Monday, September 28, 2009

Out of the Ashes XXIV: A Poem

he experienced
the whole thing
in a dim room, and--
as always--it starts with a dame.

in the shadows, the most curvaceous
temptress whispered lasciviously,
reclining like a Titian
in the bowl . . .
"eat me,"
and, oh,
she was
juicy to the core.

planting the remains
by moonlight
seemed almost a sacrament
to mark that sweetness
forever in the small rites
that made up
his life.

in later years
in that city, lovers
would--when departing
temporarily from
one another's company--
exchange the word
like a wet kiss.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Alchemy 101: A Poem

Alchemy 101
can i use alchemy to enhance my poetry?
or is that a faux-pas? is it a Freudian slip when i let my pheromones
combine with oils of white musk, sandalwood,
patchouli, and mango
to achieve some substantial subliminal impact,
and reach an even deeper level
in the trenches of your mind?
and how about those "energy drinks"
that turn me rabid, jitter my nerves and jive my senses
until i'm keyed up like a piano
tuned 2 octaves higher
than the rest of the orchestra?
oh, i see.
you thought i was talking about
metaphorical alchemy. we ALL do that.
this whole poetic quest is reaching for some Philosopher's Stone,
but i got a C in my Philosophy 101
for telling the professor that 90% of all philosophy
was just convoluted excuses people came up with
for doing what they would have done anyway.
i guess my philosophy of poetry is that it is alchemy,
a sort of neverending journey into Mystery
seeking the Sublime.
i didn't have to contrive a philosophy for this,
it's something that's encoded into my DNA
by the Master Alchemist . . .archived in the tomes of the Most High.
He teaches me as i go along . . .my alchemical skill is still
that of an apprentice, but Who better to teach
than the One by whose Word Void became Light,
and Death became Life
when the stone rolled away
to reveal the true Rock to a desperate world?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Shadows of a Twilight Empire: Chapter One

Reading over the blogs of two of my friends, Jeff Crook and Browning Keister, i'm realizing that my style and format are somewhat lacking. I'm not really discussing anything of radical importance to any "scene," and most of the work i do in this blog is dealing with the convolutions of my own twisted psyche. Outside of a couple of halfway-decent poems, most of this is just rambling, and probably incredibly boring to the people who persuse it (assuming that anyone does). I'm experiencing a sort of mental version of writer's cramp . . . the mental muscles i've used for so long to write poetry have been focused primarily on what i might call "slammetry," i.e., poetry specifically written to be performed. It's ironic that, while living in one of the spoken word capitals of the United States, i took very little advantage of the opportunities that surrounded me at the time. I've also wondered why i haven't "blogged" about my adventures and misadventures while living in NJ and then in NYC.


I lost most of my material wealth thanks to a housefire. I had books, CD's, and all of my papers certifying that, yes, in fact, i AM Robert Todd Pack, a legal resident of the United States, not a terrorist--well, an ART TERRORIST, maybe. Also most of my clothes and some knick-knacks that, while not exactly precious, certainly had some sentimental value. Part of this was that, apparently, a large box of my stuff i'd packed up was either mistaken for trash or simply purloined by the people who came in to fix the house. I was lucky to rescue my cat, my computer, certain books, and a couple of tomes of hard copy of my poetry. Pretty much everything else was toasted, smoked, or soaked. (Even this small scattering of stuff was later partially destroyed when the basement of the house i had lived in in the Bronx--where a lot of my stuff was stored until i returned to Roanoke--was flooded). As far as my job in NJ was concerned, that was the least of my worries . . . my district manager was happy to transfer me to a store in the Bronx . . . and my friend there was giving me a rent-free room for 6 months. I thought, "6 months, cool, i can accomplish a lot in that time, and will surely find some other place to live by that time." Some of my earlier journaling in my blog reveals that optimistic state of mind. I was getting good hours at my job, but i ended up spending a lot of what i gained as simple "mad money." I've never been very good with finances . . . an understatement, to be sure.

