Tag Archives: ghosts

pop culture seance

i have 2 poems here that are calling upon the ghosts of two major pop culture figures: james dean and bob dylan. i kind of think they represented a certain archetype of their time and age with which i am infatuated, so the tone and content of these 2 pieces is very similar.

For James

You glower ghostly from the projector shroud.
My planchette hands backlit black reach to you
in a cinema divination drawing me down Grapevine Road
at 70 mph, hurtling towards the specter spot at Cholame—
to hell with tickets and portends, angels and charms,
to hell with the red warnings blazing on that fateful day:
the sheen of the Porsche’s engine-hot hood, the collar
of your rebel coat, the label of your last Coke—you
ripped across that ribbon of concrete as the bloody
sunset stabbed your eyelids at skull-crushing speeds
and the Ford Sedan glared through the windshield—
better give me something, give me something fast—
I see you swiveling the steering wheel as you flick
the last cherry spark of your cigarette and battle
the demons twisted into the transmission, your eyes
fixed on the rangeline of dusk and day—a softness
like the final fade-out on the milk-wash screen.

Leaving Hibbing

You found the guitar arthritic in the attic, by
the mahogany Detrolla with an upside-down atlas
glowing on the face as Hank Williams quavered
airwaves and Odetta howled on the up-down strums:
50,000 watts voodooing through the atmosphere.

A country record in the cradle made you different,
deviated topography snagged on the compass rose.

There’s no room to rebel in this weather: a pastoral
purgatory of milk and lilies, snow-stiff flags
on the white-wash porches—what happens to these
nine square blocks when the iron mines shut down,
the fields dessicate and the red canvas awnings clap down
slow in the final autumn? Change your name
to anything, walk anyplace—Supertramp Napoleon,

get in our heads, pin us down. Seek the crossroads to séance
the folkster canon. With a dirt-thumbed copy of Bound for Glory,
you called upon the gospel according to Guthrie before
he boarded the crazy train. Stolen vinyl, shorn hair and hunger
as hard and hollow as your instrument—will you fill us,
make notes tone holy and speak something slanted radical?

Cinderella or Romeo, you can go everywhere
when you’re someone else, and you’re always
bygone and becoming, halloping to the horizon bevel
on the throstle and rise of rock-n-roll, the poetry
of the lemon crate in the gutter, the hum of a green
grain shoot stirred by Minnesota dew.


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Filed under New Writing, Summer work, Uncategorized, Unedited, Unpublished


MORE BLUES POETRY. this is an earlier, unedited version.

How the Blues Die

Bessie Smith flew from her car like an angel
and broke open at the ribs and wrists, died
neglected on the white hospital stretcher.

Blind Lemon Jefferson froze to death on the streets
of Chicago, lost in the snow—a thing
he feared in the blank of his eternal whiteout.

Memphis Minnie stroked out, so they shoved
her into a nursing home til her expiration date,
aphasic save for the livid spittle laced to her lip.

Charley Patton became a sizzling collapse
of the heart’s infarction—an entropy of passion
as plaque bloomed like a lily in his ventricles.

Peg Leg Howell burned, corroded by the syrupy
sweet of diabetes that claimed his legs first—
bad sugar crystallizing slow along his thighs, crippling.

Pine Top Smith caught a stray bullet to the chest when
his boogie-woogie spun out of control—he lurched forward
over the bloodied ivories skewed by reckless shots.

Leadbelly escaped every prison except the one
as big as his body: the iron maiden of Lou Gherig’s
shackled his limbs from within and snuffed him out.

Robert Johnson played too far out of hand in Greenwood—
gutted by the barman’s jealous slip of arsenic over his
fifth whiskey, a milky swill of revenge in amber depths.

Big Bill Broonzy felt the cancer coagulate in his throat,
cutting off his vocal flow as he punched riffs into his guitar
and onto the pale, sunwashed porch after morning chemo.

Leroy Carr drowned in the depressive cloy of canned heat—
the crush of drinking to death, while Willie Johnson
suffocated on the icy ash of his burned-out home. Pneumonia

lying heavy in his chest, he hummed “Dark was the Night,
Cold was the Ground” to forgotten streets, careful to still
the chalk-grind of his bones as he sighed off mid-moan.

