A Rubaiyat for Landen, Five Years Old

How many feet per second did your thoughts

fall through your skull midair preceding loss?

Fall prey to things we wish that we had done

like caring for the sick? Is that too fraught

with politics? And so instead we shun

the ones who need us most, two separate sons

Both failed by us while up on that third floor

now we all feel a grief I can’t outrun.

The marble floor transformed to site of gore,

onlookers, we who heard, left to implore

The whims and wonders of a sunless sky.

He did a thing that sanity abhors.

At Shake Shack with my family there’s a guy

There with his daughters, then I see his eye

Transfixed. The local news is on the screen

Above our heads. His face is asking why?

And now the news says Landen is between

two worlds. He’s helped by doctors and machines

Emmanuel will now be thrown away

As some among us long for guillotines.

If only we cared as much as we say

we would have taken action on the day

we saw something was wrong, wellness betrayed

by our allegiance to naivete.


From now until the end of the year, the Marco Poems chapbook will be discounted from $6 to $5 each, with 100% of that money going to The Coalición de Boricuas en Minnesota. We can all do a little bit of good together when we try to. From The Coalición de Boricuas en Minnesota's Facebook page: 

"The Coalicion de Boricuas en Minnesota formed immediately after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico Island. The coalición is form by a group of professionals in Minnesota whom are Puerto Ricans and have family on the Island. 

"Funds donated to la Coalición de Boricuas en Minnesota are collected and distributed by ImpactLives™ a non-profit organization 501(c)(3). Funds will be used to respond to the immediate and urgent basic necessities of those affected by this natural disaster."

* * * * * * * * * *

I sent Aaron Cometbus a copy of the chapbook a while back, since his zine is mentioned in one of the poems. At some point since I received a mangled reply that was damaged in transit and then sat with a bunch of other mail in a tray until I discovered it today:







"It captured som--[unintelligible]," raves Aaron Cometbus!


braggadocio to let you know

braggadocio to let you know


This is a Drone not Drones poem

A making broth out of bones poem

A poem so fresh it probably never had a home phone

Peace summit at the Pizza Shack with Vice Lords, cops and Stones poem.

A Yanez verdict burning straight up systems overthrowing poem.

This shit’s self published and collected in its own tome.

This poem’s grown.

It groans, moans.

A bright light shone on all the places where you won’t roam.

Dig a little deeper and discover that this loam’s foam.

You’re thrown, holmes.

Your seed sewn.

Put your ear to the universe and listen to this poem’s ohm

Vibrating tectonic plates till we’ve all got our own thrones.


Get money, buy poetry

So, that's actually a sticker idea I'm toying with, but then I don't know if any of you guys actually exist and/or would buy one, so let me use this opportunity to also mention that Marco Poems, my debut chapbook/zine situation, is now available at Moon Palace Books in Minneapolis. This in addition to its availability at Minneapolis' Boneshaker Books, this website, or from me in person. If you would like to distribute via your own store, record label website, or fanned out on your band's merch table, please get in touch.

Big Sales Pitch and Sneak Peek Poem

I heard a podcast the other day talking about how the idea of sound might be somewhat unique to earth, that in space it might mean something very different, based on things like atmospheric pressure and a bunch of other science I barely understood. 

But it did make me think about how, when we try to communicate with The Others, we do things like sending gold records into space.

Sometimes I wonder if these blog posts are gold (silver?) records that I'm sending into space.

And while that may absolutely be the case, it is also possible that all the space records get intercepted. Maybe it's 2078, and despite every medical advancement, I have somehow perished, but somehow the internet has persisted, and you, dear reader, have discovered this site. 

First things first: congratulations.

It seems only fair that you should be recompensed for your efforts. I offer you, below, the poem "Hole in the Wall" from my inaugural chapbook. Please, if you don't already have a copy, get in touch with my estate and demand that they sell you a copy. Lord knows those bastards are probably making a mockery of my legacy.

