Thursday, May 18, 2017

Play God Only Knows

When you were a kid
Every night
I’d sit by your bed
And you’d say—

‘I’m not going to sleep’

And I’d say ‘Okay’

And we’d sit there
The two of us
And I’d sing to you

And you’d say—

‘Stop, stop’

Because I have
The worst voice
In the whole world

And I’d say—

‘I’ll stop when you go to sleep’

And you’d groan
And roll over
And I’d keep singing

I’d sing anything—

Motown
Showtunes
Italian art songs
Whatever I could think of

And you’d say—

‘Dad, you’re going to run out of songs’

And I’d say—

‘Not until you fall asleep’

And this would go on and on
And your mother would be in the next room
Yelling at me
To leave you alone
Because eventually you’d get tired
And pass out
No matter what

She wanted me to turn off the lights
And close the door
And leave you by yourself
But I…

You know, I couldn’t do that

Because that’s what my dad used to do to me

He’d leave me alone all the time
And I didn’t like it

I remember laying in bed
Wishing I had a dad like Joey Rio’s Dad
My best friend in third grade
Was named Joey Rio
And he used to tell us
That his Dad sung to him every night
And wasn’t that so embarrassing?

And we’d all go—

‘Yeah, Joey, yeah’

But secretly?

I wanted a Dad like that

Joey Rio became a doctor
And I didn’t
And I always thought
That was because
His Dad sang to him
And mine used to turn out the lights
And go drinking down the street
With Uncle Pat and Uncle Tim and Uncle This-and-That
You never saw so many uncles
I had a thousand of ‘em
And they’d all be in the living room
At three in the morning
Shouting and swearing at each other
And if I opened my bedroom door
Even a crack
To ask them to be quiet
Or just to see what they were doing
My father would holler at me
With this voice
That sounded like it was coming
Straight out of the ocean
And if I didn’t close that door right away
Well…

So I didn’t sleep much
When I was kid

And the only time I could get to sleep
Was when I’d put ‘Pet Sounds’ on
And if put the record player right by my bed
Sometimes I could fall asleep
Pretending it was Joey Rio’s Dad singing to me
Instead of Brian Wilson

So I grew up
Because what else could I do?

And I had you

And every night
You’d say ‘I’m not going to sleep’
And I’d say ‘Okay’

Because I wasn’t going to argue with you
And I was used to not sleeping
I had a lot of practice at it
So I figured I could stay up all night with you
If I had to
Didn’t bother me
Didn’t bother me at all

But I’d sing and sing
And you’d force yourself to stay awake
And your mother would swear at me
From the next room
And that was our night
Every night

But then…

Your eyes would start to close
And I’d hear your breathing get a little slower
And you’d ask me for my hand
Even though your hand was so small
It would only fit around one of my fingers

Then I’d sing your favorite song
And that would be the last thing you’d hear
Before you went to sleep

And after you were asleep
I’d say—

‘I’ll be here when you wake up’

And I always was

Because you were all there was

And you know,
The thing about being a parent is—

You know that one day
Your kid isn’t going to need you
To help her fall asleep anymore

And one day
She’s going to leave you
And you keep on being you
And you wake up
And you live a day here
And a day there
And you go to sleep
But life—

It’s not the same, you know?

Until one day
Your kid brings home
Her own kid

And the kid’s crying
And won’t go to sleep
And your daughter
She says to you—

‘Dad, He won’t go to sleep’

And you say—

‘Okay’

And you tell her
About when she was a kid
And she wouldn’t go to sleep

And then you sing your grandson
His Mom’s favorite song

And you think—

This must be what that song’s about

All those years singing it
And you think—


This must be it

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Morning Announcements

Hello and sit down
And don’t make noise
Or pretend to burp
Or burp
Even if you have to
You can wait
You can wait five goddamned minutes
To burp

Okay?

Okay

Wait, can they—

Okay, because there used to be an echo and—

Well, there used to be

And there isn’t one now

I’m thrilled

I’m thrilled there’s no more echo
But there used to be an echo
And now there’s not
And that’s a little concerning to me
I’m a little concerned about that
But I’ll push past it

I’m pushing past it
I’m fine with it
It’s old news

Speaking of olds news—

The Devils are in the play-offs
Go Devils
Was anybody else surprised
That we had a rugby team?

I mean, I had no idea
That we had a rugby team

I was really shocked
To find that out

Mrs. O’Connor handed me the morning stats
And I was like—
Rugby?
Really?

