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1.7k · Oct 2018
The Cemetery
Joseph S Pete Oct 2018
The tour group meandered
through silent monuments
of marble, limestone, and granite,
both grandiloquent and pedestrian,
both a signal of worldly prominence
and all those left behind could
scrape together on short notice.

They stopped by the grave of
a once-famed ragtime composer,
the still resting place of a musician
who had been all
banging syncopation and boisterous clamor.

The lyrics of his most famous song
were etched onto the memorial
lovingly in reverent tribute
with the presumption of indelible finality.

But the words were so blurred,
so bled with the rot and rust of weather and neglect
you could no longer make them out.
Perhaps it was a simple failure to scrub
the accursed headstone clean.
Perhaps it was the inexorable stain of time
that could never truly be lifted.

In the end, it was all the same,
all the same,
the same freighted symbolism
all the same.
1.4k · Sep 2018
Labor Day
Joseph S Pete Sep 2018
The gruff factory worker
in the coarse leather boots
and stained zubaz pants,
yelped with displeasure
when the tour guide of
the Pullman company town
revealed himself to be a
PhD candidate in English
during a Q-and-A.

He questioned his credentials,
dismissed him as overeducated,
as soft-palmed, not of his caste,
loudly declared that he was
just another bureaucrat in waiting.

"Institutions just exist to perpetuate
themselves; they don't care about
the people, just about keeping
themselves alive," he theatrically
confided to his friend,
wanting to make sure he heard him,
took note of his flagrant, raging skepticism.

"They got to pay the lawyers."

"All these institutions, they don't care about the workers."

We strode on, amid the shadowed reaches of the empty train car factory the owners long ago abandoned to the rustling prairie,
left to the wind and weeds and elements.
1.2k · Nov 2018
Thanksgiving
Joseph S Pete Nov 2018
As an IU Bloomington student,
I frequently made the drive back to
the fraying rusty fringe of Chicagoland,
the land of greasy-dappled gyro joints,
of Italian Beef, and Italian Sausage,
and Italian Beef and Sausage.

Some described it as one of the most boring drives
in America, lamenting the flatness and unvarying
scenery, but I always drove it under the shroud of darkness.

Nine Inch Nails, My Life With the Thrill **** Kult, and
the Revolting ***** spilled through the stereo.
Al Jourgensen growled his strange Rod Stewart cover,
his ode to crack-*******, and his heavy industrial soundtrack
that makes you feel tense, like a prime time victim show.

As the aggressive beats and resonant past washed over me,
I realized my cozy hometown offered comfort
but could sustain no credible
fantasies of the future.
937 · Oct 2017
Binge Watch
Joseph S Pete Oct 2017
Holy hell,
this show is insane,
riveting, complexed, nuanced,
compelling, captivating, addictive,
he proclaimed
on Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook,
wondering where the days went,
wondering what unforeseen abyss swallowed him whole.
664 · Jun 2017
Thanks Dad
Joseph S Pete Jun 2017
On the day when I compose
The Best Man Speech for my brother's wedding,
Quoting Lin Manual-Miranda,
Practicing quoting "love is love is love"
In the bathroom mirror,
As I forcefully gesticulate for the triumphant finale,
That little seed of self-doubt creeps in.

I haven't done enough, haven't accomplished enough.
I need to write some poems; I need to submit more.
I'm published widely; I haven't been published in a week.
It isn't good enough; it's never good enough.
I'm never good enough.
As Radiohead said, I've given it all I've got,
And yet,
I'm never good enough.
Joseph S Pete Apr 2017
Topolobampo, Xoco, Xoco River North,
Frontera Grill, Frontera Fresco, Fonda Frontera,
Tortas Frontera, Frontera Cocina,
Lena Brava, Cruz Blanca,
Red O.

PBS specials, Michelin stars and public cooking demos
be ******,
that's too many, right?

Load up your guac with all the pork belly and pepitas
you want.
Star in a self-indulgent Lookingglass Theatre play.
Soak up the accolades of being a culinary genius
more than a Jalisco-style slow-braised goat
sits in its own juices.
But hey man, come on,
give us a break.
Joseph S Pete Mar 2019
Bukowski penned drunken, *****, barroom poetry,
verse as rough as his leathery face, a visage chapped by hard living.