The Hole in the Wall was a real place, located in what used to be called the Warehouse District of Minneapolis, but, through the miracle or realty is now known as the North Loop (because it is just north of downtown, presumably, but I can't for the life of me understand why it's a loop -- this is not Chicago). It was an actual hole in an actual wall along the railroad tracks that abut downtown and head west to Willmar and east to Somewhere Else. 

In its day, as I understand it,. the Hole in the Wall was a famous homeless camp for the sorts of made-classy-by-history railroad tramps that likely frequented the nearby skid row (itself a casualty of 1960s urban renewal). 

I got these stories as hand-me-downs when, at 18, I was working for the Salvation Army out of its Harbor Light shelter on a truck that delivered sandwiches to those homeless citizens who didn't want to come in to the shelter (and in those days, at least, I can't blame them -- it was chaotic there at best, and I didn't ever really feel too safe there). It was a hard spot to access by truck, as I recall, and so we didn't go there too often, and, on many occasions, struck out when we did.

But then we heard about a family who was staying there, and we visited them a handful of times, delivering sandwiches and whatever else we could. I don't remember much of those visits, except that there were kids, and a mom, and that everyone seemed generally on edge, furtive even. I can't blame them. 

Twenty years later I'm almost certain that the Hole in the Wall has been razed,.sealed off, or otherwise been made inaccessible by the construction of Target Field and the march of progress. It's a difficult internet search, too, for what was purportedly such a famous homeless camp, but the one link I did find features a guy I knew back in those days from another camp.

I should also acknowledge that the poem features another character from the streets, Thumper, who was a real person. Her real name (if she and/or my memory are to be believed) really was Diana, and if she's still out there somewhere and ever has occasion to do so, I hope she'll forgive me for taking liberties with her story here. I don't know if she ever camped at the Hole in the Wall. 

I also want to say that, while the paint huffing part is not fiction, Thumper was extremely kind, exuberantly so. It is not my attempt to demean her in any way, only to shine a light on realities that I think many of us would prefer forgetting.

Hole in the Wall

You meet all kinds of people on the streets —

One Thumper, nee Diana, flecked with gold,

The remnants from her favorite way to fly.


That week that Marco spent with her in camp,

Along the railroad tracks outside downtown,

A place those in the know just called “the Hole,”


was six days longer than he’d planned to stay.

The holidays had brought him low again,

to drugs, to sex, to life away from life.


A place has never been more aptly named;

a wall, a hole, a cellar long forgot,

a world apart, lived mostly in the dark.


They’d met at Harbor Lights in line to eat,

scored drugs from someone she knew at the desk

and walked the railroad line back to her “place.”


They’d both smoke crack and she’d huff paint all day,

and here and there they’d find the time to fuck,

and that’s how Marco spent his lowest week.


and its noon

or its midnight

or its thursday

and with every inhale

every droplet of perspiration


pregnant on the brow

and thumper pregnant too

the immateriality of time made manifest

beneath warehouse district streets

tasting the darkness marco is green

stealing the last of the holiday decorations

from his souls interior

and little cindy lou who

cheek smudged with dirt

books in her hand

coming or going from school

through the hole in the wall

and marco didnt know there were kids

he didnt know who was there

in the haze of no light

forms in the dark

rodents and humans and ghosts of each

mythological conflations of the two

he didnt know and then he did

and what the fuck and hes green and

the contents of his stomach present

themselves at the girls feet and

marco is out



out of the hole and





at the river

at the trestle

and almost over

almost over

almost over

marcos lowest week is almost over


Out Now! Marco Poems Chapbook

I'm so pleased to announce the publication of Marco Poems, a chapbook almost two years in the making. Click on the "Buy Poetry" link above to purchase your copy directly from me. $6 gets you what I think is a beautiful little book, 8.5 x 5.5", signed and numbered just this evening by yours truly. This has been a labor of love, and while the DIY aspect has made my brain ache at various points along the way, I'm thrilled with the end result. 

UPDATE 5/13/2016

Hey friends, it's been a while.

A few quick items:

1) You can preorder your copy of Rad Families: A Celebration from PM Press, a fantastic radical Bay Area publishing house whose entire catalog is worth perusing. I'm honored to be included.

