"The Coupeville Effect"

Two years and four months before George Plimpton died in his apartment at the age of 76, I received the George Plimpton award from my Junior High. It was not your average award; no statue, no cash…just a book. Chicken Soup For The Writer’s Soul, including stories by Plimpton and others. It was a “Teen Ink Book Award,” and I was recognized for “Exceptional Improvement as recognized by the English Department.” I was fairly excited about putting a smile on my parents’ faces, but I was more affected by the self-satisfaction of knowing I’d earned the approval of my English teacher, Ms. Frances.

Ms. Frances left the Coupeville School District to parts unknown not long after I left her class and went next door to Coupeville High, accentuating my good fortune in having had her as a teacher for two years. I was introduced to her when I took her art course as a 7th grader. I’d only lived in Coupeville for a year at that time, and I hadn’t seen anything like Ms. Frances since moving up from the Bay Area. She burned incense. She dressed like an individual, in long purple dresses, and it seemed to me that she was the only member of the faculty who made a regular habit of smiling.

I needn’t go on in explaining Ms. Frances. She was the archetype - a caring teacher in a school that never did. She was a real-life coagulation of Jaime Escalante in Stand And Deliver, John Keating in Dead Poets Society, and Karen Pomeroy in Donnie Darko.

Giving the math or science teachers a headache felt like playing God, personally dishing out karma to the disgruntled old men and women who had so unjustly robbed us of our innocence with busy-work and indifference that broke our spirits. But Ms. Frances was different. We were in that stage where all it takes to crack you up is some eye-contact or a well placed grin from a buddy. Whenever my youthful energy got the best of me and my friends and I turned her class into a circus, it yielded a terrible feeling, something like pissing off your mom. It wasn’t quite guilt, suffice to say there was a feeling we were on the same team. It seemed whatever insidious force the school wanted to apply to us, she wasn’t for it, and that by fighting her we were fighting ourselves.

She cried at the end of nearly every book she read with us, most of which she’d read dozens of times before. Her warmth was derived not of her preparation with books that meant something to her. That was a nice gesture, but what I loved about Ms. Frances was that she never hesitated to show that emotion. Something told me she knew it was the best way for us to learn that the books held real value and were not just another hurdle between us and our next childish venture.

Coupeville Jr. High is essentially the same building as Coupeville High, and so 9th grade was just the next step on a stairway I couldn’t yet see the end of. Consequently, I felt none of the pressure that may or may not accompany the psyche of the average 8th grader, standing on the edge of a cliff they call High School. Nascent turmoil, raw emotion, and hormones…all in an age in which they decided high school should take greater action to prepare kids for college. An assembly here, a seminar there…feeble attempts to prepare kids for that which cannot be prepared for: real life. Meanwhile, the kids, by and large, don’t give a rat’s ass about college, so they spend the assemblies and seminars daydreaming, passing notes, or, in a last-ditch effort to turn work into play, making fart noises. Anything they can do to escape the instruction manual of class for the poetry that occurs between classes, they will.

It’s a beautiful time to be alive when everything is planned and neatly laid out for you.

In 9th grade, you know what’s coming next year. 10th grade is coming next year. You don’t have to worry about things like finding a career, upright mobility, or financial stability. And yet, there are girls, sports, learning to drive, and all sorts of other excuses not to know or care about all the knowledge waiting to be soaked up by our young, sponge-like minds.

When Senior Year finally comes to a close, that certainty is pulled out from under us like a rug. We’re asked to do all sorts of impossible things, like judge colleges by their websites or perhaps a short visit, and know instinctively which is the one for us. We’re supposed to “have in mind” what we want to do; that is, what kind of career will make us happy for the next 40 or 50 years. Most unreasonable of all, we’re asked to say goodbye to the people who’ve defined our existence and our environment, the people we’ve grown up with. Relationships are left to hang from a thread, dying slowly from long distances. Phone calls between friends get shorter and less frequent.

For big city kids, it can be hard to figure out why their new college roommate from the far off land of Whidbey Island is so slow to make new friends and so quick to waste away their Friday nights on the phone, rekindling old flames, clinging desperately to songs they’ve already heard, a movie they’ve already seen, a life they’ve already lived.

Seeing everyone roam around campus in the June sun, wearing shorts, holding hands, laughing, crying, hugging…their fates have all been sealed, and whether it be Community College, a University, the Military, or the workforce that awaits them, they all know the ride is over.

Prom is no small thing in the life of an islander. In a town where small stories make big news and boredom is always in steady supply, Prom can be the highlight of a young girl’s life. Some of these young men and women will never leave this place, and for these poor souls, the Christmas lights strung around town hall is the closest they will ever come to seeing the bright lights of the city.

