Category Archives: It’s Mother’s Day

After The War

hustlers stalk the streets
hawk their mother’s pearls
their sister’s virginity
over and over
their daughter’s succulent
tipped up teats…

After the war, we’ll ignore our father’s failed vision
picnic at midnight
pose in purple robes
ride a stallion
eat fire.

On these nights, Shelia will cake her eyelids blue
dance on her back
wrap her legs around my waist
arch up
muscles tense
lick my belly

After the war, old men will tear their wives
from trailer parks in Galveston or Peoria
rev-up engines long left to rust
and hit the road.

Kids with one foot in the gutter will step to the plate, plant their
weight and hit a big one for mom and dad or step off the curb or run
into a cab or climb off the top rung or sail out
into another night

After the war, the thunder you’ll hear from the hills will be just that
thunder from the hills and rain.

No More

“When I went back, I found I was the enemy”
Philip Levine: Introducing his poem, They Feed They Lion

Not love but celebration
sexual and luscious
our tongues winding round
our wet bodies
yours black mine white
our smiles bright
that August afternoon
across the bridge in Windsor
before the night Detroit went down.


One month before
at home
in Chicago
my friend Felton boarded up his bottle club on South Michigan Avenue
a club where we’d spent many a Friday night
cracking set-ups for the crowd and downing Johnny Black
while DJ’s spun 78’s and 45’s from the fifties.

Phil Levine found he was the enemy and so had I.

No more dropping by McKee’s to hear Horace
Laverne’s where Howlin Wolf held court
The Stage, Robert’s, The Crown
without an escort.
No more goofing off on 63rd drinking outta paper bags and eating Bar-B-Q
at 4 AM with friends
No more just walking around Marquette park with Connie on my arm
No more cruising the old neighborhood
No more.


As if in sepia and in slow motion:
5’10” Paxton Lumpkin dribbles past the entire Dunbar High defense
for a light-fingered lay-up;
Big Ben Smith, 6’5 and 250 if he’s a pound, lumbers-jabs-lurches lunges
10 yards for the score against South Shore;
Antoinette George whose skin was only slightly darker then mine and got burnt
in summer
leaves for PreMed at Johns Hopkins
and never looks back
long before
Connie moved to Canada.


When the fires started on west Madison and west Washington and
west Monroe and west…you could read your daily paper by the
light from a million TV’s engulfed in flames from end to end
the country
from end to end and top to bottom
the country
from where we came
to where we went
from Danville and Portsmouth and St Pete and Boone and Newport
the country
uprooted and cut
dissected, severed, split.


I’ve never been back to Windsor and Connie never came home.
I heard she married a Manitoba Lawyer who stole her money and the MGA
she’d treasured since college.
Her sister left Chicago too and lives in San Diego where she teaches Karate
to teenage prostitutes.
The country? Ah, the country.
The country slides in the mist shrouding the end of the century
as divided as ever and as blind.

I Carry The Dead

I carry the dead child in my pack
with dried fish my canteen
& a sealed tin of plums.
I carry his bloody shirt in my belt
his favorite toy
a pup he’d had since birth
over my shoulder
its eyes jiggle and snap
its stuffing leaks
it knocks against my ribs with every step.

I raised this child
from his mother’s arms
washed his puckered skin
combed dust from his hair
picked crusted tears from under his eyes
pearls of shit that clung in strands to his stubby legs.

I bear this boy with a hunter’s grace
careful to measure my stride
conserving breath
past men eating fire
past manicured lawns
past peddlers of teeth.

I take this stiff corpse
no more than one year old
to dig his grave beyond the trees
where his people grazed sheep
honed tools
under bows of flowers
where a stream may
at any moment
break through polished stone.

Letter To Sophia

Even before the wind had shifted
and the stench of flesh on fire peeled sweat from walls,
I should have known

from the whistling in my ears
the resonant whack of cracking spines
bodies rotting in the road.