About a month after i'd moved into my furnished room in the Bronx, i was sitting on my bed, writing poetry, listening to some music, just pretty much chilling out. Outside, i heard 3 loud sounds that i immediatedly identified as gunfire. I'd never heard gunshots outside of a few adolescent hunting trips (and, partly because i couldn't keep my big mouth shut even when hunting, there weren't many of those either, because i succeeded in scaring off anything living that didn't require a hearing aid). I turned off my music, and outside heard a loud crowd of people . . . it sounded to me like a mob. One voice shouted out over the other voices, "We're number one! We're number one! We're STILL number one!" Then, as the other voices died out, i heard a car, and the same voice in a lower tone say, "Come on, let's get out of here." The car drove off . . . not speeding, but not taking it easy either. At that moment, my brain kinda vapor-locked, and i thought, "Oh, shit, i'm living in the Bronx." I was the whitest cracker on the block. Later on that night, some detectives came around, asking questions. I simply told them what i'd heard. When asked by one cop if i'd looked out the window when i heard the crowd, i said, "No, sir, i did NOT look out. I distinctly heard three shots, which meant that even if the shots were fired from a revolver, there were three bullets out there, and i didn't want my name on any of them." The cops took it easy on me, they could see i was shaken up a bit. That was an understatement. The next day, i saw a shrine up by the bodega, for a kid--he couldn't have been older than 16, if that--called "Li'l Bit." I stopped and lit a stick of nag champa incense that i carried around in my backpack, and said a brief prayer for the kid's family and friends. Three Black guys who were standing nearby watched me carefully while i did this, and as i stood up to leave, one of them stepped closer to me and said, "Good lookin' out." I looked in the newspapers the next day, but not one mention of the kid. NOT ONE. No, instead, the front pages were plastered with the latest Hollywood scandal. THIS KID HAD BEEN SHOT AND NOBODY GAVE A SHIT. When people hear my ranting or pronouncements about the media, the "system," etc., they call my paranoid or cynical. My parents have even said that. FUCK that, that was REALITY that night, and my idealistic visions were shattered as sure as if it was the gunshots that hit them. Crack, crack, crack! I also realized at that time the simple reality that a lot of New Yorkers seem to accept without a qualm: this stuff goes on all the time. The people i hung out with at the park--"Park Rats," some of them even took that moniker on themselves--could just as easily have been that boy. I think of how i'd felt if it had been Spider or Smoke or Shadow or Papo or Pharaoh or one of the other guys i now called friends, who'd been shot. I mean, Pharaoh even had scars where he'd been shot before--i'd seen 'em. I knew that a lot of those guys were what the "norms" would call "criminals," "hoods," or "degenerates." Almost all of them drank, and several of them used cocaine. Almost everyone at the Park smoked pot--even i did (yes, i smoked pot, okay, fucking deal with it), but almost everyone in NYC either smokes it or has smoked it at one time or another (wonder what my Grandmother with her "when in Rome, do as the Romans do" philosophy would have thought about that, ha ha). Mostly, when i went up to the park, i was either involved in playing Magic the Gathering, or talking poetry, philosophy, and theology. It always amazed me how many of these streetwise kats were actually intellectuals in wolves' clothing. Or maybe just intellectual wolves. And there i was, a sheep in wolves' clothing, not dangerous, not a fighter, a whitebread guy from the South, and yet i was accepted. It took a while . . . and not everyone there trusted me, i found out later--in fact, the ones that didn't trust me were the least trustworthy themselves, and seemed to regard my honesty and lack of "hood-pretense" with suspicion.

It was Spring and Summer, and i spent most of my days well into twilight and evening there, associating with riff-raff . . . or so some would say. There are no limits to friendship, and quite a few of them came to regard me almost as a go-to guy when it came to the Christian faith. I encountered some opposition because of it, but not as much as you might think. I was always willing to talk to someone who had questions, and didn't pretend to have all the answers, and i didn't try to cram my beliefs down people's throats. I felt like a Lone Ranger for a while, until Conscience and i met up and started to hang around. Jesus didn't get a corporate job or hang around with the high and mighty . . . He spent His time with the people who were lost, the "losers," the "outsiders." People knew that what i had, i shared. I'd buy energy drinks, candy, whatever, and just share them around. Smoke particularly started respecting me early on, because i brought him a matching hat, scarf, and a pair of gloves back when i was living in Jersey, after i'd started making a regular weekly trip to the park to hang out. Pharaoh and i had spent hours of time together at his place in Jersey, staying up all night playing "Soulcalibur 2." These guys weren't BAD people. Yes, they engaged in illegal activities. Yes, they did a lot of things that i wouldn't do, and i could have gotten "bagged" by association by cops who--in New York--are just as happy to harrass two for the price of one. I didn't have "respectable" friends. But i had friends who, at the very least, didn't pretend to be things that they weren't. Sure, they had flashy names, and some of the typical macho bragging went on, but everybody knew when it was real and when it was bullshit.

Whereto tends all this? Other than trying to give people a sort of play-by-play of my experiences, and how they've impacted me, i'm simply saying i'm fed up. I'm tired of the way these so-called "criminals" and "outcasts" are regarded by society. Even people who are close to me in every other way seem to look down on my friends. These are people who shared what little they had with me, and who helped me out in whatever way they could when i was down-and-out . . . i'll go into details about this in later posts (this has already turned into a rather wordy chapter). IF YOU CANNOT WALK AMONG THEM, YOU CANNOT HELP THEM. No amount of political action, ratification, "charity dinners," or other elitist posturings are going to do them any good. YOU DON'T KNOW THEM. And when one of them gets shot, you just label them "thugs," and think "good riddance." When you think like that, i want you to remember what the Ghost of Christmas Present said to Scrooge: "It may be that in the sight of Heaven, you are no more fit to live than this poor man's child."

Morning Mourning

Last night, i had a dream about performing a poem. It was a new poem, one i haven't written. And when i woke up, i could actually remember a whole section of the poem . . . and, like an idiot, i didn't immediately transcribe it. And now it's GONE!!! I can't even remember a single LINE from that poem, and i'm really frustrated and angry and pissed off and several other words i won't mention even in a blog.

It has been a busy morning. My parents and i did a major cleaning of the kitchen . . . we've been going room by room, cleaning the house, washing the curtains, even putting new carpet in the TV room. Today, new blinds in the kitchen, and it was also a cooking day. Mom started out making her ginger-snaps (i had the first one hot out of the oven!) Then, it was my turn, baking up homemade party mix (Dad's recipe), and later today Dad's making homemade bread. At some point, we'll mix the mulling spices with the cider and put that on in the crock pot. And all day long i was mourning the loss of my dream. I've got to stay on target with that.

Right now, i feel very blah. So i'm going to wait until later and try to post something meaningful in this blog.

