29 November 2009

Unaware (after listening to a great slam artist)

I know you didn’t mean it to me directly,
but in one poem (exceptionally read), you stuck a huge stick of dynamite up in me and
blasted everything I believe in,
and I don’t know how I feel about that.

Although I applaud, from a place as deep as my doubt, after everything you do,
I sat there silent, and then left the room.
I didn’t have anything to say.
I hate feeling stupid.

I felt like a fourth grader when the cool kid walks up to him
and says, “You’re stupid,”
and then punches him in the face.
That puny little guy goes away and pretends it doesn’t hurt until the swelling goes down.

I wanted to say, “Hey, I hated it like you.
I doubted it. I kicked against the wall of human suffering.
I wandered into churches at night and shook my fist at the stained glass above me.”
But it got stuck in my throat.

I have fought this fight before with
Sylvia Plath and Charles Bukowski,
and a hundred other poets—like you¬—whom I love,
but who—like you—would hate what I am if they knew me.

I don’t feel the hatred you say engulfs my beliefs. I wanted to, but
I hear your words ricocheting down the halls of my mind,
and I can see down that hall because of the sparks made by your mastery of sound.
And I love what that has done for me as an artist.

Some would say, “I feel pity for somebody that doesn’t believe in God,”
but that’s just arrogant,
and I don’t feel particularly proud of myself right now nor condescending.
I definitely don’t want to be the sole representative of a two thousand year old religion.

I don’t feel wounded
because I know you weren’t angry with me;
I’m not sure you were angry at all.
I feel a little novocained right now, and I have to come to.

Maybe I love you
because you shook the tree I sit in
and if a tree is strong enough to sit in,
it’s strong enough to shake.

I guess I did take it personally
because I have read the book cover to cover
and took it in, like a lover memorizes a face,
and I actually thought it out instead of just accepting it
in a ribboned box at Christmas.

I guess it bothers me that sooner
or later we reach this fork in the road—this diversity fork—
and we can look at each other and be tolerant just so long before separating into different paths.
I see you getting smaller in the distance.

I guess I wonder if two people
build on different foundations, that are,
to the other one, invisible,
can they ever really see the other person’s building at all?

I guess I wonder
if you knew what I actually believed,
and that I bought into what you see as lies,
if you would still respect me.

And I hate that.
Because I really shouldn’t care.

13 November 2009

The Stress Song of J. Alfred Prufrock III

Originally published in Clockwise Cat.

Everyone knows what I should do.
My grandfather thinks I should find a new career.
My minister thinks I should come to church.
My boss thinks I should spend more time at work.

Splintering carnival lights,
blinding colors of a rotating, suffocating world,
a beam across my nostrils,
outward stretching fire.
Spindles of desire.
My wife thinks I should spend more time at home.

It’s not the major crisis that will kill you, the death or lost exception
It’s the stress of unfulfilling the endless expectations.
It’s the bouncing baby boy--
changed to the bouncing of the ball--
changed to the bouncing of the lover--
who must earn the grade.
It’s not the glass ceiling that binds my flight
as much as the glass walls.

My neighbor thinks I should paint my house.
My friend thinks I should paint the town red.

I am Stanley Kowalski ripping his shirt,
Miniver Cheevy masking the hurt.
I am every man who internally rages,
a thousand brains in a hundred cages.
Only idiot children read my pages.
I am an overdue book.

My television thinks I should eat.
My physician thinks I should lose twenty pounds.

The explosion I make--
not a bang
but a whimper,
less eruption than sneeze,
the plastic collapsible dagger
aimed at the world--
scares no one but me.
In the presence of mine enemies
I lay out Chinet®.

My mother thinks I should call more.
My brother thinks I should live my own life.

And should I scuttle across the floors of silent seas?
Do you want me to scuttle?
I’ll scuttle from chatroom to chatroom,
the one night cheap hotels of an introvert world,
electric sawdust filling my nostrils,
smudges of kisses across my lonely screen.
In truth, I have no name,
just a glory in my shame.

My attorney thinks I should remove all references to other people’s poetry.

