Wednesday, July 5, 2017

independence day

who made you einstein, monday-face

american standard is a brand of toilet

so i just start walking on water

out of respect for pangea

trash gets picked up

i mean if you’re gonna be a nobody

have some class about it

shake up the pepsi

like a dead cat in heat

the butcher kills the air

when the woodwork crawls out of you

don’t come licking my stoop

because your leadership pills are gone

father of the year is taking questions

quick sip delivery nods in clouds

tell self-checkout i said hi

my bus is here

crack that baby open

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Sundog

The new issue of Sundog Lit includes my essay-poem "Passyunk spur", one of four spurs from my recent manuscript General Motors. Thanks to Berry Grass & the editors.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

for what we will

you can stick a 7-11
right there
like nothing happened
the city flushes itself
all day
people couple off
like the poem’s over
i got divorce flowers
for everyone
i got water
for the vase
you can tax the sun
you can mow the lawn
of little ears
peddled by squirrels
made of thanks
to hollowed earth
what “let” means
is the squirrel’s anybody, all
squirrely, night splashing
onto stairs, keys
to love the bar’s
emptiness
a subway entrance
in my bedroom
like a pillow
your scent barked home
in a shirt
a string whistled thru
utility’s erotic
in defiance of
uniform
you can take off
what you need
you can lick your bowl
clean
for no credit
you can pledge allegiance
to the floor

Monday, May 1, 2017

injury music

april is not a thing
i’ll be there in 20 minutes
just shy of dust
w/ dry red wine
national safe digging month
is almost over
thank god
we can dig once again
w/ abandon

Monday, March 27, 2017

SPiA #6

The new Slow Poetry in America newsletter is five poems from a manuscript I recently finished writing called General Motors. You can order it or subscribe to SPiA right here and get poetry in your mailbox every season. Thanks to Mike Cavuto, Hoa Nguyen & Dale Smith.

Boneless Skinless

Boneless Skinless is in the world, featuring work by poets who've read at Housework at Chapterhouse, the great poetry reading series run by Mel Bentley, who also edits the magazine with Jonathan Hamilton. Two of my chase scenes are in volume 1, which you can get here.

Whirlwind #10

Check out Whirlwind #10, published out of Philly by Sean Lynch and Lamont Steptoe. The new issue focuses on the meaning of "empire" in the 21st century. Happy to have two poems as part of it. You can read the magazine online here or get it in print.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

injury music

when they say “nothing is free”
they mean “you work for me”

when they say “we don’t condone violence”
they mean “you work for me”

when they cart you off the field on a stretcher
thousands of little boss-slaves cheering on
your pain

the super bowl of cheerios
in a sink

this complete breakfast
of losers

i wipe my mouth
w/ a napkin

everything is free

waterfalls are not
hair
little girls exist
writing

poems outside any nation
or sink

when the poem says “nation”
it means “bruise”

we found you w/ nations
all over your body

and we nursed you up
otherwise withholding our labor
from the dying ocean

who are you
now at the lip
all washed up

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Q&A

The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage interviewed me recently about writing, how I came to it, what makes it happen. You can read it here.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Real News

Medics Remove Gold Toilet from Officer’s Head

“Is CNN People?” People Ask

Roots of Starved Trees Found Gripping Skulls from Heaven

Cops Offer Free Hugs to Corpses

Saint Go Pinged from Winged Bike

Love Fails to Trumka Hate in Capitalist State

Hiccups in Paradise Reported by Garbage Police

Water Protectors Attacked by Government
as Middle Class Shakes Fist at Socialist

Electronic Credential Mill Fires its own Mother—Your Mother

Enrollment Plummets at Good Worker University

White God Misses Bus in White Imagination

The KKK Took Our Healthcare Away

Old Mortgage Tongue Calls it a Day

Fascists Plead for Peace & Quiet

There is no outside, says Frog

Saturday, December 24, 2016

xmas

open letters to no one
shredded by santa
for free

Monday, December 5, 2016

chapbook from Chile
















PATRIOTISMO, a bilingual chapbook, is a selection of old and new poems translated into Spanish by Carlos Soto-Román, published by Libros del Pez Espiral in Santiago, Chile. If you would like a copy, please email me. 

