Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Saturday, December 20, 2008


small desperation in
pale blue afternoon light

cop on fire, but
too far away to offer
any warmth

do you believe that nothing
can be solved with

do you believe in anything?

it’s a pointless question
in a house of broken mirrors

all clocks remember the
moment of your birth

they have all seen the
details of your death

count backwards from 1,000,000

scrape the ice from
every december windshield

man stands there in the street

raises his arms in
and is shot to death

small minds build
flawed houses

i lived there for 20 years
without incident

phone rang every day but
no one ever answered

no one left a message

found her on the
other side of the country
long after i’d stopped looking
with pictures of her child
and pictures of her husband
and we didn’t quite touch

filled the space between us
with too many words
while evening fell

arrived at the truth, finally
but by then it
wasn’t worth shit

Thursday, December 11, 2008


It's back, and who are you to deny it? All relevant info is in the link. E-mail me w/ questions, comments and/or faint praise.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008


somewhere in the dark
cross the line between lover
& apprentice
between angel & whore

cross your heart

believe the prettiest lies

in the morning,
i’m afraid to get out of bed

i need sound, or
at least noise

this desk drawer that
holds all of her letters

this poem that bleeds

that leaves a mess on
the dining room table

no flowers

no mirrors

keep the doors locked and
the phone unplugged

smell of sex still
on my fingers

stand perfectly still

breathe in stale air
and grey light

all despair causes cancer

all starving children
are as good as dead

grab what you
hold most dear and wait

Sunday, November 30, 2008

was kissed by ghosts, was weeping

find the ocean just inches
below the desert's surface &
then wait for rain

this is the kingdom of false prophets

these are the bones of old lovers

no one here
wants to be your friend,
but being an enemy has value

wars cannot be fought
without cowards

children cannot be raped
without the cold embrace of priests

what matters isn't the truth,
but how pretty the
lies can be made to sound

what matters is power

the shame of being poor is a gift
given freely by the rich

houses built by the hands of
beggars can only fall

you will stand naked in
the ruins of everything you've
never owned and wait like a dog
for the kindness of strangers

Saturday, November 22, 2008


lovers w/out faces
or else

towers of metal
connected by thin wires

vast empires

you open your door
and find the ocean

woman in the bed
behind you says stay

choices are like bones
or like promises, but
only because both
can be broken

sky is the color
of sunlit dust

breathe in the
whole of the empire

Saturday, November 08, 2008


in the end
i say nothing

walk down this empty street instead
into the face of pale broken sunlight with
the lesser bones of priests ground into
fine powder beneath my feet

with the mother of my children
begging god for forgiveness

empty sounds from a bleeding mouth
empty hands cut off at the wrists
because the idea of war cannot be
considered w/out the idea of pain

the forest is where you run
only after all of
the cities have burned

being lost is what comes
after being alive

Thursday, October 23, 2008

MK Chavez/John Sweet, “Next Exit: Nine” (KSE no. 112), now available

The ninth and second-to-last installment in Kendra Steiner Editions' "Next Exit" series of chapbooks—-a series devoted to poems rooted in a strong sense of place—- is now available. MK Chavez (from Berkeley, California) and John Sweet (from New York state) are friends and also admirers of each other's work, so pairing them for a joint chapbook seemed like a natural. MK and John write about beauty and pain in styles that are rich yet understated, jagged yet warm, and ultimately disquieting. The people whose lives they document in their work are human versions of the blades of grass that somehow manage to grow through the cracks in the asphalt. Travel the desert backroads where Gram Parsons spent his last hours; walk through a world of domestic violence and pickup truck gun racks; take a sobering trip to San Quentin; taste the stolen and desperate kisses; harvest the empty garden.

Eleven brand-new poems written specifically for this project from two of the most distinctive American poets—poems that perfectly capture 2008 America.

MK Chavez is the author of Virgin Eyes (Zeitgeist Press) and Visitation (Kendra Steiner Editions) and an active participant in the San Francisco/Bay Area poetry community. She is a poet greatly admired by her colleagues and has been a joy to work with on her two KSE projects.