For many of us, this is just the beginning. It will start with college and before we know it, Coupeville will be spoken-of only in the past tense; a faraway memory, drowned out by success that will make our one-stoplight town seem even smaller than it does now.

The morning after Prom was a fitting allegory. We all stayed at Stacy’s place. Many of us camped out front, and there seemed to be at least somebody sleeping in every room of her house. As we all slowly congregated in her kitchen the next morning, recapping the night over coffee or cereal, everything, for a moment, was perfect. But like Senior Year, it didn’t last long. Everyone had somewhere to be, eventually, so we trickled out of the kitchen and on to the highway, one by one, slowly, until only Stacy remained. I was one of the last to leave, and when I did finally leave, it was only because everyone else was taking off. All of us in that kitchen seemed to know what was happening, and even the less attuned of us seemed to understand the symbolism. But no one could stop it, so no one gave it mention. We just sighed and smiled politely at our glory days as they passed us like a stranger on the street.

As though by the grace of God, nobody was hung-over. Nobody was hurt. Nobody left upset. Considering the alcohol consumed and the emotions that were on the line when Prom was upon us, I feel that can only be accounted for by divine allowance. Nobody even blacked out. We giggled to ourselves sporadically as we recalled the adventures, still fresh in our minds. But the giggling is over now. All that remains is the memory. I can still remember the look on everyone’s faces. It’s easy, because I see those same expressions whenever we’re all together again. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it reminds me how lucky I was – how lucky we all were – to have been apart of a high school that taught us nothing, and a town that taught us everything.

We all trade stories, and everyone’s made new friends who all seem nice enough…but none of our new college friends eagerly anticipate “Goin’ Home” like we do. And while we’ve grown to love the new families we’ve established away at school, we all seem to love our Coupeville friends with a deeper love, that cuts to the center of who we are at our core, derived of the building blocks that can only be rediscovered in our quaint island town, where teachers like Karen Frances flash by like shooting stars, leaving lasting effects they can never imagine.

"Dear Barry"

I’d address you as “Mr. Bonds,” but since you came over from Pittsburgh in ’93,
you’ve been part of my family
I remember my first big league game, Barry
When Will Clark, Pudge Rodriguez, and the Texas Rangers came to Candlestick Park
I was 11
I don’t remember who was pitching that night
I remember we won, but I don’t remember the score
What I’ll never forget - was you, Barry
If they were right, and you took steroids, it wasn’t yet
It was ’97, and you were
a quarterback
and a cheetah
and you stole bases
and gunned down runners
and robbed home runs
and you laughed like a little-leaguer
When I saw Velvet Revolver, I saw Slash’s aura
When I met Tom Morello, I saw his aura
When I saw you that night, Barry
I saw your aura
You were already better than your dad ever was, and
You were a LOCK
for the Hall-Of-Fame
Now, a decade and 350 home runs later
you don’t have a chance…
You won seven MVPs, Barry
But that night – in your fucking prime
nobody seemed to care
because Ken Griffey Jr. was younger, and prettier
Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux were white
and McGwire and Sosa hit more home runs
So, well…I understand, Barry
I have an easier time picturing my parents having sex than I do picturing you with a needle in your arm,
but somehow,
it happened
I remember your aura, Barry,
like I remember that ball flying higher and higher
closer and closer
right between me
and you
Then, just as you went up to make one of your patented Web Gems
some “Giants Fan,”
some idiot reached out and took it right out of your glove
My mouth was gaping open in disbelief as he screamed with delight and held the ball high over his head
I couldn’t even boo him, along with everyone else
Barry just walked off
with the kind of calm, cool, and collected demeanor
that athletes like Tom Brady, Derek Jeter, and Tim Duncan are praised for
and a smirk
that said, “Hey – you’re the fan, you bought the ticket, and you can whatever you want, but you just cost your team a run, idiot.”
In the ten years since then,
I’ve spent days in the pool
days at the ballpark
days in love
days in school
But you – you’ve spent
day after day after day
with the idiots
…and no ring
Just hitting home runs

Performance-enhancing drugs are like shits
everyone takes them
The Beatles smoked them
Kerouac popped them
Cobain shot them
Schwarzaneggar eminated them
And Hunter S. Thompson washed them down with Wild Turkey

They say there should be an asterisk
How bout an asterisk for all the pitchers you took deep who were juicing?
How bout an asterisk for all the times you couldn’t homer because the other team was too scared to throw the ball within 4 feet of the plate?
Asterisks are ridiculous
because baseball’s too free
it’s always evolving, even when numbers don’t
There are no asterisks to account for
shrinking stadiums
lowered fences
juiced baseballs
lowered mounds
corked bats
extended schedules

The game is always changing, and there’s no room for asterisks

I don’t know what you did or didn’t do
I don’t know what I’ll do, how I’ll feel
when you break the record
when you retire
when you don’t get voted in
when you die
all I know is you did everything you could to bring me and San Francisco a championship
And however you did it,
you did it better than anyone else, ever

To quote Chuck Klosterman,
“Nobody looks back at Pink Floyd's ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ and says, ‘I guess that music is okay, but it doesn't really count. Those guys were probably high in the studio.’