A selection of poems from the chapbook can be read on Jámpster. Thank you to the editors.

Friday, November 25, 2016

voice


Dear Adjunct Faculty:

Several adjunct faculty have recently notified their chairs, deans and others that they have been approached before or after classes by representatives from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the Temple Association of University Professionals (TAUP) and others regarding unionization of adjunct faculty. As an educational institution, we strongly believe that any decision-making should be built on a solid foundation of understanding of issues, in this case, the unionization process and the ensuing collective bargaining if a union is formed.

As part of AFT's organizing efforts, you may be approached by an AFT or TAUP representative wanting you to join TAUP, the union that represents the full-time faculty, or you may have received a package in the mail asking that you sign an "authorization card" and a "membership card". If you sign these cards, you are surrendering certain of your individual rights to the union if/when it is certified. By signing the authorization card, you are agreeing to have the TAUP, the United Academics of Philadelphia, AFT-PA, AFT, and the AFL-CIO represent you regarding the terms and conditions of your employment. The authorization card is a binding document; once you sign and submit this card, it will be very difficult to withdraw should you change your mind. By signing the membership card, you also are agreeing to have dues deducted from your salary and paid directly to TAUP once a collective bargaining agreement has been agreed upon.

As you may know, we have been working directly with adjunct faculty members since last year to listen and respond to concerns about job security, wages, benefits and other issues. We believe that an open and direct relationship with our adjuncts is best. We are concerned that once the union files a petition for representation, we cannot continue the meetings we have had with you, the adjunct faculty, until there is an election. If the union is certified, we cannot make any change to compensation, benefits or other terms of employment without coming to agreement with the union, a process which can take a long time to accomplish.

Ultimately, it is your decision whether or not you wish to be represented by TAUP and AFT. In the meantime, we want to reaffirm our interest in continuing to work directly with our adjuncts
without third-party involvement.

Thank you for
taking the time to read this message. If you have questions, please feel free to email me at the following address, which has been designed to facilitate communication with my office on this particular issue.

Sincerely,

Hai-Lung Dai
Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs
Temple University

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Same Time

In cold war school, 4th grade, we had “current events.” We performed newscasts in class, took turns reporting what we’d found at home in the newspaper. And then, I guess, we talked about it. Today we do this as adults on facebook and twitter.

-

There was a massive strike in India last Friday. The fact squeaked through all the plutocratic noise, a blip I’ve clung to as infinite. Would you tell me about it?

-

Indiana Jones, tumbleweed, rolls down the street, totally whole. Don’t look back, Mr. Jones. Take all the Dr. Phils with you, turn down a side street and I will meet you there with open trash bag.

-

“The universe will never happen,” says Heriberto Yepez. I love the closure as how many millions open other books the same time I close mine.

-

When I hear “universe” I think “union”. I scrape the bottom of a jar with my spoon, a dry tongue.

-

It’s not what I’m missing that hurts, but this endless need to become something else against mass expression of collective powerlessness.

-

Enough, clearly, is not enough.

-

the pears are the pears
the table is the table
the house is the house
the windows are the windows

the car is the car
the roads are the roads
the streets are the streets
the white line is the white line

the curves are the curves
the thigh is the thigh
the knee is the knee
the arms are the arms

the eyes are the eyes
the mouth is the mouth

-

Ted Greenwald said that. It got me here, the poem, dropped me off, hey thanks for the ride.

-

The mouth is a way out
The moon is a fat dime
Exact change only

-

I was there in the painting with the gulls on the rock. We wrote our names on the rock to be there with each other.

-

“Common” means moving + changing together.

-

“I miss your angry heart,” you text from across the country.
“I miss your angry heart,” I text back.

-

“We cobbled it together,” I said about another relationship. When I talk about my working life, I say “I’ve cobbled it together.”

-

Our lives paved by gigs, the news evaporates quickly. The ground is shaky. Shaky quickly, we heart our friends’ transmissions. Do these tiny solidarities add up?

-

There’s no such thing as a “gig” economy. It’s a scab economy, long been, sustained by the government.

-

I like it when all my friends post pictures of the sunset at the same time.

-

Will we find a way to throw our cobbles at the right people at the same time?

