My Terms

My Terms

My next funeral will be mine
ain’t strong enough to bear mankind
I saw my mama laid to rest
so you all can just bear the rest

Yup, skipped-out on dad’s last ride
both grandmas’ gone to great divide
losses felt within my breast
withdrew from the manifest

Not fearful of facing west and careening
into oblivion’s bosom
my trepidation of death’s breath, sans meaning
keeping me keen on what could come

I cannot insulate from weathered fate
as winter’s weight descends
so I capitulate with feathered gait
as I await what ends

But no more bitter-sour goodbyes.
***

Tuna Salad

barryterri

Momma and me, circa sometime in 1981-83, I think.

Tuna Salad

Wifey made tuna salad today and offered me some. I gratefully heaped a pile of it into a cereal bowl, but stopped short of eating. It was missing something. I diced up two hardboiled eggs and mixed them with the tuna salad. Much better, but it was still missing something. I sprinkled paprika onto the dish and tasted it. It was good, but one more thing was missing; Ritz crackers. Sadly, we were out of Ritz, so multigrain gourmet cracker nonsense had to do. I tasted, and was transplanted back to Chicago housing projects during the many times momma made this special snack for me.

grayer than most light
noon sky, counterfeit silver
I pocket the fee

Minus the Ritz, I had inadvertently made momma’s special way of making tuna salad, which on the surface, was probably unremarkable to most. But it was the one meal she made where I didn’t feel like a poor person while eating it. I could imagine all wage brackets having a tuna salad craving, and I imagined people from all walks of life savoring this delicacy in some fashion. It felt good to be on some kind of universal level with wealthy ones who enjoyed tuna salad occasionally.

clouds hide sky-scrapers
visibility is poor
to what lies beneath

I had always known I was poor, but it wasn’t a big deal because everyone I knew was also poor. We lived the same struggles, went to the same government check-cashing places, shopped at the same discount stores, ate the same public school free lunches, wore the same knockoff-brand clothing, and feared the same criminal element and/or corrupt, racist police shakedowns. I didn’t experience any stigma or shame for being poor until I began being bussed to the magnet school Beasley Academic Center. I have nothing against the school, as it was an expansive learning opportunity, but it was perfectly apparent to me that I was one of the poorer kids in attendance. Many kids were from stable, successful 80’s Cosby-sitcom-style homes. They wore Guess jeans, Genera button-ups, Nike, Adidas, Reebok, BK’s, you name it, and they always had the latest technological marvels like Walkmans, mini-synthesizers and etc…

rain bathed in streetlight
amber-hued menagerie
all will be covered

I recall being teased for many things; being shy (back then, nobody mentioned introverts as otherwise normal folks content to keep to themselves; we were “shy” kids who needed to be “fixed” so we would be more social like a “normal” kid), being a nerd (back at regular school, being a nerd just meant that I was smarter than the average sixth-grader or had greater intellectual curiosity than most; being a nerd at the magnet school – where I was rendered intellectually average due to all the other “gifted” kids being bussed in –  just meant that I was the funny-looking kid with the coke-bottle glasses), and being rather unfriendly and all too eager to throw hands for someone so tiny, shy, and nerdlike (if all you wanted was to be left alone, but others kept screwing with you, I suspect you would develop a chip on your shoulder as well).

But for all the random teasing, nothing left me as defenseless as being teased for bring poor. Being a shy nerd who fought a lot was in my DNA, and I owned all of that, but I had nothing to do with being born poor. I had no say in it. Those were cards I had been dealt.

sunshine reveals you
true colors rich, emboldened
the shade, deeper still

The hilarious part was that after three consecutive days of being teased, bullied, getting fed up and fighting back, and ultimately, losing said fights in overwhelmingly one-sided fashion, a teacher decided to counsel me. She wanted to “crack my shell” and find out why I was always so angry and depressed. She wanted to know what in my home life could possibly make me so enraged and isolated. It had to be something at home, right? Perhaps my mother was abusing me, or had boyfriends with boundary issues.

