Saturday, December 24, 2016


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


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.


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

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


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.


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
if you don’t exist
you were saying
how to be anything
when everything’s
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
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
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
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.

Center City loop

-Looks like we just missed one.

-Yep. Miss it every night.

hold your horses

route 45 please
board at fire hydrant
under the shitty little birds
this must be you
coming from somewhere
how long’s it been
since you named a thing
after a general
this pile of croutons
general croutons
we have passed the jetsons
and look, don’t trip
the magic is not
it’s not my riff
you’re smelling
it’s the church of itch
got your tongue
between wires
there’s a bite inside faith
like going to jury duty
we must repent
we must think again
like a pensive motherfucker
penser, i say
order in english
your big shit sandwich
for the neon coplover
in search of guitar
the shape of sound
blows horse shoes
in our direction
don’t mind the cobble stone
don’t mind the smoky job rot
pave over the track
all you want
the prison won’t come back
you gotta drive around it
you gotta drive around it
to see the heart balloon
float across the rooftops
and disappear toward
the delaware

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Ted Greenwald

Thinking of Ted Greenwald, great poet who passed away a few days ago. I remember CAConrad and Joey Yearous-Algozin and Jena Osman telling me I should read him. Then I did, and they were right, and it changed the way I listen and the way I write. And then I wrote to Ted, and he wrote back, and his handwritten notes on yellow paper became bookmarks like echoes in my Common Sense.

Here's Ted reading "Whiff" in 1979:

Text of the whole poem can be found here.

More recordings of his work can be found here.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

the problem of academic labor

Here are two moments from “The General Antagonism: a conversation with Stevphen Shukaitis” in which Fred Moten and Stefano Harney talk about their book The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study (2013). They mean “study” as a social activity that can take place anywhere, any kind of informal intellectual exchange, not necessarily confined to an institution. This is Moten talking about academic labor and study:

“When I think now about the question or problem of academic labor, I think about it in this way: that part of what I’m interested in is how the conditions of academic labor have become unconducive to study – how the conditions under which academic laborers labor actually preclude or prevent study, make study difficult if not impossible. When I was involved in labor organizing as a graduate student, with the Association of Graduate Student Employees at the University of California Berkeley I was frustrated with the way that sometimes graduate student investment in thinking about themselves as workers was predicated on the notion that workers don’t study. But this was more than just a romanticisation of authentic work and a disavowal of our own ‘inauthenticity’ as workers. It was that our image of ourselves as academic laborers actually acceded to the ways in which the conditions of academic labor prevented study. We actually signed on to the prevention of study as a social activity even while we were engaging in, and enjoying, organizing as a social activity. It’s like we were organizing for the right to more fully embed ourselves in isolation. It never felt like we studied (in) the way we organized, and we never approached a whole bunch of other modes of study that were either too much on the surface of, or too far underneath, the university. I think we never recognized that the most insidious, vicious, brutal aspect of the conditions of our labor was that it regulated and suppressed study.” (113-14)

. . .

“The prophet is the one who tells the brutal truth, who has the capacity to see the absolute brutality of the already-existing and to point it out and to tell that truth, but also to see the other way, to see what it could be. That double-sense, that double-capacity: to see what’s right in front of you and to see through that to what’s up ahead of you. One of the ways in which academic labor has become sclerotic, let’s say, is precisely because it imagines that the primary mode, specifically of a certain kind of left academic labor, is a kind of clear-eyed seeing of what’s actually going on right now – and that the work is reducible to that. Or, another way to put it is that, insofar as that’s what one conceives the work to be, one is only really doing the work when the work is absolutely in the absence of play, where play would be conceived of as pretending, as seeing what could be, as fantasy.” (131)

We labor to escape. We want to play to free the self, which is an isolation enforced by our capitalist, temp-work cities. To escape these conditions, we have to find a way to play, or study. As Moten suggests, to play/study, to feel our way through together, is to allow for prophecy, to allow for freedom. For another world to come. Can you imagine a labor movement that was also a poetry movement?

Here is Raoul Vaneigem from The Revolution of Everyday Life (1967):

“Revolution ceases to exist from the moment one must sacrifice oneself for it. From the moment one must lose oneself in it and fetishize it. Revolutionary moments are carnivals in which the individual life celebrates its unification with a regenerated society. The call for sacrifice in such a context is a death knell . . .

When rebels start believing that they are fighting for a higher good the authoritarian principle is bolstered. Humanity has never been short of justifications for giving up the human. In fact some people possess a veritable reflex of submission, an irrational terror of freedom; this masochism is everywhere visible in everyday life. With what galling ease we give up a wish, a passion, the most essential parts of ourselves. With what passivity, what inertia, we accept living or acting for something, or rather some thing — a word whose dead weight seems to prevail everywhere. It is hard to be oneself, so we give up readily, seizing on whatever pretext we can: love of children, of reading, of artichokes, etc, etc. The wish for a remedy evaporates in face of the abstract generality of the ill.

