ArchivesSite MapSubmitOur GangHot Sites
tearing the rag off the bush again
2012 in the hardlight of Kevin McCaffery's poems PDF E-mail
...and that's just how it was in 2012, more for some, less for others, or vice-versa, but true every which way

Poems 2012


My wife and son have left the house for a while,
how long they'll be gone I don't know--
the house is as still as my empty mind,
it takes on a shadowy glow.

Ticking clock and refrigerator hum--
these are the muted sounds I hear.
I have nothing to say to anyone.
Funny how that becomes more clear.

This basement is where I spend my time.
I like it because it is cool,
yet I use the hours when they are gone
to climb up through the laundry chute

to the drab, lived-in rooms above my pit
where I can watch a little t.v.
and grab myself a beer, a snack, some chips--
feeling remnants of memories.

They flicker by, these memories--they glow
like particles of dust in light.
I can become transfixed by every mote,
dwell in diminishing delight

until my son and wife come bickering home,
then I descend, leaving scant trace
that I have pushed aside the spectral stone
once more to take my rightful place.

Sometimes they pause by the basement door
and gaze into the blackness here,
but both are reluctant to come below
to see who might have moved the chair

in the living room so slightly, or switched
the often broken toaster on.
Though there is no thief where there is no theft,
they are wary of my return.

I'll stay away from dallying

It is like being half way from the summer
house to the winter house and remembering
you've left the bongo drums behind
and, thinking yourself unwatched, throwing a
little fit, stomping and grouching and then
sensing the dispassionate observer in the corner of
the enclosure and feeling the embarrassment of being
seen, at least that is what some say
it's like, so I'll stay away from such activities
for now in the same way I avoid
other things, but when the all-clear
sounds, please stand aside, Plotinus,
I'll be on hand in an instant with all my capabilities,
fully slathered in unguents and perfumes--
I'll be a walking flower to be there
to savor such frolicsome dallying when I hear
that supergreen signal sound.

The easy way
(Arrange me any way you like and the effect will be the same)

Your fantasies will not only come to nothing but will play
a part in drawing you from what was to be
the far easier fate that would have lain
in wait for you, a fate that was machine-milled and--
while not glimmering, for the finish was muted intentionally--
inspected by elves who shook, prodded,
bent, and probed it according to procedures
set out in the Trilogy itself and so I take it
very seriously that you, flushed with one victory,
rush to replace what was to be with what
won't work out so well.

Was it an unconscious impulse driving
your Volvo towards the house where your ex still lives?
Or was it hubris?  You imagined yourself a modern Mars?
Or better yet, the influence of dour Lautremont
(who'll take a cub and rearrange its spots)
drew you to automatize your actions as if you had no will,
which you did, prompting feelings, recriminations, screams
and tears.  Your fantasies are not your friends.

Whether in death or life or at toil or play,
whether here in Houston or in the hills, brown now,
whether chased or giving chase, let it be easy.
And the easiest way is when you identify your fate
and follow it like a shadow, a shadow which never has had
or will have a bad day, for who's heard
of an unwilling or unhappy shadow?
Whether hard or soft, remunerated or impecunious,
whether electrified or powerless--the system's down now--
whether chirpy, voiceless, informed, choiceless,
whether simple like Sunday morning, early,
or as convoluted as any drudging day at work
in an office of trolls, why not let it be easy?

A rest stop for moles

Muse, please stop harrying me--
I am pretending as best I can that the place
I work is not some tepidly surreal Hades,

but still you buffet me with idiocies...
it's becoming harder to nod and smile
as if I work in a crucial vending machine

doing important things--which I don't,
which you know, exacting Muse.  I play
a role in dispensing candy to the moles

who happen to be tunneling nearby and take
a break for something sweet.  It's not even
good candy.  Today you used

your awesome power to make me chair
of a committee to study planting our machine
six-feet deep.  Would it increase

business?  The relocation committee will study this and
if you thought about it, Muse, you'd know our motto
is "excavation, excavation, excavation."  I almost died

when I suggested that even though all
the committee members laughed.  And I know
that you're trying to make me quit my job

so I can write better poems for you,
but, Muse, that I can't do unless
you absolutely break my life it two.

