string eight

“my” stray cat
in the rain


the stray cat
in the snow


stray cat
when it sleets


my neck
hurts with
these thoughts


I dust down the stairs
shaming myself  (I think)
but shaming years


don’t worry about
the house’s facade.
worry about the roof

Small Birds

The beds wait in the alley for the trash men
Our lives have been thrown out
The small house hungers
There is no time for explanations
Our lives are charred
We flew,  sparrows
These are our liquor bottles
Our small glass coffins
There is still no explanation
The terrible mimicry
We could not manage

The Old Man Who Lived Along Swatara Creek

He lived in a tarpaper shack
and the ducks would come up
from the creek and quack around it.
Sometimes, the water would come up
and lie all around the tiny hovel.
He was not “desperately poor.”
He was well beyond that, into nature.
He was nature.
He had no visible means of support
but the air, but mercy
of a large vegetable garden.
Yet he did not take the ducks’ eggs.
He did not steal their children
as his distant siblings would advise him.
They would not visit
that horrible, sometimes-floating shack.
They would send him Christmas cards
urging him to steal duck eggs
to survive. They would sometimes
tape a quarter to the forehead
of the baby Jesus inside the card
for good luck.

Behind Things

Train tracks.    Becoming your words.
Effort.    Mouth.      White gashes in the walls.
Baby screams as paintings.     Warm spell.

Opera of the poor.   Over and over.
Someone practices in anger an aria of poverty.
Where a window.    Should be.    A hole.

A painted hole.    A mouth on a porch.
A painted mouth on a porch.    Next.
A red geranium.     Stink of armpit.

The Cat Left Behind after the Squatters Were Chased Out

I am just an unlonely cat.
I am a loner but I am a tiger.
My family has left me this house.
It’s falling down, so I sleep on the roof.
The grass and trees are closing in,
so things will be shaded, greener soon.
Being a cat, I like that. (It’s summertime.)
The house was condemned, my family
driven out. They left me behind.
There’s some paper taped to the door
I cannot read. Sometimes I sit and look at it.
Sometimes I go through the busted window
and look for them. I cannot bring myself
to move my little Gore-Tex mouse from where
the kid last threw it. They were very poor,
so I took them in. Now they are poorer
without this house. Without me.
I am unlonely and rich.
I am a cat. The streets and the woods
are my palace, my house. They may
come back. They may not. You see,
I am a cat. I am out nothing.

Trash Talk

that man who was screaming in the middle of the street

who shot all those people

the same guy who was shot dead

who’s flat on his back in the street now

wearing his last wifebeater

with his pit bull licking his blood

licking his brains from the asphalt

the man who shot everyone

who shot all his neighbors

did it because of a $700 trash bill

see, the township was going to start fining him

for each day he didn’t have trash service

(they all gang up on you like this, see)

for each day a fine and his trash

would no longer be picked up

but climb to the heavens in a pyramid

and they say that’s why

he did it

the thought of mountains of trash and fines

the word “why” for mass murder

is comfortably insane       believing itself

I’m just sayin

if you need a sturdy pit bull

I know a traumatized one

yeah, he has a confederate flag bandana around his neck

but hell, you can just remove that

that poor dog had no idea

he was a racist with a tail

The Burned House

The burned house
on South Third St.
looks bad from the front,
charred windows,
front door boarded shut,
fluorescent orange papers
from the city warning us.
Heat that night even buckled
some of the siding
on the house next to it.
Still, it looks like
there might be hope.
But when you walk
down along Second St.,
and look up that ridiculous cliff of a hill
to the house’s rear,
you see the whole back
of the building is off.
It’s like one of those dollhouses
that split in two to show.
Its burnt ass is in the wind.
And every single room
is monochrome burnt black.
Every bed and dresser,
every floorboard,
every mirror on the wall
black ash ready to crumble
or just fall.
It’s the freakin’ House of Usher.
The hope up front,
the truth out back,
like so many people
up and down these hard streets,
tottering, condemned,
that we knew
or that we know,
and wonder each day
if they are still up.

Houses Set Too Close Together

Why worry about the neighbor
who is a stranger
with a stranger’s life
and, besides, too young to know better.
I guess because I hear him scream
in the night, usually
at his wife, but sometimes
louder, the universe.
He had a hobbled foot one week.
I saw him on a crutch.
This week, it’s a weird white X,
some sort of tape, over one
of his eyes. He looks like a dead cartoon.
I think it’s the left one. He looks sad
as the misunderstood kid on the playground.
The one who goes home in the police cruiser
at thirteen or even younger.
He’s young but not really handsome,
but he has those melting expressions
I imagine certain women like. Too much.
He can often be heard
threatening his landlord on the phone
as he paces his front porch.
Sometimes it’s his ex and baby mama. I don’t think
he’s a bad sort. Just dangerous
to himself and, possibly, others.
You can’t live at your wit’s end,
not even if you’re twenty-six.
Maybe he needs to get some kicks.
He’s not stupid. I’ve heard him talk.
But, from what I can tell,
he’s ninety percent rage, ten percent
sage. And prison is full
of armed philosophers like that.
I get the impression that without women
he’d be nothing. Well, we all had a mother.
But you know what I mean. They’re his dangerous
and too-close support network. I know because I’ve heard
her yell too. It can get to be a bit of a zoo.
I know his only plan for the coming winter,
despite the crunch of poverty
and numerous wolves at the door,
is another tattoo. And, after that,
to show it off.