I love you,
San Francisco loves you,
Baseball loves you,
and someday,
the idiots will love you, too

Black Arts Movement > > > Hip-Hop: An Essay

If one were blind to the changes and evolutions of the past 30 years, one might take a look at the black community and ponder a few questions. Namely, “What has become of the Black Arts Movement?” and “What is this ‘Hip-Hop’ and how did it get here?” An examination of great black writers of the Black Arts Movement, as well as the great emcees of Hip-Hop would then reveal a single answer to both of each of these queries. The evolution of The Black Arts Movement into Hip-Hop is strikingly direct and one could even go so far as to say they are two pages of the same book.

Hip-hop heads are looking for essentially the same fix that beatniks got from beat poetry, futurists got from futurist literature, and linguists get from dictionaries - that is, the buzz of the written word. Combine that same literary fuel with performance and instrumentation, as well as the other elements of black lives in the 70s, 80s, 90s, and today which have come to be categorized as Hip-Hop – graffiti, break dancing, beat-boxing, freestyling, clothing, slang, etc. – and you have a musical genre which exists within the very culture it helped to create.

To say that an emcee is not a writer is to say that the Beats weren’t poets because of their Jazz influence, or that Socrates and his classic contemporaries were not philosophers, because of all the wine; it is to sever the literary link between content and setting. Every writer of every kind is, to some degree, a product of their influences and the times they lived in. Paul Celan’s intelligent mind, poetic soul, and individuality drove him to write and to express himself – but had he not been subjected to the horrors of the holocaust, there is no way to tell how these aspects of his personality would have manifested. For many of the icons of Hip-Hop, however, it seems natural that had they been born 20 or 30 years earlier, they’d have utilized their inherent talent and drive as figures in the Black Arts Movement. Lucky for Hip-Hop, they weren’t, and they didn’t. When they finally came up, they found themselves in an environment where the beat took the place of the page, and the microphone took the place of the pen.

It seems the widespread generalizations, misconceptions, and misunderstanding of Hip-Hop are greatly rooted in the foul taste and nebulous picture yielded by the uninformed, surface-level reading of the music by a white, middle or upper class audience that cannot distinguish between a violent reference and a violent endorsement. This is the same simplistic, temperamental, latently (or blatantly) racist part of the population that has always misunderstood art and lashed out against it in anger. (Piss Christ, Heavy Metal, South Park, Mark Twain, etc.)

When this is magnified by the overt simplification and commodification of the art, escorted straight to hell by major record labels with little or no interest in Hip-Hop, MTV and it’s bastard-children, and mainstream radio – not to mention the innumerous acts whose love, desire, and talent (or lack thereof) is overshadowed by their pursuit of the money guaranteed by such disingenuous vehicles – it is easy to see how one lacking a poetic culture, a knowledge of the Black Arts Movement, or rudimentary understanding of the African-American’s abject plight may find Hip-Hop objectionable or even disgusting.

This initial, distasteful impression can then result in an incorrect assessment of Hip-Hop as autonomous and without heritage in poetic and literary schools of thought more widely respected and accredited – at least by the writing community - like the Black Arts Movement.

Essential to the understanding of Hip-Hop’s place in avant-garde poetics is the recognition of the contrast from its crude, mass-market equivalent – rap. This contrast, while stark to the Hip-Hop head, can appear subtle to the layman. The posthumous legacy of Tupac Shakur is a prime example. The shameless recycling of his vocals and commodification of his memory are manifestations of both rap’s emphasis on money (selling records like nobody but Tupac can) and Hip-Hop’s emphasis on lyricism (writing songs and poems like nobody but Tupac can). Tupac remains a huge figure in the game – more than a decade after his death – due both to his avant-garde poetics (which moves people) as well as his uncontested legendary status (which moves units.)