2) I have a finished manuscript, tentatively titled Marco Poems, a mini-chapbook with about fifteen pages worth of writing. The hope is to collaborate with some artist friends and self-publish something really beautiful that you can hold in your hands. If you'd like to contribute a giant (or even medium) bag of money to that end, I'll allow it. In the meantime I'm shopping it around to publishing houses, but that length is kind of weird, so we'll see. If you are a publishing house and you want to take a chance on this project, get in touch.

3) Some of you will remember that I'm a teacher. As the school year winds down, and summer looms, the time available for me to give to creative pursuits begins to increase somewhat, which is to say, watch this space for more art.

No More Locked Doors: Jamar Clark Was My Student

Jamar Clark

Image courtesy Ted Hall Photography


Note: For the sake of confidentiality, I’ve omitted some of the names of the subjects of this piece, including only what has already been reported elsewhere. Additionally, this piece originally appeared at the Minnesota Writing Project's Urban Sites Network Blog, which I help operate.

While I love teaching, there is, at times, an emotional weight that comes with it that I couldn’t even begin to try to describe to those outside of the profession. These last days of 2015 have produced grisly news headlines whose subjects intersected with my life as a direct result of me being an educator: this one murdered by police, that one beaten and hospitalized by his students, another charged with murder and aggravated robbery; the latest additions to a pile of similar headlines that have touched me over the years.

I began my career in education in the spring of 2005 working as a paraprofessional at Harrison Education Center, a federal setting IV facility for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities (E/BD). I was 27, a student at Metropolitan State University’s Urban Teacher Program, and eager to get my foot in the door in a public school.

I was also in completely over my head.

I figured I could handle the E/BD part — I was coming from a day program for adults with developmental disabilities where human bites were a hazard of the job — but this place was absolute mayhem.

The administrative style could best be described as laissez-faire, ill-advised under the best of circumstances.

These were not the best of circumstances.

A word about E/BD for the uninitiated, and please note, there is an awful lot of my own opinion seeping in here: E/BD is solely an educational disability, which is to say that you could receive the label of E/BD from a school but not be diagnosed with any sort of other real and actual medical disability. Ostensibly, the idea is that your inability to regulate your emotions (and subsequently your behavior) is a barrier to the education of yourself and/or your peers. It can look a lot of different ways, does often accompany actual disorders (Oppositional Defiant Disorder is a big one), is far more subjective than many would like to admit, and is, as a result,given disproportionately to African-American males.

As for the settings, setting IV means 100% of a student’s day is spent in special education, so a federal setting IV high school for students with an E/BD designation means a lot of locked doors, and a lot of students who were deemed unable to make it in a more mainstream setting.

It was, as I said, chaos.

I learned a lot, mostly about gangs, about how to and how not to talk to students when they are escalated, and about injustice. Sadly, the students weren’t learning anything. The worksheet was king, particularly the word find. I vowed in those years never to assign a word find for any reason. (So far, so good.)

The next year the head of special education for Minneapolis Public Schools took the school over. He restored order, relative to what it had been, and insisted that teachers actually teach. Things were better, functional even, though I’m pretty sure no one was ever asked to write a paper in the time that I was there.

During that time I met Jamar Clark. He must have been about sixteen, and while he did at times display an explosive temper, he was mostly quiet, with a mischievous sense of humor. As these things go, I only remember a handful of things about him really well: 1) I remember his face. He had an incredibly expressive face. A quick google image search of his name yields a lot of images that aren’t him, but the ones that are display a range of disparate emotions. 2) I remember he had a slight speech impediment. Or at least I think he did. 3) At the very least he would adopt this kind of funny voice when we’d get to one of Harrison’s many locked doors, saying “No more locked doors.” It’s loaded with meaning now, but at the time it was a funny quote from Next Friday (I had to look that up just now). 4) I remember sitting in the computer lab with Jamar and some other students. I was at the computer to the left of Jamar, who was so jazzed about the upcoming release of Li’l Wayne’s Tha Carter II. There was an innocence in how giddy he was that makes everything that happened since all the more tragic.