-

During the Q&A of a recent poetry reading, older poets started talking about dodge ball as if it were a game that younger poets had never played, as if the game were extinct.

-

“Common” means moving + changing together.

-

When I was a kid we played a game in the schoolyard called “suey”—short for suicide, I learned later—in which we pegged the shit out of each other with a tennis ball. The more you dropped the ball, the more you got pegged.

-

Gus, the Pennsylvania lottery groundhog, says “Keep on scratchin!”

-

If you see your own shadow, it means love as refusal. It means love as refusal so you can drag your sorry ass out of bed in the morning.

-

“Common” means moving + changing together.

-

We organized our shadows into love as refusal, and the day followed.

-

Imagine being more than affect in a time of mic drops.

-

Is this thing on?

-

Let’s sit down and watch our pay go up.

horses

i don’t know anything about horses. pet the bus w/ your breath.
window, go, it’s me. runs like new. what does love want from me.
before standard time a horse beat a train called “tom thumb” in
a race, 1830. train broke down under moon, horse had no name—
that's time. old pain, moon, round and round. the horse’s eyes
roll back, run away. my mother’s last name is west, it’s empty.
she escaped it, laboring for everyone after her father lost his job
at quaker rubber, drank himself to nothing. we could reinvent the
whole disaster. my car is parked outside. i was born on february
42nd. i sat way in the back of the horse’s mouth for twelve years
w/ my heart on fire. the future means no. the rest is history
i will rip apart w/ you.

come-on

Sunday, August 14, 2016

honk if you don't exist

a strike is people
the horse a door
you were saying
tempus fuck it
we made your car
it’s an eraser
get in
sit, unknown, sit
honk
if you don’t exist
you were saying
how to be anything
when everything’s
exhaust
a parade of geese
has shut down
traffic in front
of the art museum
nobody honks
the traffic is thinking
about itself
its itness
my armpits
stink
my girlfriend
loves it
we’re late
to a job
called food
the geese tease
the streets
the museum starts
jerking off
a cop shakes
his head
the steps collapse
into rain
rocky is now a girl
the flood hires us
to be water
our mouth
grabs the statue
of frank rizzo
by the ankles
he waves
goodbye
like a dead trophy
to his wife the cops
she was born cops
every day
a blue life
comes out of its
blue mom
a smurf w/ a gun
there’s another one
mattering
like a sandwich
on a playground
marry me, he says, marry me
before drowning

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Public Pool

A few poems from the book I'm working on are up at PUBLIC POOL--you can read them here. Thanks to the editors.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Germantown spur

There was a plan for a Germantown spur off the Broad Street line that would take off from Erie Station in North Philly and run northwest under Germantown Ave. Germantown was once German Township, two words, a distant suburb where textile mills lined Wissahickon Creek. In the 19th century it was pulled into Philly by the railroad as the city pushed outward as if trying to escape itself.

Germantown is many histories of escape, of refuge and flight. There was a station on the Underground Railroad in the 1850s, right on Germantown Ave, known as the Johnson House. It still stands, now a museum.

Museum means “shrine of the muses,” an attempt at making a house of mind, a station for thinking. So it can’t work the way you want it to. Muses move, pass thru. A station wants you to stay, to stand like a steed in a stable.

“A museum is a curious graveyard of thinking,” wrote Amiri Baraka in his essay “Hunting is not those heads on the wall”.

In the 1790s, George Washington whose head is on the quarter and one-dollar bill escaped Philly’s yellow fever epidemic by hiding in Germantown, along with other rich people, 6 miles away from the city. Horses and boats took them there. Horses were status symbols.

Imagine the man on the one-dollar bill petting his favorite horse. This one’s my favorite, he says. Imagine him, with that one-dollar expression, naming his horse. This is Mary Ball, he says, I love her. Imagine the man on the one-dollar bill talking to his horse. It’s all right, baby, we’re almost there.

Money turns you into a cartoon, a rubber band that can be shot across the room, bounced into other forms. Time does this too. So does speed and the desire for speed—that you must be traffic to escape traffic. No one thinks of themselves as traffic, even while they’re in traffic.