However, it is worth noting that this dilution of the music only potentiates the authentic, underground avant-garde, which must move quickly to evade categorization, commercialization, and assimilation into the very ideas it detests; this is true Hip-Hop’s lifeline in the 21st century. Similar to Dada, what is true Hip-Hop today may not be true Hip-Hop tomorrow – if only due to the hustle of outracing it’s corporate takeover. Emcee M1 of Dead Prez addresses the great stress of Hip-Hop’s compromised integrity in the wake of rap in the Dead Prez song “Radio Freq:”

“What's on the radio? Propaganda, mind control
And turnin it on is like puttin on a blind fold
Cause when you bringin it real you don't get rotation
Unless you take over the station
And yeah I know it's part of they plans
To make us think it's all about party and dance
And yo it might sound good when you spittin your rap
But in reality don't nobody live like that
You wanna know what kinda nigga I am?
let me tell you bit the nigga I'm not -
I don't fuck with the cops,
Platinum don't mean that it gotta be hot
I ain't gotta love it even if they play it a lot
You can hear it when you walk the streets
How many people they reach
How they use music to teach
A radio program ain't a figure of speech
Don't sleep - cause you could be a radio freq”

Even in its purest form, the synchronicity between Hip-Hop and the Black Arts Movement may at first glance appear scarce or thin. However, it is hard to ignore the frequency with which the two overlap. Bridging the gap are numerous Hip-Hop artists who have included Black Arts poetry on their albums, including Immortal Technique, OutKast, Fabolous, Lupe Fiasco, Pete Rock, Mickey Avalon, Masta Killa, Killah Priest, The Roots, Blackalicious, Common, and the late Tupac Shakur. Additionally, one can find many black poets representing or directly influenced by The Black Arts Movement experimenting with hip-hop, such as Saul Williams, Black Ice, Sarah Jones, Big Rube, and Gil Scott-Heron, who not only appears frequently in the Hip-Hop community but also wrote a poem in 1993 called “Message to the Messengers,” addressed directly to Hip-Hop artists of the day. In it, he represents a clear understanding of the genealogy:

“…I appreciate the respect you give to me and what you've got to say.
I'm sayin' ‘Protect your community and spread that respect around.’
Tell brothers and sisters they gotta calm that bullshit down,
Cuz we terrorizin' our old folks, and we've brought fear into our homes,
And they ain't gotta hang out with the senior citizens,
Just tell 'em, ‘Dammit, leave the old folks alone!!!’
And we know who rippin' off the neighborhoods
Tell 'em that B.S. has gotsta stop
Tell 'em you sorry that they can't handle it out there, but they gotta
take the crime off the block!!!
And if they look at you like they think you insane,
Or start calling you ‘Scarecrow,’ thinkin' you ain't got no brain,
Or...start tellin' folks that you've suddenly gone lame,
Or that...white folks have suddenly co-opted your game,
Or worst yet, sayin' that you really don't know,
That's the same thang they said 'bout me a long time ago…”

If one looks deeper, one can frequently find two writers, separated by time and apparatus, using poetry to express similar or identical ideas. In “Words Of Wisdom,” Tupac opens his song with a poem.

“Killing us one by one
In one way or another
American will find a way to eliminate the problem
One by one
The problem is
the troubles in the black youth of the ghettos
And one by one
we are being wiped off the face of this earth
At an extremely alarming rate
And even more alarming is the fact
that we are not fighting back
Brothers, sistas, niggas
When I say niggas it is not the nigga we are grown to fear
It is not the nigga we say as if it has no meaning
But to me, it means
Never Ignorant Getting Goals Acomplished, N.I.G.G.A.
Niggas, what are we going to do?
Walk blind into a line
or fight
Fight and die if we must
like niggas”

This poem - as well as the song that followed, and the album it appears on – exhibits the same urgency, both in content and performance, that the Black Arts writers displayed in their attempt to expand their solidarity beyond their respective arts and to all blacks. Amiri Baraka, widely credited as the founder of the Black Arts Movement, had sent with his poem, “Ka’Ba.”

“A closed window looks down
on a dirty courtyard, and black people
call across or scream or walk across
defying physics in the stream of their will

We are beautiful people
with african imaginations
full of masks and dances and swelling chants
with african eyes, and noses, and arms,
though we sprawl in grey chains in a place
full of winters, when what we want is sun.
We have been captured,
brothers. And we labor
to make our getaway, into
the ancient image, into a new
correspondence with ourselves
and our black family. We read magic
now we need the spells, to rise up
return, destroy, and create. What will be
the sacred words?”

While the music has changed, the messages have remained the same.

According to author Marvin J. Gladney, “(Black Art’s) purpose is to assist black people to survive in an environment that is hostile to them.” Yehudi Menuhin once said, “Music creates order out of chaos: for rhythm imposes unanimity upon the divergent, melody imposes continuity upon the disjointed, and harmony imposes compatibility upon the incongruous.” By this measure, Hip-Hop has built upon the ideas first introduced by the Black Arts Movement. As Gil Scott-Heron said in a recent interview, “We came along at a time when there was a transition going on in terms of poetry and music, and we were one of the first groups to combine the two…we brought music and poetry together.” The Black Arts Poets knew they could use music to empower and intensify their ideas. Black Arts poet Larry Neal once wrote, “Music can be one of the strongest cohesives towards consolidating a black nation.” Today’s society is much different than the one the Black Arts Movement affected, and music like Hip-Hop is an exponentially greater tool than literature or poetry in terms of spreading a message, being heard, and reaching the masses.

