it seems to me that you, too, are looking for better games to play.

Because I applied for the position, but didn't have the required degree in psychiatry or psychology.

Because, having killed one "for no good reason," I could prove that I had done no wrong (because humans are insignificant) only by killing another...and another... -- a life of obsessive repetition, just like everyone else's.

Because, all right, I can do without sunsets (impurities in atmosphere distorting light from that big furnace), babies, puppies, butterflies, pina colada and all that; I can surrender literature to the post-modernists and serial soup cans that don't feel anything for us; I can flay my poems alive, stripping off all the adjectives and adverbs; I can forget that you exist or that I exist and see how we are our brains and how our love for each other is a chemical irregularity to be soothed by medication; I can -- well, actually, I can be a serial killer, why not? And maybe I will. But I don't think so. I don't think I'll do any of the other stuff either. Also, I probably won't walk around all day with my finger up my nose or masturbate in public or start each day with a glass of blended orange juice, ketchup and aspirin. But it's nice to know I can.

Because sometimes you are alive.

Because when you are not alive, you are hard to kill.

Because killing you does not seem to work as a way of forcing you to be alive.

Because you are somewhat alive, but mostly dead, leaving very little for a serial killer to do.

Because I love the way you laugh when you are alive.

Those of you who've attended MANY workshops may enjoy the following poem...

The Beginning of a Poem

The Beginning of a Poem
Even as I write these words,
I know that critics will insist
that the poem doesn't begin here.
"For me," each will say, "this poem
really begins in the [much later] stanza..." --
and of course, they will be right.
Yet this poem has already begun.
What can I do about it?

For a poem squats on one's tongue
as stubbornly as garlic.
Any critic still reading (I don't know
why a critic would still be reading)
will have thought the poem was about to begin
with the garlicky squatter, an image,
after all. But if the critic is still
with us, he or she knows that the poem
has not yet begun. Why not? Does this poem
despise critics? Love to tease them?
Surely it can be written for no one else --
who else would care?

I begin to suspect that this poem
never will begin -- the REAL poem,
that is. So it may as well begin
anywhere -- and so it does!

The observant critic who is still with us
(that optimistic "us"!) will have noted
that the poem, such as it is or might be,
really ended, for any reasonable reader,
at the close of the last stanza,
a punchline, of a sort. This critic
will advise cutting the current stanza
as superfluous (or, just to be kind,
will suggest saving it for another poem),
saying, "for me the poem ends with
'and so it has!'" And, indeed, so it ought.
However -- and it pains me to have to say this,
having been helped so often by generous advice
from critics -- nonetheless, the poem --
if poem it be -- ends here.

[The poem is done. It's over. Go home. Think about
something else.]

To Thine Own Self be True
[Note: Based on "Masquerade Party," an old TV show]

"Well, panelists?" "This one feels right to me, but
that one is so noble about being misunderstood..."
"I, too, have a feeling about number 8, but
wouldn't the real me be a nicer person than that?"
"I vote for number 12 — he's got that undercurrent
of mute misery that I think a real self should have."
"All right! Will the REAL self please stand up?"
(Laughter and applause from the studio audience.)
"Thank you. Yes, panel, self is, in fact, number...
SEVENTEEN!" (Audience goes wild, panelists groan,
giggle, slap their foreheads ["but he's so..."]).
"So tell us, number one, who are you really?"
"I'm this idea his mother had." "Number two?"
"I was the hero in a comic he read when he was home
with the mumps, combined with a teacher everyone
liked." "Number three?..."

Be Still and Know That I Am God

Here in the house, every object appears
to be holding still, curtains, towels,
even the flimsy tissue poking up
out of its box. If a faucet drips,
we get it fixed.

That is our human notion of order:
Objects don't move unless we move them.

Outside is different: wind and rain,
leaves shifting, branches bending,
bugs buzzing about, clouds unfolding.
Though on clear, windless days
hot, with even the fly on my hand
or the lone cloud holding still
or the morning after a snowfall
or most of all, on a below zero day,
when even our blood is sluggish
and the smoke from a chimney
is sculpted in dirty pearl —
then outside is inside:

In that first snow, for example,
WE make all the sound with our trudging
and puffing, as if shaking up, from inside,
the snowy glass ball on the mantel.

All is motion, we are taught,
but grow up inside out
among objects that, mostly, don't seem
to move (though, of course, they do),
and if we move them, our parents
(proving themselves, briefly, not objects)
show up, alarmed. We progress gradually
from inside to outside, which is full
of real motion that can, like a bent branch,
move us or our bodies and can hurt.

Most confusing is motion that doesn't move:
Inside, there is a box with a glass screen.
Nothing moves (touch it — perhaps a faint hum?),
but the screen seems full of hectically moving figures,
explosions, zipping and zapping,
more action in any 30 second commercial
than in days of playing outside, and,
unlike that old token of motion, the fireplace,
you can touch the TV with your finger
to find it cool and still.

In front of it, you, full of motion,
sit still, watching an object (without
seeing it) for hours.