Give it more effort, hallucinogenic Goddess,
or leave me alone.  Why can't you just
accept my mediocre output?  I do.

I'm just a tiny fellow in a vending machine.

Anapestic approach in demand for this task

The unending unfolding of dastardly plots,
intermixed with ineptitude, malice, and lust--
all the worst of the qualities making the men
of this region incredibly loathsome--result
at the end of the story in nothing.  A book
on this place, not yet written, but covering all
that's transpired would require an infinity (more,
while it's hard to imagine) of words; and the need
for repeat situations, recurring unchecked,
all involving unsavory characters, (men
in whom duty, endurance, civility, strength
of conviction and other respectable traits,
don't exist), for recyclings of similar themes--
as a clock through all time will revisit its hours--
and for patterns whose skew is more vapid than bad
would necessitate prose so devoid of élan
an unsteeled and undisciplined chronicler'd die
in attempting the narrative.  Listlessness rules.

And while Fate has decreed that this land has had zilch
to impart in the general scheme of such things,
somehow I, having tenuous ties to this place
through ancestors imagined or real, am to find
the authorial voice, who, undaunted by deep
exploration of wearisome evil, is set
to unveil this mundane, unforgivable land
to the world.  As to how this dispatches me here
to your door, that's the question.  Your faculty, ma'am,
for endurance is clear in considering what
you've produced.  You alone can present the account
through circuitous weavings of falsehood and fact.
Compensation is bountiful though you must use
the contorted approach we employ in our speech:
anapestic throughout.  In this way we'll produce
understanding, though subtle, of why we exist.
We're a people both dull and malignantly glib.

Attempting to Know Everything while Hating McGee

If attempting to know everything (while hating McGee) is like
trying to know nothing then put
me down for that approach and I'll clear my mind
like agriculturalists tidy a field, scything
and pulling until the ground is brown, see?
But if that doesn't work, why then
I'll drop napalm, God's finest
elixir, to burn my thoughts right down to gravy
nothings, my mellow harshed to the maximum--
gone, prettified, wan poser whose
game is wack like this incessant rain,
powerfully invisible from nothing clouds,
the drops checking every checkbox--
some answers must be right--
so you can't even see the mud or where it was.

Still, abruptly knowledge comes that
tasks have been left undone by the universe:
One thing is that it has not waterproofed all the shoes
it should have, so a lot of us, deluged,
will get seriously wet feet if we go out,
though only upstarts depart the ark.
So what else has Mr. Universe left undone?
He has left you alive, McGee.  It's hard
for me to even think about knowing nothing
when I know that.

I killed my fate

My fate and I walked side by side;
it was my shadow, though never spied.
Sometimes it followed, sometimes it led,
unseen companion from birth to death.

I did not know that it was there,
so quiet my fate was, transparent, clear,
yet it drove my existence from bad to worse;
I did not know my life was cursed.

The voice in my mind whispering advice,
to do this or that when I faced a choice--
that was my fate, steering me wrong.
I could not resist it.  How strong!  How strong!

Who was it showed me I was in thrall
to a baleful deceiver, the tunes he called?
It was you, child, your second sight
showed me my fate, grim parasite.

You taught me to see it, this fevered ghost--
it was a fluke worm and I the host.
You taught me to kill it, drive it away,
using your love, dear, I killed my fate.

Now I am boundless. Now I am free.
No furtive voices whisper to me.
What will my life hold, now that I am unchained?
Where will I go now that I'm unconstrained?

Untied, unfettered, I've made a new start.
I've slain the slick serpent that circled my heart.
False hates and fears I have escaped,
with your sweet love, girl, I killed my fate.

