Friday, August 31, 2012

The secret life of a rock

Situated at the foot of a gutter spout
Rain water washes over it,
Days ago before a desert sun
With its mean streak beat it dry
The gush of summer squall
Utterly forgotten
If not for the spirit of your father
Watching over it and you,
Blessing you with a ghostly sigh
When you most needed it,
His deep down love leaving
Its moist mark on the ground
A whisper from the other side
You can read from the puddle
The way gypsies read tea leaves
Telling you that he is still there
And that he still loves you.

Dream Streets

I walk the same streets
As you do
In my dreams
Unable always
To recall the names or places
Or even the faces
Only the emotional landmarks
The feelings I felt
When those feet stumble
Over stories of past made present
Or present made past,
The loves won or lost
The truces brokered
Then broken
All of them fading
Into a cloud
Of what might have beens
As I walk in the same shoes
I wore,
Hoping they might lead
Somewhere different this time
but they never do.

Morning chill

A stiff breeze
Blows through
My bedroom window
As I wake
Chilled with just
A tease of changing season
I used to fear fall,
Back to School sales
Leading to the dead of winter
Scolding teachers
Painting bleak futures
For those who did not
Follow all the rules
I learned to love it
Seeing passed the changing leaves
Even though my favorite
College professor
Said age would teach me
To fear it again
And the more permanent
Chill later years
Would bring,
but time hasn’t bent me
filling me with any more
respect for rules,
it’s the change,
the fading away
of one thing for another
and that brief cool time
when old wounds heal
under a crust of snow
all presumptions
like old leaves
turned to earth
from which other things
better things
can spring up from
in the spring

Al Sullivan's webpage

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Jungle warfare

"Keeping your head when all about you others are losing theirs" 

My upstairs neighbor when I lived in Haledon used to talk about the traps the Cong would lay for him when he was over seas in Vietnam, how they were always trying to trick him and his men into making some move they could capitalize on.
“I never let them get in my head,” he said. “You would hear them out there, making noise, making you think you were crazy, and trying to get you angry so that you put yourself at risk. We weren’t crazy, and we always knew the truth. They were only trying to hurt us, and as long as we kept our heads, and knew who the enemy was, we were okay. Those who forgot for a minute just how evil those sons of bitches were, didn’t make it back alive. I’m here because I stayed sane and never let them piss me off.”
Never, however, was too strong a word. Once he thought he might befriend locals.
“When they butchered my best friend, I went ape shit,” he said. “That’s how I got shot up the ass. After that, I knew better. Never forget they are always out to get you, and sometimes, they even think they're smarter than you are."

tick tock

She always looks over her shoulder
For things that aren’t there,
Mistaking the click of her heals
For the tick of a watch
That hasn’t worked right for years
Wound too tight when young
So it tells her what she wants
Not what is,

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Scared out of his wits

Lightning rips me open
As I sit facing the dark
Each bolt jolting me erect
Shocking me
Inside and out,
Tearing open
My most vulnerable parts
Bringing out
The most primitive
Fears in me
At my core
I remain the same savage
That hid in caves
Painting alternative
Realities on my walls
So I might make up
For the terror real life raises
Each image only making
The terror worse
coming to life
with each flash
my Frankenstein monster
rising from the depths of me
to seize me
as I stumble
a joke of a man
scared out of his wits
by the thunder


The telephone always rings when I have a mouth full of food,
Some strange voice from some distant part of the planet
Trying to convince me I really need the product they happen to be selling,
Reminding me again just how sometimes I’ve been guilty of the same thing
Mailing letters when I was young I shouldn’t have mailed or misdialing
The wrong four digit extension to get the wrong voice on the telephone,
Trying to sell a product the person on the far end of the line doesn’t want
Or need, their mouths full of a lunch counter sandwich or cold coffee,
“No offense,” I always tell the poor fool on the other end of the line
When I manage to swallow my meal, just as I slam down the receiver,
Sometimes it takes a click for the real message to get through.

Get over it or get out

The old men in the pub look at me
As I climb onto one of the stools.
This is one of those bars where
Strangers are suspect
And if your grandfather
Didn’t drink here
Then you’re a stranger
This isn’t the kind of bar
Where you go to down your sorrows
These eyes have seen it all before
And give no sympathy
Even to their own
Right or wrong
Love sick or not,
You come here to drink
Not to wallow,
Self pity gets scrapped
Off your shoes at the door
Or kicked out with dirty looks
If you drag it in,
They don’t want to hear
Any crap about
How bad you feel
Or how wronged
You think you are,
Each man tells you
To get over it,
Get on with your life
Each man says
Any woman has the right
To tell you to get lost
Even for no better reason
Than being sick of seeing you
Take it outside,
If you can’t take it
The stares say,
We don’t need to hear
About it,
Get over it, or get out.

Flying Solo

It ain’t easy to get back
Control once auto pilot quits
You get so used to other people
Steering you places
Even if they are the wrong places
That you don’t know what to do
When they let you go
They want you to crash and burn
And get more than a little peeved
When you cling to their tail feathers
With the vain hope they won’t
Let both of you fail,
But such desperate moves comes
With a price
A nausea neither one of you
Quiet recover from
As both commit unforgivable sins
In the attempt to force the other
To let go
Eventually you both do,
Learning finally what if feels like
To fly solo.