I should have hocked my gun, torched my fatigues,
joined your neighbors for the long march.
Instead, and I tell you this with chalk in my mouth,

I drank with the rest, took my turn in the teenage girls,
forced the sons to do dog to their mothers, yes
all this I did and more.

I should have known, when my beard turned white,
when men were forced to bite the balls from their brothers
when I prayed for rain to wash semen, shit and tears to the sea,

you would never take me as I was, never kiss my eyelids with your
tongue as you did, never slip your cool hands under my shirt, press
your cheek against my naked back, never again trust me to be clean.

O Yeah!

It wasn’t so unusual his drinking
most of the afternoon,
so when Ma would send me,
I’d go to the bar & take him out the back.
It was always nip & tuck
getting home.

When he’d wake he’d try to thank me & barf all over the sofa.

Out of work for years & broke,
he’d booze on credit, do odd jobs for the bill.
Sometime he’d take me along,
the cab of the truck smelling of piss & gasoline & I’d hang out the window for a whiff of fresh air.

After I turned 13,
he taught me how to hold a cue / how to make a perfect bridge with
my hand
even more stable
if I’d let my nails grow.

He showed me how to grip its knob with just the tips
of my fingers
how to make long, slow, decisive strokes /
how to hit the balls
dead on.

We’d drive around, from bar to bar, making matches…

o yeah, we’d say
coming away with cash
he’d count in his lap if he weren’t too drunk

On other days,
he’d take me to other bars where I’d sit on his knee & pretend to be
someone else’s little girl

& if a man would buy him a drink
I’d let him touch my breasts
& If he’d give him twenty bucks
I’d go out to the truck
take down my pants

O yeah! they’d say
going up inside me

O Yeah! O Yeah! they’d say
their bodies quaking

O Yeah! O Yeah! O Yeah!

Jim Talks About Coyote Mask

For Jim Allen who owns the gift and knows its powers

I can’t believe she’d want to give it up.

Bad vibes, she said.  Too dark.
Or some such nonsense.  I think power.

The dancer with the cunning tongue
mesmerizing rattlers, toads and puma alike.

I picture him totally out of control

head wagging
frothing at the mouth

his goatee flecked with spit
smacking his lips and licking his gums

terror waiting
out of reach

ready to snatch away
your kill.

No wonder Zuni
treasure tales of his treachery

why he’s mascot to despair.

Bobbing and weaving he circles
all eyes follow

he’s been known to tease, to change his shape, disappear
appear again

there are those who’ve seen him dining at the finest tables
blessed by the most elaborate churches.

My neighbor recounts the time in the desert
when she waited to be rescued from the cold and Coyote took her
to his den

fed her a meal of free-range hen
then mounted her

turning loose a tantalizing truth she’d been forced to hide for years.

Did I say

he holds the lever
turns it at his pleasure

singing yip-yip-yip-a-we

The Woman Whose Skin’s

slick as a snake
running naked through the trees
a kid under each arm
looks back
smiles her gap-toothed smile
ducks behind an elephant ear
never to appear again.

From every corner of the town
women rattle cups
stoke-up stoves
send plumes of smoke racing
like horses their daughters can ride
skin against skin
into the hills
where the warriors wait
dangling lucky rings for them to grab onto.

The woman whose skin’s slick as a snake
slides along the bank of a quickening stream
sniffing out clams, frogs and the nests of salamanders
stopping for a breath when the sun slips behind the horizon
and her appetite’s sated.

Last night she slept with her sisters in her father’s house
tuned her guitar
mended her mother’s gown.
Last night began the waining of the hunter’s moon
someone harvested a lamb
carved a pit from the trunk of the largest tree.
The man will soon return and the door will close behind him.

        must I leave my home
wear a new name
lose my luck
never speak out again

That same night
having rested long enough
the woman whose skin’s slick as a snake
turned slowly in her bed
stroked the kids coiled close beside her
then packed and left in the last of the dark