The South Side
where the L screams wickedly
through the backyards of Hades, Satan unwanted
chanting sacrilege at a baptism, claiming new souls. The South Side
of Chicago
scraping the powdery soft skin
of the delicate Loop, filling its veins
with the opiate of jazz, shocking its lovers
with mouth music blues, leaving only the scent
of sulfur and ash, to vanish like smoke curls
off a stolen cigarette. Cages drawn down on facades
like facemasks of muggers, the short circuit
of epileptic lights
where rats create choreography
on stages of blight. Politicians rise
on wings of hidden money, speaking in calligraphy, indecent promises
in the language
of renewal. Too much of The South Side. No one comprehends its pariahs, deciphers the accents of tongues
left at liberty’s door.
Orphans who came for candy, then stayed for drinks, stranded on islands
named Stoney and Goose, not islands at all
but ghost ships of live cargo. So unlike the cathedral
of downtown city sidewalks, where stars of functional streetlights
beckon sinners to worship, while those in the South
blast radio hymns of anguish, power and fear hovering like angels. Sirens squeal, the blackened air vibrates, a meteor shower of intensity
declares turf wars of frenzy. There is so much
of The South Side
that repeats and shatters
into infinite fractals. My family couldn’t have known
that I would resurrect them. They lived so guardedly, full of life yet caged, servants of the blast furnace, pockets full of coins, lungs full of disease, the smell of whiskey
coating every breath. Life was balanced
on the edge of a knife
intense, immediate,
ready to cut
and sever the cord. Gwendolyn Brooks arrived,
a visiting seraphim, offering wings and balm

in an ointment of words. But there was too much
of The South Side.
It intimidated the city, bullied its way beyond boundaries, knocked on the bolted door
of staid City Hall. Sprayed pain
on crumbling underpasses, littered names on L platforms
challenged lightning, danced in heat, authored is own bible, forging a new religion
of personal damnation. There was no savior, Only the saved. Progress came,
dressed in scrubs of opportunity, pulling out scalpels, blades forged in law, cutting unbroken skin
down to muscle and bone. Pulling away layers, searching for cancer, offering false hospice
in tones of despair. There was no one left to listen. The cathedral of streets trembled, cast out its sinners, muffled pleas for mercy
People bade farewell
without goodbyes. No tears, such dry mouths. Shackled to false faith, swung low on sweet chariots, pushing past redemption
in glad-rag gospel song, the unheard whispers
of a lost people’s Amen.

Genghis Khan At The Typewriter

Genghis Khan sits down at the typewriter, a portable Underwood.

His tortured soul desperately tries to conjure up a Mongolian metaphor for love.

It is a task of barbaric proportions.

Mongol is, as yet, an unwritten language birthed from bone and mayhem.

The sounds are raw and feral.

No font can cage their nature.

But the Great Khan, Universal Ruler, senses a sonnet steeped in The Steppes coursing somewhere under his leather-laced armor.

Certain tribal concubines have indicated this to be his heart.

They have placed their tiny bird-like hands over his iron chest and summoned forth strange visions.

A heart!

As if the Great Khan, master of Central Asia, scourge of China, has need for a heart.

Empires are carved out of destruction, death.

A heart!

A heart would be a liability, a stigma of weakness.

And yet?

Genghis feels an unknown creature course through his veins and stop to drink at the place where the concubines held their tender young palms.

His coarsened skin tremors at the memory.

And so, Genghis Khan, Emperor of Oceans, sits at the typewriter, a portable Underwood, hands bloodied with conquest, body still suited for war.

He sheaths his emotions in strands of silk and sends them forth like arrows of unspoken words in search of prey.

These weapons are of a language that cannot break, complicated, strong.

And once embedded in the heart, the tender teasing of the twisted silk opens words into poetry and the wound seems insignificant.

Copyright 2013

(For Bryan, who loves history, even when it’s invented)

Do Not Go To Open Mic Night

She rings honey around her ears
to attract fragments of dialogue
Peels paper skins off whispers
to suck out sweet ideas
Hides a paring knife beneath her tongue
to slice adjectives from nouns
Rolls the crushed fragrance of sentences
to smoke and inhale the essence

She is a scam word grifter

The hint of her finger’s touch
can lift a poem out of the ether
swindle away its metaphors
into  hidden pockets of her memory

She is a sharp in search of flats

Master of the short con sleight of mind

Put her name first on the signup sheet

Maker her sweat for every word put on paper


Copyright 2019


THE VOICE OF FRIEDA ROSE (August Postcard Poetry 2018)

When she was ten,

a virus snatched her voice

Held it ransom

for over a week

Her parents,

avid union stewards,

Refused coercion,

ate audacity for lunch

Frieda Rose’s voice

unexpectedly returned

Left by the front door

in a brown paper bag

It had been smoked down

to the filter

Puree’d with grenades

in a blender

Yet men always begged her

To sing them a song.


Copyright 2018