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Filed under for class, New Writing, Poetry, Unedited

world news

Inspiration comes from so many places. The other day, the Google sidebar called out to me. It was an article about a squid ship from Japan resurfacing near Canada. The picture, to me, was kind of haunting. And the impacts of the tsunami are still being felt in places. I wanted to access that emotion, that haunting, in a way I understood. It may not be a real reflection of the news, but as a writer, I take internal truths, ghosts of the news, and reconstruct them in a new way. So, here:

“An aircraft patrolling the seas off British Columbia saw the vessel… from the Haida Gwaii islands on Friday. It is believed to be the first large item from the millions of tons of tsunami debris to cross the Pacific.”–BBC News

The oceans pushed me back to land with an azure hand
after the clap of saline and spray that washed me away
from the coastal teeth of the Hokkaido. Take me back
to rock-strewn sea-cliffs, to the scream
of water against Earth, the rushing collision
of waves straddling themselves as they teem
towards the shore. I was vast once, holding inside
myself the heavy tools of nautical labor, dark and solid
and greasy with saltwater. The Pacific lapped along
beneath my keels and nets, and I was strong
in my stroke against the currents. Then the tremendous
upheaval, the rapid flood of tidal bores into the harbor
like the whipping of one great sheet in the wind,the smashing
force of shoaling crests, the draining drawback
that yanked me from the jetty and swept me adrift.
In that blue emptiness, that suspended stillness
of so many depths, the rust blossomed along my hull,
and my sea-tossed body refused to sink.
Approaching that black brow of horizon again,
I know I am all hollowed out, a ghost of myself.

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Filed under New Writing, Poetry, Unedited, Unpublished

sickness and villanelles

So as the seasons change, I am prone to these horrible colds that make life terrible. In the middle of this year’s ailment, I wrote out one of my hallucinations in a really disjointed manner. Last week when we were prompted to write villanelles in workshop, I was thrown for a loop. But then I came up with the brilliant idea of performing poetic surgery: whacking a poem up line by line and rearranging it within the villanelle form. In doing so, the creation of the villanelle became less about production and more about formulation, which was nice and easy to handle in my ailing state. It also really changed the expression of the original poem in a new and interesting way. So, there ya go. Never be afraid of laziness when it comes to trying to write in form. It can be just as creative.

Fever Dream

I clutch a new nightmare, a new paralyzing fear
where a mutant man-bear zombie rips iron-wrought
bars of his cruciform cage into twisted snakes, thorned hands
strangling, soldering the throat shut more solidly than sleep.

Bloodied eyes scream platitudes of servitude, nobility,
captivity, crushing dark—I dive beneath the black
waves and cringe against another nightmare, a paralyzing fear

where dead hands slither between stone sheets and snap
bones like branches laid bare in the predatory stalk of a storm,
splintering the scream in the throat with solid sleep.

The claws come back, shredding the spinal chord like a worn out
garden hose, crumbling the bunkers antibodies clamber up, failing, falling
into the clutch of another nightmare where fear paralyzes—

struggling, failing, no breath in the gasp, no heat—
the throat closing shut under hot torrents of solid sleep— and then

nothing. And then the silence of waking in a night that whispers its empty
code against my wrist, pacing out the steps of my thrashing heart
caught in the clutches of a nightmare, a deeper fear already
attempting to still my moaning throat more solidly than sleep.

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Filed under for class, New Writing, Poetry, Unedited

Not on the list.

So I came up with a whole list of prompts to work with this summer, and this was inspired by something not on the list: my late grandfather. Oops.
This is also not the first time I’ve written about him, either. In fact, I wrote about it when I began taking writing seriously in high school, the first time I entered the Prelude Awards in 2007.
I’ll put both of em up and you can compare how my writing has changed in 4 years, I guess (personally, the old is still better because it’s been edited and stuff, buuut I dunno). SO MANY POEMZZ.

So, here’s the new one:


“I believe in spooks,” my father said. Once, he was a man
in his childhood bed, a planet spinning in a galaxy
of aluminum matchbox cars, golden cat’s eyes marbles,
baseball pennants and crimson candy-stripe sheets steeped
with childhood scents of sleep while the sirens outside
on Totowa streets blinked and trolled wood panel walls
like the whirlpool in his chest all stained with grief. His father,
two days dead,came and sat on his brother’s bed, shuffling a scuffed
football in his hands until the air sighed out. Every board creaked
inward as the chimney took a breath, and the stone lions on the lawn
twitched and sniffed, and he knew he could reach out and grasp
that flannel lapel stitched with tobacco lace, feel the breath wheeze
up out of the cracked, tan bellows of his father’s chest and wash out
the hours between that moment and the final moment, the one
when he clapped his old man on the shoulder as he departed, when
the first palpitations of heart failure began brewing beneath his ribs.
Alone in a room of ghosts, he knew the damp, sweet smell
of his parent’s house as natural and old as earth, the dry
papery musk of his schoolbooks petrifying on their shelves,
the far-off roar of headlight rivers running the Pennsylvania Turnpike,
and the empty weight of his father, wreathed in a rusty halo
of age and cigar clouds, leaning forward from the lonely darkness
of a smoggy umber East Coast night, and lay awake with it.