As traffic, you’re part of your vehicle and part of everyone else’s. As you speed up, you embody the freedom you desire, escape itself, the pleasure of animation, wind blowing in your face, and you become more elastic, more fluid, like Tom or Jerry, like the Road Runner, like Wile E. Coyote, and you begin to feel more and more invincible. You fly on I-95 as pure spirit until traffic slows, and then slows, and then comes to a standstill, and you want to pull your hair out, because you’re a cartoon just like everyone else, in your private car, melting into the public roads, which will never be yours.

Fuck you and the horse you rode in on.

Fuck me and the Ford Focus I broke down in.

We gotta get out of this place
If it’s the last thing we ever do
We gotta get out of this place
Girl, there’s a better life for me and you

That's the Animals, 1965. Bruce Springsteen, “the Boss”, has said, “that’s every song I’ve ever written. That’s all of them. I’m not kidding, either. That’s ‘Born to Run’, ‘Born in the USA’.”

It’s a song born of working-class frustration. It’s not a song about overthrowing capitalism but of escaping it. It’s a song you turn up in traffic, where solidarity is impossible. You are stuck in the hellish city. Stuck in your job. Stuck in your body, slaving away just like your mother and father, just like your neighbor. Nothing but traffic. Animals in need of animation.

The words “animal” and “animation” share the word “anima”, which means “soul.” The Indo-European root, anə, means “to breathe.”

In the film noir Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), humans and cartoons co-exist. It’s the 1940s, and in contrast to the humans, cartoons are playful, imaginative beings—artists—who live more or less peacefully with one another in a completely animated part of Los Angeles called Toontown. They are also immortal unless erased by a special “dip.” All of Toontown is under threat of erasure because of a plot to build a freeway through it. To make it happen, Judge Doom has purchased LA’s public streetcar system in order to destroy it.

Judge Doom’s dream is our reality: “I see a place where people get on and off the freeway. On and off. All day, all night. Soon where Toontown once stood will be a string of gas stations, inexpensive motels, restaurants that serve rapidly-prepared food, tire salons, automobile dealerships, and wonderful, wonderful billboards reaching as far as the eye can see. My God, it’ll be beautiful.”

Fortunately, the good guys win. The human protagonist, detective Eddie Valiant, saves the animated protagonist, Roger Rabbit, and in doing so he helps save Toontown. He also regains his lost sense of humor and breaks his own depression. He gives Roger a big funny kiss and all the toons cheer as they’ve won collective ownership of Toontown. In the end, Valiant finds his anima. The movie, ultimately, is about fending off spiritual death. Implicit is a critique of Jim Crow-era racism—toons, who are drawings of animals, including people, are discriminated against, seen as less than human, and are segregated from humans, who believe they themselves are not-animals.

In real life, Judge Doom was General Motors, which along with Standard Oil, Firestone Tires, Mack, and Philips Petroleum, conspired to dismantle streetcar systems across the USA in the 1930s and 40s. They succeeded by using a front company called National City Lines. I learned this on 11th St. one day waiting for the 23 bus, which takes you to Germantown. The bus was late and the man next to me, who was complaining about SEPTA, started musing about the long-gone wonderful days of streetcars, how they ran up every street before we had buses. He told me to look up National City Lines. I did.

A hundred years ago, Philly had 550 miles of track and a fleet of 2,000 trolleys. Then came the rise of the car, which is an eraser. Then came the Great Depression. Then National City Lines: most trolley routes were converted to buses. And subway development slowed. Then came World War 2 and highways and suburbs, blockbusting and white flight.

In real life, Eddie Valiant and Roger Rabbit were people who drove cars, listening to Bruce Springsteen songs before Bruce Springsteen was born.

There were people in Germantown like Samuel West, my great-grandfather who made a living at the BUDD factory, which manufactured train and car bodies. His father, Thomas West, had drunk himself to death after the Great Depression sunk his textile mill and lightning killed his eldest son while he was working on the roof of their house. The rest of the family fought over the scraps and Samuel wanted nothing to do with it. He eloped with a poor girl from Scranton, moved to another neighborhood. He never talked to his siblings again.

For Samuel, love was an escape. His granddaughter, Dorothy, is my mother. She said Samuel loved his new family but was close-minded and racist. He told her once, whichever political party is in power, join that party—that way, you know someone’s got your back when things get bad. To him, all politicians were crooks. Their ideas didn’t matter. What mattered was self-preservation.