And yet the impulse to freedom also knows how to make use of pretexts. Even a strike for higher wages or a riot in the streets can awaken the carnival spirit. As I write, thousands of workers around the world are downing tools or picking up guns, ostensibly in obedience to directives or principles, but actually, at the profoundest level, in response to their passionate desire to change their lives. The unstated agenda of every insurrectionary movement is the transformation of the world and the reinvention of life. No theorist formulates these demands; rather, they are the sole foundation of poetic creativity. Revolution is made every day despite, and indeed in opposition to the specialists of revolution. This revolution is nameless, like everything that springs from lived experience. Its explosive integrity is forged continuously in the everyday clandestinity of acts and dreams.” (Chapter 12, “Sacrifice”)

And here is Audre Lorde from her essay “Uses of the Erotic” (1978):

“The principal horror of any system which defines the good in terms of profit rather than in terms of human need, or which defines human need to the exclusion of the psychic and emotional components of that need--the principal horror of such a system is that it robs our work of its erotic value, its erotic power and life appeal and fulfillment. Such a system reduces work to a travesty of necessities, a duty by which we earn bread or oblivion for ourselves and those we love. But this is tantamount to blinding a painter and then telling her to improve her work, and to enjoy the act of painting. It is not only next to impossible, it is also profoundly cruel.”

. . .

“The very word erotic comes from the Greek word eros, the personification of love in all its aspects - born of Chaos, and personifying creative power and harmony. When I speak of the erotic, then, I speak of it as an assertion of the lifeforce of women; of that creative energy empowered, the knowledge and use of which we are now reclaiming in our language, our history, our dancing, our loving, our work, our lives.”

. . .

“The erotic functions for me in several ways, and the first is in providing the power which comes from sharing deeply any pursuit with another person. The sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic, or intellectual, forms a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their difference.

Another important way in which the erotic connection functions is the open and fearless underlining of my capacity for joy, in the way my body stretches to music and opens into response, harkening to its deepest rhythms so every level upon which I sense also opens to the erotically satisfying experience whether it is dancing, building a bookcase, writing a poem, or examining an idea.

That self-connection shared is a measure of the joy which I know myself to be capable of feeling, a reminder of my capacity for feeling. And that deep and irreplaceable knowledge of my capacity for joy comes to demand from all of my life that it be lived within the knowledge that such satisfaction is possible, and does not have to be called marriage, nor god, nor an afterlife.

This is one reason why the erotic is so feared, and so often relegated to the bedroom alone, when it is recognized at all. For once we begin to feel deeply all the aspects of our lives, we begin to demand from ourselves and from our life-pursuits that they feel in accordance with that joy which we know ourselves to be capable of. Our erotic knowledge empowers us, becomes a lens through which we scrutinize all aspects of our existence, forcing us to evaluate those aspects honestly in terms of their relative meaning within our lives. And this is a grave responsibility, projected from within each of us, not to settle for the convenient, the shoddy, the conventionally expected, nor the merely safe.”

Sunday, March 20, 2016

dirty martini

it’s like drinking the ocean
w/out choking
if life ended now
it’s just time
ask me how
the whole city’s doing
edgar allan poe is fine
in moyamensing prison
they love him
in the deli corner
of acme, muttering
provolone til the parking
lot is buried in snow
you can dig your car out
next week
here’s a pack of tokens
and some scratch-offs
if you were born after
this day in 1912
you can bring the lovers
back together
one’s walking into ray’s
one’s walking home right
now, probably a different
lorraine than the one
you know but all motion
is a crab, snockey’s closed
and stays open
in my heart
which is late
to the tongue—take
my tongue and paint
their doors before
they’re home, paint
their steps like
the bruises
you return to
as if employed
by orange peels
to the curb
you owe nothing
to the taste of
the weight
of desire, the city flattened
by rent as the rent dies
for our sins and the roads
bleed out

chase scene

Tuesday, March 8, 2016


a factory makes facts
you show up
then you’re gone
red clouds eat
the snow
inside me
like a footprint
june is purple
drums are rooms
for infinite need
the lungs walk out
in four decades
52% of wildlife gone
where to park
that stone whale
in a moon of notes
i get by
like the news
under hums
in the shape of a squirrel
a man may form
and fall from a tree
an apple
flashing the sky
between our huts
fish teeth
are a secret
w/out a bus
to splash into
your eye in the skull
of a penguin
clocks out the city
like a dad who sighs
up the stairs
gray whir of traffic
underlining the past
it’s all for us
minus the job clown
on your shoulder