Poems of contemporary life and society, and its discontents,
including some satirical pieces.
Contents

The School of Heartlessness

The War on Error

Apocalypse Can Be Fun

The Confessional Age

In the Land of Nod

The Dog Years

Shadorma: November 2016

On My Way

Nothing Doing

I'm Somewhat Fond of You

Décolletage

She Said She Needed a Metaphysical Breast Enhancement

Thinking the World of You

Our Outcast State

God? The Author? Who? Is Dead

Hail Poetry

Deconstruction, Mon Amour

Poems of Love and Sorrow

Allocution

Like Water

P = W – A

This’ll Break Your Heart

A Winter Song

Parentheses

After Auld Lang Syne

Leaving It

The School of Heartlessness

Life, when not a school for heartlessness, is an education in sympathy.

    — Susan Sontag

 

I go to school to learn the rule

and have no time for play.

I must sit straight, and learn to hate,

and practice everyday.

 

It's like a race; there is no place

for weepers or for fretters

since sick or well, we are compelled

to learn the sums and letters.

 

I learn to dread, to turn my head,

to count and cut and color,

and all the art to make my heart

yet harder, colder, duller.

 

And when, by fate, I graduate,

don’t mope, or cry or question.

For tears of woe will only show

you haven't learned the lesson.

 

 

◊     ◊     ◊     ◊     ◊

 

The War on Error

The email bled about some kid with AIDS

who wanted me to forward tragedy

to everyone I know: apparently

Bill Gates will ship the kid an Escalade

for every million names that get the plea.

The premise is absurd, and yet, this hoax

convinced the guy who forwards stupid jokes

to send me this, a tangy irony.

 

Who started this? and why? No cash is swindled,

and one would think the chronic prankster’s thrill

consists of hearing the whoopee cushion’s trill

and watching while the gravest cheek is kindled.

Perhaps theirs is like that itchy kind of rage

to use a mountain stream to dump the trash

or paint the Mona Lisa a moustache

that makes them vandals of the info age.

 

We must resist these errorists who sow the spores

of urban myths, half-truths, and rumors of rumors,

to fester, swell, metastasize like tumors

until the truth lies dying from its sores.

And yet, we errorize ourselves, don’t we?

from cozy tales of Santa and his elves

to the million easy lies we tell ourselves

in our complacency, complicity.

 

So I emailed a counterstrike to joker nerd

wherein I scolded him to check his facts,

to think — and think again — before he acts,

though I was diplomatic with each word.

Then I attached a link to Snopes.com,

so he can vet before he mails that crap.

In the trenches, I’ll still watch for falling sap,

the email chime of that next letter bomb.

 

Apocalypse Can Be Fun

 

It does one good to contemplate the end,

to laze in this bright, red-tinged autumn

before atomic winter, spend

an hour or six, while we still got ‘em,

 

to watch extinction-level meteor

streak down in HD 3D from space.

(Hey, should the pizza be meaty or,

like, veggie? Oh, should we be saying grace?)

 

Magnetic poles reverse, solar flare,

super volcanos: what is nature’s deal?

Fear robots, aliens from way out there,

or satanic dragon, seventh seal.

 

Though global warming’s hot right now,

we prefer a zombie-lypse, timequakes.

So much to think about, but how?

Oh yeah, we’ve got commercial breaks!

 

We’re back: perhaps an accident at CERN?

The heat-death will be here before we learn.

The Confessional Age

My own confessions are nothing like the son's

who steals his mother's dresses and who wants

to marry his ex-friend's new wife, a nun

once, though right now she pats her paunch. "The bun

in this here oven ain't either a' yours," she taunts.

 

Those who display a suitable remorse

receive the absolution the audience

allows, and Jerry Springer's long dead horse

gets flogged in his closing thought's grandiloquence.

 

The private publics in this age, the skin

between is slit and from the fissures squirt

coils of intestine and gore like gelatin.

 

The reflex is to gag as we avert

our gaze when we see entrails in the dirt.

 

In the Land of Nod

 

“And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord,

and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.”

     — Genesis 4:16

 

It’s two or three am, you think,

and try to clear your eyes, to blink.

The adverts peddle something cheapie,

and you are getting very sleepy.

 

Unclog your sink, or clean your car,

they’ll solve your problems, fade that scar,

parade poor children till you’re weepy,                        

and you are getting very sleepy.