Literature is a mainstay in society – but society is always changing. Just as some of the greatest writers of the coming generation are sure to be primarily known as bloggers or podcasters, writers of subsequent generations will likely thrive in scenarios and environments we cannot comprehend just yet. Similarly, for as long as there is Hip-Hop, the music will have its fingerprints all over literature, as so many of the great urban writers of the past 25 years have utilized it as their venue of choice. Hip-Hop has crossed boundaries of countless demographics because of its ability to fuse literature and music. What it shares with The Black Arts Movement, having been handed down directly, is a stern refusal to overlook black indigence.

In the wake of the rampant negativity in Hip-Hop - which is often intensified in its radio-friendly counterpart - one must have the insight to realize that Hip-Hop is not a threat to society – it is a reflection of society. One of the Black Arts Movements chief aims was to voice social frustrations of the Black Community, reflecting what was at that time a lesser known culture. While Hip-Hop today is for everybody (or, in some cases, whoever has the $16), works of the Black Arts Community were sometimes created not only to get black people writing, but to give Blacks something autonomous and separate from the world of popular literature, which was largely dominated by whites. However, regardless of the intended audience, both the Black Arts Movement and Hip-Hop have served as mouthpieces for the same impoverished Black community. Chuck D of Public Enemy once called Hip-Hop “The CNN of Black America.” This is a familiar role originally played by the Black Arts Movement.

One could make the case that the ideas of the Black Arts Movement are more prevalent today than ever. Pop-rap has strayed so far from Hip-Hop in pursuit of crossover success that it is barely recognizable, opening the door for true Hip-Hop to strengthen it’s solidarity and grab a huge audience, including all the new fans who crave it, if only as an antidote to the sickness of mainstream rap and it’s increasingly exhausted and hopelessly shallow pool of club-beats, ringtone melodies, cliché lyricism, and glorification of a bourgeoisie lifestyle that grows harder and harder to relate to. Underground Hip-Hop’s emphasis remains on writing depth and praising the emcee’s status as lyricist, first and foremost. This is of direct descent from Black Arts poets, who often included backing music, never letting it overshadow the words. Hip-Hop originated in emcee battles for lyrical supremacy; true Hip-Hop never forgets these roots.

While it could be said that the Black Arts Movement lost momentum and died out in the late 70’s, the Black Community still had a need for affirmation and art in their separate struggle and separate lifestyle, and it still needed a voice in mass media. It needed freedom from the feigning assimilation represented in mainstream culture, which ignored or downplayed the continuous struggle for civil rights. Hip-Hop, despite its criticism, has filled that void for generations now, and the criticism it has received can be attributed to its musical value which makes it marketable to a white and/or ignorant audience in ways the Black Arts Movement never dreamt of.

Like the Black Arts poets, conscious Hip-Hop emcees demand deviation from escapism and avoidance of daily realities. Like the Black Arts Movement, Hip-Hop gives Blacks an arena for political critique. Like the Black Arts Movement, Hip-Hop means more than just writing: it means rhythm, dance, politics, and music. Like Hip-Hop, the Black Arts Movement was mired in controversy. And like The Black Arts Movement, Hip-Hop has brought the destitution of Black America to the attention of millions who’d have otherwise been left to ignorance by the insidious white media. Beyond any trend, literary gimmick, or fleeting ideas of the avant-garde, The Black Arts Movement met a need. As we inch our way toward racial equality, that need will continue to be met, one way or the other. Thanks to Hip-Hop, this undeniable energy and artistic expression has a venue that has become as epochal and widespread as the need itself.

"Dear Lando"

You are the only thing I was ever sure of.

My only conviction, beside diction
more than hope or plans or promises
but something more recondite

I learn to think
in new ways
I learn new languages
I age and change clothes and fuck and reach for death out of habit
but you remain a certainty
you remain

You are every poem I cannot write,
You are proof that I am God.