The blue balloon

I drive the back way home
Lost in thought
Deaf and dumb
Moving through streets
I know so well
I don’t have to hear or see
Alive, but not alive,
Seeing everything
In the rear view mirror
A dull ache of lost things
Propelling me forward
As I search the road side
For omens of what might be
Should be
Or can never be again
Lost on even these familiar streets
A spirit trapped inside my chest
Banging on these walls of flesh
while I am desperate to keep it in
Fearing it might slip out
and vanish
forgiving me for its fleeing
Like that blue balloon
I lost at eight
When the string slipped
From between my fingers,
Me crying pointlessly
At something that could care less
A shrinking figure against
The pale sky
The loss of which I still mourn
An inanimate, pointless,
Inflated piece of plastic
That had no feelings
At all.

The injustice of love

There is no justice in love
Only the injustice of passion
Pushing people to extremes
Of kindness or meanness
Depending on the source
From which it is drawn
Like honey bears the spate
Of the flowers
The bee’s made love to
In gathering its nectar
Bad love always tastes of pain
Like the pain of a bad upbringing
A brutal mother
Taking revenge on her children
For the husband who left her,
Living in a remote place
After being wed to nobility
The father was too noble
To embrace,
Mean love breeding mean love
Leaving only its bad taste behind
And the ache for purity
No longer possible
Except in the rare instance
When God takes mercy
And sends a Savior.

Master of Innuendo

She is a master of innuendo
The suggested phrase
The connotation
As with the description
Of pictures she had
If she dared use them
Or the criticism she titled
An addition to a paragraph
To suggested how illiterate
And ill-informed the author
Of the original was
Polictians call it deniability
To give that innocent shrug
While asking,
“Whatever did you mean?”
When the lightning bolt
Hits you right between the eyes
Daring you to find
As clever a way to strike back,
Staring straight into your eyes
Like a hired gun,
Knowing you can’t draw down
When you use a blunt instrument
Rather than a scalpel
You can’t win a war of words like that
Her sharp shooter already drawing
By the time you reach for yours,
Her rapier sticking away at your vital parts
As your broad sword clatters on the ground
Her look so innocent you even thought
She committed the crime,
You always asking her for forgiveness
Even as she leaves her bloody
Fingerprints on your brow

Tick tock clock in my head

I hear the tick tock of the clock tick in my head
And think I am dead,
Darkness of pre-dawn consuming me
And the room like a grave
There’s even the musty scent of turned earth
And the idea that light might never come
and we might spend an eternity hearing
The tick tocks and seeing the dark,
We who live and breathe between each tick’s stroke
Waiting for that one tick followed by silence
But the ticks never cease only our thoughts
Making us wonder if this is really what life
Is all about, the tick without the tock,
Telling us finally, the clock has stopped.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


I couldn’t speak
My mind ceased working
Standing there
With bullshit coming
Out of me
As my feet
Ached to flee
Me, the inept Bogart
unable to spit out
My most famous lines
It wasn’t the gun
She had aimed
At my head
I dreaded
I’m used to those
It was the shards of glass
in this femme-fatales’ eyes
And the look of contempt
She kept for those
Too weak to survive
The world in which
She’d survived for so long
Clawing her way to the top
Of every small ant hill,
Like this, taking
What she wanted
But rarely getting
What she needed,
spitting out men like me
like pits
Adding more shards
To a stare
That cut people open
Just to look at
People who always
Crawled away

Sunday, August 26, 2012


It doesn’t end
with the snap of a gavel
No jangle of keys
to take off the cuffs
Perhaps a crime in itself
In a world where
Every day you strive to survive,
Looking over your shoulder
For the blade aimed
between your shoulder blades
A crappy game
where most days
The dice come up snake eyes
Or sevens and elevens
When you need
To make a point
Can’t be innocent here
Of your get run over, run down
Or used up,
Can’t play dumb either
Or someone marks
you as a narc
You either wise up
and learn the rules
And play this game to win
Or you always lose

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Rain drops like pearls

Waiting for the rain
So I can go out
And walk in it,
To feel clean again
Even in this part
Of a dirty planet,
Rain drops
Unlike tear drops
Formed around
Specks of dust
Just the way pearls are
Each irritation in life
An invitation to grow
Each drop drenching
Me with potential,
Soaking me to the core
So I am never the same
When I get back,
The worst part
Is always the waiting
me opened up
and vulnerable
like an oyster
filled with specks of dust
I ache to shape
Into pearls

Al Sullivan's webpage

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A simple rule of thumb

My army drill instruction
Once told me
I no longer
Belong to myself
And gave me
A simple rule of thumb:
Speak when I am spoken to,
Do what I’m told to do
When I’m told to do it
No matter what it is
And never, ever
Think for myself
Unless I ask
Permission first,
And then, he added
With a wry smile,
I might just survive

