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verse; experience; time; all together…

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Geoffrey Himes’s poetry has been published by December, the Delaware Poetry Review, Salt Lick, Chicory, the Baltimore City Paper and other publications. His song lyrics have been set to music by Si Kahn, Walter Egan, Pete Kennedy, Billy Kemp, Fred Koller, Tom Chapin, Steve Key, Jim Patton and others.  His book on Bruce Springsteen, Born in the U.S.A., was published by Continuum Books in 2005. His stage musical, A Baltimore Christmas Carol, broke box office records at the Patterson Theatre in Baltimore in 2004. He has written about popular music and theatre for the Washington Post, New York Times, Rolling Stone, Smithsonian Magazine, Paste, Downbeat, Sing Out and the Nashville Scene since 1977. He has been honoured for Music Feature Writing by the Deems Taylor/ASCAP Awards (2003, 2005, 2014 and 2015), the New Orleans Press Awards, the Abell Foundation Awards and the Music Journalism Awards.

Read the poems by Geoffrey Himes




It is a minimal arrangement:

three tall stalks and a fan of grass

in a narrow-necked, wide-bellied

Navajo vase.


The vase sits on the white mantle

over the cold-ash hearth,

next to a framed photo

of her son when he was healthy.


So there are four white blooms:

his face and the three calla lilies,

the last four ovals of shining

as the room darkens each evening.


This display, obviously intentional,

tells me everything I need to know.





With my belt loops around my ankles, I

sit on an oval hole in a green plastic box,

wondering, who cleans these latrines?

Who scrubs the seat and digs out the hole?

Who dons the tall boots and rubber gloves?


Let us gather stacks of gold coins. Let us

hand them to the woman who cleans latrines.

Let violins and trumpets play at the ceremony.

Let us present a golden trophy to he

who collects tolls in the diesel exhaust.

Make sure fresh-cut tulips are on the stage.

Let us place emerald necklaces over the heads of

ditch diggers, garbage collectors and cotton pickers.

Please invite all the mayors and bishops to watch.


Let the doctors and lawyers work for minimum wage.

Let only those who truly love

health and justice take those jobs.

Let the actor and singer and baseball player

make just enough to get by.

Are you afraid that people will stop

acting, singing and playing baseball?

Let the rich weep and wail that our plan is unfair.

Haven’t they told us for centuries that life is unfair?

I want to shake the hand of the coal miner.

I want to kiss the woman who cleans latrines.


I drop the toilet paper down the hole

into the darkness of shit and flies.





The best songs don’t hum

like an arrow to the target

but get bumped along the way.

The singer’s wobbly melody

is a flexing fishing rod.


The best songs don’t fall apart

but seem in danger of collapse.

The guitar skids ‘round the corner

but gets traction in the ditch

and climbs back on the pavement.


The best songs don’t hide in ice.

Fiddle notes pour from the tailpipe

in bouncing orange sparks.

The drums are chopping wood,

and the piano’s flicking matches.


The best songs don’t eat stale bread.

They eat polkas with hot peppers.

They eat two-steps with tabasco.

They pour whiskey on their waltzes

and absinthe on their graves.


Darling, this is our song.

When you’re perplexed

by the liquefying lawn,

count the knots as you pull

the string through your fingers.


Each knot is a quarter note.

The past is prologue.

The pulse is prophecy.

Tie new knots in between.

This is the best of all possible songs.





Ask yourself this: Is it easier

to walk up the mountain

or down the mountain?

That’s right. That’s why

water flows in one direction.

That’s why love flows downhill

from father to son to grandson.

Yeah, sure, the occasional salmon

will jump the waterfall

to climb the mountain,

but how many fish have such

inner power? That’s why

the father stares at the

silent phone. That’s why

the mother’s letter to her daughter

at school is full of advice and fears

in patient handwriting, while the

daughter’s letter home asks

for money in a hurried scrawl.

Ain’t no use to complain;

this is how love’s gravity works,

pushing downward, ever downward,

digging muscular roots

and only tentatively lifting

scrawny buds and leaves.





What the theists call the spiritual,

the realists know is just exotic.

What the fabulists call alchemical,

the lovers know as the erotic.


What lends lead to your pencil

can turn your sweat a glittery gold.

If you find the right utensil,

you can smooth the bitterest fold.


If you chip off the useless marble,

you’ll reveal the hidden sculpture.

If you rewrite the thrush’s warble,

you’ll invent a sudden culture.


Heaven is not where kindness starts,

despite what the priest alleges.

It’s kindled in our blindest hearts,

then it spreads out to the edges.


The quiet quality of mercy

is embodied in every finger.

They pour water when you’re thirsty,

rub your back when aches linger.


We enter through the portal skin

where our instincts all have sent us.

What the bishops call a mortal sin,

we know to be transcendence.





Yesterday the winds marched through

our neighborhood in a phalanx,

swinging their arms and knocking off limbs.

Today branches lie splintered

like wounded soldiers on the sidewalk.

If the circumference is fat enough

and the length short enough,

I stick the logs in my shoulder bag.


As I stack them by the hearth,

I tell my wife, “You’re lucky

to have a husband who

filches firewood from the rich

just to keep his baby warm.”

She rolls her eyes and says,

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

Her eyes roll around so much

it’s a wonder they stay in her head.

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