Freud thinks all people want is sex.
Adler thinks all people want is to belong.
I think all people want is fame,
rocking back and forth in a darkened corner
cradling and nursing our blogs.
Maybe we all agree.

My blahblah thinks I should blahblahblah….

There is a fear we all have…
direct from Ecclesiastes…
a fear that one day we’ll wake up
and no one,
not even our shadows,
will really care.

Seedlings were planted in the park today.
I wonder if they will see the sun
enough to grow.

May I rest my head on a multifoliate pillow.
May the ceiling fan blades cut out the sound of
their thoughts.
May I feel the hollowness of my belly
rising and falling as
a lullaby is hummed , miles away.

01 November 2009


I declare,
if the Lord don’t build it,
ain’t no use to build it.
It’s like He babysits us all night, y’all,
and there’s no use to stay up to the wee hours
or get up at the cracka-dawn
all ate up with worry ‘bout your work when
He can rock you to sleep.

I want y’all to listen,
our children, good or bad, are all we get from God,
our only reward.
They’re the bullets in the shot gun
when we fend off death at our door.

12 October 2009

Doctor's Prescription

"I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox and which you were probably saving for breakfast. Forgive me. They were delicious, so sweet and so cold"
"So much depends upon a red wheelbarrow, glazed with rainwater, beside the white chickens."

You said, “Not ideas,
but in things.”
Like wet farm tools,
or the last plum,
or white chickens pecking at the dirt,
shards of my teacup
on a wooden floor
in a lake of amber tea.

06 October 2009

Jeff Peeples by Peter Gabbert

Jeff Peeples, a beast, indulges Earl Grey.
His friend of many years is now the staple of his day.
He cannot leave the house without his favorite pick-me-up.
He typically uses a mug, but today he uses a cup.
I feel compelled to reference the awesome Aaron Nix
who, just like Peeps in college, doth pick up many chicks.
His rugged handsome features can stop you in your tracks
Unless he's had too much tea to drink--a single cup is his max.
Like leaves in the fall, admired by all, his charm is that of a poet.
Sarcastic is he, unhappy with me, but scared is he to show it.
Underneath the layers, all the years lost to sadness
He's really just an innocent boy, a victim of the madness.
His psychological break-downs are really just a cover.
His cheeks are turning red because I love him like a brother.

by Peter Gabbert 9-05-09

21 September 2009

Moving On

There are no metaphors left for death.
The butterfly emerging from the chrysalis,
the carriage driver,
the journey across a river
whatever its name
are hollow by now.
One would think that
an experience that feels so new
to all of us
from Adam
to David
to me
would birth in us words that could capture the pain.

This is the hard part:
the final kiss from the door of the house,
a goodbye to a tenant who would never
come back even if given the chance.
Only a final glance as if to say,
"I'll go on ahead.
You come later."

Oh, glorious risen Christ,
Defeator of this thing we see too often as an end,
give final grace.
You who knows the the stains of weeping
simply, quietly, hold us now.

15 August 2009

For Meaghan and Dylan

Wedding Blessing

This is a blessing
on all the forgotten days,
the normal days,
the Tuesday in January days
when nothing is really happening and
there is nothing springing eternal.

This is a blessing
on all the angry words,
the “you’re just like your parents” threats,
the fleeting “I should have never done this” doubts,
the fear he will never understand her,
and the horror when she does him.

This is a blessing
on the bad breath moments,
the haircut mistakes,
on the time when her hips grow as quickly as his belly,
when hair recedes or relocates,
when the back is stooped and the grasp shaky.

This is a blessing
on the “we can’t afford that” moments,
the loss of money or pride,
the denial of self
that doesn’t feel like denial when the two are one,
the nights when holding is the only touch desired.

This is a blessing
on the weeping so strong
it shakes the body
and matches to the beat of the heart
of the one you are cradling,
on the fever at midnight and the glimpse of final goodbyes.

There is much to be treasured in romance
and the candlelight specks in sparkling eyes,
but this blessing is on the deepest roots
that burrow far below a kiss
through sickness, sin, and madness
to the nurturing of tears.