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Mocking Bird

Gray dresses the sky
Outside the living room window
A car alarm rips open
The early morning hours
Then goes silent
It’s sputtering leaving room
For the mocking birds
Who now out of mating season
Cease their back flips
And take up the call
Of a cell phone
Ringing but never answered
Lacking even the wisdom
The car alarms have
To turn off when it is clear
No one is paying
Any attention.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


To exist or not
is one more tale
Told by an idiot
Whose feet stumbles
Through this neck
Of the woods
Waiting for a tree
To fall so as to know
for sure,
Keeping mum these days
So as to let life foster
Too much chatter
Chases the wild life away
Even my footfall
Over old leaves
Sounds as if I am
Breaking bones
I step with more care now
Hating to leave my mark
On such a sensitive place
Keeping silent
So as to become invisible
Coming and going
Just one more lost spirit
in a world of insane people
projecting their insanity
on me.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

No tears, just rain

The rain dribbles
off the awnings
As I wake
On this gray August morning
Dreams of flowers
And forgotten
Woodland paths
Fading into the cool
Reality of a wet world
A haunted world
Where I still limp
Like a wounded soldier
Lost in the limbo
Of past defeats
Having surrendered my will
To superior forces
My once righteous flags
Unfurled but limp at my side
Dripping not of tears or blood
Merely rain
Old hosts fading into memory
As I dream of peace
Craving for paths
Least trod upon
And the company
Of spirits.

Friday, August 17, 2012

A sip of wine?

a sip is enough
a taste of wine
on the tip of the tongue
to remind you,
no feast needed
for a starving man
no drunken revelry
just a taste
a sip
a memory

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The scent of roses

I could always smell the roses
When I was in the kitchen
Oozing up from that near-dead
Plant my grandfather
Put behind the house
Just after the family moved in
After the war
A decade before
I came to live there
A living poem
With withering limbs
And a scant handful
Of blooms sticking out
From the end of mostly
Dead branches
The plant somehow surviving
From season to season
Spouting up again
After each winter’s snow
Always managing
To push out a handful
Of flowers
Whose scent filled the air
And carried into the kitchen
Especially on very warm days,
A plant still there
After my grandfather died
And my grand mother
Moved out,
Still lingering in me
A living memory
Reborn each time I catch
A whiff of rose
On warm summer days,
Me still that little boy
Drenched in the scent
Of my grandparents’ love poem,
Seeing them still
Holding hands on the back porch
As sunset falls into evening
And then into the deepest dark
The scent of roses
All around them

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Bucket in the bushes

Where I stand,
I’ve stood before
like a scolded
kid at camp
who got caught
dumping water
on the camp
counselor’s head
feigning innocence
while hiding
the bucket in the bushes
sometimes I’m wrong
even when I’m right
cursing catastrophes
in other people
and pretending
nobody sees the bucket
that isn’t dripping water
but someone’s blood

Past and future

I wait for the text
That says you’re okay
Arrived where you
Said you would arrive
Even if I can’t keep
The same company you do
So distant it is difficult
To see the same landscape
Or feel the same air
The scent of green things
Growing around you
After living in such a barren world
Not hopeless just unproductive
Full of storms and dust
And hazy visions of the future
You now launched
Into some new endeavor
Marrying past and future
And I wait for the text to say
It all came out all right.

The sound of rain

The rain drums
its nervous fingers
On the awning
outside my window
Our lives filled
with mis-opportunities
And unrealized ambitions
But it is the sound of rain
That gives me pleasure
You can’t fake that feeling
As if some primitive
Excitement born
Out of the caves,
Making me shiver
And laugh
I ache to feel safe
Even when others
Tell me how sorry
I’ll be
Safe from the ravages
Of the storm
I know can’t touch me
Where I really live
Full of “sound and fury”
But no real threat
I feel clean
If just a little sad
Hearing the desperate
Whisper of the wind
And the voices
Of those still lost
In the midst of the storm
Holding nothing
But the cold wet air
Feeling nothing
But their own despair.

Monday, August 13, 2012

It wasn’t me this time

 I hate the idea of it
but it wasn’t me this time
The kid the cops caught
On fourth street
Trying to blow up
The mayor’s lawn ornaments
With gun powder
I made from my chemistry set
I spent a life time blowing things up
Just to see what things looked like
Pieces of pottery
Falling down around me
Like so much snow,
Knowing that this one time
I wasn’t the culprit
and hating the idea
that anyone might be,
air thick with the shards
of my unresolved guilt
glad that this one time
I’m not to blame
Sad that anyone is
After all these years
I ache to put
The pieces back together
And just can’t find them all
Or figure out
What order they go in.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Drift wood

Drift woods marks this shore line
Near the foot of this old bridge
The place I come to and think
Each stroke of water on the shore
Filling me up
The steady caress I need
At times like these
Water kissing these stones
And over time, melting away
The most stubborn rock
As it patience alone
Can ear away the mightiest fortress
Or make a man like me into a hero
This place filled with hope
And the scent of green
This time of year,
Sunsets drawing closed the curtains of night
A kiss before I sleep
Stirring up in me forgotten
Passions I feel deep inside
Even as I rise again to go.