 

Then play-act muggings sell alarms,

or anything short of firearms.

More sex, less gas, it just gets creepy,

and you are getting very sleepy.

 

By dawn the ads have changed a bit,

but still push buy, obey, submit.

You can’t resist, a counted sheep,

and you have always been asleep.

The Dog Years

Obama’s dog should not be on the news,

I think while watching footage on TV;

it trots! it jumps! it plays! it takes a snooze!

Not news! Nothing it does will qualify.

 

Not news it doesn’t match the P.C. profile beast:

a rescued mixed-breed amputee with mange,

and diabetes, molested by a priest

then dumped behind an S.F. needle-exchange.

 

Not news it’s chewed up Sasha’s take-home quiz,

or that it growled at the mayor of Winnipeg,

or paused in the Rose Garden to take a whiz.

Not news it’s often humped Pelosi’s leg.

 

Meets Tinkerbell and puts one through the hoop?

The well-coifed runt seduced with roofied hooch?

Only tabloid rags should print the poop:

“The Prez’s Pup Pops Hilton Pooch’s Cooch.”

 

Until it talks, splits atoms, converts the Jews,

this dog don’t hunt. Not news. Not news. Not news.

 

Shadorma: November 2016

 

Thunderheads

rise above the peaks,

swell and boil,

blister, fold

in malignant fungal growth

while valley towns sleep.

 

Reveries

stream in bright banners,

crude emblems,

vague symbols

of small desires, petty fears

as sleepwalkers clash.

 

The clocks toll,

barometers tell

unheeded

until spark

and thunder shatter all sleep.

Then the flood arrives.

On My Way

Sunny day sweepin' the clouds away.

On my way to where the air is sweet.

Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?

 —  Sesame Street theme, Raposo/Stone/Hart

 

Gas station mini-mart cashier:

Uh, sir, you’ll need to buy a map. Right there,

by the chips. For real? No local map? No joke?

I’m sorry, dude, just following rules, I swear.

Maybe if you bought something? A Coke?

 

Man on street corner:

Well. Hmm. Is that the street with Taco Bell?

That way, I think. Down Main, bless Jesus’ name.

Have you found Jesus, sir? He saves from hell

those who believe His blood can wash our shame.

 

GPS navigation system:

Continue on Marine for seven miles . . .

turn right in point two miles . . .turn right on Courts . . .

recalculating . . . drive eleven miles . . .

turn left in point two miles . . .turn left on Quartz . . .

turn right on Hyssop . . . continue . . . right on Sweet . . ..

You’ve reached your destination, Se-SAM- ee Street.

 

Nothing Doing

Go out and sit on the lawn and do nothing

'cause it's just what you must do,

and nobody does it anymore.

    — Fiona Apple, “Waltz”

 

It’s not an art, exactly, but it’s lost.

I’m filling up at the Gas-N-Go QuikMart;

the liquid crystal numbers climb. Low cost

it’s not. An art

 

of doing naught could surely still the heart.

I can’t do one thing, much less none; I’m tossed

between the Muzak, pumping, the ads that dart

 

on screens above each pump. Some line’s been crossed.

Comburo ergo sum updates Descartes.

I buy a hose to tape to my exhaust.

It’s not an art.

I’m Somewhat Fond of You

 

I see you there. I often do this time

of day, that way you are, just kinda there.

And I, a poet, think perhaps some rhyme

of praise’d be fun, while you sit unaware.

Your eyes and face and hair are pretty okay.

That slouch, that shoulder shrug, has charm, I guess.

The jeans, the graphic tee exude a cachet

of decaf, of, of nothing-specialness.

 

At work, in a twelve-inch terra cotta pot,

along a balcony wall, there’s this plant thing:

bamboo-fern-succulent basic whatnot.

Someone said, “Dracaena,” which has a nice ring,

pretentious, though. And then one day it dawned:

that it was missing, and I was somewhat fond.

 

 

◊     ◊     ◊     ◊     ◊

 

Décolletage

However deft and sly the badinage,

the lips that kiss each word into the air,

or hands that sculpt each phrase or spill of hair,

the thought and eye will slip to décolletage.

 

It's more than how the neckline's dermal plage

invites the eye to calculate each curve

by light and shade that makes our discourse swerve,

however deft and sly the badinage;

 

and more than how what blooms from cinched corsage

is buttressed, battened, girdered, trussed and offered

to gaze (or hand?) like simple fruit. So proffered,

the thought and eye will slip to décolletage.