I apologize for the ego that prompted you
It is the diseased carrier of sparsity;
it is the reason no one will love you like I

I am sorry for the hate you will return to me,
for teaching you to despise me
I am sorry for the protection that will appear oppressive
I am sorry my biography is covered in holes - your history is built on faith

I am sorry that as my son you can never be my friend
I’m sorry for living memories
while yours are yet to be made

My love for you predates your existence
It penetrates your currency
and denies you the excuse of a house with no windows

My picture frames look rustic to you
from absorption of futile wishes

so much so
that you don’t even see the pictures they hold
you see only the frame
the mystic frame, collecting dust
telling stories in an alien tongue
housing whatever crude collection of facts I have chosen
to represent a past
just as these words
are only symbols – a religious puddle
of grunts and moans
that we use as radar
to navigate the fervor

Remember that fervor
when you see the scratches on my frames
classical and wounded
gilded in price, scarred in sentiment
and though they may look ancient
they were born of rushed moves and escapes
sundry plans for new beginnings
desperate escapes from hidden tormenters
a search that eventually led me to you

all roads led me to you
but these frames are the divider on a highway that
escorted me unequivocally and inevitably to you

though you may drop them on the floor
and the pictures they contain may grow obsolete
or even disintegrate in the glow of countless morning suns

Listen to music
Take comfort in silliness
and if you grow unhappy
shrink with humility
until you fit through the door to anywhere

Happiness is not a pill you take
Happiness is not a woman
Happiness is not green, and cannot be spent or smoked

What it is
is best defined
by what it is not
and someday
your tears will explain the rest

The pinnacle of each age is the flight of its minds
which mesmerize the layman
and anger the fool
Should you remain grounded

Do not put too much weight on the branches of your family tree
they break – we stumble like everyone else
your greatest brothers and sisters and the ones with whom you share the Earth,
a gift and a curse, of course
the gift is when they come to you – do not turn them away

As a child, you will sing and dance
As an adult, you probably won’t
There is a reason for this and it is inhibition – even cockroaches get stage-fright –
Alcohol will kill it,
but it is far better for your liver to never stop singing and dancing in the first place
Plus, you will never get a hangover from being yourself all night

Wear condoms
Wear seatbelts
Wear your soul on your sleeve – This will reveal those out to hurt you. Fuck ‘em.
Don’t tell a woman you love her unless you mean it
Look up words in the dictionary before you use them as your own

You are an improvement upon me,
You should own no burden other than the bravery of bearing your flaws
Lies are occasionally pretty
but beauty will forever be truth
Bear your flaws
in celebration of all you cannot change
and tenacious ownership of everything else

The man who wrote this is dead
I am dead now, as you read this
The stench of my expiration obscured by a new face
bands tattooed to the walls
hiding the paint that poisoned me

I am dead now

resting on piles of lonesome nights and chemical dependencies
I am deceased and reincarnated as your father
New humans, the both of us
Navigate this cave with your fears on my shoulders, you should be weightless



I kept all the ideas you sent me
I have a special box for them
and it still carries your sent like used postage

Did you forget me?
I see your admirers
getting younger all the time
you’re up to your nostrils in vibe
and fickle as a photo
you’ve surely moved on, just show the newcomers your sash
and it’ll be like they were there all along

If you’re sensing spite
It’s because I’m spiteful
If you’re sensing hate
It’s because I’m lacking a scapegoat
but I still spell your name in capital letters
or convey it with a smirk burdened by forgotten nights of bliss

If I ignored you,
It’s only because you made the awkward notes bend
manipulating sound until music became a redundantly flawless impressionist

My eulogy is the ampersand by which your memories follow mine

you touched me in places that get wistfully ticklish
in reminiscence
of the way you crumbled
the way you turned my yawns into moans

You are hitchhiking
You are drunk
You are overtime
You are snail-mail
You are dusty footage
You are a missed call with no voicemail
You are The Beatles
You are a gateway

You are Love’s impatience
You are shorthand for “Eureka!”

You are well-intentioned
You are voting 3rd party
You are hysterical, in such a way that you could never perform intricate…anything
You are stimuli’s hype-man
The world’s foremost interruption

You are lousy with kids

You wrote fiction
that danced
like the coma of reality

You inspired me
to do nothing in particular

If there are tear-scars on the page
It’s because I’ve recovered what was once numb
and remembered
what good times were like
before wine

Before you came along
I threw scraps of paper in the garbage, where most of them belong
Before you came along
Wu-Tang was temporary, music came to jaunty haults to accommodate the moment
Before you came along
boredom was the mother of invention
Before you came along

Your paranoia distracted you from the miracles you performed; you are a clown
I shed the tears you are forbid to claim

while I was busy protecting my heart
you broke my
and left me
with the tragic ideology
, so hard to defend,
that the discursive man
is the burden of the arts

that my idle pen
is a nascent sword

that ignorance is jail
knowledge is prison
and freedom is a poem written in between

"Olympia, 2008"

Mobs of violent pacifists
war kittens
giggling with malice

forgotten rape
police tape like ellipses
forged sympathy

premature death
a quitter (in whom I collect empathy every day); greedy for rest, exhausted by failure,
if not her own…

defected peace, again and again,
as tenacious as tattoo’s – “hippie” does not come off

Dustin Hoffman at the bottom of a pool
adopting me by osmosis
What are we graduating to?