The idolized poet of the lost, the forgotten and misbegotten,
the drunkards, the damaged and the denizens of skid row,

recounted in an interview how he went to The Playwright bar
in Los Angeles, drinking there at least four or five times.

They eventually eighty-sixed him, kicked him to the curb
when he demanded to know if anyone there was a playwright,

accused them of false advertising, raised a veritable ruckus.
It was just another dive. Maybe he was being a little dramatic.

But maybe at the jagged edge, you need a little fire in your blood,
a willingness to throw down over matters of little consequence.
Joseph S Pete Apr 2019
Long lines at midnight, breathless hype,
shiny sheen, the high gloss of marketing,
cosplay and balletic spoiler avoidance,
slammed multiplexes, overloaded ticket sites,
Croesus-like CGI kissing earnest steady-cam shots,
fan service, callbacks, countless punches.

Childhood idols fleshed out
on the grandeur of the silver screen,
writers room noodling netting billions
long after all the shaggy boho creatives
that originated it all were lowered
into the loamy maw of anonymous grave plots.

There's a degree of validation for the pasty
and hopeless, the low and lowdown
in watching a distinguished professional legend
pretending to be Bartoc the frickin Leaper
as though it's not silly, as though all
your idle moments, all your random diversions
really matter in the end, as though it all ties up
with a master-planned through-line of purpose,

as though it all mattered when you avidly read
about Iron Man, Hercules and Giant Man punching
out the red-shirt Skrulls (or was it the Krees?) on some spaceship
for a few minutes back at your grandmother's house
back before she was dead, before you were consumed
with the caustic sting of bitterness and bile, all the
accrued weight of a life generally but pleasantly wasted.
480 · Sep 2017
Potempkin State
Joseph S Pete Sep 2017
Indianapolis bleats and blares and protests too much
that the Hoosier state is an idyllic business paradise
with low taxes, low costs, low unemployment, low everything.

Indiana’s the Walmart of… wait, don’t fret about those woefully low wages,
the Indiana Chamber of Commerce reassures struggling, undernourished souls.
The low cost of living means that scant pittance isn’t really as bad as it seems.

Yet, all the blather and palaver and ideological would-you-rather
somehow fails to stem the ongoing, bleeding, gushing
exodus of the college educated out of state to scattered scintillating cities.

Propaganda engines like the Indiana Economic Development Corporation
trumpet all these purported jobs at some factory or warehouse or call center,
yet years later, a TV reporter stands in an empty field that never got developed.
377 · Jun 2017
George Saunders
Joseph S Pete Jun 2017
George Saunders is a better writer than I could ever be,
Such an incisive observer of the modern condition,
So witty and urbane,
A satirist with staying power.
Everybody loves a writer who’s legit funny.
It’s the Cinnamon and sugar in the oatmeal of reading.

George Saunders is smarter than me.
Dude is a bona fide scientist
Who earned a degree of geophysical engineering
From one of the STEMiest of STEM schools.
I was an English Major, and even English Major nerd god
Garrison Keillor rags on us as likely to someday ask
If you’d like fries with that.

George Saunders has lived a more adventurous life than me.
He was an engineer who worked on pipelines in Sumatra
And regales NPR types with his tales about venturing
Headlong into a monkey ****-contaminated river.
He’s thatched roofs, pulled knuckles at a slaughterhouse,
Rang up purchases at a 7-Eleven.
Saunders proposed to his wife after three weeks.

George Saunders is more distinguished than me.
His list of awards is endless.
Guggenheims, MacArthur genius grants, PEN/Malamud Awards,
A gaggle of National Magazine Awards,
The ******* Lannan Foundation.
Everyone has honored the guy.
I've got a bronze pig and some plaques.

George Saunders is more beloved than I am.
He addresses graduating classes all over the country.
Everyone man, woman and child has read “Sea Oak.”
Every man, woman and child loves “Sea Oak.”
It’s taught in every college in the country.
It’s about as perfect as a short story can get.