John Sweet, author of the much-acclaimed Human Cathedrals (Ravenna Press), has been an important voice in the alternative poetry world for at least 15 years. His blog and more recently his myspace page have been offering powerful, expertly crafted new poetry on a regular basis. Recent collections of his work include False Hope, Between Truth and Mercy, and World Without Sound. John is a true artist, and it has been an honor to work with him on this project.
Don't miss this one, folks. These Next Exit chaps generally sell out in 8 weeks or so. $4 US/ $5 elsewhere (postpaid).Ordering information can be found at:


Friday, October 17, 2008

keeping score

takes the dog out late at night,
lets it shit in the neighbor’s yard

full moon, middle of october

siren at the firehouse
without warning

river of bones
flowing toward the interstate

oceans of blood,

Friday, October 10, 2008


says to me says jesus rides again like
we both believe there are lions in the holy land
like we both assume that all
children will grow up

september you see and the hazy light of
10:00 a.m. the screams of birds
and i have given up on prayer have stopped
memorizing the names of saints

wish only that the days were warmer

that i had answers for all of the
obvious questions gathering like dust in the
corners of my living room

and so i believe in the roots of trees in
fingers crawling through the dirt to wrap
around forgotten bones and so i come to you
with a handful of heartfelt lies

i turn away from my mother from my sister
in shame and in blindness

the doors of their houses
stand open against the cold

the mornings here are
nothing like the mornings of my childhood

being afraid of every last
fucking thing should be enough

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

a subtle disease

drank what you offered but it
tasted like blood and so i asked for more

the joke is obvious
but never clear

the house is made of
dust and hatred

found the room we used to share

found the candles and the rope and
once you grow tired of discussing memory
you can start talking about the truth

once the distance between
faith and hope is halved
the hostages are executed one by one

not every valiant cause needs to
become a reason for war

Sunday, September 28, 2008

my future self before a mirror

it was just like you to be
lost in this nation of ambiguous pain,
to be frightened of the obvious

it was almost october

midnight, hot as hell, and the wind
blowing dead leaves &
empty garbage cans down tracy street

sound of someone crying

all of the walls you knocked down,
only to end up
with nowhere to call home

Friday, September 19, 2008

the age of arrogance, endlessly

this point i reach where i
no longer love anything or anyone

these ideas that were supposed to matter

not the house on fire but the man inside

the child asleep and
the mother driving away and
do we really need to have our faces
pressed into the blood
and the filth?

but we deserve it

i remember you wearing your
faith like a corpse

i remember your hands and your mouth

a sunlit room on the
edge of town and the sky like it
knew it would outlive us

the certainty that
mistakes had been made

that none of us were beautiful

none of us worth saving

broken glass everywhere

Monday, September 15, 2008


The flavor of John Sweet's first full length book, Human Cathedrals, mocks the writer's name; there is an utter absence of sugar. Salt is shot—sometimes heaped—in wounds, some gaping and bleeding, some disfigured with scars crisscrossing, and some still waiting infliction.

Behind the understated, slate cover of Human Cathedrals lie frequent references to the color grey and slight variations thereof: purplegrey, bluegrey, yellowgrey, pale grey and every shade of grey in between. At the brightest end of John Sweet’s spectrum, we have a half dozen mentions of blue. From The New Merriam-Webster Dictionary: blue adj. 2: melancholy; also: depressing. One is left to contemplate a conceivable connection between the cover’s complexion and the content beneath it.

Spending an afternoon in Human Cathedrals is like finding a camera at an estate sale with a roll of film still inside. When the film is developed, a slice of someone’s life tears through the skin and into the deepest cellar of belief. Repeat appearances of specific body parts grace these snapshots: thirteen mentions of hands, eight of bones, six of the heart, four of the throat, three of fingers, two of lips, skin, closed eyes, sharp teeth and a skull, one of the ribcage, neck, tongue, wrist, fist and spine.

Behind the black veil of the human cathedral, desperation, anger, failure, guilt, confusion, terror, sorrow and self destruction rumble through the poet’s tug-of-war with faith. From de chirico’s lament: "...and if i give my son only one gift in his small beautiful life it would be the word escape"; from myself a father: "...for this reason alone i place my foot on the throat of god and press...", and in the book’s opener, waiting for the day to begin: "...and it’s not an answer i’m after here but a voice loud enough to drown out my own".