The grass is always
until you yearn for something orange
something bronze
something rendered mulatto by contrast like fickle skies

Someday I shall lust for the peace I have now
someday I shall lust for now
This blurriness is more precise in hindsight
and light is not instant, just fast. Very, very fast.

I will forget the blades of grass, remembering a lawn
I will forget the trees, remembering a forest
I will forget the Tuesdays, remembering the weeks
I will forget toil
when sweat takes on the scent of tawdry badges for a job well done

"Love Blossoms" - Worst Poem Ever

If you ever were to die
I think I might cry
Cause you’re swell and oh, so, neat
From your head down to your feet

You remind me of a flower
Every minute of every hour
Cause you’re pretty, and you blossom
Have I ever told you that you’re awesome?

You’re the one I’m dreaming of,
You’re the one I truly love
Inside you I fit like a glove
Our hearts take flight like two white doves

Fear & Loathing In The Campaign's Crosshairs, 2008

“Are you registered to vote?” is the question I’m asked most in these times. Perhaps it’s my baggy pants, my thin facial hair, or my music – something about me seems to declare, “IRRESPONSIBLE, SLACKER, INEPT – TOO YOUNG TO EXHIBIT CIVIC DUTY”
“Yes, and I already voted…weeks ago.” is how I usually reply.
But there is something in the initial question that seems even more pretentious than my acrimonious backlash. It’s a familiar tone; one of condescension. Finally, I’ve figured out the origin…
“Have you been a good boy this year?” Ah, yes. It’s been so long, but it still feels like it was just last Christmas. This is perhaps ultimately the exact same question – just contrasting diction for a contrasting scenario. Back then, it was a euphemism. And not much has changed. What they really meant was, “Have you made it clear to your parents what it is you wish to find beneath the tree on the morning of December 25th?”

With the nation still split fairly evenly and the stakes higher than ever, every party has shifted into high gear. Even the candidates who offer possibilities for real change are using all of their limited resources and funds in an effort to sway those who were too young or too unaware in races past to cast their votes. And in the midst of all this campaigning – and the slander that comes with it – no one has taken the time to consider the grim possibilities of an America in which everyone is voting.

The onslaught of advertisement – not for any program but for the television itself – not for any team but for the decrepit premises on which they play - can, if successful, increase the number of our voters. Sadly, there is no poll, no professionally trained pundits to tell us whether or not the most astute voters are still hiding in caves, or withholding from the registration process to help avoid Senator McCain’s inevitable draft. But if my own personal experience can shed any light on the matter, it is this: Those who have not yet registered to vote - but can still be swayed by a vague PSA or “Do Not Distrub-style” propaganda on their doorknobs - are a dangerous group of people, who pose a threat of more terror than any corrupt official they could ever elect.

As for myself, having voted way back on the day I received my ballot, my greatest anxiety is not that my candidate will lose the election. Rather, my greatest anxiety – in the realm of politics or elsewhere – is that he will indeed win, but he will never take the position if the ramshackle departments of Ohio or Florida of the Supreme Court do not see it fit. And they may not. They may not see fit because he could stymie the mongering of fossil fuels or the sprawl of democracy in faraway lands which are relentlessly opposed to our very presence. But then, history tells us that they may not see fit if only because of the color of his skin.

So what can a true patriot take solace in when the integrity of his nation’s electoral process is on par with that of the chief professional wrestling organization? Sex? Booze? Drugs? …Love? Perhaps. But my sources tell me these things are readily available in all those increasingly foreign and decreasingly threatening nations that lay outside the national comfort zones we call “borders.” All those places we’ve been taught to fear – if not for their lurking terrorists and brown people, than for their soccer, their language, their tiny cars, their same-sex marriages or their gun-laws.

We still don’t know if the American media is capable of informing and entertaining its viewers without stooping to the same condescending mode of discourse it utilizes now – a discourse which intensifies not only by the day, but in waves that mirror cultural occurrences like the Presidential election, or Christmas, as though we’re expected to check in with the holy glowing box – lest we lose touch with our contemporaries. No, we’ve never been given that chance, that vote of confidence in the ever-shrinking human intellect.

But until we somehow garner the results of this hypothetical scenario, we are doomed to a culture which panders to the family just smart enough to gain expendable income. As long as there are cubicles, there will be televisions marketed as the salvation coming at the end of a long day in the cubicle. Nothing intellectual, nothing so incredulous of our leaders as to prompt John Q. Breadwinner into “working” beyond 9-5. Nothing that asks the mind’s collaboration as much as, say, a book.

