It is what it says on the tin. Criticism is welcome, but please be gentle. I know I’m not going to be remembered as a poet.

– Joseph

Searching for the Cheese

You close your door the way a warden locks a cell.
The iron clank of the bolt sliding into place
is a sentence upon the rest of the world,
“Step ye no further on pain of punishment.”

Or am I the guard and you the prisoner?
Do you reach around the bars to lock the exit
of your carefully crafted labyrinth?
I hope you are prepared to meet your Minotaur.

Sometimes I feel like a scientist in his lab,
sterile, objective, and ever so respectable.
How glad to have a top-view of your maze!
How ironic that you don’t know English.

I give you nudges like a ghost barely intuited,
give you pushes like an overbearing mother.
But the corridors of your world become thereby
Not familiar, but adorned with traps and horrors.

Mark the data. New hypothesis. Maybe music?
I sing my words to you in songs you might remember—
perhaps this specimen can learn language indirect.
But I seem to sing in lullabies: now you only sleep.

So the dusk of my experiment arrives grimly.
I shed the Enlightened myth that your Nature
Can be improved through torment and dissection.
The modern Midas touch turns sculptures into rubble.

Now I merely gaze upon you as you wander.
You weep in a rocky nook or hide from foggy foes.
Your health wanes and the cheese eludes you still.
There is nothing I can do but love you just the same.

Photo by ithinkx

Unpoetic Words

There are some words that simply do not belong in a poem,
forlorn, unfurl and possibly soul to name a few.
That’s not to say they ought not exist at all,
but only that they no longer name anything genuine.

Were these words once chokingly grand?
I don’t exactly know how they lost their souls,
though overuse and vagueness are strong contenders
with obsessive rhyming taking the lead in the race.

A poetic word should have a persona, a grace,
not a clunky bustling, fattened on stereotype,
but a blossoming fragrance, slowly undressing
luring the imagination into the petals not yet unfurled.

No, these words are either too chewy or too salty,
Insipid to the point of emotional clamminess,
neither giddy nor forlorn, precipitous nor stable,
so no self-respecting poet dares today to use them.

May they rest in peace, knowing their lives were full.

Photo by V. H. Hammer

Smoking Lamp

I watched the steady stream of incense smoke billow upward,
twisting and stretching, its spirals not content with perfection,
rising innocently into and through the shade of the lamp above,
unaware that the light, shade and smoke created a spectacle
most unexpected.

Amid the sense of wonder and beauty one might expect,
I found myself willing that the smoke not deviate from this track,
that it continue to file carefully into the conspicuous lamp shade,
maintaining the spectacle to which I had borne witness
most accidentally.

In my concentration, I gazed intently upon the stream below,
like a football devotee, taking possession of gains and setbacks,
as if one outcome were unquestionably better than another,
completely ignoring the spectacle that had originally drawn me in
most gratuitously.

Photo by Steven Duong


The me I see in the mirror
is twice as distant from me
as I am from the mirror.
If you are a reflection
of me upon myself
then you as you are and I
are only half as distant
as myself from me.

Photo by Nina Matthews

Go Go Gadget Scythe

Death has never made my acquaintance
in any recognizably personal way.
My grandfolks are all stiffs now
But I didn’t cry then and like as not won’t.
And we all know crying is the yardstick
for how much you cared about the recently putrid.
No hard feelings, ya’ll—it was fun anyway.

I think I’ve seen Death pass by in his Mustang
his icy touch fitting for a man of Important Business.
In his briefcase you’ll find a sundry lot of fixtures
for the end of his infamous scythe,
each one meant for a different occasion:
a putter for golf-meetings with God and Satan,
a torch for looking extra grim at night,
a corkscrew for suicide parties with his fans,
and a countdown clock for scaring the under-ripe.

In his own mind Death is a super-hero, if a skinny one.

Then, when the hour comes in its uncelebrated way,
Death’ll just shake us awake from the video game.
We’ll notice that things ain’t goulish but sharper;
we’ll laugh at ourselves for the cartoon pictures
of harp plucking, cloud floating, and chorusing
that we had imagined we’d find on the flip-side of life,
and we’ll groan at the Maker’s very poor taste
for having used the ending we writers like to avoid,
the it-was-all-a-dream deus ex machina.

I halfway expect a bearded old man
Standing next to my bed,
Green sheets exactly as I remember them
Eighty dream-years ago when this slumber took me,
my real bedroom returning to my memory
as I shake off all the silly nothings
(cats, books, careers, wives, meaning, space, time)
that seemed so damn important when I was asleep.

He’ll lean forward, slowly and solemnly,
As if to tell the Secret of the Universe,
And he’ll whisper, “Gotcha!”
Through his toothless grin
Just before the credits roll.

Yeah, what a little bastard.

Photo by Kenn W. Kiser

A Breaking Wave

It always begins with sulking,
a scruffy kind of gravity.
You can feel seriousness eroding
a frown that age hasn’t yet provided.
You tell yourself this is respectable,
sitting tall and aloof,
like a campaigning senator
or an icy old Rotary Clubber.
Yes, this is high taste.
Refined and dignified,
sophisticated, surly and sour.

But the illusion won’t last.
It is not the world that is dissatisfying
Well it is, but that’s not the world’s problem.
Why even just yesterday you were drunk
with your classic musings and meanderings
scribbling, reflecting, your galloping mind
imbibing its own syrupy nuances–
was aglow with philosophy and science.

The asymmetry of your solemn scowl
penetrates your pretense like a headache.
Can’t blame the seriousness, of course,
if only it was seriousness.
There are serious things in life, perhaps,
but not this.

The buckling wave just before it breaks
might itself seem just so serious
were it not for the grinning spittle of its foam,
its swirling fingers reaching into the beach sand,
like toes wriggling lustfully deeper.

Photo by pedrojperez