Friday, September 25, 2009


Fwah, also spelled "F'wah," is a cosmic sound made by the Universe. Sort of like, "Om," but less dignified. It can also be used as a sort of enthusiastic greeting, usually immediately following the person's name. Also known as an emotion of impending disaster.
"Galactus! F'wah!"
"This cosmic notion fills me with a great sense of fwah."
"Tony! If you don't turn off that Gravonic Blaster, this whole neighborhood is gonna go f'wah!"

Drive-By Ranting

There's a hurricane driving by
in an old Hudson Terraplane, screaming
about some future fusion of YouTube, the New World Order,
and something that some people call Utopia
and a state of mind some people call Bliss
and a fear that not enough people are Pissed Off enough
to whistle up a wind of change.

Obama's promising change, but it hasn't added
any loose change in my pockets, and isn't apt to.
Cheney hasn't changed, his eyes still like two
rabid animals in their sockets, gibbering about
terrorists that may be roaming the streets
while he earns money every time something blows up.
The overblown drama that ensares so many of my friends
hasn't changed; they've only added new faces to their rosters,
a roll-call of losers and outcasts in which i'm depicted
and captured as well.
"Money Changes Everything," Lauper hiccups, but
money hasn't changed itself. We sell hours of our time
for less of it every day, and exchange it for even less,
and having it has become a set of shackles
that binds us like Marley's ghost.

Take some pills! See a shrink! Watch TV!
Eat some fucking McFood! Go see a movie
the production costs of which
would easily feed an entire third-world nation
for a year! Set that terrorist alert level on Orange
and watch the voters scurry about
like ants when their anthill's been kicked apart
by some giant kid with a squirt pistol!
Take a picture! Post a film of something stupid
on YouTube! It's YOU! It's TV! The lowest
common denominators of reality
screwing each other into senility
while the pharamceutical companies and
insurance companies do a line-dance
to a tune called "We Are The World,
We Cause the Misery, We Reap the Profits!"
The opiate of the masses is . . . .
EVERYTHING! As long as you've got a lot of it,
it keeps you numb!

If you combine Gas-X and xenoestrogens and
toxic chemicals in our dryer sheets and
whatever brainkiller your psychiatrist prescribes
and toothpaste with flouride
and carbon monoxide
and something to curb your erectile dysfunction,
you get Fully Functional Plastic Poseable
Disposable Consumers, just plug them in
and they'll watch QVC and buy stuff
until their brains rot!

And the ones that don't plug in
are terrorists, paranoid, antisocial,
malcontents . . .
they'll make perfect scapegoats
for all the societal side-effects or,
failing that, Soylent Green.

Labels for this post: scooters, vacations, fall,
Humpty Dumpty, dumpster-diving, free-fall,
downsizing, No Skateboarding Allowed in This Park,
computers, and poop.

P.S.--Go watch CSI, so you can figure out what they're using
to prove that you're guilty, and fuck reasonable doubt,
everybody's guilty.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Repost of a Section of a Longer Rant on my Myspace Blog

If you really want to change things, in any way, for the better, it's wise to start investing your time and energies in the upbringing and positive regard for the youth. Seldom do their needs get considered, except in terms of numbers or when some event (such as Columbine) makes the headlines. Even then, they're only used as platforms for various political parties. We had a "Million Mom March," now how about a "Million Youth March?" A lot of kids are disgusted with the moral decay and lack of concern in our nation and in nations abroad, but unfortunately our nation seems to be more concerned with sating or sedating the kids, streamlining them into one political party or the other, and saturating them with "SOL's" that don't provide coping mechanisms. Prayer in Schools: there's another issue that gets bandied about a lot, but it's a contemtible attempt by parents to shuck off the responsibility of their children's spiritual growth on a bureaucracy that is run by out-of-touch politicians and delegated through a bunch of overworked, underpaid teachers. I always felt like the prayers uttered by the various representatives of the school system were "recorded messages," completely devoid of meaning. That didn't stop me from praying on my own . . . silently, or with a group of friends who shared a common Faith. I certainly don't want the spiritual growth of my niece and nephew to be "handed off" to some faceless bureaucracy that claims to care for them while it's strangling the life out of them. From my own standpoint, the Christian Church is partly responsible for moral decay . . . by succumbing to various political views, by extravagant expenditures on funds to improve the buildings that house the body of believers as opposed to doing something constructive with the youth. I'm not talking about shallow indoctrination, either . . . kids AREN'T mass-produced, and have individual concerns and needs that vary greatly depending on their situation. There's that old saw about "you can't fit a square peg into a round hole." Well, then, STOP DRILLING ROUND HOLES! Stop EXPECTING everyone to easily be categorized or pigeonholed . . . to do that is to rob the individuals of the very individuality bestowed on them by their Creator!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Dream Journal #1: Two Dogs

I've decided, based on the fact that my dreams are becoming more vivid lately, to begin dream-journaling again. Most of the ones i experience will be blogged. I recently had one that was oddly disturbing, and hasn't lost it's potency, which i'll transcribe here.