So what can a true patriot take solace in when the integrity of his nation’s electoral process is genetically no different from Fox’s Tuesday night lineup? Maybe tomorrow’s programming will be better…or maybe tomorrow, we will do the programming – and recall with startling clarity the merits of life without a laugh track, life without shameless plugs…life as more than part of a demographic or political party; life when we remember there is a difference between the two.

"Apt Termination"

If only I could be granted
some irony in my death

I need metaphor! I need apt termination!
I need “The End” by The Doors to be playing so loud I can’t hear myself worry
about where my consciousness will be hiding when my body yells
“Olly Olly Otzenfry!”
I need my Stars & Stripes bandanna to absorb the beads of morbidity trickling down my forehead
I need a green coffin with the word “furthur” on the front
in leopard print; the inside lined with the words
of Thompson
& Pinchbeck
& Cabell
& De La Rocha
in silk

I need my bloody fingerprints sliding down the shaft of my bong

I need “Chinese Democracy”
I need the Giants to win the pennant and the Rams to win the Super Bowl
I need Barry Bonds to
so my childhood can go back to sleep
I need to do cocaine with Bob Barker
and LSD with my Dad

and a kiss from my mom on the forehead

I need poetic justice
I need to go out like Scarface
but Flagler is my mansion
and poetry is my little friend

"War" - A Pantoum

Because the sky is preparing for war
Becaust the soil thirsts for blood
Soldiers and saints are accrued in unison
We are driven like cattle towards a cause

Because the soil thirsts for blood
The rain feels like shrapnel
We are driven like cattle towards a cause
We wolf down deception in a gluttonous frenzy

The rain feels like shrapnel
Disillusionment is only the beginning
We wolf down deception in a gluttonous frenzy
Droughts & Nor’easters cheer on the sidelines

Disillusionment is only the beginning
Soldiers and saints are accrued in unison
Droughts and Nor’easters cheer on the sidelines
Because the sky is preparing for war

"Beauty In The Basement"

It’s like
when the right amount of sun gets let in through the blinds
and it’s a sensation in the brain not unlike forgetting

until all I can remember is
in the kitchen
smiling like dinner is the answer to all the world’s problems
and I think: the smile itself could do the trick

But most of the time I just see Mom
loving, guiding, intelligent
but hardly something that would bring me to my knees in tears

Or in Red Square
where all I can remember is the sun
the lawlessness with which it shines on young teachers and scientists and activists and organizers and freaks and artists and poets in training
youth, nudging us out the door
to look for something that, on a day like today, could be around the next corner

But most of the time it just looked like another day of work or waiting
like yesterday and the day before
my mind recedes and my senses reign; rain, even when the clouds do not

Or in a room full of strangers
when one suddenly makes herself known
by the sheer contrast of her outline
to the blurry paint that ripples in reverence to her every gesture
the dimensions of the room ebb and flow
as though it is wrestling with her stride, and losing
I have a millions questions for her and nothing is stopping me from asking

Yet more often these strangers look to be in no mood
for interviews
and the dimensions of the room stay quite in tact

Or when I look in the mirror and see nothing
no shell, no rules, no cop
to keep me from the world

But more often I see a man with a semblance
Tired and young
in need of the kind of rest you can’t get by sleeping

Or when the music plays
and the bass pulls me
on a rope comprised of mathematics
the rhythm of God’s hour glass
melody is a tongue in my ear

But usually it’s just a novel
whose words get thrown in the pile
coal in the furnace
to open my eyes and walk

The beauty has become so bleak, now
The beauty has become so ephemeral, now, that is nearly ceases to exist
just as important
it nearly ceases to champion the rigmarole in their demented fisticuffs
the ones who conditioned themselves with no need for televised assistance

The ecstasy has become so ill, now
That it is literally handed out
in pills
no longer abstracted from its original source
but cloned
masquerading as tangibility

Robbed of fire,
we live by the heat of smoke

As we burn, let us find the invincible thrill of the act itself
To hell with fire, where it belongs
Our thrill is invincible!
Fervor knows no political party
Our thrill is invincible!
The dissolute have found no key in their liquid morality,
that they may flow beneath forbidden doors
this liquid is (merely) stagnant urine
Our thrill is invincible!
The brazen have no claim on my bowels
Our thrill is invincible!

Beauty is in the basement
Beauty has just been fucked
Beauty puts flowers everywhere and it’s not cliché it just smells pretty
Beauty has been on the farm for a week, abandoned clothing and forgotten how to be shy

Today’s beauty will be written about for years
and this is somewhere between tragedy & triumph
Because every day,
it lies in the basement