I never opened up, partially because at the time – though an undiagnosed schizophrenic initially losing her grip on reality – mom was the best thing going for me and I didn’t want any outsiders screwing that up by revealing her secret. Also, I never opened up, partially because I felt like asking for help was a sign of weakness, and I felt compelled to endure on my own. But mostly I remained silent because I couldn’t fathom why the teachers couldn’t see the bullying right in front of their faces and understand it for what it was. I was baffled at having to show them what was happening and having to explain why it hurt so much to have to endure it. So, I never did.

birdsongs vibrate moods
gathering for the ride home
we flock and migrate

I would bus home after a particularly rough day of being teased and bullied for wearing generic versions of Converse shoes and a Michael Jackson jacket only five years out-of-style. Sometimes mom would have tuna salad on Ritz crackers waiting for me. I don’t think she knew all that was going on with me, but I suspect she knew I was traversing a rough patch. She never asked about it, but she would talk with me, cracking corny jokes to get me to crack a smile and laugh a bit. She always succeeded. I don’t know if the tuna salad was her secret weapon, but it was often present while she was peppering me with corny jokes. I miss those jokes, as well as the sound of her laugh. But the tuna salad I accidentally made in her honor was pretty tasty.

bluest sky leans west
surrounding me with comfort
memories of you
** *

Written for Terri Ann Dawson, on the ninth anniversary of her death.

Vain Brown Mess

20170909_212737

Vain Brown Mess

I cannot recall
when mirrors became
the enemy.

They reflect a stranger;
I fail to maintain eye-contact.

Cursory glances reveal
sagging, ashen skin
concealing bashful blush.

Reddish,
buttery-brown skin
barely begins my story’s depths.

Hate my lips,
my nose, love
my sad eyes,
hate the sad lies
behind them.

They see a blurry,
russet, greying, messy mesh
unworthy of the love
it somehow netted.

Legs too long,
torso too short;
too much midriff girth,
not enough bicep mass

Shoulders broad, bearing
burdens of never was,
wishful nights, and
what was once a neck

A greying-brown mess.

** *

A doctor once told me
I was a small man in a
large man’s frame, but
that was a time before nachos.

A time after that,
a beautiful, fit
personal trainer told me,
accurately,
I was a mess.

Up-selling gym membership,
but I must confess
I believed him,
nevertheless.

But as I stop averting my own gaze
and look directly at the mess,

I see the insecure boy
within the sad old man
occupying this saggy
stretch-marked meat bag.

Imperfections carry
a certain undressed beauty
left unaddressed; now I see differently.

This body is worthy of love
and being loved, despite aberrations.

Despite poor choices,
heartbreaking shortcomings,
succumbing to immediate need

Perhaps living inside
this greying brown mess
isn’t as bad as I envisioned.

** *

Written for Poets United Midweek Motif ~ Poetry about the Body, posted by Sumana Roy.

I’ve been shying away from online poetry prompts recently, opting to work on a collection I hope to have published before the end of the year. But this prompt compelled me to revisit a vulnerability I’ve dealt with since I was a child.

I apologize for yet another naval-gazing (see what I did there?) confessional poem, but this one just fell out of my head. I may take it down in a few days. 

 

The Laundry

jesse-bowser-6054

Photo by Jesse Bowser on Unsplash

The Laundry

Once upon an evening dreamy, reclined beyond conscience unseemly

Clean-laundry piled shotgun beside me burst forth with Terri Ann’s allure.

Her voice apparent, yet quite untimely, bubbled with laughter, light and finely-

Tuned for my perception, winding her time, which ended years before

A decade before, less or more. Is my mom’s soul now laundry lore?

I’m just baked. I must ignore.

 

We watched cartoons and tripped fantastic, Kush-soaked reflections, quite elastic.

Asked laundry-mother what traumatic lesson her spirit had in store?

Her laughter warmed peripherals, soft linen, looming lavender smells

Her soothing hearth of laughter tells me, unseen, with heart a-pure

Soothing song sang as she gathered with mother’s heart, rang, not demure

Laundry said, “You must endure.”

 

I laughed at her linen reprisal as if she sensed my suicidal,

Un-suspenseful thought-revivals. I asked clean laundry, “Is there more?”

For to suffer life in silence, its smearing rife with leering violence,

Abysmal veering into blindness; is that our fate, and nothing more?

Subliminal closed-mindedness? Should I get baked and just ignore?

Spit at fate, and what’s in-store?

 

My laundry-mother laughed disarming laughs, belying life’s alarming

Nature, nurturing and charming me, unanswered, insecure.

Her non-answers thrust upon me like a thirst quenched by tsunami

Voicing visions far beyond me, unseen, she sings with heart a-pure

She stings my heart, weary, unsure, with momma’s voice ringing a cure

Laundry sang, “You must endure.”

** *

Written for dVerse Poetics’ The voice of the monster, hosted by Björn. I know I’m a day late, but I thought I’d share an actual ghost story that happened to me about a week before Halloween, when my mom visited me during a low point. I’m agnostic, but I believe my mom dropped by to kick my ass, get me to stop feeling for myself and keep grinding for the fam. Perhaps in my case, the monster was my depression? (Who am I kidding? It’s almost always my monster.)