Having escaped, Samuel found himself preserved, happy with where he was, sitting on his small piece of land in North Philly, believing perhaps that he was his own boss, pretending perhaps not to be erasing anything. But the world began to swirl around him again, and he started to feel that he couldn’t move, that he was stuck as if he were in a museum, and people were looking in but could not see him. And he began to panic.

Passyunk spur

There was a plan for a Passyunk spur off the Broad Street line in South Philly. It would run southwest under Passyunk Ave, all the way out, maybe, to Tinicum, the wildlife preserve at the edge of the city, home to freshwater tidal marsh, migratory birds, ducks, deer, fish, foxes and other small animals.

Before the wildlife was “preserved”, of course, all of South Philly was wild. Weccacoe, it was called by the Lenape. That’s supposed to mean “peaceful place.”

But this English word, “peace”, derives from the Latin pax, which means binding together (fastening) by treaty or agreement, as in pact. So “peace”, rooted in some idea of boundary and nation, unties my faith in the translation.

The past remains wild.

I hear the word “wild” in Stevie Nicks’ voice.

Don’t blame it on me
Blame it on my wild heart
she sings to me

Whose heart is not a wild heart, I wonder. And if you are not your heart, then what are you?

And who, afraid of violence, does not become violent?

I try to raise my hand. It trembles from the violence my body’s absorbed, the violence in my blood, the violence in my memory.

Everybody’s got a hungry heart
Bruce Springsteen sings
to everybody
in the stadium
at the end of
the line
it means nothing

An artist I know who made my own heart grow wilder told me once in a bar that her favorite love song is “Tougher than the Rest” by Bruce Springsteen, from his album Tunnel of Love.

Soon after, I stumbled on a Tunnel of Love cassette tape in a used record store. I played it in my car every day, to and from work, for several months, until it hurt too much. I replaced it with The Supremes’ Right On and played it every day, to and from work, until it hurt too much.

This isn’t about what could have been, but the past bores a hole in my heart, and I write into it, as if entering a tunnel.

The juke box plays, and people try to say what it means in the background.

I don’t know all that I know. I know lovers sometimes need restraining orders. I know the difference between inhibit and inhabit is very slim. Both derive from the Latin habēre—to hold, possess, have, handle.

There is no place like home.

When I hear “Weccacoe” I think first of Weccacoe Avenue, home to the Philadelphia Parking Authority at the bottom of the city, where they tow your car. It’s hard to get to if you don’t have a ride. It’s hard to get your car back. Why should we give it back to you, you piece of shit. You fucking animal.

OCF Realty recently named one of their condos “Weccacoe Flats.”

Like the parking authority, OCF is expert at fucking over the poor. They’re responsible for much of South Philly’s gentrification, especially in the black neighborhood Point Breeze.

There’s a corner store called Weccacoe on 4th St. in Queen Village. I’ve occasionally stopped there for a bottle of water on my way to South St.

Around the corner from the corner store is Weccacoe Playground. Under the playground is the Bethel Burying Ground, where 5,000 African Americans were laid to rest during the first half of the nineteenth century by the Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The church remains as the oldest Black-owned church in the country, though the neighborhood was gentrified long ago.

The word “cemetery” derives from the Indo-European root kei-, which means bed, couch and also beloved, dear. The words city, civic, civil, cite, incite, excite and resuscitate derive from this same root.

Every word is a spur, an outgrowth, a departure. Language, like the city, is wild, even while it inhibits our freedom, our ability to make peace.

I think Weccacoe now means this: to make poor, or to systematically fuck the poor.

There is no peace.

Passyunk Avenue was once a footpath, I learned from Kevin Varrone’s book Passyunk Lost. I got lost in it. In my own neighborhood. Which I do not possess. Which no one does but the dead.

I know I can’t leave. I want to go inside this city I was born into, but I want somewhere other than cemetery.

A spur is the track of an animal. I try to follow.

Right now we’re heading into winter. I would like to speed thru it. I would like to be able to get out of bed in the morning and just do my job.

I want you. I want you. I want you, peaceful place.