And they’re called The Devils?
We have a team called The Devils?
That doesn’t seem right

We’re a high school
We shouldn’t be promoting—

I mean, we’re a public high school
But still we—

Okay, now the echo is back
Now I’m hearing the echo again
Can you hear that?

I mean, it’s sort of comforting
To have it back
It’s a Wednesday
I’m not really big on changes
Unless they happen
On a Monday
But if it’s—

Okay, now it’s gone again

Jesus Christ

Okay, so the Devils
Go Devils
Glad you, you know
Exist

Wendell Tomoa
Tah-moh-ah?
Tah-mah?
Tah-moh?
Tamale?
I don’t know
Anyway
He won the spelling bee

And Kristen Lee Manicure
Or, wait—
No, it is Manicure
Ugh, who are these kids?
Anyway, she won the Geography Bee

And Brian Hogarth
Won the Science Fair

So all those kids are winners
And two of them have weird names
But that’s okay
Because the world isn’t for the simple, kids
It’s for the complex
That’s your thought of the day
From me, okay?

Free of charge

I’m having a bad day today, kids
A really not good day
And I’m not going to go into why
Because what you really need to take from this
From my day
Is that not all bad days
Are bad for a reason

Some are just lousy
Sometimes you just feel lousy
And that’s fine
There’s no story to that
It just is how it is
And you gotta keep going

And by the afternoon announcements
Maybe I’ll feel better
And maybe I won’t
Who’s to say, right?

I’m not to say
You’re not to say
It’s just something to be—
Yeah

But anyway—

Congratulations to all of you
Even the simple among you
Because you’re here
You made it another day
And this day’ll be gone before you know it
And then you’ll get another one
To try on for size

How’s that?

Sound good?

Well, it doesn’t really—

Oh boy, the echo’s back

I’m telling you

It’s going to be a really
Awful

Day

Saturday, April 22, 2017

A Majesty of Sound



You know
We have this trouble sometimes
With northern preachers

They just—

You know, they come down here
And they whisper
All soft and sacrosanct
To the point where—

I’m telling you, listen
Now this isn’t me being funny
I’m really meaning this stuff

—To the point where
Everybody’s leaning in
Like this—

Leaning all the way in

—So they can hear
What these fellas
Have to say

Now, when Jesus was speaking
Do you think
He made people lean in?

Got folks on the mountain
Folks on the hills
Folks in the thousands
Clamoring to catch a word
And you think he was whispering?

Hell no, he wasn’t whispering
He shouted
Jesus shouted
And we forget that

We forget that the man
--I mean, he must have had to
Really get that word out there

And why not?

It was a good word
Wasn’t it?

Why not shout it?

That’s what I wonder

These northern preachers come up here
Calling themselves priests
And I tell ‘em

Look, you can be a priest
In New York City
But down here
You’re a preacher
And get yourself a girlfriend
If you feel like it
Might wake you up
A little bit

Oh, they get scandalized
When I talk like that
Gets their tails up
You know what I mean?

But my mama spoke the word to me
And when she did it
She was so loud
They could hear her
Two counties over
And she wouldn’t put up
With none of this
Whispering and soft spoken
Bullshit

Daddy was quiet
But he was a very ill man
Couldn’t raise his voice for nothin’
So Mama had to do it
For the both of them

Sing the praises
Heap joy onto us all
Because I came from—

Well, it was a very big family

Back then, they were all
Big families

Everybody was one
Big family

I remember when my baby sister got baptized
Mama held her in the water
And yelled so loud
I thought she was going to wake up
Folks in Australia

Then she lifted up my sister
And the world went quiet
A new blessing had been bestowed
And there was a hush
And a cresting of a silence
That was louder
Than any sound
I’ve ever heard in my life

But it was born out of noise
Out of calamity
And an excess
Of sound

Praise be, I thought
As my little sister coughed
And scrunched up her face
And started to cry

Praise be
To all that
Heavenly
Majesty

A Majesty of Sound

That’s a name for a sermon

I’d have to do it though

The northern boys
Wouldn’t shout it loud enough

They’d make you lean in

Me?