Go here to read other spooky stories.

 

Hope is a Ghost

whoislimos-265482

Photo by whoislimos on Unsplash

Hope is a Ghost

Her august leaf blushed first

among a sea of green.

 

Flitting about shrinking margins,

Hope craved seasonal embraces

that won’t come.

 

In her rosy bliss,

buffeted by autumn winds,

she was but the first to fall.

 

She’ll never know

her lover has moved on.

** *

Written for dVerse’s Quadrille #42, a poem of hope, hosted by De Jackson (Whimsy Gizmo). Other’s have contributed more hopeful poems here. Sadly, I’m pretty depressed, so it’s difficult to keep hope alive these days.

 

 

The Lucky Ones

ian-espinosa-177961

Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

The Lucky Ones

Tina says we do it to one another, every day,

Knowing and not knowing. When it is love,

What happens feels like dumb luck. When it’s not,

We’re riddled with bullets, shot through like ducks.

 

Every day. To ourselves and one another. And what

If what it is, and what sends it, has nothing to do

With what we can’t see? Nothing whatsoever

To do with a power other than muscle, will, sheer fright?  

Tracy K. Smith, an excerpt from Life on Mars, Pulitzer Prize winning poetry collection.

 

1.

What is the nature of a single soul?

How can one measure its worth?

Do we weigh it by the hearts it formed in life,

or perhaps the void it leaves behind?

Terri Ann whispers, but I can’t quite hear.

Dad just smirks. He knows, but won’t tell.

 

2.

Put throngs of souls through hardships,

deny them dignity,

basic human comforts,

heap tragedy upon disaster

upon blight upon humiliation

upon their collective shoulders,

and I promise the plural response

won’t remind you of anything from

the Book of Job.

 

Oh, there will be outliers

of philosophers and saints

embracing quiet intangible dignity,

but the mass majority will go looking

for someone to blame.

 

Often those very same fringe

philosophers and saints

resigned to their fates

become targets.

 

Wanton cannibalism is an outrage

in civil societies,

and yet… and yet…

 

3.

After the Great Kantō earthquake

and before cyclone winds

begat fire-tornadoes,

a helpful policeman took charge

guiding four-thousand survivors

to what he thought was safety

but what inevitably became

mass immolation.

 

There was no way he could know

and nothing he could do,

their fate

inexorably twisted

among tails of fire dragons,

but in the policeman’s eyes,

he led the masses to their fate

the sum of his heroic intentions

now ashes.

 

Despondent

unable to bear the shame,

the officer committed seppuku,

increasing the countless body-count

by one soul.

 

4.

Is there something after this realm?

I can’t find the answer in math, science,

not in faith, not even in poetry.

 

If I contemplate for too long, the voids

of my departed soul-hearts cause

my body to ache like overused knee-joints

that signal pending monsoons.

 

Dad knows, but won’t tell. He always

insisted that I find things out for myself.

Terri Ann crossed over once, came back,

when her heart stopped, she just saw black.

 

That’s what she said, anyway. I suspect

that she just wasn’t paying attention then.

I’m sure she knows the answer now,

but I can’t quite hear her anymore.

 

5.

Danielle said it was too bad about

that rock-n-roll guy who died.

I nodded grimly, but said nothing more.

 

The soul of that rock-n-roll guy left us

for God knows where, assuming He does exist

and not just as some embodiment

of a salve for aching joints.

 

The rock-n-roll guy left a void for his wife,

children, family, and close friends to

contemplate, celebrate, or mourn,

depending on where they fall

on the afterlife belief spectrum.

 

Rock-n-roll guy bequeathed

to millions of us musical fans

a soundtrack cipher, unlocking

precious memories,

possibly including moments when other souls

left voids for us to contemplate,

celebrate, or mourn.

 

I hope there’s something after this for him,

and for us as well. I hope the blackness Mom

claims she saw was nothing more than a cosmic

practical joke that Dad is already in on.

 

6.

I watched it on accident.

Wincing, I looked away,

but I could still hear it

the lone automatic weapon.

 

I listened to folks in the aftermath

yelling that this shouldn’t happen

in civilized society. I also heard myself

joining this chorus,

yelling into the void.

 

I listened to opposition shush us,

as this is not the time to discuss

people dying needlessly because

those people just died needlessly.

 

So I shut up and listened

as others failed

to listen to each other,

instead they turned and

devoured each other’s message

like we did when this happened before

like they’ll do again.

 

Wanton cannibalism is an outrage

in civil societies,

and yet… and yet…

 

7.

