When I sing to you I am alone these days
             and can't believe it, as if the stars

--while gazing up at them--just shut off.

I search out the one light, brightest light
             in the night sky, but find

I cannot find it without weaker lights to guide me
             like red tail-lights on a car up ahead

after midnight when I'm sleepy, that illustrate
             how the highway curves,

curving to a hook, and maybe save my life
             and it means nothing to me

because nothing has happened, not the faintest
             glint of drama.

(Raining gently, the tarmac turns slick, moistened
             to life with renewed residues;

I can sense it with my hands on the wheel,
             the drops--not too heavy--

drumming off-time rhythms on the metal roof,
             the metal surface like a skin tense and sweating

and the road empty now, there are so many
              exits . . .)

Where is my family, both hearth and constellated trail of flicker
             I have always followed to your word?

There, but mastered by fear of dark compulsions
             and loathing atrocities committed in your name,

they hit the dimmer switch and extinguish themselves
             whenever I sing your praises. . .

Who can blame them?
             (I can't help but blame them.)

And anyway they are far from me
             (farthest when they come to visit)--

I should be self-reliant, in my armchair
             like Emerson reading by a single lamp;

I should not need them, finding in you
             myself, little firebug needing no outlet,

my soft light blinking as I oxidize my aimless flight
             to love, to the good,

even my glowing chemistry unnecessary now
             in the ultimate light of day.

But what good would that do me?
             With you, in you, perhaps others do not matter,

but this isn't heaven, and I cannot make a circle
             all on my own--

Photon, luciferin, meteor: as I burn myself
             to pieces, I only pray

let my sparking tail remain a moment longer
             than our physics might allow,

some indication, however brief, that there continues
             (amen) a path to follow.

Art Pepper

Scared boy, he even fled a cloud
reminding him of what might happen

when his father returned from sea,
wasted, to find him perhaps again

locked out in the cold, waiting
for other drinkers to come home

(his mother, her lover)--the catalysis
of routine violence passing close

like a storm cloud insisting rain;
until the rain did fall

and the father left, returning though
once with a clarinet . . . 

And when the cloud came back
in the sound of a memory

the boy had grown, had learned
to let it swell into the note

he now holds in me

as a laser reads his tone
mastered for fidelity--

sweet prismatic splinter and 
swing, a double-timing scrape

aiming for my ear 
alone in a rented chamber.

       and I'm with him,

fully in tune as if he stood
hot before me, his life

seeming no more dear to him
than the sax he hawked

for any kind of syrup
he hoped might creep into his heart

like fucked-up love that felt like love
in the belly meadow warmth of his measured joy.

Hungry Art, Art of wind,
of lips upon the reed;

Art of blue, foolish Art,
would you be so nice to come home to?--

Bragging his genius
for a time turned rancid in San Quentin,

swaggering with a ripped-off thuggery honor
and sick with the terror of not seeming criminal . . . 

White man junky thief
whose skin glowed narco-green

with the sound of Keats
amped through Pound

I repeat his name

jacked-in to the straight 
blowing of a life

like butter over flame:

what's home, where's harm;
how to fix; how praise--

Lover, come back to me.
Why are we afraid?

Mongrel Death Blues

What's that behind my back?
What's that gnawing behind my back?

It sounds like a dog crunching bones for marrow.
Bones here so old, the sun's dried up the marrow.
What kind of dog splinters bone like that?

Don't turn around, I hear it getting louder.
Don't turn, don't turn, its growl is getting louder.
Oh, don't you growl at me, nappy rabid dog.

My joints may be cracking, but my bones ain't buried yet.
I said, my skeleton is talking, but my bones ain't buried yet.
Hear my belly growling? I'm hungrier than I've ever been.

Are you baring pearly whites? I can almost smell your mongrel breath.
Yes, your pearlies, they are snapping, and I can smell your stinking breath.
I'd turn around and pet you, but I've given up on pets.

I am reaching for a stone.

I swear my aim is sharp.
I swear my arm is strong.

It's growing dark, but I won't miss.
It's darker now, but I won't miss.
O shine down moonlight, my whole life has led to this.

The Not-Yet Child

Why won't you make me now who wants a life
Inside your life?

                    I fear you as a thief
Stealing about the orchards of my future,
Green fruit glistening above a starving creature.

To increase the coin buried inside yourself
You need exchange it for an alien wealth.

Wealth being you? I need to spend my hoard
On public conquests of a private world:
Take drugs and chances, love recklessly, and build.

I promise I'm your most famous bright adventure.
My stanzas will collapse, mere rooms in nature. . . .

I understand: you dwell on agony,
But there you'll shape your strongest poem, me.

Your cry will play the tune ending my work
As health plays boss over the art I serve.

Not always helpless, some day I'll help you,
And you'll be grateful for what I give to you.

Fever, high blood pressure, and sleeplessness?
I've my beloved to cause me such distress,

And in my distress I find again denial--
If I'm the father how can I stay the child?

Make me, and as your face grows old
You'll find in my face your face taking hold.

That's vanity you call posterity.
Afraid the future bears what you want to see?

Of what I could become but might not be.