Occasionally we glimpse, always from a distance, an altruistic bond to his wife and son, though within him there seems to exist detachment from the two he most reveres. Sweet presents us with a collection of raw snapshots—a boy lit on fire, the carnage of war, runaway teens, the cremation of his father shortly before his wedding, men leaving their children, abused girlfriends, suicide, alcoholism, starving mothers and ill children—a succinct and graphic exhibit of destruction.

The confessions shared in Human Cathedrals are long on suffering, short in length; it is almost as if Sweet could not endure his desperation for more than a page at a time. Although the poems sting while entering the bloodstream, you will be drawn, again and again, to the candid cathedral of human desolation offered by the shadow of John Sweet. Owning the book is like carrying a mysterious, beautiful stone in your pocket—you are never quite certain whether you’ve been cursed or blessed.

- Shelly Reed

Saturday, September 06, 2008

the same story

she is talking
about her thirteenth year

about her mother's lover

the sound of his footsteps
as she lay in bed

the press of his weight
just outside her door


it's the same story told
a thousand different ways

it's the boyfriend who
passed her on to his buddies
for beer or pot or a
new set of tires

it's everything
she was forced to do


and she is talking
about love

she is saying
she believes

is saying she doesn't
want to be alone

tells me she doesn't
expect meto understand

Thursday, August 28, 2008

early afternoon, waiting for dawn

stand at the back door and
call for your children
in the last light of day

find your lover in a
pale blue room and tell her
you don’t love her anymore

tell her the earth is dying

tell her anything

wait for her answer until
the air becomes too
dark to breathe

Thursday, August 21, 2008


and then creeley dies and
then thompson,
and then someone decides that
rothko’s bones need to be
dug up and moved

first warm day of spring,
and the woman across the street
is standing topless in an
upstairs window

the hole in my back yard is
six feet deep and
ten across,
and it’s no small challenge
crucifying saviors

kill one
and two more spring up

change the station and
whatever song you find sucks
as much as the one you
left behind

nothing worth dying for,
but the man across the street
stands in his driveway
with a gun

laughs at the children when
they run away

isn’t there when his son jumps
the forty feet from the
bridge into the river, but it
probably wouldn’t have
made much of a difference
even if he was

the truth is easiest
when it costs you nothing

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

poem from a distance

never told you i loved you and
the days crawled by
without meaning or warmth

never held my father's ashes

never tasted them

forgot his face for my 30th birthday and
remembered instead
the women i'd fucked in the year
before he died

thought about his cup of coffee
growing cold on the kitchen counter
while he lay on the floor

wanted to call you but
you were gone

wanted to touch you
but the moment had passed

stood in the hall while my
sister said good bye

Saturday, August 16, 2008

a sort of grace

and he is
tired of empty rooms,
and he is tired of falling
down stairs

he is tired

he is bleeding

one or the other

find him there on his
scarred and dirty floor

offer him your hand

let him feel the
warmth of your breasts

let him die

consider the obvious
burden of compassion

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

books books books and books

A fine selection of angst, self-pity and post-industrial malaise.

the poet takes his place in the actual world

fuck this idea of
poetry reaching back to
embrace the past

i will not worship
the martyred or the immortal

it's enough to be stuck in
this town of defeated old men
as they shuffle aimlessly
up and down anonymous streets

it's enough to watch the
factories burn

and i have driven in every direction
and i have seen nothing but
more of the same
and i am only waiting for the news
that reagan is dead

i am only waiting to hear
from a friend
who hasn't written in a decade
that all is forgiven

and i have a job that will never be
anything worth describing
and i have a son who will someday
want nothing more than to
escape his father

what i give you hear is a
pale blue november sky bleached
to white at the edges

the drone of a plane and the
sound of wind through bare trees
and there is a house of
delicate bones in this picture
that i call my home

there is a river that holds
the body of
a fifteen year-old boy

it doesn't bother me that i've
outlived him
but maybe it should