The Story of My Life

Autobiography: after Lawrence Ferlinghetti

I am leading a quiet life
in my place every day
watching a pride
of domesticated lions fight
for no good damned reason.
I am leading a quiet life
on Outlook Street
in Mission, Kansas,
half a continent away
from the town
where I was born
in Maryland, north of DC.
I am an American.
I am white and in the middle class.
I am middle-aged and soft
around the middle
in the middle of America.
I am fair to middlin’
as my granddad would say.
I have no right
to write about race
but I should
listen and listen and listen
and really hear.
I was an American boy.
I flunked out of Cub Scouts
in the suburbs.
I thought I was Han Solo
staring at stars
on my back
in the Great Plains
dreaming of piloting spaceships.
I had a baseball mitt
but couldn’t catch.
My Huffy 10-speed
took me out
of the driveway and on
to the gridded streets
of Longmont, Colorado
where I rode over
every inch of that town
and further still to Lyons
and across the Foothills Highway
to Boulder and then
the flat ride home.
I delivered the Daily Times-Call
at 4 in the afternoon
and 5 in the morning
on weekends.
How gray the ink
stained my hands
how strong the newsprint
scented my clothes
how heavy the weight
of the papers I carried
as I left our front porch
and how light
I felt on the walk home.
How that was work
and I came to know it young.
I had an unhappy childhood
yet it is hard to remember
mixed with the splendor
of aspen leaves.
I watched rockets on TV
and built my own to launch
on the football field.
I never got caught stealing.
I laid sewer pipe
in North Carolina summers
for $4.75 an hour
to pay for college.
I went to college
where Thomas Wolfe did
and when I look homeward
I don’t know what direction to face.
I attended three different schools
by the time I turned seven.
I served in no army
and saw no combat.
I worked third shift
at a Hilton in Charlotte.
I stayed awake all night
to balance accounts
and plunge toilets.
I protested the Gulf War
in Lafayette Park.
George Bush did
not notice me.
I marched from
the White House
to the Capitol steps
and at day’s end
slept at a Hilton
because the room was free.
I marched in parades
carrying a big bass drum
behind the farting trumpeters.
I am rereading
The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
and my Facebook news feed.
I am watching
the Kansas City Royals
play in the World Series
for the second year in a row.
I have heard the Ginsberg Address
and the Victor Smith Address.
I like it here
and I won’t go back
where I came from
because I cannot
decide where that is.
I too have ridden airlines buslines trainlines
and traveled among
unknown men and women
and never once
not been in America.
I read the Bible
but doubt the flood.
I don’t know where I was
when Rome was built.
I have been an ass.
I have kissed a girl
in a rainstorm
and made love in an ocean
and watched a sunrise
from a mountaintop
completely alone.
I have wandered lonely
in a crowd.
I am leading a quiet life
in my place every day
watching trees change clothes
after dyeing them crimson.
I have never set out
to walk around the world
but I have run for miles
and keep thinking
about doing it again.
Room weary
I stress
I have unraveled.
I have seen Funky Town.
I have seen the crass mess.
I have heard Stevie Ray Vaughan render.
I have heard guitars teach.
I have heard Tom Waits
in Saint Louis.
I slept in a starred hotel in Times Square
and in a flea trap in Denver
and I know why nobody steals
the towels from a Motel 6.
I am leading a quiet life
in my place every day
reading résumés résumés résumés
trying to fill jobs
so rich men can make
money money money
telling machines
to tell people what to do.
I am the Classifieds section.
I sell a dream and I take my cut.
My office is at the crossroads.
I see another war is coming
and I see we have not
finished the last three.
The writing on the wall
writes itself these days.
Kilroy got that vacation
he wanted all this time.
I think he took his dog.
I stick to the alleys,
the streets are not safe.
They took away
all of the Plymouths,
the Oldsmobiles,
the Pontiacs, too.
What is a man
to drive these days?
I have driven the interstates
and crossed the Continental Divide
and wallowed in the woods of Chapel Hill
rebuilding a life.
I saw the towers
fall on television
when I was unemployed
and broke. I had a bad feeling.
It lasted eight years.
I am too goddamned young to die.
I moved to Kansas City
for a woman
who did not want me.
I stayed and found
the one who does
more days than not.
I am leading a quiet life
in my place every day
contemplating futility and joy.
I am a part
of the world’s quick decline.
I have stared at night skies
in pastures and through trees.
I have written poems that I have burned.
I have leaned in drunken doorways.
I have sat on rocks.
I have suffered and I have loved
and I have sung at full voice
all of the words to I Want
You to Want Me.

I have seen the paintings
of the Wyeths and Warhol, Rothko,
Stanton MacDonald-Wright,
Jackson Pollack and Frida Kahlo,
Caravaggio, a Rodin sculpture of a hand
thrusting out of
a rip in space. I have seen them.
I am a man.
I am leading a quiet life
in my place every day
mowing the lawn
and watching leaves change.
I will be there when
the last leaf falls this year
and it will mean something
that I will write down
and scratch out
for being trite.
I will rake the leaves
with Donald Hall
and have a talk with
whatever happens next
in its dark and tattered robes
and ask it for a favor
you know just for me
to take its fucking time.

© Shawn Pavey, 2015. All rights reserved.

We Are Martians

Tread Marks on Mars

So cold there, and dry.
Scientists know this, know it from data
transmitted on radio waves
from bits of metal and plastic
blasted into space, hurtled to Mars.
Hurled like so many stones at abandoned shack windows.
Hurled by children wanting a sound of shattering.