In the dream, i'm walking along a roadway through what appears to be a rather run-down part of a town. Most of the houses or buildings along the way are facing away from this road . . . back fences and garbage cans are present. There are several individuals sitting or standing along the road . . . all appear to be ragged, and i understand in the dream that they're homeless, and in various states of intoxication. I approach an area where garbage cans are sitting, and see a dog, possibly a mongrel with some German Shepherd ancestry. The dog is emaciated, with unkmept fur. Still, i attempt to befriend it . . . i call it over, and pat its head. The dog becomes excited, and through the dream i hear music, and what appears to be the dog's "thoughts." Although i don't recall the exact words, the run of the thoughts (which continue until i awaken) i'm getting are both plaintive and somehow menacing. The dog follows me, jumping at first in a way that seems almost playful, but then it grips my arm in its jaws. I'm not aware of any pain, but there is a sense of weight, tugging, and i'm hindered in my motions. I continue walking away, trying to get away from the dog, but it stays with me, not releasing my arm. I pass along a chain-link fence bordering what appears to be a baseball field. The overall look of the sky and trees appears to be winter, and there are spots of snow and puddles of water along the way, but no sense of cold. I become aware of another dog that's moving alongside of me, but on the other side of the mongrel. It appears as a full-blooded German Shepherd, but full-bodied and with a very healthy-looking coat. I sense this dog is extremely friendly, and doesn't wish me any harm. As i pass by the baseball field, there are discarded packages of half-eaten snacks along the way, an i think momentarily of trying to distract the dog that's holding on to me with these, but i also fear that it will only encourage the mongrel to follow me. It's at this point that i wake up.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

New Poem: Ascension

perilous elements sublimated,
crucibled in a bone bowl;
rare earths birthed from base metals,
composition of a greater Whole.
Master Alchemist applies the flame
to His students' craft, the purifier
that burns away the dulling dross
revealing the vessels' higher.
Forged in golden sunset wonder,
sharpened by onerous toil,
we become gifts to give the Giver
in bodies no longer born of soil.


This is one i just wrote tonight. Not sure how good it is . . . it needs work, but i'm fairly happy with the result.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Crisis? WHAT Crisis?

For the past couple of months, i feel like i've been "stuck." This is partly from my own frenzied and manic nature, partly because Roanoke is (God forgive me for saying this), in many ways, the same emotional and intellectual quagmire it was when i left, and partly because i don't see any real "progress" in my own life since i returned. Well, to rethink that last, i -AM- a great deal healthier and several very necessary pounds heavier than i was when i arrived here looking like one of those skeletons you string up on your front porch at Halloween to scare the living shit out of any trick-or-treaters.

This being Sunday, once again i attended church with Lewis Kleiner, as we're sort of "surveying" the churches in the Roanoke area. So far, the experiences have been mostly uplifting and on-point. And, as the tradition builds, Lewis and i end up talking up and down the range of our life-experiences, and we came to a focal point: does God really want me to go back to NYC, or am i misreading my own desire (one that's not without qualms) as God wanting me to go back to NYC? Now, this might seem like a non-question to people outside of my circle of close friends, or to people who don't give what God thinks a second thought, OR people who assume that just because they want something, it must be what God wants. If you've waded through those qualifications and are still standing, good. (If not, go look at some porn or look at your stocks or Google F'wah, whichever gets you off more). The point is, i really don't want to assume anything about this. When i talked with my Pops about this a couple of evenings ago, he said, "There's nothing for you 'up there,'" and by 'up there' he means NYC. I responded, "There's nothing for me 'down here,' either!" Maybe we were both wrong, or maybe we were both limited by our perspectives on this. What i need is God's perspective. I refer to my time in NJ and NYC as a "self-imposed exile into Babylon," which sounds campy and a bit bombastic, but it's really not much of a conceptual stretch. I needed some of the things that happened to me there--good AND bad--and have come back a changed person in many ways. I'm a little harder, a little more streetwise, and a lot more skeptical about the government, the "system," or anything else that pretends to be organized by cloaking itself in a bureaucracy that's supposed to "help people" while simultaneously generating a huge profit for the people who are running it. I'm also a lot surer that my Faith is the most important thing in my life, the only thing that remained rock-solid during that whole time. Now that i'm in comfortable circumstances, well-fed, and not quite as afraid of getting shot at, it's become very easy for me to slump back into torpor, a sort of stagnant complacency that sucks like quicksand. I SIMPLY CANNOT LIVE LIKE THAT.

In conversation, Lewis brought up several good points (and he usually does) that skewered me right where i needed to be skewered. I rise to the crisis well . . . i can be rock-steady in a crisis situation, especially when i'm manic, but when there's no crisis to contend with, i feel limp and useless, and have the self-destructive tendency to try to GENERATE a crisis just so i can feel like i'm actually "dealing" with something! Right now, the danger--or crisis, if you will--is the stagnation, the complacency, and my total lack of patience. It's going to take a LOT more prayer, and less "worrying," to get into the mindset i need to be in. Who am i? Who am i to God, and what direction or purpose does He have laid at my feet? I wrote earlier in my blog about "waiting on the Lord," and it seems like i talk a good fight but when it comes to actually walking it out, i'm falling flat on my face. Right now, everything i'm involved in (re-establishing the paperwork of an "identity," getting a job, taking care of myself re. health and--particularly--my Spiritual health), are not things that i'm going to see rapid progress in. It's a PROCESS, which means i have to go through all the steps--in order--to get where i need to be. And that's TOUGH for someone like me. But that's what needs to be done, and that's what WILL be done, because i simply cannot fling aside these necessities and go off on another tear, or have another emotional/mental breakdown that drags everyone around me down. Irionically, these slow processes (and, in the case of dealing with the bureacracy, often pointless and unnecessarily complicated) are creating the circumstances of a crisis. Just not the sudden, explosive kind i'm used to dealing with. It's not like having an autistic kid take a bite out of your arm, or watching several of your friends get drunk, loud, and increasingly aggressive to the point that sooner or later somebody is going to do something both painful and stupid, or being fired from your job because you won't kiss your boss' ass (or whatever lame excuse they use to cover up the fact that they're really firing you because your ass-kissing isn't up to the corporate standards thereof). No, this is a completely different kind of crisis. One that the patience and peace that only Jesus can bestow are completely necessary equipment for. I'm thankful for this time of peace, even though the lack of conflict sometimes scares me . . . i just need to make the most of it. Harder times and other crisis situations will come--that much i'm sure of--and when they do, God will give me everything i need to survive them. He hasn't failed me yet, and i know for certain now that no matter what anybody else thinks, says, or does, He will NEVER forsake me.