Realistically, I’ll never be as good a writer as George Saunders,
Yet the brilliance he pours forth into the world
Inspires me to write.
330 · Feb 2018
Empty Desks
Joseph S Pete Feb 2018
You’re at a journalism conference
a few years back,
a welcome bit of professional development
that's become increasingly rare
in a time of budgetary leanness,
a rote exercise
whose attendance was padded
by college students, deep discounts
and last-minute appeals.

A speaker said,
look to your left and to your right.
The number of working reporters
has shrunk by a third over the last decade.
Only two-thirds of you are left.

After the last round of layoffs,
another slash of the scalpel
that seems unsustainable,
that seems to bleed off too much,
you notice all the empty desks,
all the absent computers,
how sparse the parking lot looks.
312 · Apr 2017
Opening Day
Joseph S Pete Apr 2017
Excitement burbled among the masses
As they crushed through the turnstiles
In their off-the-rack jerseys and faded caps.

Pewter clouds teared, tarp blanketed the field,
Not a single pitch was thrown out on this semi-religious holiday.

But fans' spirits were hardly dampened by the rain delay.
The game would be played later,
And something had changed in the air.

Win or lose,
Cowhide slapped into leather.
The odor of sausages wafted off the grill.
Bats cracked hopefully,
Electricity crackled through the bleachers.

That old ballpark magic
Conjured enough ambiance
To swallow a lazy summer whole.
309 · Jul 2018
The Boy Who Cried Fake News
Joseph S Pete Jul 2018
"Fake news, fake news!"
The boy cried fake news every time a story
failed to paint him in the most positive possible light,
neglected to deify him in the most sunny way.
He denounced, decried and denigrated
reporters who would check with two more sources
if their moms claimed to love them
the way their ink-stained forebears did.
He attempted to discredit truth-seekers
who actually had stricter codes of ethics than doctors,
cops, actuaries,  
any profession really.

The callow boy cried fake news so much that
his most loyal followers shouted “fake news” out car windows
at TV reporters reporting on alligators that crossed the street,
fired drive-by potshots at newsrooms out of sheer lunacy.
The boy cried fake news so much
that he did protest too much, that his cries sounded fake,
that his credibility strained
against the press corps who produced
backing documents, audio recordings and multiple sources.
The boy cried fake news so much
it degenerated into cliche and ceased to mean anything at all.

The boy cried fake news at a time when the news
felt financial pressured into running clickbait articles like
“Eight Hanukkah Lessons I Learned from
Smoking a Menorah ****”
or the “12 Most *** Days of Christmas.”
Joseph S Pete Aug 2017
The Congressman said fluoride in the tap water would effectuate Sharia law.
The Congressman said immigrants would hire water sommeliers.
The Congressman said immigrants open froyo shops on every corner.
The Congressman said immigrants suckled like a dewy, famished baby.
The Congressman said terrorists suckled on the **** of welfare and secretly ran things.
The Congressman said Season 2 of The Wire was the best one, beyond question.
The Congressman said net neutrality would stifle board game night, blot out the imagination.
The Congressman said that true patriots were never neutral.
The Congressman said that drag queens were using the library, checking out books.
The Congressman said Taco Tuesday was fake news, a grand globalist conspiracy.
The Congressman said big government was coming for your houseplants and moist towelettes.
The Congressman said big government was the enemy.
The Congressman said terrorists were the enemy.
The Congressman said immigrants were the enemy.
The Congressman said the other was the enemy.
The Congressman said anyone who would order $7 avocado toast was the enemy.
The Congressman said anyone who read newspapers was the enemy.
The Congressman said that anyone who fact-checked a politician’s statements was the enemy.
The Congressman said enemies would burn the Constitution in a pile of seized towelettes.
The Congressman’s challenger said she got death threats and promptly dropped out.
The Congressman said she was lying, there were no threats.
The Congressman said she was really a liar all along.
The Congressman said he had tried to warn everyone.
292 · Apr 2017
The Zine
Joseph S Pete Apr 2017
The zine entailed a ton of work
that mostly went unnoticed.