I want you to lean back

I want to throw my noise at you
And have it blow you right back
Up to Heaven

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Sympathy of Brown Grass

The affection for the grass
Is what keeps her there

It’s broken
Brittle
Bitten blades


The way it crackles
In the heat
And falls apart
Creating patches
Of nothing but nothing


The grass was not symbolic
That would be too easy


But it’s possible it was--


Indicative


It might be suggesting something


She takes in some coffee
And thinks about
Making lunch


But it’s half past two now
And lunch will mean no dinner
And no dinner will mean waking up
In the middle of the night
Going on a hunt
For whatever’s at the back
Of the fridge


She has a special fondness
For the backyard
Even though there isn’t as much brown grass out back
As there is
In the front of the house


The back is fenced off
And the neighbors on all sides
Are dead
Or moved out
A long time ago


Houses for sale
With prices on them
Higher than anyone would pay


She’s the last of the old neighborhood
The last who remembers barbecues and block parties
Or maybe she made it all up
In one of her extensive, afternoon
Imaginings


She looks at her garden
Next to the treehouse
Where Danny’s buried
And she resents how easy it is
To grow something there


She walks over and grabs a turnip
Wondering if a little bit of her husband
Is stuck inside it


She takes a bite
And for a brief second
Thinks that maybe
She’s bitten into a worm
Or worse--
A finger


But no


Just the turnip


Life will not be exciting
Not today
Nto any day


She climbs into the treehouse
And pushes aside
The pile of obituary clippings
She’s left here
Over the years


There’s a pillow
And a blanket
And she settles herself in
For a nap
That will turn into sleep


She’ll wake up in the middle of the night
No lunch
No dinner
No energy to climb down
And raid the fridge
Or crawl in bed
Or forget the day
Or the days before
Or the days before that


She looks through a hole
In the treehouse ceiling
And looks for a star
Any star
But the sky is clear
And a plane hasn’t gone by
In more than a few years


Still, she reaches up
And points a finger
At the expanse
Wondering what you wish on
When you have no stars


Should you close your eyes?
Should you keep it a secret?
Should you never tell
A living soul


She makes a wish
And lets time arrive
A bit too late


She thinks of the grass
And how it won’t go away


It’ll die out
It’ll discolor
It’ll break and crack
And fall apart


It wants to remind her
That there’s a price to pay
For forgetting


And the price is what stays on
What’s left over
Long after you’re ready
To let it all go

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Porn Star's Daughter

She taught me how to put on make-up
That was about it

The running joke
Is always—

Oh, what did your Mama teach you?

And nowadays I just groan
But sometimes I answer the question honestly
Just to show ‘em I don’t care

‘She taught me how to put on make-up’

And then I just keep
Cleaning tables

My mother is in her fifties now
And I’ve asked her a couple of times
If she regrets it

Doing the movies

And she always says ‘No’
And why should she?

Honestly, she made a lot of money
Like, so much money
She still has some of it

She always tries to get me
To take some
But I don’t like feeling
Like I owe her anything

Not because she’d hold it over me
But because I don’t feel right
Taking money she earned

And, yeah, maybe the way she earned it
Weirds me out a little bit too

My mom comes to the restaurant sometimes
And she still turns heads

The guys turn their heads
Because she’s so gorgeous
And the women turn their heads
To see who the hell
Their guys
Are looking at

I just keep cleaning tables

One time Mama was visiting me
And this guy in Section 3
Grabbed my ass

I saw Mama go to stab him
With a fork
But I just shot her a look
And she put the fork down
And went back
To drinking her coffee

Guys like that
Aren’t worth
Getting in trouble for

I know that, but Mama never learned

She thought every guy was trouble
And she stabbed more than a few of them
Which is why I lived in eight different places
Before I turned fourteen

The day before I was supposed to start ninth grade
Mama and I moved into this big empty house
In the Valley
With deep, red carpets
Like the kind in Hitchcock movies
And windows with shutters and squares of glass

Oh, I just thought
We were the richest people on earth

That night, Mama went off to work
And she didn’t come home
For three days

The woman she hired to clean the house
Got me up for school
And made me breakfast
Waited for me until I got home
And said my Mama would probably be back soon

I didn’t believe her

But then on the third day
I came home
And Mama was in bed
Taking a nap
Like she’d just went out for a jog

I remember crawling into bed with her
And trying to shut my eyes tight enough
To block out the late afternoon California sun
Cutting through the shutters
And the squares of glass

Maybe Mama was worried
That I’d ask her
Not to go back to work
But I knew better than that

Sometimes if you want to live
In a big empty house
On the nice side of town
Where there are already books
In the bookshelves
And where nice women named Sheila
Make you breakfast in the morning
And wash your clothes
You gotta go to work

And sometimes work
Sticks around
A little longer
Than you’d like it to

The next day I went to school
And when the teacher asked me
What I wanted to be when I grew up
I said—‘A waitress’

She said, ‘Oh, is that what your mother does?’