Keeping children still when they are inside
is an obsession. TV at home, Ritalin
at school. If they tire of TV, make them nap
or let them move tiny tokens from square
to square on a game board. (The vase
on the silent piano shall not be disturbed.)

Children, of course, are not objects,
nor are cats and dogs (See how well
the dog plays dead), nor insects and mice,
who must be exterminated. See with what drama
children pretend to be shot, to writhe and die?

Outside is dangerous,
filled with weather we can't control
and other people's unaccountable cars.
Inside, the stillness of things
is a god. We enter a quiet room
only motes of dust, too tiny
to touch us, swirling in a beam of sunlight
that makes a neat rectangle on the polished
wood floor a serene sort of motion
you can see, but not feel, like television,
like, for smokers, their swirls of silent smoke.
(And who more still than one who smokes
while watching TV?)

We stand in the doorway and absorb
the stillness of the room, its shiny big leaved
potted plant, its darkly varnished desk,
the heavy ash tray, the frozen clutter of pens
and paper clips. Smell of leather, muted roar
of distant engines, the house's own sounds
and one's own blood in one's ears
all add up to what we call a "hush".

All motion is redefined as stillness
by our being able to stand here and know
exactly where everything is, has been
for hours or days, and will be for hours
or days (forever) to come.

When we admit a pet or a child, it is an offering:
O Stillness, here is life. Help us teach it
to be still.

We propitiate (or tame?) the god of outdoors
with wind chimes and bird feeders.

Inside, the dog is to lie at our feet.
Outside, in certain places, briefly, the dog
may romp, the children play. Inside
we tease the stillness with lava lamps
to show how safe we feel in stillness.
We even open the shades and watch
autumn wind shake the trees. We touch
the cold, moist, unmoving flow of glass,
the great outdoors under glass,
as safe as television.

Outside, we drive very fast, though inside the car,
where we sit, we want everything still.
(Children who don't understand this
torment us.)

Inside we don't eat anything that moves
and are often embarrassed if our stomachs gurgle
or any body part makes a visible or audible
motion on its own. When we go to sleep,
we expect to find everything unmoved
when we wake up.

The inside of our house is a synthetic
immortality machine: I am here where all
is as it has always been and always will be,
and I, a part of it.

There is one God, and its name is stillness.
We sit in rooms where nothing moves, sinfully
tapping our fingers, grinding our teeth, scratching,
coughing, rocking, sighing.

Some Variations on Birth and Death

Feeling the Mother Rise Inside One

...and they reproduce by extrusion: The mother
surrounds herself with a soft sticky fibrous ooze
which becomes a kind of womb for her while it
hardens and articulates into, not a shell, but
the living form of her developing foetus, and
when its time comes, the infant's lower orifice
dilates as it begins a series of contractions that
squeeze out the much-diminished mother (for the
foetus has been nourished by her continued oozing
of her substance) -- the infant, as it were,
giving birth to the parent, who at last stands
(a bit wobbly and sticky) beside her giant baby and
cares for it as it shrinks to adulthood.

Beyond the Veil

The client asks to speak with the Spirit
of a long-departed Great Soul.
The medium closes her eyes (a relief
to the client, who is accustomed to people
who blink now and then), blanks her
thoughts (slumping slightly, then,
suddenly, bolt upright, eyes open again,
but only the whites showing), becomes

a tenuous astral reaching...reaching -
touches, suddenly beyond the humming void
a wrenching pang of pure anguish,
bounces off, as if she's picked up and dropped
a red-hot ember...touches again, feels
a wall of anguish dissolve
into white cool inarticulate bliss,
smiles serenely...returns (slumped,
eyes closed), speaks:

"He cannot speak to you now, for he is
occupied beyond the Third Plane of Sentience."

A thousand miles away, in Iowa,
blearied by yet another lifetime,
still dazed by the recent violence of death
and, worse, of birth,
an aching hole into which
language, memory, people have vanished,
the ache drowned out by incessant raging
hunger, the Great Soul writhes,
jerks tiny limbs and wails in the
wet darkness, then, suddenly,

senses dim light, warmth,
is lifted up, finds solace, then
bliss at the milky nipple.

Between Lifetimes

Once (fasting, tired, facing someone I knew)
I swooned. The first odd thing is that I
continued to look at her, face to face,
from in front of her, six feet above the floor
for a long instant before I realized she was looking
down where my body, I also realized, had fallen
and where, suddenly, I found myself,
like a second swoon within the first.

My looking at her (like Wily Coyote's running
off the cliff and continuing to hold himself up
by running on air) plummeted into my sinking eyes
as soon as it knew itself (I knew myself) not

The second odd thing is that while I, faceless,
faced her, I could not recognize her,
felt I should, felt worried, not about having
forgotten, but that she might be...it's hard
to get this thought right, it was so quick! --
that she might be one of the authorities,
the ones who make you forget or, worse,
remember what never was. I felt a fear
that didn't fit her puzzlement.