 

It's all unreal, a cinema montage

of look, and look away, and look and then,

since frame must follow dark, a look again,

however deft and sly the badinage.

 

For what's imagined in each bright mirage

or at the corner of our eye reveals

desire, and why despite sincere ideals,

the thought and eye will slip to décolletage.

 

A catalog of beauties, a mind sublime,

all rhythm, rhyme and grace, but time to time,

however deft and sly the badinage,

the thought and eye will slip to décolletage.

 

She Said She Needed a Metaphysical Breast Enhancement

That afternoon had been dull, slow, hot, vague.

The word “sultry” came to mind, though I admit

the weather wasn’t that, and neither was she.

Wishful thinking, now I think of it.

 

Iced tea is the thing to drink, and that we did.

With it, each moment of ennui is clear.

She spoke about herself, her job, her clothes

with the hustling cadence of an auctioneer.

 

I wondered if behind her listless eyes

a vast machine spun monolithic gears;

I felt the creaking workings all around:

ghost mills run by infernal engineers.

 

She sipped the last of her tea, considered her watch,

and dropped the line into the monologue,

off-hand, like that, and lightly touched my knee

as if wiping my jellied bones and grist from a cog.

 

 

Thinking the World of You

The postcard has a photo of the earth

as seen from space. The image is so small

the quarter on my desk can slide on top,

eclipsing all we know, or ever will.

 

And all around the dark of space: serene,

self-satisfied. Within its glossy pitch

contorting shapes reflect — the room, my face.

When studied close, the only star’s a scratch.

 

The card is postmarked somewhere else, though date

and place are smeared. And at an angle, skewed

just so, suggesting casual deceit,

the only message: "Thinking the world of you."

 

 

◊     ◊     ◊     ◊     ◊

 

Our Outcast State

Address to Poets Local 309

 

I feel I must report, since rumors rain,

a poet that we know was booted out

of the Blands and Nabob bookstore off of Main.

I ask for calm: heads cool, my friends, hearts stout.

 

He read a work with words not apropos,

it seems, to family-friendly atmosphere.

Deaf to the artistry of that bon mot,

the management threw out our hapless peer.

 

Some want to read and get banned, too. Reject

this plan. We gain no crown of laurel leaves

nor lasting joy by striving for effect

that any teen vulgarian achieves.

 

Nor do I hold with those who wish to top

the feat by heaping outrage or sheer numbers

in bookstore aisles, or screaming agitprop

through lamp-lit streets to shatter bourgeois slumbers.

 

Superfluous, redundant tactics these,

for we are seldom welcome anywhere:

our work gives pleasure leavened with unease,

requires some thought, has made no millionaire.

 

Friends, Poets: this world's but half our life, our mouths

stained red by a graver kingdom's pomegranate.

For now, we'll write, and making, live our nows

until we're booted off the whole damned planet.

 

 

Poems of Love and Sorrow

King Roderick I: What are you loo-loo-looing about?

Hubert Hawkins: Oh, I'm not loo-loo-looing, Sire, I'm willow-willow-wailing.

 from The Court Jester (1955)

 

Those poems of love that coo like a dove

are not written by the smitten today.

And when love has gone bad, neither maiden nor lad

will bother to author a lai.

 

“Good riddance,” you laugh, “it’s nothing but chaff;

there’s no wheat, and no meat, in that stuff.”

So critics will wag, and the cynics will gag,

on the saccharine schlock of such fluff.

 

The critics will cry (please don’t ask them why),

“Give us stichs on which to discurse:

give us social concern, but keep Keats in his urn;

give us dense, incomprehensible verse.”

 

But the root of the rot is not in the plots

of the scholarly sots and snobs;

the blush got the shove: since the summer of love,

the heart’s not the part that throbs.

 

It has been said that romance is dead,

an old hat stored in attic rafters.

But holding and kissing aren’t what’s missing,

but the soreness before and after.

 

These days the consumation’s on:

the youngsters “whut-up?” and hook up on sight.

They skip the mumble, the awkward fumble:

no need – no need to write.

 

And after the bang, there’s nary a pang:

“Good game! My name?” they part.

No hearts to contuse, so ain’t no blues:

no drooling, no mewling, no art.

 

Those poems of love that coo like a dove

are not written by the smitten today.