31 July 2009

The Root

“How long have you battled with your
mental health?”
I had to laugh at first.
Battle with it?
I really just surrendered.
But I thought.
My brother died.
After that.
My grandfather died.
After that.
My mother died.
After that.

I remembered.

I first went crazy when a group of Christians
brought me and another teacher
into a room at a church
to listen to complaints
about the books we had their children read.

“Wicked,” “Perverse”
“Corrupt children”
They tied us to our chairs with their accusations.
The words,when sprayed on us by a pastor,
were acidic, eating through the paper of our diplomas.
But we sat still in the undercurrent.
Words were kidnapped
from pages
and raped before our faces.
I could see tears puddle in my colleague’s eyes.
But we had been told not to defend ourselves.
To stay quiet.
If we just stayed quiet, it would go away.

We sat silent.
And something in me was murdered that day.

“Am I this evil?”
I couldn’t help but ask myself.
I loved them.
I just wanted them to learn.

I have sinned.
Oh, I have sinned,
but that sin is not my sin.

"They eat each other here,"
I heard the whisper bouncing off sterile walls,
the sacred walls of orthodoxy and contempt,
and I thought they meant something like the Lord's Supper
or the Eucharist, but that wouldn't be right--not eat each other, that would be eat Him--
but I distinctly heard "each other," and I'm not even sure who whispered it;
it just came in my head.

Cannibalism from Spanish Canibalis,
name (as recorded by Christopher Columbus)
of the allegedly cannibalistic Caribs of Cuba and Haiti.
Oral Sadism
Vultures feed on the dead,but God's children feed on the living.

This is the answer,
the secret I hide inside me.
This is why I sometimes break down in tears for no reason.
Why I sometimes fly apart.
Why I wake up sweating in panic at 3 a.m.
Why I run from conflict whenever I can.
Why I desperately want to be loved.
Why I trust few persons
but God.

05 July 2009


White, smooth, weather polished stones.
My grandmother and I collected them in the park
behind my house. Or rather she watched me
as I chose each one, somehow instinctively,
and placed it in my pocket.
I’m not sure on what merits I made my choices,
which to leave by the gnarled oak tree
and which to plant on each side of me.
I felt sorry for all the orphan rocks and wanted to take them all.
But choosing one means leaving another,
and perhaps they chose me anyway.
Some were tiny like bird eggs.
Some were larger like the cobblestones
used as ballast before paving the downtown streets.

With these, I would fill my pockets until I could hardly move,
almost doubling my weight with rubble.
I would sway with the weight of the mounds.

I have kept these stones since that day,
lining my pockets with their heavy affection.
Sometimes they have kept me from floating away.
Sometimes they have caused me to drown.

02 June 2009


He lived just two doors down
from her when he was eight,
and when she sent him home
with a hot glass bowl of something she had cooked
for him to share with his other family down the street,
she said,
“If you fall running down the street,
throw the bowl to the side.
I don’t want it to cut you.
I can always get another bowl.
I can’t get another grandson.”
And she watched as
the skinny legs stiffly and awkwardly
carried the blonde boy balancing a steaming dish
to his home.
The back of her hand wiping the sweat from her forehead,
the breeze on the front porch blowing through her house dress.

This was the philosophy taught,
the first lesson of many rules:
that no matter how
precious the work performed,
no matter how hard the sacrifice,
no matter how blistered the hands may be,
the one receiving the gift is always
valued more.

28 May 2009

Finding Me

An explanation of this poem:
The more I meet other poets and listen to their performances, the more I am amazed by two types of poetry: form--a departure from free verse and a journey back to older styles using meter and rhyme more formally, illustrated in the first part of the poem--and performance poetry or spoken word--poetry which gains its strength in the performance, illustrated in the second part of the poem. I'm not sure I'm good at either one. After hearing some of these genius voices, I wrote about trying to find my voice:

I wish I wrote my poems with such style
That everyone that heard would be amazed
At how the syllables danced, all the while
Enchanting readers helpless, listening, dazed.
But I don’t do that.

