People would ask: 
Why don't you write 
about your feelings? 
But I don't have any 
I'd say, I drove  
the little bastards 

They made lousy tenants. 
They left their garbage  
in the halls and argued  
with each other through 
the windows of my soul. 
They were all fat 
and working class. 

I paid a torch 
to gut the tenement.  
They were jumping  
off of ledges to escape 
the smoke and heat. 
My brain 
became a den for 
every kind of dope. 

For a month now 
I've been kicking, 
and the feelings coming  
down made me raise my 
hand the other day in 
rehab and say: My feelings 
have come back.  I'm  

I'm raising my hand now. 
I'm qualifying here, in 
this poetry reading, this 
church of human frailty: 
years ago, I gave myself 
like a virgin to emotion 
and the asshole bit my neck. 

I binged for years, 
a cannibal vampire, 
on coldness. 

But today, without some trust, 
I'll die unknown to myself. 
I pray my feelings forgive me 
for all their homeless nights. 
The graveyard made them 
For all I know, they've gone 
to ex-cons, with angry 
tattoos on their arms. 

For all I know, 
after the burn-out 
they worked me  
like a street 
suckering strays 
through lonesome 

For all I know, 
they joyrided my heart 
into walls 
and stripped my hopes 
like hubcaps 
and threw the spare 
parts down a hole. 

Because, as I get behind 
my sobriety, and start 
the engine up,  
my courage sputters, 
my dreams are low on gas, 
and fate, like some 
dumb punk,  
had punctured 
my good years. 


Hobo Mouth 

I went to a dentist in Oakland 
He pulled out four of my teeth 
But first, he said: 
"Here's a toothbrush. A little  
brushing would avoid this 
Your mouth stinks like a  
goddamned hobo." 

I didn't say much.  As he went  
to work on me he talked  
of freight yards 
From the shape of my teeth 
and my sunbleached  
flannel shirt and Giants  
baseball cap I guess  
he thought  
I sleep in a boxcar 
or something 

When he tugged 
I didn't flinch.  He kept asking 
"Is that O.K.?" as he tore each  
bloody tooth loose from my head 
and I'd nod: "Sure" 
And when it was done I was so glad 
he didn't demand payment up front 
that I slipped out with a mumbled "thanks" 
and only gradually, as I rushed home 
did the shock of it set in   
Why, a good third of my smile was gone! 
What would Diane, my main squeeze think? 
That's what I mainly cared about 

Well, she didn't care 
Not so bad, she grinned 
You look like a  
tattooed and toothless 
pornographic  pirate 
which turned her on, 
I hope 

She  phoned 
some free clinics 
and dental schools around,  
told them I'm in need and got me  
an appointment  
to go have a bridge built for nothing 

And through all this 
I laughed 

I laughed  to split my sides 
you know, when things get hard 
I laugh till I cry 
and then laugh some more 

with the kind of laugh that makes 
skinny students face tanks in defiance 
of tyrants 

the kind of laugh that 
lifts up drunken homeless guys from gutters 
and presses cash into their fists 

a  laugh that fucks with love 
and sticks its howling head from freightcars doors 
to smell the flowers  
and I don't think it matters if 
my teeth rot or I never write a poem ever again 

It's the kind of laugh that amuses itself 
at the annihilation of the universe 

And you don't need white teeth for that 

American Cruiser 

It is a thirty-six passenger bus 
A tarnished silver bullet 
shot from the barrel of the past 
Anybody can afford to board it 
so only the poor do, the fugitive, the lost 

The rest fly 
The ones with credit cards, homes and jobs, 
friends and telephones and no time 
for the long, lonely roads of America 

It does not carry those 
who will not trust 
to sit beside a stranger in ragged clothes, 
who cannot endure a sufferer too long, 
those ragamuffin clowns and tattered acrobats 
who work the medicine shows and freak stalls 
around the American big top 

Once I flew above the ranges and mountains, 
the gas pump towns and speed traps 
where lives burn like ignited fuel 
with heat and stink and smoke 

Once, I pushed the button on my seat, 
reclined and gazed through a porthole 
at space as thin, blue and unlivable 
as my soul 

I descended to my appointments drunks 
but it was not just booze that sent me crashing 
through the tent 
I fell to see the land below, 
beneath the belly of the plane, 
the gameboard where fires burn ignored 

I fell to be reborn from 
the belly of a bus 

And at first the gloom and boredom 
of the trip was a punishment 
At first each mile was a year 

My pride rebelled against 
this crapgame of ravaged character 
this savage speeding palace of bad luck 

But then I looked into the eyes 
of those around me 
and they stared back with hunger -- 
pinched hankering in supermarket aisles, 
with the guilt of unmanicured fingers 
trailed larcenous along 
the rusted rim of bargain basement bins 

Their eyes gave back irises cracked 
and dulled by unobtainable shoes 
and even before I saw clear through to the  
psyches behind them (tracked like 
needle arms, running with shame sores  
and wounds of woodgrain alcohol) 
their eyes glowed with the uncontrolled 
horizontal roll of broken black 
and white TVs 

We barreled along at the speed limit 
encased in tons of tired metal 
on threadworn tires 
to destinations as unknown 
to us as the dust 
on Mars 

We were fugitive 
past houses with big deep dish satellite 
antennas and shiny economy cars 
parked in garages 
We peered, friendless, 
at steam-ironed people in pastel-colored 
summer clothes, gathered on lawns, 
with cocktail heads leaned close in gossip 

We peered envious  
at soap-scrubbed families leaving 
storybook churches for baseball 
picnics of chicken and potato salad 

We saw our own reflections 
pass in shop windows as 
we sped through Steven Spielberg 
suburbs where lovable, good-natured  
aliens with glowing fingers can land 
unharmed and share a child's bedroom 
but where cops would check our I.D.'s  
and throw us into lock-up for vagrancy 
if we didn't keep  
going, so we kept on going, 
and our heads sunk sad 
against the dying day 
burnishing the windowpanes 

I had time to think  
and unrelenting locomotion 

I had the names of towns to remember: 
Smith Mills, Belle Fontaine, Graysport, 
Grabell, Liverett, Cascilla Junction, 
Johnsonville, Sharky, Black Bayou, and 
Saints Rest 

I had steel mills in Pittsburgh 
Fairways in Bloomington 
Endless fields of Des Moines 
Prairies stitched with abandoned stagecoach trails 
around Larimer 
Simulated Wild West gunfights in Butte 
A million-to-one shot on a one 
hour stopover in Reno 

I had the old forties-make silver 
colored Airstream bus parked 
on rusted rims behind an Arbys 
in Salt Lake City, that I swore 
someday to come back and buy 

I had all that and sixty dollars 
rolled in a tight wad secured 
by a rubber band in my jeans pocket 

And I had the moment I woke 
somewhere on the California borderline 
at daybreak 
Around me lay 
cowhide-colored hills furred with heather 
and dimly outlined grazing cows 
and the Pacific sky chasing the night 
all the way to Asia 
I drew myself upright in my seat 
to collect myself for the ever- 
nearing end of the ride 
and as I had never known on other days, 
I had the morning 


(c) 1998, by Alan Kaufman 

ZC Poetry Page