Friday, September 18, 2009

14th & 5th: A Poem, Before the Magic All Turned Black

14th & 5th
saturday afternoon splattered with tuesday paint
off the pathtrain on 14th & 5th
follow the rush of wind up the stairs
shades mask the wolfish gaze
stepping into a maze where
walking is like wading waist-deep.
sleep abandoned me, hypnos and morpheus
are on a hunger strike, leaving me
lean as a wraith, hungry like cassius standing in line
at little caesar's, hungry for a poem
like a slab of broiled animal flesh on a bun
. . .or maybe just the animal itself,
something i have to hunt down while it's hunting me
like lon chaney with a hangover.
something this dangerous shouldn't be so much fun
something this turbid shouldn't laugh, or cough, or
walk, or run . . . a philosopher's stone, stoned
and tripping on the heat-shimmer ripple
over sizzling sidewalks and street-corner alchemists.
i feel like i could survive on the air itself,
something i could reach out and cut into slices,
priceless and poisonous and a thousand times more
carnivorous than any lean and tawny frame
leaning in a doorway. eyes
cut slices of me, a little piece for each,
plenty of spectacle to go around. i'm just
part of the whole sideshow, you know, not
freakish enough to steal the whole thing, but
snapshots of my own, apple peeled down to the bare core,
down to my favorite incense store
where the shopkeeper kneels and faces the east
his eyes focused on something i can't see.
i feel like i should take off my shades
and stand in the sunlight, gazing up in awe
like a tourist, another visitor. it makes me feel
naked, but i won't turn my eyes away, and i
won't pretend that i'm not amazed.
this is like a book i've searched for all my life,
and if tomorrow finds me half a continent away,
it won't stop me from turning to the east
several times a day
to the mecca i found. or maybe it found me.
or maybe we just met each other
on the street. i won't look over my shoulder,
i know what's following me, and
what i'm leaving behind. when everything catches up
with me, i guess i'll be right here
where i still don't know if i'm going to be able to
breathe, and i'm terrified, holding my breath, but something here
is doing my breathing for me
and each lungfull is just another poem waiting
in the wings, and another poem
is stalking me. thank God
the pen is still mightier than the sword,
or maybe they're just two ways of looking
at the same thing.
perspective is a piece of fruit
on the branches of this unknowable tree,
and something that holy is dangerous, but the fruit is ripe.
i have so much work to do.
the time for harvest is now.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The First Poem I've Written Since NYC: Lane's End

Lane's End
the lights don't penetrate, here
where grapevines yellowing in the cooling September
cast their kraken-shadows
over a fire-scar.
a femur protrudes from the carpet
of tree-shed tapestry, other
bones no doubt lying deeper.
Micheloeb, Bud Ice, Southpaw, Miller Lite
glitter like cheap armor in the gravel;
Philly Blunts have spilled their guts,
a torrid adolescence read in these remains.
it's haunted, whatever
they said or did still hangs in the air,
the way the smells of cigarettes and sex
are caught in the curtains
of cheap hotels.
spearmint, motherwort, vetch,
yarrow, goldenrod, and rot
of blackberry-vince tangles
work their own magic. something
is caught, snarled
in these brambles
and empty bottles.
it was like this seven years ago;
now, only the names and faces
have changed, hanging
like ghost-mask lanterns.
here at the heron's bend of the creek,
the sleepers wake
to walk in the green dark
and search for what's left here
by those who've gone before
and left their mark
on the soul of this place.

This is the first poem i've written since i returned from NYC . . . it's about a place down at the end of a gravel side-road here in Bonsack. Not sure what i was getting at here.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

How I Became "Grendel"

