Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Five poems by James H. Duncan

by James H. Duncan

Needless Markups

selling Paris in America isn’t all
citrus ties and gold sunglasses
there is so much more, so much
striped nausea and second-floor suede
chocolate for the holiday season
flavored with sarcasm and style

attendants put a man together
piece by piece in
plaid fisherman leather
hats, coats, socks, wristwatch
tablecloth dresses like dead sofas
ravaged by neo-hippie commercialists

massive acrylic

hallucinogenic canary yellow shirts
shading heartbroken glass beneath
the rack, rebuffed by bad art

how can Foghat, The Clash, and Oingo Boingo
find themselves at $118.89 per shirt?
even the cars out the window fail
to catch the sun with such arrogance
stacked back to back to back
like golden tanned water skin
waiting to carry the soul of nylon rage

somewhere an old Indian sits in the shade
feeling the dirty wind in his lungs
as he whispers prayers to his great-grandfather
and washes his feet for the last time

above, the silver speaker announces:
Italian footwear now on floor three
but only until you get there


Slow retreat home

there are hills
in New York City
some unknown to the eyes
and only to the ears
of the heart

this is where Kerouac
on his slow
retreat home
with the bums
murmuring how
some cities sleep
and some
simply avert their eyes
the numbing parade
the walking talking loneliness
closes in as the bodies
of those who travel
here just for
are shipped out
to the surrounding boroughs
or home for burial
John & Jane Doe
bags still packed
the 21st floor window
open and the bathtub filling

the doormen dust off their sleeves
as the ghost of Burroughs
huddles against his own boney frame
on his own slow retreat
home, weeping beneath the thunderous
silence of the subways
shivering like junk left out to roll
in the January wind
as a thin white finger points and
you may not know it, but
there are valleys
in New York City
some unknown to the eyes
and only to the ears
of the heart

and if you listen closely
they will all
like window jumpers in the


Playing God in the only place left on earth

between the wine and water, the pile of books
cluttered and tiled flooring and the hot steam
rising to the occasion, the ringing phone ignored

academia destroyer, pathetic, a shining image of the north
but here the brown south overwhelms any conceived self
buried in the water
the thick humid boil
this is where it happens
or else birthed, or else magic, or else God tricks us all

it happens in the water, between thrown books—cast
to the floor, done done done done done and there is always another
and the urge to not just be, but to be my own, finally
this comes as proof that I am justified in my absence in the world

in the water, there is a sweeping of all the crusty worldly deceit
the taught well-rehearsed melodrama of the wider world
we drink oblivious and combat the night
hurt hiding little girls and the men scoff alone
play tough guy or broken daughter at key moments
nobody takes ownership of brotherhood, not
anymore, not like the water does

who is it that sanctions our good works?
who is it we all impress daily, like pets?

nobody shares faith like water, nobody takes the time for peace
there is too much movement to be known, and education
to spend our lives regretting
to spend returning with our blood-let blood gains
but if the piles of books are right, then return is always an option

the lines can be passed and broken, strands snapped if you work it right
and in the thrashing for wine, the reaching across well-read covers
choose to forgive yourself and do not play
choose to play but do not open your eyes
choose to open your eyes but do not observe
become your own God and world-creator and behold yourself in the water
purity has a price and that price knows that the real inhuman truth
is hidden in the washtub, waiting


They come in the night

you can try to kill
the red ants in the sink
but don’t fool yourself into
thinking they don’t
know where you


Yellow birds

cat lilies
sleeping in the whiskey
summer sun

this is the March
to April
with yellow ruffled
birds calling from the
wooden summer sill
giving a once
stolen song back;
taking to task this idle

there is no sweet grass
for feet to taste
this southern grass is too thick, too coarse
too far away
from Vermont
and New York

home is too far away
from the yellow birds casting
careless shadows on my
wooden summer sill

but the birds know
and so do I
these winds blow
from Mexico
for a long overdue

Author bio:

James H Duncan is a New York native, a part-time Taoist, and connoisseur of dirt cheap wine. Although a graduate of Southern Vermont College, he considers himself a lifelong student of the road, picking up non-credit courses in local dive bars, all night cafes, and used book stores. Plainsongs, Red Fez, Reed Magazine, and Covert Poetics Journal, among others, have welcomed his poetry. His fourth collection "Maybe a Bird Will Sing" (Bird War Press) is due in early 2009. More at JHD Writing.

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