He printed, folded, stapled
a slapdash publication few appreciated.

Stacked ten-deep, it festered unread in coffee shops,
indie bookstores, craft breweries.

A zinester isn't daunted by obscurity.
After all, a zinester is never voiceless.
Joseph S Pete Apr 2017
The biggest regrets of my literary life
Are not the rejections
Where I could have maybe slightly
Improved nearly impossible odds
With a little more effort or polish.

The biggest regrets are
Gone and buried literary journals
I felt a kinship with
But never mustered the fortitude
To submit to.

While in college,
I should have sent poems or short stories
To Canvas, Bathtub Gin, and a host of
Other ephemeral publications
That have since shuffled off this mortal coil.

I feared I wasn't ready.
Only later I learned
You're never ready,
You just have to plunge off that cliff.
You have have to find the courage to hit "send."
265 · Jul 2017
Awkward Photo
Joseph S Pete Jul 2017
An awkward photo depicts me as an Army private
squeezed in my polyester dress green uniform
with few medals and commendations
emblazoned on my still-burgeoning chest.

My posture is ramrod.
My earnestness is apparent.
Home on leave, I stand incongruously
as a warfighter straight out of basic
in front of white walls in lily-white suburbia.

Everything about the photo is awkward.
Everything about the photo is embarrassing
except how my mother displayed it
in a cheap pharmacy frame with
Swelling pride on her mantle.
254 · Oct 2017
Haunted House
Joseph S Pete Oct 2017
Makeup-clad teenagers spring out of the shadows
to startle the unsuspecting
who are in fact suspecting,
even anticipating but just playing along.

These paint-by-numbers haunted houses
that spring up in abandoned buildings
rely on the cheap startle of jump scares
even more than low-budget horror films.

So much so that a chainsaw-wielding kid
in a goalie mask will try to chase you down
as you walk out to the parking lot,
adrenaline fading but nerves still jangling.

We all know what's coming
in these seasonal pop-ups
even though it's supposed to be a shock.
But that’s why we go; that’s why we go.
231 · Apr 2017
Big Rig
Joseph S Pete Apr 2017
Prototype robotic semi-trailer truck gets rolled out.
It’s tricked out with speed control, radar, lidar,
Autonomous braking, collision avoidance,
Sensors, cameras, GPS.

All manner of state-of-the-art tech replaces the driver,
The imperfect driver
Who needs to sleep, who stops to eat,
Who speeds, snorts amphetamines, smashes into hapless sedans.
The automated truck has no such weakness, ten-four good buddy.

"The driverless future," a suit boasts in boardroom.
Another job fades, like waning daylight
On that endless ribbon of highway.
Shortly, pitch darkness will descend
And envelop the countryside.
Joseph S Pete Dec 2018
Sometimes,
after much fraught deliberation,
a man just has to take a stand,
summon his inner fortitude,
and fight for what he believes in.

Sometimes,
a man of such steely resolve and resolute action
is dumb as a fence post,
short-sighted,
completely and totally misguided.
219 · Aug 2017
Lapidary
Joseph S Pete Aug 2017
You make art late at night,
early in the morning,
whenever you can etch out the time
to carve a glinting facet
on a gem
that's trimmed, dopped to a wooden dowel,
and bevelled
to eye-grabbing beauty.
190 · May 2018
LA’s The Theme Building
Joseph S Pete May 2018
The Space Age saucer at LAX,
you know the one,
hovers overhead,
a retro-futuristic Jetsons-like totem,
a shimmering stucco vision of a far-off future
in which an overbearing security state
shuts down a well-regarded restaurant with a view
that landed smack dab in a well-trafficked area.

LAX, and LA generally,
reminds one of how much time
amounts to a buzzsaw shredding everything
into a mist of fine but coarse-grained sawdust.
181 · Apr 2018
The Croaked Rat
Joseph S Pete Apr 2018
Striding down a Chicago sidewalk,
under the El,
I came across a croaked rat,
splayed out on its back
with a surprised expression,
amid rocky chunks of construction debris
apparently dropped from the skyscraped heavens.