Grendel, in Beowulf, was a monster of some kind. There are different concepts of what he was . . . some say a dragon-like creature, others say he was more like an ogre or giant, and still others say he was a descendant of the Biblical Cain.
The way i picked up the nickname is kind of humorous. Back in late 1999 and early 2000, there were a group of us--Slam poets--in my hometown of Roanoke, who started going to schools doing exhibitions of Slam poetry. Word got around to several middle and high schools that we were turning kids on to the concept of poetry, giving them a different view than what they'd had from textbooks. Teachers loved getting the kids hooked on something that would have been regarded as "dull"or "boring." We presented in perhaps a dozen middle and high schools, as well as a couple of local colleges. The first school we went to, we were performing for a single classroom (later on, we packed auditoriums!). The current unit that they were studying in English class was "Beowulf." The teacher asked if we could somehow tie that concept into our presentation. That "hook" was given to me, and of course i told the kids that Slam was actually a modern-day descendant of the old oral tradition . . . that the concept of "competition poetry" went back to ancient Greece, and to the Anglo-Saxon bardic tales . . . and then i performed this poem i wrote, called "Sympathy for Grendel," which was a re-telling (albeit much shorter) of the Beowulf story from Grendel's point of view, that Grendel was just a victim of "bad press." Pretty soon, the Slammers occasionally referred to me as "Grendel." When i moved to NJ, i dusted off the moniker, and decided that since Grendel was a predator who trashed the "status quo" of his time, that the new Grendel personna was perfect for my rants and tirades. It also fits with the kind of stage presence i adopt when i'm performing those rants . . . stalking around, glaring at the audience, kind of a "predatory" stance. When i went to the Open Mic in Newark for the first time, i signed in simply as "Grendel." That's how i was known there from that point on. Later, hanging out in NYC, i introduced myself to the Union Square "Park Rats" as Grendel, and that's what most of them still would call me. Ask 'em about Todd, and only a couple would know who you were talking about. Ask 'em about "Grendel," and they'll probably tell you some stories. Some of 'em might even be true. You never know . . . .

Deconstructing Inevitable Discovery

Deconstructing Inevitable Discovery
you hear that phrase a lot if you watch
Law & Order. usually, it's the cops
or Jack McCoy with his bushy eyebrow-scowl,
saying, in essence, "Well,we would've found it anyway."
yes, indeedy.
after all the things they don't depict on TV shows go down.
after they bust down the door to your apartment
because of a "sound, suspiciously like
a woman being strangled" (you were
gargling in the bathroom), they charge in
and go tearing around looking for a victim and a criminal,
and in that frenzied search, a cop opens a closet
and your jacket falls out, dislodging
half a blunt that you stashed there
a week ago and forgot about,
and they call it "evidence of criminal activity,"
and since buying drugs supports terrorism(it said so on TV),
it's "aiding and abetting," too,
and then when they come to drag you
out of the bathroom, and you try to grab a bathrobe
because you're stark naked, they call it "resisting arrest"
and throw you down a flight of stairs, and
your face hits the pavement and your teeth get knocked out
and fall into the gutter, and they charge you with "littering."
and that's BEFORE the ATF gets involved,
assuming your apartment building is a drug operation,
possbly a terrorist organization,
or a suspicious gathering of people from other nations,
so they firebomb the whole neighborhood and get a commendation
from the President.
first it's Philly, then it's Waco,
guess who's coming to dinner?
paramilitary exercises in the ghetto!
Newark, you may already be a winner!
it's clearly evident that
the inevitable discovery in this case
is that things like this
have already happened . . . and,
inevitably, somebody will discover an excuse
to make it happen again. Pity there's no
real McCoy to prosecute the real criminals
in THIS drama.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

TV Died

Scanning through the available shows on the TV Guide channel is infuriating. Not just because, regardless of the number of channels, there's nothing that i really want to watch; what's worse is Hollywood 411, which is probably the most mind-numbing jackhammer of media drivel in existence. Just recently, it's been worse, because--even after the guy's been BURIED--they're still talking about Michael Jackson, or how the rest of the Jackson family is handling the situation . . . SHUT THE FUCK UP ALREADY! Of course, there's something suspicious about his death . . . the guy was completely messed up and, in latter years, had started to look decidedly creepy. And, anytime somebody "important" dies, well of COURSE there's got to be something suspicious going on, and if there isn't, by golly, Hollywood will MAKE it look suspicious, just to milk every last dollar out of a decaying corpse.

Having not seen anything i wanted to watch, i shut off the TV and decided to vent in my blog. I suppose i could create a good "rant" poem out of it, but i actually began to think about articulating my rage in prose. Reason being, the whole concept of Celebrities. Now, most of America somehow seems to believe that Celebrities (capital C added for ironic purposes) are different from "normal" people (i.e., people who don't have anyone chasing them down the streets with cameras or shoving those phallic-looking microphones in their face), and therefore should somehow rate more highly than the rest of us. People watch them play their dramas out in public scrutiny, and then try to ape their fashions, parrot their one-liners, or engage in other utterfly futile attempts to make believe that they're one of them. In other words, it's not only phony, it's faking somebody else's phoniness. I mean, honestly, do you REALLY give a shit what product thus-and-so is pimping on TV, just because somebody paid them an amount of money that makes what most of us make look like chump change (and, for most of us, that's exactly what we do make)? Do you actually think that those people are any DIFFERENT than you? Why are their flaws, foibles, quirks, mistakes, and failures any less a quagmire than the ones you're snared in, or somehow more INTERESTING than yours? Think about it this way: how would YOUR life look if it were scrutinized daily, if all the skeletons in your closet were dragged out, the bones gnawed by hyenas with camcorder-lenses for eyes, if you were nagged and hounded and picked apart constantly by pundits and media whores who get paid to do just that?

