The Poet Spiel

Link to home pageLink to current issueLink to back issuesLink to information about the magazineLink to submission guidelinesSend email to

Exhaling the Dream

As a smooth Harry Belafonte lights
the longest whitest cigarette I’ve ever seen,
he settles in to debate the dreadful condition of civil rights
and the implications of Dr. King’s new dream
with two other negroes of note;
plus three white men of similar public stature
on 1960s flashback black and white TV.

As was common in those days,
the conference table is adorned with ashtrays — 
no one winces as others light up.
I sit spell-bound as Belafonte’s broad shining nostrils flare
to release a long slow stream of pure white smoke
with the finesse of the exquisitely tuned muscles
of a human heart.

As I step out to the dankest corner of our garage
to seek my own smoke,
I recall stealing my first cigarettes
in the 1950s as a high school sophomore
when I’d declared Harry Belafonte to be
the most beautiful man on earth.

Naked Arms

They may be hungry
     but they are not cold.

They learned first
     not to be cold,
          not to wear a coat,
because there was no coat.

You see them at grunt work
     on highways, on rooftops, on farms;
you see them pushing snow, pushing manure,
     no coat -- like they are not cold -- 
tho you are freezing;
     everyone is freezing.

The old ones survived
     the border crossing,
determined to tolerate
     anything for a penny,
          just for this opportunity;
They could not afford to be cold.

Their kids’ kids’ kids still crawl out
     from beneath old truck beds
          or plywood lean-tos down at the tracks
to walk to school to learn english
     with their faces scrubbed
          but without coats,     
with naked arms.

You want to say:
     Are you hungry?
          Are you cold?
tho you know they are not cold.

If you gave them your coat,
     they would not wear it.
They do not wear coats.

Bulk beans or rice suffice,
but they are not cold.

Previously published: St. Vitus Press, barely breathing, March Street Press, Spiel Anthology, FutureCycle, Skidrow Penthouse, Colorado State Fair Poetry competition/1st place.2017

Plain, Just Plain Plain

Every day,
same time,
same chair. Once-a-week, side-by-side waffles, toasted light; poached eggs on one, sugarless Wal-Mart jelly on the other followed by the usual evening half-cup of sugarless vanilla ice cream. Always, on Tuesdays, two packs of ramen noodles. Thin pizza on Fridays but I take my time with it while the two of us toke up before we stare at the five, then six o’clock news about the freshest rapes, the 7-day weather promises, unthinkable murders, dirty politics, and war with flash intrusions about Superman wheels you don’t have to pay a penny for til your rig is two years down rough roads; plus, triple hamburgers so puffed you couldn’t get them between your lips if they really existed. How the heck can they do that for 99cents?

Every day,
you just slump down
to crank poetry between smokes til it becomes too much of a chore as you cycle the same old aches and score your sugar intake while you balance a slippery gel ice-pack on your head. On Saturdays, after you shave each other’s backs, you share a skillet of pork and carrots or browned beef and boiled potatoes. Then, on Sundays, you take the time to air out on the porch while you count a rainbow of psych meds into little boxes so you can keep your head straight enough to continue to write, to eat, and to sleep your necessary ten hours after you watch more five and six o’clock news about the newest rapes, crummy weather, the freshest most gruesome murders, filthy dirty politics, and dumb-ass world war games in your TV room.

And if you can stay awake
for another hour or two,
you study your 65” tube again and again, just so you can bitch IF you were the one who had written those same scripts they would have been more credible; and furthermore, if you did not have to sit so much, your gawddam tail bone would not be so fucking forever sore.

So, now,
you wonder— 
how did your once glamorous and promising life turn out to be such a plain and simple bore with one lousy cup of numbskull sugarless vanilla ice cream as the highlight of every day, followed soon after by your partner slouched in his same stupid chair and
oh yeah
his inevitable sugarless snore.