I wish I was a master of spoken word
demanding my message be heard
or I’ll knock you ‘side the head with my diction
the prediction in my fiction
forcing you to grab on, hold tight,
spin around,
shaking you,
breaking you,
making you
love the mouse that roared
in my house that soared higher than anybody
ever thought poetry could take them.
I could throw in an “ation”
like syncopation
with the nation
of anticipation.
I wanna curse
and be political,
maybe even Democrat.
But I don’t do that.

All I can do
is stand
on white tile
and bleed
and cry as I try to clean the mess
and hope
that someone who hears me
feels somewhat warmer
knowing that the coldness of the world
is shared.

Audio of this poem

14 May 2009

Something Different

Ok, I'm the one usually writing the poetry, but this time one of my students in my AP Lit. class and in my AP Psychology class wrote one for me, about me. The estrogen comment involves my class of all girls, one boy.

Clocks and strange toys and lots of art
Hanging effortlessly from the walls
You shuffle in like a mouse
Hurrying to find his house
"So what's up!?" you say
Louder than I think you intend

We talk and laugh and joke around
And when I leave I feel I've found
Someone understands and knows
Just how far away my mind goes

Desks in a circle
And no one in the middle
Till we fill it with thoughts
Like a large melting pot

You have shown us that
Literature is not just about tastes
But the characters and meanings
Behind all that is said

We walk away
Not loving or hating
But with a little bit of something
Bigger than ourselves

Estrogen everywhere
You cannot hide
Psychology is a mixture
Of biology and the immaterial mind

As Christians it's okay
To try to comprehend
All that goes on inside the head

Words, times, minds
Always changing
Never ending

You have made high school

So thank you
My counselor
My teacher
My friend
You have shown that
Literature is not just words
Psychology is not just chemicals
And I am not my own but God's

05 May 2009

Gray Water, White Sky

When you told me you
had decided to sign contract
at a school in which I do not work
and leave the one in which I do,

When you said,
“This is not the end of our relationship,”
and we both laughed
because it sounded like a failed romance
and we were two men in my office,

I didn’t think to give
my opinion ,
or say what I thought of you,
or that I understood Daedalus.

I only swallowed and remembered the
television when I was growing
up. The colorless fuzzy images of
gray water and white sky.

03 May 2009

Life in a Second

What is this other life I live?
Do I take on divinity
and create an image
of what I wish I was,
carefully selecting the items of me I
like and forming out of digital clay
only what I find tolerable?
Starting from scratch, do I
throw away the original blueprints
and build the new stronger,
version of Poet 2.0?

Or do I merely
birth a crying babe
into pixilated life?
A form released from molecules and age.
A man more like me
Than I could ever be myself.

29 April 2009

The Muse

You’re difficult to interpret, you little, disembodied imp,
who, poised crossed leg and stretching at my keyboard,
urges me to write, but flirts me away from concentration.
Stripped of the physical,
you have taught me how much attraction
blends with intellect ,
blends with ageless sensibility,
blends with spontaneity,
blends with art.
Child of the land of my forefathers,
you lead me to examine their faith
and separate what I take as inheritance, and
what I set to the curb.
Correcting my grammar,
shaking my beliefs,
inspiring my spirit,
supporting my growth,
you make me wish that I was like you:

08 March 2009


He is playing at the pool, this nine or ten year old boy with glowing white skin from indoors and a baseball cap he refuses to remove and wears like a crown of manhood. He is comfortable playing alone until he notices her, a girl about his age in a brown bathing suit the color of her hair. She swims up to him to engage him in play, splashing her greeting.

Everything she does he tries to do better, and they begin playing side by side. She races past him. He swims faster. They shoot water guns and bat a ball back and forth with their hands. He always lets her go first. He is straddling competition and chivalry, and he doesn’t understand why, but he doesn’t want her to go away. She is a tomboy, but there is softness to her moves. “I’m coming to the pool tomorrow,” he tells her before he leaves with his mother. She nods and laughs.

And I sit under a pool umbrella and watch because the girl is my nine year old daughter. My moleskine journal is afraid to accept my fountain pen memories of this moment. The young Romeo’s naive and innocent interest is both beautiful and frightening.

old moleskine
empty, off-white pages
damp with the pool’s tears

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