The leader of the free world

Said we were lucky

For only fifty-nine deaths

 

It could’ve been much much worse

Rejoice in our good fortune

 

My soul hurts

***

***

Information on how to help the Las Vegas shooting victims.

Information on how to help hurricane victims in Puerto Rico.

Go here to donate to Tim Duncan’s island storm relief fund.

Go here and here to help hurricane Harvey victims

Go here and here to find out how to help hurricane Irma victims.

Shared at dVerse’s Open Link Night # 205. Go here to read other poet’s contributions. 

 

 

Weather Permitting

eugene-triguba-142946

Photo by Eugene Triguba on Unsplash.

Weather Permitting

I don’t write sunshine

and rainbows on demand.

I wish I were that gifted a poet,

but I’m not.

 

My poems form

from weather,

whether I like it or not.

 

I live in man-made shade;

civility and comfort covetously

carved from a temperate rainforest.

 

My poems rain down as unspent tears

forbidden to fall by fathers and forefathers.

 

My poems rain relentlessly down

like a mother’s cry for mercy

that went unheeded by

groping hands and pounding fists.

 

My poems rain,

pooling in cracks and bones

of glacial ancestors

pressed, locked into

bondage and shame

and left in melted recesses

long ago.

 

My poems rain and rain and rain,

cascading, pooling

wherever gravity lets them rest.

 

If I’m lucky, there is the occasional sunbreak.

 

I don’t write lilacs and lovelight

on lily-pad dewdrops upon request.

Buoyant thinking like that eludes me.

 

My poems scrawl

in greying grey smears,

churning, exchanging atmospheres.

 

I await haughty marine layers

that rhyme when they should not

making mockeries of landfall.

 

My poems tear open screen doors,

slamming them shut,

dotting the eye in goodbye.

 

My poems rip tree from earth,

uprooting my garden,

blocking my way out.

 

My poems scowl and spit

in broiling grey fistfuls,

leveling my pantry and

all my best-laid plans.

 

My poems rain and rain and rain;

my poems tear and rip and scowl.

 

If I’m lucky,

if there is a sunbreak,

and if the sun hangs low,

there may be the hint of a rainbow.

** *

Go here to donate to Tim Duncan’s island storm relief fund.

Go here and here to help hurricane Harvey victims

Go here and here to find out how to help hurricane Irma victims.

Shared at dVerse Open Link Night # 204. Go here to read other poets’ links.

Lumpy- Headed Sonnet

lumpy

Image source: google

Lumpy- Headed Sonnet

Greetings! And what has brought you to see me, Mr. Dawson?

You see, I’ve found a small lump that has amassed mass distress

And would you say from day to day that you feel mad depressed?

A curveball, but yes, I confess feeling less than awesome.

 

Do you drink too much? Feel out-of-touch? And if so, how often?

Maybe… Yes… I guess the process has me viewing my own coffin.

Do you feel like a let-down to all who love you in life?

Is your med-degree in poetry? Why yeah, I bear that strife.

 

And how often would you say that you indulge in marijuana?

What? I’m here for my lump. Kindly address that instead.

Evading the question? But why on earth would you wanna?

 

No answer? Let’s refocus. My prognosis is something you’ll dread.

How much time do I have left? I know that I am a goner.

There is no lump, Mr. Dawson. It is all inside your head.

** *

Inspired by dVerse MTB – Neruda and the free verse sonnet, hosted by Bjorn, but not shared there, as this is not quite what he was looking for in a Petrarchan sonnet. The subject matter is inspired by actual events. When I saw Bjorn’s post, it gave me the idea to create a conversation in sonnet form. [EDITED: Bjorn suggested that I share it on his prompt anyway, so I did! I also tightened a few lines in my poem. The flow was bugging me.]

Did I just invent a new form? Surely someone has already done this. Meh. It was a good de-stressing exercise anyways.

If you’re curious about Petrarchan sonnets, head over to dVerse. Also check out some examples here.

 

Vertigo Allegro in Indigo

pelly-benassi-2368

Photo by Pelly Benassi on Unsplash

Vertigo Allegro in Indigo

Clutched,

spun in terror,

gripped by rage,

my eyes deceive

 

Fire and grief,

I bleed, spinning, listening,

inhuman laughter splatters

 

Shattered visions falling,

screaming at the blur

unsure of perspective

 

Settling

upon my bed,

resting my head,

exchanging one dream

 

For another,

never waking

***

 

Written for dVerse Quadrille #38 – Dream, hosted by  De Jackson (Whimsy Gizmo). Go here to read other poet’s contributions.