And I said, ‘Yeah—


--Something like that’

A Blue That Looks Like Grey

He lives on the second floor
Of an old two-story building
On the west side

The windows are blacked out
And the apartment is made up
Of only three rooms

Bath, bed, and a living room
--No furniture anywhere

The living room is lit
By the glow
Of three over-sized
Computer monitors

And Christmas lights
Strung up and hung up
From ill-placed nails
In every wall

A mattress sits on a diagonal
On the floor of the bedroom
And despite how dreary
The whole set-up should be
It feels sort of…cool

Like something between
A bunker
And an underground club
So exclusive
Only two people get to see it
At a time

He only half-pays attention to you
As you sit on the floor
Wondering if you would still be here
If he was any other man

His hair falls in his face
And you’ve never seen him wearing
Anything
But sweat pants
And a white tank
That fits him better
Than any article of clothing
Has ever fit anyone

He’s barefoot
And biting his lower lip
As he looks at a design
On one of the giant monitors
That appears to be for…

Some kind of logo?
A project?
An advertising project?

You have no idea
But you don’t ask
You’re nervous
Something about him
Makes you nervous
Even though he’s always been friendly
And even though he’s the one
Who invited you over

Looking at him
You feel as though you’re witnessing
Something special

He doesn’t seem embarrassed
About his state of living

On the contrary
His lack of embarrassment
Makes you feel embarrassed
For wondering
Why he’s not embarrassed

You tuck your legs
Under your chin
Like a girl on a quad
Listening to some handsome senior
Play songs on an acoustic guitar

When really
There’s just silence
And the occasional clatter of keys
And the click of a mouse

He’s changing a section of the design
From grey to a blue that looks like grey
And then back to grey

He can’t decide

When he’s done doing
Whatever it is he’s doing
He’ll take you to the mattress
And you’ll have the best sex of your life
Partly because he’s so attractive
He only has to try half as hard
As a normal person
To get you turned on

And partly because he teaches yoga
Because—of course he does

And the whole time
The only thing
You keep wondering is—

Is this a joke?
Is this some sort of prank?

How is someone this stunning
Interested in me?

And then you realize—

Wait a minute

You’re the one with the good job
And the nice house
On the east side of town
With a new car
And furniture in every room

So why does being with him
Make you feel lucky?

Shouldn’t it be
The other way
Around?

But you don’t allow yourself
To think this
For very long
For fear that he’ll be able
To look into your eyes
And see
What you’re thinking

So instead, you bury your face
Into what you imagine is an unwashed pillow
On the mattress
And pretend to fall asleep
While he creeps back to the monitors
So he can continue choosing
Between grey
And a blue
That looks

Like grey

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

This Is How It Works

Did you do anything wrong?

No

No, you didn’t do anything wrong

But that’s not the point

That doesn’t matter

What matters is that there was, uh
Wrongdoing

Wrong was done
It doesn’t need to belong to anyone

It just sits out there
It sits there
And waits
For someone
To claim it

And that’s your job

Your job
Is to claim it

Because you’re the boss
You’re the big boss man
And that’s what the big boss man does

A mess
Sits
In the middle of the floor
And somebody looks around
And wonders
Who’s
Going to mop it up

But also--

And this is a separate thing

Some people
People like me
Look around
And think--

Who made this mess?

Now
I know you didn’t make it
I know that
But it doesn’t really matter
That’s the thing
It doesn’t really matter
Who made the mess
Because the mess
Is still sitting
On your floor

Do you get that?

Do you understand
What I’m saying?

There is a mess
On the floor
And the floor
Belongs to you
And so, by default
It’s your mess

And you have to pay for it

Now

The good news is

You don’t--necessarily--have to clean it up

You can leave it
You can leave it for the next guy
To take care of

In fact, that’s what you should do
Because even if you clean it up
You’re still on the way out

You’re still taking a hike
When all this is over

Because that’s how it works

And don’t get me wrong
It’s not fair

Nobody thinks it’s fair

But it’s what happens
When you teeter totter
At the top
Of the pyramid

Sometimes
Down below
Somebody
Some person
Someone you don’t even know about
Because you’re so high up

Somebody--makes a mess

And somehow
It crawls up
All the way up
To you

And you fall

That’s how it works

But hey

At least you got to see the top
Right?

That’s more than most people
Get to see

And that’s not that bad, right?

No, no, no

Not bad

At all