A compass

Find North. That red line. 

     I couldn’t tell a hawk from a handsaw.

To figure out where to go,

first figure out where you are. 

Where you are is relative

to where you want to go.

It’s a conundrum. A paradox.

     I’m as green as they come.

We could just start walking;

hope for the best. 

Like sitting through church— 

without a Bible.

A sort of spiritual dead reckoning. It’s sailor talk.

     You don’t know shit from clay.


Nothing really depends on the little red wheelbarrow,

but seeing it in the middle of the yard brings me comfort.

Like a poem I first read in a middle school textbook.

Someone had scratched out the word chickens

in the poem and wrote the word dicks above it.

The memory of reading the poem for the first time

and the discovery of the dirty word still makes me laugh.

Nothing is dependent upon the memory,

but the feeling of the laugh in the back of my throat

brings me comfort.

Smoke break

An old aluminum gate can be found in my friend’s backyard,

a remnant of a chain-link fence that once ran the perimeter of his property.

I love an old gate.

This one stands defiantly open and covered over with tendrils of dead ivy.

Life imitating art, or rather, inanimate life imitating art.

A Chinese moon gate promises transcendence.

My wife inside the house crying, I hope for something of the same

as I pass through my friend’s gate and step into the alley for a cigarette.

These are the sounds that make me sad

It’s like a whoosh but not quite,

the sound of a heavy door pulling

away from a soft cushion

of thick weather stripping.

It reminds me of visiting grandma,

ringing the doorbell and her appearing

behind the square pane of privacy glass,

and then whoosh as she opens the door slowly.

She’s surprised to see me and grins,

holding the storm door open

with frail hands and saying,

“Hot enough for you?”

Then there’s the scrapping sound

of a rusty shovel being dragged

back and forth across the surface

of the bed of a Ford F-150.

It’s like a grading sound

as I push the shovel away from me

and more of a scrapping sound

as I pull it back with a scoop of mulch.

I’m working outside with my dad,

and taking his hat off his head,

he’s saying, ”It’s funny,

trees are cannibals.”

Brad is not God

Brad says not to cut the pin oak down.

That tree will be as tall as the house

when your daughter reaches high school.

A tree falling down, Brad says,

should be an act of God,

and I am not Him.

Yet as he maneuvers his cherrypicker

toward the heavens and begins

to trim away the dead limbs,

his head haloed by matutinal sunlight,

I can’t resist the urge to get down on my knees

& supplicate myself to the deity with chainsaw.

Please forgive me, dear Lord.

Please won’t you bless me.

Please won’t you cut away the dead inside me.

But Brad is not God.

He’s only got that picker for the weekend.

That’ll be one hundred dollars, he says.

Johnson City, Tenn.

A column of light, filled with air

I am a column of light

filled with air.

This column,

infused as it is with air and light,

allows nothing to get inside.

No virus.

No ego (not even my own).

No chaos whatsoever.


As a child in Sunday school,

wearing church socks and penny loafers,

innocent as a wild blueberry,

I learned that Jesus said,

“I am the light of the world.

Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness,

but will have the light of life.”


At an ashram in Brooklyn last year,

with quaffed hair and a nose ring,

wild with cosmopolitan abandon,

I learned about wave breathing

and the inevitability of death.


Now, as I walk through

the valley of invisible fire,

my wife seven months pregnant,

I will fear nothing.

No virus.

No ego (not even my own).

No chaos whatsoever.

My rod (the light)

and my staff (my breath)

comfort me.

Martinsburg, W. Va, 2020



When cats can swim

At ten am I read an article in the Times

about an island community in the Philippines

and its battle with the effects of climate change.

The island’s inhabitants have given up on area rugs;

they tie their food down when waters begin to rise;

and the goats and even the cats have learned to swim.


At  noon I ingest precisely 1.5 grams of psilocybin

and dream the apartment is filling with water.

It seeps up from the floorboards

and soils the faux-Oriental rug.

It overturns the slate gray ottoman.

The water rises fast.

Too late to tie the food down

and what does that mean anyway?

How do you tie food down?

I suppose it’s in buckets.

Just then the smaller cat floats by

on a peasant round of 7-grain bread.

She’s being lead by the bigger cat,

who’s headed toward the front door.

He looks at me over his shoulder,

as if to say, “I got this. Follow me.”