Dinner with dad

"What does the coyote want to do with his life?"
        Isabel Schimmers, Conquering the Bad Lands with Magic

It was the usual dinner with the usual questions
but when my daughter's new boyfriend told me
that, after college, he wanted to become a life
coach--a fucking consultant--to wild
animals, I had to restrain myself
from getting up wordlessly and walking
out.  I could see my daughter's wariness,
watching me, watching him, for familiar signs
that something was going to go down like those unavoidable
days when the material and mystical worlds
rearrange themselves in their hallucinated game
of musical spheres.  But I stayed on, molding
my face into a grimace-free visage,
bidding my passions to heel like dogs,
and asked this young Lothario how
he'd do what hadn't been done before,
at least so far as I remembered, excepting
for the sake of argument Orpheus and Francis
of Assisi as being the only two I knew
who'd done some similar shit with animals
and such.  He countered with a life-strategy of
writing his own job description, following
his bliss, and maybe interning at a zoo or Sea
World and then trekking into the wild like that dude
in the movie..."where his ass starved in the end?"
I butted in and he looked confused, then smiled, meek,
nodding yes, until my daughter, sleek,
moved in to rescue him like she'd rescued me
countless times before in the bad
old days, so I relented and the dinner
moved on and became just fine, I mean
as fine as these awkward dinners can go.

Fool's awakening
You'd spent the whole day trying
to write a really fine punk song
about whether flowers think or not,
but, hampered, you'd drunk a lot,
you met with periods of unclear
mentation, so you took some drugs in your fustian
frustration and lost yourself entirely in
the Arnold Arboretum, conking
out.  Angelic hosts, you were en route
to see 'em, when you evacuated
all, using every fleshly avenue.
Let's give a shout out to life-saving
puke, sweat, shit, snot, and drool.  Piss too!
You awoke around dawn, befouled
and bedewed, yet, sagacious owl,
or maybe more wood-weasel's friend,
you perceived proximate a stagnant
pond and waded in to remove
what you could better do without.
So, peaceful feelings, serene warm dawn,
until a ranger's shouts chased you
back to your squalid punk rock prison,
ancient, dripping infant: botched baptism.

Lovett and his donkeys

"Although I looked down from high above, I saw clearly the round, earthbank-enclosed
corral filled with many donkeys surrounding my friend Lovett who, wearing a cowboy
hat, was pressed upon on all sides by the donkeys."  
        Isabel Schimmers, Conquering the Bad Lands with Magic

After I joined the charlatans' circle, I saw
exactly why the cake was half-baked
and why the fat lady would never
set foot on the stage of the situation
so that like, presumably, life itself,
it would unwind as a roll of sheet music--
given an effectively imagined mechanism--
for one of those endless, unlistenable operas
by one of those American maximalist composers
even though, speaking truth to power, I might expire
before any chance of hearing the grand finale
(just as audience members often outright
die enduring Einstein on the Beach), yet
the group told me there might be some solace
in exploring the shifting spaces between wakefulness
and sleep, so I gave it the old necromantic try
and I'll make some observations, the first of which is
watch out: when you point your broomstick
towards those wastes beyond the dunes, the sky, and the horizon
and fly for weeks in the frosty air
then almost any breeze or snatch of song
can carry you to wistful places,
haunted places, like that from which Lovett returned
oblivious, transformed, to promote a show
called "Donkeys Make the Man"
and had six episodes in the can and it was already
sold to a network after a bidding war--
and while this was admittedly a rare-cooked shank,
I was not in any way impressed by it.
I could see that he'd psychically left the circle
and I started to distance myself from him.

Faculty Show satire

One thing I'd do if I could start a college
is ban from use a plethora of terms:
and I might start with "expansion of knowledge"
--the more it's said the less our students learn;

next on my list is "leadership," uttered most
by those who cannot lead in relation
to followers or those who wander lost.
Add "shifting paradigms," "globalization,"

"reframing," "monetizing," "transparency,"
and all the terms our corporate cousins spew.
When terms themselves acquire such currency,
who are we not to speak them loudly too?