And when love has gone bad, neither maiden nor lad

will bother to author a lai.

 

God? The Author? Who? Is Dead

 

For J.L. and D.S.

 

"The Jatravartids believe that the universe was sneezed out of the nose

of the Great Green Arkleseizure. They live in permanent fear of a time

they call The Coming of the Great White Handkerchief."

     -- Douglas Adams, The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy

 

Each word, each line accretes to form a pearl,

and sweetens still to embryo, then girl.

 

Believers feel secure despite dull night:

all truths and values God will underwrite.

 

Believers feel assured about invention:

behind it all the spark of writer’s intention.

 

Now all deflates like some make-believe soufflé;

it’s boundary conditions and language play.

 

So take the tender child and guillotine it

because the “author” really didn’t mean it.

Hail Poetry

 

He who does not understand the game,

abstains from the weapons … .

— Horace, The Art of Poetry

 

Do not take up the piercing blade

until the game’s been understood:

just wise advice, for one’s own good.

The fool alone is unafraid.

 

Yet mobs flail spears round undismayed,

the field strewn with gashed flesh and wood.

Do not take up the piercing blade

until the game’s been understood!

 

The stadium crowd does not upbraid,

but cheers the fools in brotherhood.

The game has changed. If so, I should

not stand, instructed, well-arrayed.

Do naught? I take up the piercing blade.

Deconstruction, Mon Amour

 

@MagicRealismBot Aug 17

A university student owns a long lost book of Derrida on the subject of your heart's desire.

 

And having read that book, it’s more

and less, my reader, I’ll confide,

than you expect: a door

that’s always and already wide

and just as much a bore

as your heart’s desire for

that transcendental signified.

 

Deferments, supplements abound,

those feints and dreamy strategems

of yours are hidden/found,

your roses traced to unthorned stems

and back into the ground,

love’s premises each drowned

by its own empty theorems.

 

Impressive, dense analysis,

oh sure, but empty as your glass,

the memory of her kiss

(and now you’re thinking of her ass)

– and yet I can use this:

yes, see your Beatrice

as a beautiful but earthly lass.

 

To deconstruct affairs like yours,

and metaphysics, et cetera,

a trick of matadors:

just wave the cape, and then, ah ha!

It’s play, and the crowd roars.

Ignore Jacques’ nevermores,

and go and find your petit pois.

Allocution

One of the most prominent mouthpieces of Iran's hard-line government, Kayhan, a daily newspaper that is frequently critical of moderate publications, accused [the poet] of being "a member of the CIA " whose work promotes "sexual … and intellectual promiscuity....”

    — Los Angeles Times, 8/7/07

 

Dear reader, I admit one charge: I am

intellectually promiscuous.

I’ll spend one night with some hot, nubile thought,

the next with an older, more experienced.

In fact, I’m usually juggling half a dozen,

and I can’t count how many I’ve had.

I’ve tried and savored thousands of positions.

My tastes are simple, dear, I like them all:

the slightest notion, a dewy sentiment,

the flighty whim, and wildest guess, and yes,

the plump belief, the self-absorbed conceit,

a sweet surmise, the tedious suspicion,

the tentative conjecture. I love to watch

nymphet hypotheses and pop the quaint

question that makes a real theory of them.

I’ve picked them up in libraries, on streets,

at work, in discount stores and coffee shops,

and sometimes even at a poetry reading.

 

I will admit to that, and to no more.

I have one wife; I am not with the CIA.

Like Water

 

“Like water,” smiling to herself she said,

eyes angled right and up to inner space.

Then seeing I had lost her thought’s quick thread,

she paused, and wore her Mona Lisa face.

 

“I need to be like water,” she breathed at last.

She’d hiked a mountain to a waterfall,

observed the flowing over, under, past

the round or jagged stones, at play with all.

 

A Taoist view, I noted, but the creed

was one she didn’t know. Her friend had thought

she quoted from Bruce Lee. But we agreed

that wisdom’s where we’re open to be taught.

 

I worried then, but didn’t tell her so,

she’d need to draw from water’s wise advice

beyond the light and lilting flex and flow:

it sometimes must be steam, and sometimes ice.

 

She smiled again, her hair a dark cascade,

and made to leave, the reasons that had brought her

satisfied. The change her absence made

disturbed — a dryness, then a thirst — like water.

 

 

W – A = P

Words without action is just poetry.