My take on Allen Ginsberg’s poem. I kept a few original lines, indicated with italics. I don’t think Allen Ginsberg would mind. 


America I did my best but got nothing in return.

America fourteen dollars and ninety-two cents (free shipping with Prime!) on

January 17, 2020. 

My own mind is trying to kill me.

America when does the spiritual war begin?

Shove the stock market up your ass.

Leave me alone, I have nothing to say.

Okay fine, I know this poem won’t write itself.

America when will you be angelic?

When will you put your phone down?

When will you turn off the TV and come to bed?

When will you put your laptop to sleep for good?

America we weren’t the first ones here. 

Why do the names of your favorite sports teams 

mock the indigenous?

Don’t ask me who I like in the big game. I don’t know who’s playing.

Colin Kaepernick got a raw deal. 

America sometimes you have to kneel down to stand up.

My high school friend Mike Simmons was shot and killed.

Who speaks for him?

I’ve been a Kansas City Chiefs fan my entire life. Do I contradict myself?

I’m not sorry.

America don’t rush me. I’m getting to the point. 

(Just who’s writing this poem anyway?)

America the chickens are coming home to roost. 

I haven’t read an actual newspaper for years. 

Every day it’s the same sad story.

America I can’t remember my Gmail password.

America I hate who I am online. 

Where’s my iPhone? Someone stole it.

Brett Hooton is in Montreal. I don’t think he’ll come back.

It’s sinister.

I don’t smoke marijuana anymore. 

Now you’re telling me weed is legal? 

Are you kidding me with this shit? Is this some kind of 

sick joke?

What about your millions in jails for petty drug offenses?

America do they get to go free? Do they get to light up? 

I never go into Manhattan to get drunk. 

I wear white after Labor Day. 

America I wouldn’t be caught dead praying in public. 

I have mystical visions and cosmic vibrations.

America I smoked pot for the first time with Tommy Black.

We were in his Chevy Blazer listening to Legend, 

Bob Marley’s greatest hits album.

We weren’t afraid of getting caught by the cops.

Tommy Black is dead now. 


I’m talking to you.

Are you going to let your emotional life be run by 


I’m obsessed with Facebook. 

I look at it every day (read: hour).

I can’t figure out how to turn off its notifications on my phone. 

I look at Facebook in the bathroom of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

It’s always showing me pictures of food. People like food. 

Food is a very big deal. 

It occurs to me that I am America.

Do I sound paranoid?


Asia is rising against me.

We don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell.

I’d better keep an eye on what’s mine.

What’s mine consists of two bottles of wine,

a dozen volumes of poetry,

600 milligrams of Lipitor from Canada, 

and an ‘85 Toyota Van that only runs on one cylinder. 

I say nothing about the climate nor the millions upon 

millions of impoverished people who live beneath my floorboards.

I’ve given up on the forest, the desert, and all the lakes; 

the mountains are the next to go. 

I was baptized Catholic. I’m pretty sure this won’t interfere with my ambition to

become President.

America I’m feeling a bit Jew-y. 

I wish I was Jeff Bezos. I can beat his prices but you’ll have to

come pick up your purchases.

America I paid $450 on Amazon for a small dishwasher that only holds ten dishes.

Did I get ripped off?

America free Mumia Abu-Jamal (remember him?).

America save Israel from itself.

America you were implicit in Khashoggi’s death.

America I am the Syrian refugees. 

America when I was in fourth grade I had my first sexual experience.

He was a boy and his name was Jordan. 

We took a bath together and then we ate Ramen Noodles.

America it was beautiful; you should’ve been there.

Just thinking about it now makes me hard. 

America does this mean I’m gay?

Trump you don’t really want to go to war. 

America it’s them bad Russians.

Them Russians them Russians and them Chinamen. And them Jews (always them Jews).

The Russia wants to sabotage our elections. Putin is mad with power.

He wants to take our phones away.

He wants to take New York. He wants to paint the White House red.

He wants our cars. He wants to see us all on horses. 

This no good. Putin give land back to the Indians. He teach Latinos read English.

He give black people reparations. He make us work nights and weekends.  

America this is quite serious.

America this is the impression I get from my news feed. 

America is this correct?

We’d better get down to it. 

America we are all alone but we are all alone together. 

Let’s all put our queer shoulders to the wheel. 

(Tommy Black lives!)


Brooklyn, 2020