Air is thin but there is wind enough to brush tread
imprints in red dust bare, in time.

How strange the hum of electric servos must sound
whirring in such thin atmosphere,
how drill bits eating old stone squeal
finding traces of water.

Could be there were ponds of it,
rivers of it. Seas.

There, now, sky just leaks away
and we are there watching from here
this heating, warring earth.

© Shawn Pavey, 2015. All rights reserved.

Cicada Poem: another piece from Nobody Steals the Towels From a Motel 6

Dissonance, Late August

Larval husks litter the fence
hang from tree bark and porch railings
discarded amber of the earth from which they emerged
after 17 years of gnawing roots of trees
to unfurl gossamer wings, to fly.

In evenings after work these last few weeks
I shut off the engine and open my car door
to a sound loud enough to stop thought
like fire alarms in office towers
and stare into the canopy of old trees
around my old house, my bad eyes
unable to make out their shapes
against the summer green of silver maple
and sweet gum leaves

singing and mating and trenching tree bark
laying eggs, setting up a world for their children
who will hatch to migrate with gravity into cool soil
and burrow deep to eat and sleep and wait and wait and wait.
The dying fall as we all will.

© Shawn Pavey, 2015. All rights reserved.

Another poem from Nobody Steals The Towels From A Motel 6




I read about a soundproofed room

so silent that no person lasted

more than 45 minutes within it


silence so complete that

internal psychologies break down.


It starts with an awareness of breath.

Ears ring.  Blood pulses pulses pulses in veins.

Heart pumps its thud and thunder.

Muscles slip noisily about under skin.

Food gurgles through the digestive track.

Joints creak and grind, creak and grind.


Then, hallucinations.

Without data, the mind makes its own.

Poem from Nobody Steals the Towels From a Motel 6


I wish I could tell you
the story of the world,
how sun and moon
gained dominion
over day and night,
how land raised up
and sea settled low.

I would tell you how
stars were born, how
birds learned to dance in wind,
how fish breathe water, how
fire surges from spark.

I wish I could tell you
how man shed the animal inside,
but the story of the world shows
man, standing
on two legs, fists clenched;
inventing – first – blade,
not plow.

© Shawn Pavey, 2015

Title Poem in a KC Poetry Anthology

This is the title poem in an anthology released in April of 2017 by Spartan Press. A version of this first appeared on the now defunct in 2010.

Finding Zen in Cow Town

In Kansas City’s Union Station,
monks gathered to shake
colored sand that would become not sand,
but Mandala.

And here – pay attention now –
here is where it gets interesting:
a boy, three, maybe four,
saunters under the cordons
to do a little soft shoe
while monks ate, one assumes,
a simple meal.

Intricate designs and sharp, colored lines –
some no wider than a single small grain –
became the dust and scuffle of a child’s wilding abandon.

When asked, on the news that night,
what he thought of the security footage
of the child’s sand dancing, of the mother’s
quick grab and fast retreat, a monk replied, smiling,
We swept it up and started over.
We will just have to work faster now.

In a few days, in an unveiling ceremony,
attendees marveled
ooh and ahh.

After all of the cameras packed away,
monks swept the second attempt
into a sacred vessel and poured it
into the waters of the Missouri
for good fortune.

The mandala, you see, is like this poem
we find ourselves in this very moment;
the letters of each word, a grain of colored sand.
Dance in it, kick it around under
the soles of your feet.
Sweep it up.
Pour it in the river.

Let it all wash out to sea.

© Shawn Pavey, 2017

Today’s Poets Breathe Through America Like Born-Again Punkers: An Examination of One Instance of One Literary Road Trip Out of Thousands of Literary Road Trips Occuring On Any Given Day in the U, S, & A

Jason Preu telling it like it is.

Jason Preu

I’m on the floor, afloor, the floor.A floor in an apartment in Pittsburgh, PA and it is glorious. The night before I was on a couch in a house in Parma, OH, just outside of Cleveland. The night before I was in the back seat of a white Chevy Impala traveling from a Belle, MO still-flooded all around from torrential rains earlier in the week, muddy Gasconade River hungering for more life, fuckers, yet, somehow, the literary gods smiled down upon this trip, and opened an eastbound route out of Belle around 8PM, which we used to hightail it to the Red Carpet Inn in Monroe, IL, and where I fall asleep at 2AMish in a bed mercifully free from bed bugs.

The scene is this:John Dorsey, Poet Laureate of Belle, MO, and all around indie poet tour de force (his 50th book just released last month) sits…

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Hollow Point by Shawn Pavey

Another one up at Rusty Truck!

Rusty Truck

Because bullets don’t kill well enough
manufacturers hollow them
to blossom in penetrated flesh
even though last night
10 police officers and two civilians
were shot in Dallas
where five officers died
and the day before, two black men
were shot to death by police officers
on video live-streamed to everyone
even though 100 people in Orlando
were shot while dancing last month
and poor little Tamir Rice
and Trayvon Martin
and Michael Brown
and all the names and all the names
and all the names this poem could be filled with
from Sandy Hook San Bernardino Charleston
Littleton Columbine Ft. Hood
names of innocents
and names of police officers
whose places at dinner tables across America
are empty and empty rooms of soldiers
killed so far from home
and empty beds in Pakistan Afghanistan Syria Iraq
all these names a hollow poem
its endless reams of pages on pages

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