And then there are the flea words, irritants
that swarm through conversations: "nimble," "bold,"
"agile"…I would against this pestilence
dispense insecticide; and I would scold

especially all speakers of hyperbole,
were I the chief of my imagined school.
And we will not forget "diversity,"
of these pernicious words the crown jewel,

that, taking envy as its core belief--
to calibrate, not "celebrate," "difference"--
must make the many hate the few.  At least
something comes of all this belligerence--

it has created vast bureaucracies
which my newly founded college will eschew.
All funds will go instead to libraries,
labs, and classes in which all we'll do

is learn as much as we can fairly stand--
that alone will be our occupation.
In truth, there will be little else on hand.
No climbing walls will furnish relaxation,

no spacious dorms like luxury hotels,
no chefs concocting meals to make one drool--
so most will think my school a boring hell
except those who deem tomes and bowls of gruel

required ingredients of perfection.
And calm will mark the campus halls as will
the silent slowness of deep reflection,
for mental triumphs are not noisy thrills

in general.  But one last word to ban
before we end this planning exercise--
I would with pleasure pay a hatchet man
to hack one term from parlance, to excise

"excellence" from our terminology.
Applied so frequently to average things,
excellence has stooped to mediocrity--
a bogus claim, useless, without meaning.

Busy with doing what we think is best,
we won't spend too much time on celebration
of ourselves, or branding, rankings, and the rest.
Our motto is sagacious rumination.

And if that motto won't bring in students,
if the campus would be cavernous and bare,
then my goal is lofty, though imprudent:
to be the plainest at the college fair.

Echoing Anthony Braxton's question

Where is the jazz in Anthony Braxton's Composition 98?

Is it hiding behind a bush, an elf, supporting books, a shelf, a pile of pelts, pelf, a
secret between two against one, stealth, in quiet breathing, health, or within the
core of being, self?  I play.

Whether it is me or Anthony Braxton the neighbors can hardly tell.
I play so badly, he so swells the jazz goes hiding in between his notes,
semi-floating like a fleet of sinking boats.

When the moon is hiding in the clouds, then he is playing loud.
When a swimmer holds something obscure aloft, then he is playing soft.  When a
school of fish enters the sinking boats, he is playing infrequent notes.

And, if one played Anthony Braxton's Composition 98 at a pool party
of beautiful people, their pets, and some squirrels, well the spring rain accomplishes
the same thing falling into and around the pool, but I'm in my office working, looking
out the window at people getting up and running.  They're unhappy and I wander
out, now that there is less opportunity for

sunning, noting it's wonderful the way rain makes the pool look,
but there are no plants in the pool.  There are plants in a pond, take Walden Pond as
an example, where Thoreau lived in a shack and thought.  I never read him.  You
have?  And what is more, you've thought about his thought, but

I am thinking about my boy, Aidan, three, and the way he threw handfuls of dirt into
Walden Pond, water chilly that day, May 14, saying, "This will make the pond
warmer."  Too bad he did not have a backhoe.  My feet were cold.

Quasi non-existence through psychic fusion with an experience

I seek an experience so pure and powerful
that it will render me invisible
in that I will become that experience completely
(through psychic fusion or other mechanism
difficult to explain using our words)
and disappear with it into the shaded past
as it disappears--except perhaps from memory;
in that case, I will be remembered, though not for long.

Or in the case of fusion with an ongoing experience--
one of expansive if not infinite duration,
then, though I will still exist, it will be
as though I've disappeared.  I'll be subsumed
into something else.  For the sake of argument
I won't be here.  I'll be French or something.

So today I plan to spend the hours
imagining the things with which I could
conjoin.  Something fleeting as an April shower
or longer lasting: the hardness of a concrete tower;
a concept like hyperrealism or a belief,
theosophy, and I, though practically nothing,
will be both gone and present virtually
for quite some time, though really what
I'm thinking about can't be done

and while you won't hesitate to tell me
throughout the shoddy afternoon hours
that I'm still here, I won't be able to resist
reminding you that you don't exist either--
my imaginary critic, my posited Charles Simic--
since you chose to leave this ranch long ago
to go mining silver ore
in the drab hills of a fabricated Ecuador
where, according to some reports, you became
one with the silver sparkling under the earth.
Anyway, I never heard from you again.