Personally, i'm tired of people who get paid so much just to parade around in somebody else's fashion lines, to advertise this brand of lipstick or motor oil or non-stick cooking spray (all probably made from the same petrochemicals), to trot across stage and display their talent so they can be elevated to some demigod-like status . . . oh, phaugh, run-on sentence. Whatever. No, i don't think it's wrong for talented people to get paid for their talents. I'm sure that performing a string of concerts or filming the same scene 50 times a day just because the director's got a bug up his ass that particular day--or any of the other things that Celebrities do that put them in that particular category--is tiresome, exhausting, and just as much a "job" as any other. But there's a limit to the amount of information or speculation about one particular person that should demand our attention. I'm reminded in particular of the shooting incident i heard--actually HEARD HAPPENING--at the end of the street i lived on while in the Bronx. A kid, couldn't have been more than 15 judging by the photos of him at the little "shrine" set up at the bodega up the street, was killed. I searched the papers the next day, and not one mention of this incident. It was as if the life of this child meant nothing. NOTHING. But on the front page of the papers was some Hollywood scandal (something so inane i can't even remember what it was now), about someone who--if they were shot--would have rated the same kind of Media Zombification that Michael Jackson is currently undergoing.

To regard Celebrities--regardless of their status or level of talent--as anything more or greater than the rest of us, is to devalue human life itself. After all, it doesn't take much to become a "media sensation;" if all else fails, grab an automatic weapon or a power tool and go on a rampage, or call a politician a liar to his face when he's making a speech, or what have you. Anybody who can do anything with a higher degree of skill than most is probably going to have the same experience as so many have: be all the rage for a certain length of time, then be vilified and hated and ultimately fed upon. And then after they die, everybody will be crying about how much this person is missed, and have gaudy tombs or shrines built in their name. And there will always be Media Hyenas around to suck as much marrow out of their bones as possible, people whose only "claim to fame" is how much profit they can generate off a corpse. Kennedy, Elvis, Reagan, MJ . . . people who were put on a pedestal and promptly fell off, only to be stuck up there again after they died. LET THE DEAD BURY THEIR OWN DEAD.

And shut up already!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

To Wait Upon the Lord

Had another good evening with Lewis tonight. It began as most of them do, with a coffeehouse stop and several bouts of MTG; later on, though, our talk--as it often does--turned to the Christian walk and our individual experiences and opinions of late. Lewis spoke of a talk he'd had with the Lord regarding me, and said that my current feelings of being "held back" weren't off the beam . . . what he'd heard from God was that my plan of spending 9 months here in the valley before "moving on" was a good one.

Thinking this over, i think i understood a little more about a phrase that appears in the Bible at several points: "wait upon the Lord." Because God doesn't do things according to a human schedule, we often become impatient and frustrated. It's as if, as i said in one of my many poems, we feel like we have a hotline to God so we can complain about the "slow service." I've done quite a bit of that lately . . . and now i see where i've gone wrong. "Waiting upon the Lord" can be interpreted literally! God is patient, and never does anything in a rush! As addicted as we are to "convenience," we often fail to grasp this. But waiting on the Lord doesn't just mean muddling along, expecting God to intervene at some future point. There are several things that need to be done . . . particularly in my personal case. First, it means to be in a mode of prayer and watchfulness. It's too easy for me now to lapse into a sense of complacency, to view this point of my life as a sort of lull. That's the wrong way to look at it. True, the opportunity for a rest, a "fall-back," was part of what He meant for me. But now, i need to be more vigilant, and to actively pray and pursue a course of life that will honor Him. I've been encountering a lot of negativity with old habits and old modes of thought reappearing. I'm committing, here and now, to banishing those old demons again . . . rebuking them, binding them in the Spirit. And i know i'll have to struggle with it, and if i don't depend on the Spirit, i will fail. It's nothing but the Spirit that's kept me from drinking again . . . it's easy to fall back into sin, easy to give up. But i can't give up now.

Another meaning of "to wait upon" implies service. If you're "waiting on someone," it can also mean that you are acting as a faithful steward, keeping things ready, and watching hopefully for your Master's return. Most of us can easily fall prey to complacency, or laxity, especially when things are going well . . . and then we wonder what's wrong when things fall apart! They fall apart for a number of reasons: first and foremost, because as Yeats said, "things fall apart, the center does not hold." No plan or organization of human design is ever permanent or dependable. Second, things fall apart BECAUSE we become complacent, let things run pretty much as they have since the dawn of time . . . and the Enemy uses those times to lull us into a false sense of security. Third, God often allows the difficulties that come when things DO fall apart to sharpen us, to test us with fire . . . not as punishment or wrath, but as a Father would patiently train a child. I need to remain alert, to perform my daily duties but not see them as humdrum or tedious, but as part of God's plan for me at this time. I'm going to have to accomplish a lot during the upcoming months . . . and i need to be really blessed to do this. I'm going to need the full strength and support of God's Holy Spirit in every task i undertake, and to remain patient when things don't go the way i think they should (and, with my anger issues and the thought-processes that a lot of people--my family notable among them--would regard as paranoid, things seldom seem to be going the way i think they should). It really doesn't matter in the long run what the government, the establishment, the system, the bureaucracy, or whatever other phrase i use to sum up "the way of the world," does . . . because, ultimately, God will prevail, in HIS time, according to HIS schedule, and not the short-sighted expectations of man. In every sense of the word, i need to wait upon the Lord.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Vocation Destinations

I had a long talk with an old friend of mine, Leslie, the other night via Facebook. To boil it all down and summarize, the topic itself was something about what i wanted to "do" now, i.e., a job. Now, in the past 10 or so years of my life, my job was only something to do to support me while i continued to work out what i saw as my vocation, calling, craft . . . poetry. As Taalam Acey pointed out, "Poems don't buy big homes, and poems don't light up wrists . . . " Or, as my old mentor Dan Leidig once said, "Poetry bakes no bread." Of all the creative arts, poets are on the rock bottom of the hit list . . . maybe because a lot of poets understand that part of their duty is to say things that a lot of people would rather not hear (and, in particular, people who have money would rather not hear). Blah, blah, blah . . . I'll leave that for another rant. Anyway, Leslie asked me about what inspired my poems, what made me write. I responded back, "Everything. My life." She said, "Too general. I'm looking for specifics." That kind of rocked me back on my heels, and i had to actually think about it.