Then I was "back," saying, "I'm OK, sorry,"
remembering her name (no one special,
just someone I knew), but since then I'm sure
I know what has been happening between lifetimes
and why the first people we meet after birth
(like Mom and Dad) must work so hard to allay
our terrors and ease us back from oblivion.

Same Time, Same Station
Even now radio waves pass through our bodies
unnoticed. Scary -- the thought that
without our pre-tuned body-radios
we may not remember how to receive the world
or each other.

Is that death? --
the world passing though us
and we through the world

As fever burns off in cold sweat,
then soft deep sleep, so fear of death
departs with tears that pause to reflect
your unhurried smile
as I follow you -- like the Coyote
who chases the Roadrunner off a cliff
and keeps running on nothing but air --

into finer frequencies than my body
can discern and laughter too large
for this world, finding myself suddenly
with you (but still the air supports us,
we do not plummet) in a space
that only contains our bodies,
passing through us.

A Short Vacation

When the heart stopped pumping,
he or it hung around,
hovering over the couch,
at first out of pity for the lumpish thing,
No longer him, then for the sheer luxury
of it having nothing to do with him,
this mess he'd been cleaning up after
for 70 years: Now others must carry it away,
gawk and gag at it, praise it, clean it, bury it;
others must go through shirts, belts,
ties, shoes, books, check stubs....

After a few weeks, disgusted with teary
and tearless alike, bored at not being
consulted, he/it drifted up and away,
enjoying the lightness, the view,
but sensing a growing attraction,
the inevitability of birth.


In Spirit Only

To his buddies on the squash court
it looked like pain: face
turned blue, convulsed,
the body stiffened,
klunked straight down,
a felled tree,

but as it fell,
spirit slipped out, released
from a force field switched off,
poor naked spirit
(like the dream
where you're sitting at your school desk
and notice you're naked,
but no one else notices,
and you worry that they will
and that they don't and that even you
aren't as worried as you should be),

and spirit,
not knowing yet what it's lost,
looks down
at an odd-looking object,
odd because it's been a long time
since it's seen anything
except through eyes,
and maybe it's never seen that body
from outside except in a mirror, and then
not from above or behind
and not dead

and also because without eyes,
you can see all around,
pervade, see what you forgot
could be seen, both eyes of profiles,
all directions at once--as if
fallen into Picasso
and you have no size
but when you think you belong
to that body, it looms huge
(and you feel lost
and helpless without it),
and when it belongs to you,
it is tiny and far away,
poor thing,

and sometimes you have to remember
how to consider colors
only as we've agreed to see them,
eyes being how we limit, not enable,
vision, for being bodies as solidly
as we've been being them
is a solution to freedom, a way
of being stuck in a stable viewpoint
rather than having to decide
to hold a position, having to relearn
how to decide to continue
to be here and not some other equally persuasive
here one has just thought of,
when thinking oneself there
is being there, that is, here.

Those who cannot decide,
become bodies. Being a body
is to being a free spirit
what having a fixed idea
is to knowing.

So the first thoughts after dying
are not "OUCH!" or "Who
will tell my wife? Will
the insurance get my kids through
college?" or "Why me, Lord,
why me!" The first thoughts are:
"Shit! Missed an easy shot!"
Then "What's going on?" Then,
"What's that they're staring at--
that thing down there?..." Then
(realizing you've dropped something)


Slight Differences

For years this recurring nightmare:
smell of dung and straw, being shoved
from the wagon, hands bound behind me,
wondering how I'll behave, how I'll do
what I can't help having happen to me,
many faces, curious, angry, cringing, avid,
the tall black-masked man, making
my legs go up the stairs, being positioned
face down against the block, still wet
from the last, splintered, hairs on the back
of my neck prickling, chill sweat, a voice in me
saying I don't want this, a descending shadow
swallows the sun...

Yes, I remembered that death well,
relived it many times, but the nightmare
returned, night after night, until,
once, going through it as before
at the last instant of descent flashed
before me a new piece of the vision,
the back of the neck, collar torn back,
hair lopped short, barely recognizable
as one I knew well, a voice in my head
(cold sweat inside the mask) saying
I don't want this, another saying
too late, don't think that, you'll
mess up...effort in arms swinging
downward an unstoppable weight,
MY arms...

The nightmare never returned.

You Must Remember This

I'm a fortune teller. I will tell you
ALL: I foresee your body coming
to a full stop, but for you it will be
only a semi-colon or ellipses or
a brief, punctuationless descent
into gibberish or, if you are very alert,
a colon:

There will be many temptations to forget,
and details will escape you, but you will
remember. (If not, come back to me and get
your money back.) You will remember.
After your next birth, though it will be
more painful and oblivion-filled than death,
still, you will remember.

And when you can speak and are told
your memories are cute --
WHAT an imagination! or
THAT will teach you not to tell stupid lies,
not to talk nonsense, not to be chattering
all the time -- even then
you will (in secret)
cherish a few memories
that you know are memories.

And if, then, you chance upon this poem,
whether or not you remember it, it will be
as true a fortune for you then
as now.


Saturday, July 2, 2016