Or maybe it’s everything that happened before. Others have written better than I could about the conflicting forces pulling Jamar in different directions, using safe and unexamined phrases like “troubled past,” and that’s fine, but what are the forces outside of oneself that cause one to end up at a high school where no one is assigned any papers? Or, if we take that as our starting point, if we’re really honest with ourselves, what kind of outcomes do we expect for someone coming out of such a system?

Or, to really put all of my cards on the table, given the value that we as a society have (or have not) placed on this one life through our education system alone, whywouldn’t I expect that he would be murdered by police*?

And the news cycle continues, and it isn’t long before a former colleague from another district is sent to the hospital after trying to break up a fight in the cafeteria. People ask me, “what’s going on over there?” and I opine, letting myself get fired up about how district policies that lack restorative practices create an unsafe environment for everyone. “The thing is,” I attempt, “I feel as badly for those kids as I do for that teacher.” They look at me aghast. “How do you get to a point where that’s okay? Where did we fail?” They don’t know. Neither do I.

And then another headline. Another former student, this time part of a violent crime spree one fall night that included credit card theft, home invasion, and murder. I remember this student well, too. His hands trembled and he had long fingernails. His attendance was terrible. He may have been on house arrest at one point and worn an electronic monitoring device on his ankle. I remember watching him flirt with a girl in the gym, calling her “Shawty,” smiling wryly. Better than his nickname, I suppose: “Poopy.” I remember we had to watch him closely in the gym, something to do with his heart.

I read a statement in the newspaper that he had given to the police when charged, stating that “only intended to do robberies and that he was upset that people were getting killed,” and I guess I believe it. I also believe that it doesn’t matter, that his fate is sealed, and maybe was long before that night.

And the thing I absolutely don’t know how to explain to non-educators in my life is that, in truth, I have no idea what to do with any of this, but I move on because I have to. I write this post. I think about how I’ll supplement Native Son when I begin teaching it next month to include a challenge of privilege and a pedagogy of resistance. And I hope like hell that the news will give me a little peace, because I have plenty more Jamar Clarks I’m worried about.

*I want to acknowledge that it took me the better part of a week for my feelings to coalesce around this issue. Having written angry poetry in the wake of Treyvon Martin, Mike Brown, and Sandra Bland’s extrajudicial killings, I would have thought I’d know exactly how I felt if something like this happened in my city, to someone I knew. But I waffled. I offer that because our human reactions to things like this — things I suppose none of us should have to deal with — are very complex. The politics of proximity, I guess. The other day a friend referred to Jamar saying “sounds like he was a piece of work,” and I bristled, explaining that I’m too close to the situation to say that. But like so many of us, she was trying to make sense of the senseless, and that’s where she ended up. It’s complex.


I'm teaching summer school and (per the above poem "Middelschmerz") we've been looking at issues of police brutality and race. We started out by reading some poems from a poetry workshop that took place in Baltimore (poems by Afiya Ervin, Brandi Randolph and Kyemah Clark  found at www.blackwordsmatter.org). We analyzed those and then the kids wrote their own poems, which were in turn peer reviewed and revised. 

Because it's summer school we have limited technology available; I put my email address on the board and implored the kids to share with me if they felt so moved so that I could share them here, explaining how compartmentalized we all get as adults and how fortunate I feel to be exposed to their multiple perspectives every day. There are many more beautiful poems that didn't make it into my inbox, but what I did recieve is below. It's worth noting that, because of the rich diversity of the environment I'm in, there is a diversity of ability where the English language is concerned. As you read, you'll see what I mean, and obivously these are students, not professional poets. Even so, the sentiment is moving and beautiful and deserves our gaze:

Jasmine McBride

I just don't understand..
Is it because our skin color is labelled as the same color of an officers gun that we are forced to interact?
Or are you upset that we are children of the sun, and our melanin bursts, sparkles, and pops until the sun finally sets
My skin is a warm color, brown sugar, radiance, pure divine!
You wanted to be an enemy, your skin white like snow, the heat from my skin, voice and presence will melt you quicker than a gun could ever shoot on your best day, because I am warmth! you hate my kind
Maybe it's because my lips are projected for BIGGER, POWERFUL words, that your ears ache when heard
Hit me, beat me, torture me, I'll still yell the truth with a broken jaw, with words of slurs!
Don't get my anger mistaken for racism, I believe in equality, why can't you?
This will stop, we will make SURE of it, you can't turn every "black" face, blue
And lastly, you should know there are more of us being born stronger, every time you kill one, another warrior is coming through!
Calling war now that we're prepared, is the last thing you should do.