The Ghost of Ganonoque Lake

I never heard his voice, but his face resides in grainy photographs,
Eyes shaded by dark lenses, lips pursed in exertion
As he guided an aluminum boat over choppy sapphire waters
Or bounced a child in his lap. One day in June,
The tightened muscle in his chest finally refused to beat
After over sixty years of throbbing.

A tiny cabin hidden in a cove contained a fireplace
Made of stone, and opposite a weathered cellar door holding
Creeping, earthy creatures of the dark. I was told never to raise
The rusted metal latch and venture into its depths.

One night, sleep eluded us as the plaintive wailing
Of sable loons and the clicking croaks of frogs tucked
Away in the boggy docks echoed across the black glassy sheet of water.
In the pitch darkness, a presence solidified and sidled from behind
The battered door and cracked open the cabinet concealing gin and cigars,
Leaving behind a potent aroma of alcohol and smoke.

As I explored the upper floors, I discovered in a narrow closet
A scratchy, woolen anorak and galoshes still tainted with
The smell of sweat and aftershave mingled with cedar and mothballs.
A sheaf of yellowing ledger paper stuffed in a broken dresser drawer
Had a scrawl similar to mine wriggling across the page.

My trembling fingers brushed tiny rivulets made by pen strokes
On paper. I could feel the steady weight of a rough hand
That patiently unsnarled fishing line, sawed holes in the icy
Surface of the lake, and gripped the rubbery mouths of gleaming fish.
Those same hands had scribbled these words:
“If sky black and rain on lake,
Stay in and drink a beer…”

One day I will disappear under the Earth, into the dark
Cellar to feel the chilled water trickle over my fingers,
Bury myself like a clam in the damp, coarse soil,
Linger where loons shriek and pike and panfish flick their faces
Above the dusky water as the sun clutches the rim of the Ganonoque.

OH YEAH. Did I mention I got accepted into the summer edition of poetry quarterly?? According to my submission manager thingy, they’ve accepted Sundance, Siblings and the Handcuff King. YEAH. RILL SHIT, YO. Swag.


Filed under New Writing, Old Writing, Poetry, Summer work, Unedited, Unpublished

Two Quickies about Dead Things: Ghosts and Bones

So I’ve been thinking a lot about dead things, I guess. But mostly I’ve been spending too much time outside very late at night when the mind drifts back in the currents of fear and the unknown.


It’s a good night to go looking for ghosts.
The pines with their looming hands spread
their palms open overhead, cupping the jaundiced
beam of the headlights as the swayback fields balance
a snowy moon between their shoulder blades.
You know the story: the body rent apart and buried
deep, its black soul-dregs staining the soil
as it disintegrates into phantasm. You disturb
the gray, sweeping aside stalks as you plunge
farther into monochrome stillness, into shadow.
Your hands melt into darkness, sliding
into another’s fingers like gloves, rubbery
and humid with the steam of the inferno. You feel
your heart slither from your chest, your breath
lift from your lungs, your numb arms and legs
unhinge and join a new form tired of clinging
to the body of the earth. Somewhere,
the navy night wheels on without you, but
your ribbon of a skeleton twists into the empty
spokes of the forest, tied fast by a force
your swallow mind struggles to comprehend.

The Bones

I want to write about the ancient seas, but I don’t know how.
The bones buried in the soil can only say so much, and
the plain shakes only in the memory of waves. This earth
lost its heave of water to the roll of hills, to glaciers stampeding
the lands flat. Here the shadows stretch out to touch
the horizon line,brushing the magenta squall of sunrise
with planar fingers. I can see them twisting, those whale-bodies
and sea monster shapes like shadows braided into the shuffling
grain, breaching and diving beyond my gaze. I hear them
whisper and rush in dead languages, fossil tongues.
The dry hiss of forgetting and forgotten sluices
through the baleen combs of their mouths as the sand
and clay peel away in dry sheets like skin and whip
up into smoky curls. In places where streams wear
themselves out in muddy gullies, the bones dredge
themselves up from the depths of dirt. I catch
jawbones howled wide in a final cry from when the brackish
water drained away, from when the pieces that built
the body up began to sink and drift apart. Somewhere
in those calcium trails, a spark ran with bygone waves, flowing
with currents like the cranking of my pen when it finds
the right words, like the swilling spiral the basin
of my body makes when caught in rhythm. Sometimes
the bones can only say so much—but they can say it.

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Filed under New Writing, Poetry, Unedited, Unpublished