Most of my poems deal with one or more of the following topics: my Faith (and reflections on the Christian walk), Nature, what would loosely be called "Political" poetry (i'd call it more philosophical than anything, because unlike most politicians i don't pretend to come up with any easy answers or recoil with a predictable knee-jerk when i have to wrangle with something that doesn't fit neatly into a political pigeonhole), Poetic Portraits (depictions of people i've come across), and Self-Examination. Then there are those weird little outbursts like "I'll Get You, Squid McGhee!" or "Sandy Duncan is Trying to Kill Me!" I don't know exactly WHAT is going on there, unless they're like a sub-category of what i used to call "Myth Sticks," which were really more conceptual Rorschach blots . . . other people would tell me what they got from the poem, and i'd nod and look wise, but they were actually revealing more about themselves than anything (that was the point). Now, let me tell you, i haven't written ANYTHING poetic since i came back from NYC. NOT ONE THING. This scares me, because in dry times like these i feel like i've "lost the muse," or whatever. And, i'll tell you something ELSE . . . i am also afraid that i'm not where i need to be with God. I know God's been giving me a lot of lee-way since i came back, but now He's pulling in the reins, and i need to be paying attention. My creative energy is always a difficult thing to deal with, because it has a tendency to go running off on its own if i'm not careful . . . and, as always, i find that the process of getting it under control often means that there's gonna be collateral damage. Mostly because whenever my creative impulses run on their own, they always come dragging stuff back like burdocks in their hide.

I'm not sure what this all means as regards Leslie's question . . . but i simply can't think of any other way to frame a response other than to kind of sit here and type it out. I can't climb a corporate ladder . . . that's not IN me, and i honestly don't think that's what God built me for . . . and a lot of what i'm hearing from my family lately seems to deal with "success" in the World's terms, which makes me sick to my stomach. ESPECIALLY as regards my grandmother, who--God bless her--will at one point insist that i could "dress like i was successful" (which, to her, means "like i have money"), and in the next breath say that she believes we're living in the Last Times (and, on that point, i can see some indications of that pretty plainly) . . . but it's the conflict between those two points that's giving me so much grief! YOU CANNOT SERVE GOD AND MAMMON. And who or what is Mammon? An appropriate modern translation would be Money, the Bank, Profit . . . and, it's true, people tend to go in one direction or the other. Whatever else i can see myself doing, it won't involve building a fortune for myself. My legacy will end up being a bunch of poems which will probably go unread until AFTER i die (and poets are usually only recognized for their vision AFTER they're dead, anyway), and in the actions and deeds that i've done. If anything, i want to pursue a goal that has to do with the ministry, in whatever function God has designed me to perform. I don't know exactly WHAT that is . . . but i understand He knows, and will reveal that to me when i'm ready to receive it. That means focusing a lot more on the skills and gifts He gave me, and being prayerful and watchful. Lewis has been a great help in this time . . . he's one of the few people i know who shares the Christian faith, a lot of similar tastes in music, a powerful creative gift, and a general distrust of the political system as a whole. He and i both agree that we'll end up partnering on something here in the valley while i'm here . . . and now i'm in doubt as to whether or not i'm supposed to go back to NYC long-term.

What do i want to do? I want to stop this state of free-fall and land somewhere for a while. I want to stop wasting my time and my talent. I want--at some point--to get back onstage and rock the Slam mic like i used to, and know i still COULD if i had the ambition and the focus. And most of all, i want to find out what it is God has prepared for me, and grab hold with both hands, and NEVER LET GO.

If i have to have some low-end job just to feed myself and manage my life while i'm doing this, well, so be it. Even Paul, when he was working on seedling churches that couldn't (or wouldn't) pay his upkeep, wasn't too proud to make a few tents.

Okay, Let Me Explain it THIS Way . . . .

Wise Fool
God has installed
some pretty effective
equipment in me.
He encoded some things into my DNA
that are perfectly suited
for one who likes to ride the edge
in this realm of poetry . . .you see, bipolar disorder and poetry
come together in me
like this: when i'm manic, i can crank out the poetry.
once i wrote 7 in the space of 3 hours,posted them online, and received
much praise! and, given such an ego boost, i
start to strut a little, and then . . .just when i'm feeling full of myself
. . .CRASH! here comes the depression, the
other side of the hyphen i've come
to know and dread so well,
and now i know what Rimbaud meant
when he talked about a season in Hell.
and people get disappointed with me,
and . . . i . . . get disappointed with me,
and so i drag my scaly hide into my cave
and hide out for a while.
then, manic's back like Rocky Balboa,
ready to step into that ring again!
and, it feels so good to be back, that
the level of my poetic attack
rises each time manic has my back.
so, you see, this thing that provides
the emotional energy and creativity in me,
is also my greatest limitation. and, that inspires humility.
God created me
to walk a razor edge, and He knew
what He was doing, even though,
looking at me, some people would think
God is crazy (and, sometimes, i wonder
about that too)--but, if crazy is the tool
God needs to do this job . . . here am i,
send me . . . i will be God's wise fool.