 — Prof. Arnold Schwarzenegger, USC

 

A new aesthetic ideal is set, but how

to write (an act), or must the act come after?

“‘The sage acts without doing,’ says the Tao,”

a friend suggests while upstairs there is laughter.

 

O for a Muse of inaction! or I fail,

as if Parnassus’ peak were but the first

of steps to airy slopes beyond time’s veil.

Such poetry can not by man be versed.

 

To versify and not to act, or not,

for to refrain is act itself . . . . Our breath

is act – perhaps the ceasing of our thought

is poetry: a poet after death?

 

Perhaps that’s what old Will was thinking of

when he scrawled he “never writ” and “no man ever loved”.

 

 

◊     ◊     ◊     ◊     ◊

 

This’ll Break Your Heart

Stationed in Iraq for eighteen months,

his tour extended twice, a native of Rome,

Georgia, Specialist Bills, on his last bomb hunt,

was just one week, two days from going home;

 

in a trailer park, twelve miles northwest of Reno,

Jessica (hair long enough to use barrettes,

just six months out from two grim years of chemo)

sang, “’Morrow I’ll be seven,” mid-pirouette;

 

and just outside a Ralph’s in Riverside,

a box of mixed-breed pups (such sweet sad eyes)

were hours from swift adoption to abide

in better homes and gardens all their lives;

 

when a meteor the size of France

destroyed the Earth and all inhabitants.

 

A Winter Song

The pine trees creak with cold, their thickened sap

rising, if at all, bitter to the boughs;

the frosted boulders brood, like broken vows,

half-sunk into the slope’s dark, muddy trap.

The fogs that seethe along the torn gorge floor,

a gangrenous limb’s fetid perspiration,

congeal to mists, then icy condensation,

infect both bark and stone with hoary spore.

 

A Santa-hatted drunkard slumps, deceased,

at the wheel of his Taurus, sprig of mistletoe

drooping from the rear view. The hood is creased

by the trunk of a mammoth pine. The radio

is silent for once: forgotten, cold, released.

The ghost of Christmas passed 4 weeks ago.

 

 

Parentheses

Open parenthesis, the freeway curves

in sallow morning sun as radials

strum asphalt chords to universal hum.

Exhaust of coffee and combustion serves

to lull and brace attention, vehicles

to ride the morning's pleasant tedium.

 

The day becomes the day, the work, the rite,

the job, and afternoon wears toward night.

 

Like ants disturbed, the swarms emerge to spar

and stream out from the glass acropolis.

The rusting sun's face glares from every car

when, nearly home, some bald, anonymous

neighbor greets with a chop-like, singular,

stiff wave as if to close parenthesis.

 

After Auld Lang Syne

 

There is an exhaustion even of glitter,

when the silver flecks on sleeve

or glistering on carpet

are no more than dust

to be swept with an impatient hand,

when even the motes

upon her shining cheek

or in the fold of an eyelid

do no more than glint

the heatless ember

of a star long dead,

old light again reflected.

Leaving It

The tired teller counted out the cash.

She’d asked, indifferent, if he had wished

to close the account. He’d wanted, first, to say,

“Don’t bother,” but that would have sounded rude.

His moment’s silence meant “no” to her, it seems,

because she asked if there was anything else.

The car was blue and hot, but would be left

behind once past the cities. Seven hours

got him to a meagre town that felt like outskirts.

The “center” was a café, across the street

a five-room motel where he stayed two nights.

And then he left the car and started walking.

Two hours out he hitched a ride with nothing

but what could fit in the pockets of his clothes.

His name, a name, then faded from reports,

pay rolls and mailing lists, or memory.

 
I’m Somewhat Fond of You

 

I see you there. I often do this time

of day, that way you are, just kinda there.

And I, a poet, think perhaps some rhyme

of praise’d be fun, while you sit unaware.

Your eyes and face and hair are pretty okay.

That slouch, that shoulder shrug, has charm, I guess.

The jeans, the graphic tee exude a cachet

of decaf, of, of nothing-specialness.

 

At work, in a twelve-inch terra cotta pot,

along a balcony wall, there’s this plant thing:

bamboo-fern-succulent basic whatnot.

Someone said, “Dracaena,” which has a nice ring,

pretentious, though. And then one day it dawned:

that it was missing, and I was somewhat fond.

© 1990-2019 Joel Lamore