Stupid days

Walking up through the foothills of the Range,
heading towards your "rustic cottage,"
a copy of that book in my knapsack,
a smell rising up from the swamp
spreading like non-profit organizations
through a late-stage industrial society
where diversity and sameness have coalesced
as in this non-descript wood.  I wish I still smoked.

Gone are the days of drugs and alcohol
and staying up all night breaking down back doors
to the wrong buildings--your idea;
gone too are screaming and yelling, self-loathing
and despair.  Gone the days of feeding
dreamy cupcakes to narcoleptic youths.
Gone are the "sheepishly beautiful cats"
who sat--present, but distant--by the forged
Suprematist painting in the Menehune Club.
Remember how, giggling, you told them
I was "the spin doctor for the Tao"
over and over until they got up and left?
I miss those incandescently stupid days.


Sorry I have been quiet today, but you know
how I am. When I don't know what
to do I do nothing, just spending
time playing mind games
with you, friend, throughout the languid afternoon
until the long-awaited buzz of the
evening news and the two of us turn
to this something to do, to this not that much
but still something.  The world is out there
just where it should be.

The mechanical wistfulness of your companionship tantalizes
me, yet I am not without self-doubt.
What is my life?  Put on the music and
get the cards, Robot.  Tonight
is the night we play for keeps.

The sister I never had
for Lesleigh Brisson

She is the sister I never had, so
it may sound weird to say I married her…
incestuous almost…but it is not
like that, though actually if we had
been kin, foals of the same mare, to employ
your country terms, I would have married her
anyway, defying all convention,
ripping up the prohibition as Aldous
dismissed the covenant in the last act
of our national play, our epic, my
backwoods friends.  So how would things be different
if we two were "whoopee twins" or "lustangs"
to use again your rural phrases?  I
wouldn't say she is the sister I never
had, for one thing.  I'd be more circumspect.

The priest melts down

If believing there is no god
fulfilled like believing there is,
then my soul, if I had one,
would be calmer, more pacific.

To nothing I could pray and draw
solace from it; I'd be a pious
man, or a priest, in this new church,
telling my flock nothing forgives

your many sins, and no one cares
about your pains--and if people were
consoled by that, emboldened, braced,
then how much would it matter whether

there is a god or not?  Not that
it seems to matter anyway.
Even if you think there is nothing
out there, no cosmic force, no ray

of light that launched all this for love
is it good to pray, to pretend
that things are different?  I've tried it.
For a moment I may feel intense

sensations--see, feel and hear things
enriching, sweet, surpassing fair,
but giving prayer a chance does
not mean there is much chance for prayer.

That's what I've found, after preaching
for a lifetime from this pulpit.
I've come to know mine is a creed
that has nothing going for it.

What urges me to share these thoughts--
courage or something worse?  We'll see.
If unbelief can sustain faith,
my sheep, you will still follow me.

A universe without meaning
holds one sure thing, one certainty:
though mistrust me for the liar
I am, this truth won't set you free.

Mechanical Nostradamus on New Year's Eve

In humor a new era starts,
a cosmic joke, the kind of laugh
the devil has, a sacrifice,
a curse, as when your robot slave

brought you a cup of tap, not bottled,
water and you required he drink
it down to punish his dysfunction.
Since his maker gave him no mouth,

he could but pour the water on
himself,  honoring your injunction.
But that was just another snag
for us, and so we'll leave it behind,

pre-processing what looms ahead,
a final chapter to this Age
of Iron.  We will make a joke--
a robot-monkey fusion wearing

bell-bottomed jeans--of this new year.
In the year 2013
our metal selves will hum--coal-stoked!--
our algorithms will be pristine.

With humor this new era starts,
rebooting with a robot's laugh.
Though we'll have no use for human sense
in the soft logic of our mirth,

so little use for human sense,
as we ungag a laughing earth.
Let our metallic flagons clink--
imagined drinks!  We'll learn to laugh.

< Prev   Next >