Tayler King

The love we've worked so hard for is gone
the love we protested and boycotted for
for a brief moment the worlds of black
and white were in almost perfect harmony
as we once thought it would be
what is the meaning of these actions
why must you treat us this way
why must you resort to these methods
when we've done nothing to provoke you
my brothers and sisters do not feel safe
they are the deer chased by the hunter because
of who we are sometimes we lie in bed and
wonder will I still be alive in 24 hours.

these acts of violence you say we committed
these unspeakable acts from those who say
they're here to protect us yet we hide from you
the crime is you drawing your weapon not my race
you thought because i'm black i've done something
all i did was be my black Self


Damylia Stuckey

I'm tired of hearing about shooting and killings

From the ones who serve and protect
It hurts to know that my brother has to watch his back
While walking down the street
He's not a threat

My people are dropping left and right like flies
Open season on African Americans is what my country knows
My heart cries just knowing that this is justified

My prayers are angels being sent to the victims families
The families that's still asking why

A question that everyone wants to know

Still slave under the apartment "hope"
Omar Ghada

I hopeful the world is not gonna end like this, it's going to change one day. I hope one day we have the social justice accept our folder open. I hope one day the oil and water gonna change to like salt and water.

I wish black live a long like Mississippi River, not short like deer in the jungle.

The moon played hide and seek with the clouds. What happen if you walk on the street at dark night, and you don't have the flash light and the sometimes lighting for you, but sometimes goes behind the clouds. The police like a moon.

Oreo and milk are two very different things, twisted linked dunked mission accomplishments. Oreos under the milk until the bubbles stop. Nowadays they wouldn't be not surprise if they on the news for murder. 

Chained Kings
Savion Benton

It was way before our time so we would never understand, they use to walk around freely with crowns placed upon their heads they had each other they shared a kingdom with one another. No enemies they all wer Brothers.

they there came a time when the Aliens came to the Kingdom in boats tied them up with ropes that's the day we became restricted from our freedom but they don't know, they like is this a joke can you come untie this rope the Aliens are taking souls and all the kings are being dethroned

they sailed ship on a a boat and made the Kings into lost souls, so generations after that there never was an aftermath, so if we give you present time you would see it's in our nature on how we act. there was a Black man he was a college graduate with a family on top of that he was on his way home from work and being attacked and just because he was Black all he heard was put your hands behind your Back. Chained Kings.



twenty percent of women
can feel themselves ovulate

which is basically magic

lately I’ve been
trying to sit silent
in the white dawn
to see what I can feel

something must be rearranging
at some systemic level
within my brain
everytime I witness
brutality immortalized
in our digital age

I sit silent to see
what I can feel
but I get distracted by traffic
and chickadees

80 percent of women, then
feel nothing, but prepare
to birth

maybe there are eggs
moving in my brain

my son was born
twenty years after rodney king’s
terrible night

the first video

a beautiful spark on
the anniversary of an explosion
and burning blocks

I was fourteen
impatient even then
“why is this still happening?”

i thought
my parents’ generation
had sorted it all out
had grappled
had reckoned
had had it out with this shit

i talk to my students
about samuel dubose
eric garner
freddie gray
sandra bland
trayvon martin

et fucking cetera

a litany in language arts
we get loud
write verse
try to birth something new
maybe we can
maybe we can

maybe they can
feel it



Writing about things you don't know how to write about yields a weird non-form sometimes, and kind of accidentally reads like a June of '44 song:


Wait one more thing. I know class is over but before I send you into the weekend just this one thing: I don’t have it in my lesson plan, there’s no standard for this, but just please sit. Just this one more thing: Spring brings weird weather sometimes. You know that, I suppose, but listen: The house next to Khaing Thin and Kyaw Kyaw’s house went up when a branch went down on some electrical lines. The wind blew the flames their way, and wait — one more thing: It’s not in the syllabus: a story about refugees starting over again. Ashes still smoldering early Easter morning. Not far away, Samirria was arguing with the father of their baby girl. She was going to cook Easter dinner, their first as a family, but for this argument. Wait. You need to hear this: The argument went too far. What should I have said to Samirria on her way out the door? What unwritten lesson about young men and emotions and violence? Somewhere in another classroom he missed a lesson about young men and emotions and violence and not shooting your lover in the face. And I learned about it all on Monday morning, ten minutes before standing in the hallway, doling out fake smiles and “how was your breaks.”

So wait, just one minute more,

please fill out this survey,

tell me what to do.




I.               First Contact

Setting seasickness aside, there’s something sinister
in ships appearing on the shore.

II.             Battles


Don’t we all at least tell ourselves
we’d fight to defend our homes?

If need be, I mean?

Blood and black dirt a civilizing force.

III.           Frontier

Before the service stations
hippy enclaves
truckers and their speed and driving
before the Mormons,
before the west,

a place teeming with mammals,
and always,
always the cumulonimbus,
except on days when the bright burning
mirage of the sun seemed so constant
as to suggest that things would always

IV.            Modern Era

In a city I hadn’t seen in a minute
I saw an AIM tattoo on an arm that argued
with a confused cop.

Did the cities come on ships?

A documentary I saw a few months before:
a standoff in the prairie
on ground propped up with bodies
from a standoff in the prairie.

Nothing’s better now
but the prairie soil is fatigued
with standoffs
and suicides.

V.              Still Docked

Wrapped up in settler skin
I peer out the window of my mortgage.
My grass has gone to clover
right up to the cedar
fence I had put in.

The other way, a pond.
I squint to see a time before


                                    drainage ditches.

I squint to articulate
problem and its solution:
how to keep the ships
off of the shore.





Note: I've been working on a series of poems about a character named Marco. He's maybe kind of autobiographical but also kind of a composite of a handful of real life characters I've encountered over my years. At any rate, of the three Marco poems I've created so far, I like this one the least, which means you get to read it here. I'm trying, against my every impulse, to be better about keeping things back, since the reality is that so very many journals require things to be previously unpublished, and even consider the most modestest vanity blog to be publshing.


Marco hops off the eleven
and immediately onto Matthew 5.
Glassy-eyed, grinning, and with
“No Gods, No Masters” backpatch,
engages three elderly evangelists
in front of Giant Laundromat.

Asked about it later, he’ll explain
something about having sold a deed for a lot
but retaining a blueprint to build.

“I hang on to the framework.”

He’s got, it has to be said,
Something of a holy fervor,
Righteous zeal;

The crux: Swords into plowshares
versus highways and byways,
Paul as a megalomaniac,
Preaching versus protest
“against war and profiteering!”

At the end, he’s really ramped up,
High on coffee, a handful of speed,
And the smell of his own shit.

His voice almost takes on
A certain something southern,
Like he’s out shilling for
a tent revival he is hosting,

Instead of flyering
for a punk show.


Vern's Elegy

Vern’s Elegy

Increasingly I walk in your shadow,
Your voice imprinted on me like a brand.
Eighteen years have passed—then I was callow—
Enough to watch a boy become a man.

I wake as you did, long before the light
The timbre of your voice is my north star
In guiding scholars to their greatest heights
But now I cannot wonder where you are.

The distance from your ashes to the urn,
The space between, let’s measure it in years.
If teachers still have lessons left to learn
Will they be taught by opposites of seers?

All this to say, I’m teaching now, a gift
I’ve opened from you, one you meant to give?
Speculation’s all I’m left with. I wish
I could have found and thanked you while you lived.

Though shrewd folks sit and labor over wills
The dead don’t choose the ways they are revered
With every drop of coffee that I spill
I honor all the brown stains on your beard.