Had it been scurrying about,
the vermin would have startled, menaced,
repulsed on a visceral level.
But in the stillness and repose of death,
the taxidermied-looking rat
came across as sympathetic,
an unwitting victim of a random fate.
It could have been any of us.

Its eyes bulged, its limbs seized.
I almost stopped and snapped a picture,
tweeted the tragedy out,
before thinking better of it.
People instinctually reject rats, like clowns.
I thought about scooping the piteous corpse up
with an alt weekly, tossing it into a dumpster,
giving it a little dignity. But I was in a hurry
and it was just a rat, after all.

Pounding the pavement with purpose,
I did a sign of the cross,
and prayed a little valediction.
168 · Sep 2018
The Architect
Joseph S Pete Sep 2018
The architect architected his own demise,
gradually over the liquor-brined years and then in milliseconds.

The architect drank, hunched over every last bar,
as a release, as a habit, as a stumblebum crutch, as a gaping maw.

He staggered one night out of the dark tavern into the SUV
that he click-clicked open without a thought despite past offenses.

He never saw the couple on a motorcycle out on date night,
or so he whimpered to the officer, muttering “my life is over."

Faced with 28 felony charges, he was right in a way.
And yet his life wasn’t over like theirs, no, it wasn’t over like theirs.
167 · Jun 1
Inspiration Date
The pesto, the curry, the sugary tomato sauce,
the goat cheese-stuffed ravioli all expired someday.
No matter how rare, the food never had an inspiration date
Joseph S Pete Jun 2018
No reservations, no known points, no fish on Mondays,
no more warthog ****** or fermented shark,
nothing but kitchen omerta out the steamy back-alley backdoor,
nothing but adventure, exploration, basic human decency.

Nothing but grace and love and travel,
nothing but a steaming *** full of public love in the end,
nothing but leather and curiosity,
nothing but a hot bowl of noodles in a not-so-alien land.  

Nothing but a friend in a foreign place,
inviting us all to be so understanding,
inviting us all to be less afraid of the exotic,
inviting us all to be our best selves in the end.
148 · Aug 2019
Perpetual Disappointment
Joseph S Pete Aug 2019
Sorry father,
we failed you.
You failed us.
We failed.
We all failed and not better.
Our woebegone ways
failed everyone around us.
141 · Feb 2018
Crime of Opportunity
Joseph S Pete Feb 2018
The scrawny, slump-shouldered kid in the sweatshirt
grabbed as many Double AA batteries as he could hug
into the waiting ***** of his faded, ratty hoodie
from the display rack at the pharmacy down the block.

He made a run for it, slipping out the sliding doors,
into the starless night splashed across that inky empyrean.
It wasn’t necessary at all, he got out of there scot-free.
No one noticed any pilfering until they did the nightly inventory.

But his world was small, and he went back the next day for a juice.
The manager who was being interviewed perfunctorily by a cop
recognized him from his review of the security footage.
The kid got caught unawares, was arrested on the spot.

When he bonded out, he had to repay his brother the surety
so he headed to the other corporate pharmacy across the street
and grabbed armfuls of cartons of cigarettes he knew he could sell
on the corner, for he had no other means of repayment.

He had no job, no car, no degree, no nothing, nada, nada, nada.
His blinkered world was circumscribed, limited,  hemmed in,
circled by how far he could walk, trudge in a blizzard.
He made it out the whooshing door, again faced flashing lights.

In that moment, as the booked him back in county lockup
behind the thick slab of plexiglass, the guard smirked,
“haven’t I seen you here before, just like a day ago?”
He then knew it was all hopeless, oh so hopeless, an endless cycle.
134 · Nov 2018
Sweater Song
Joseph S Pete Nov 2018
When I was young I was a bookish soul
who hung out in the chafed leather chairs of Barnes and Noble
wearing an itchy, chafing sweater,
listening to Weezer,
waiting for something good to finally happen
in my rotten teenage life.

It didn’t.
It never did.

The Sweater Song would come on Q101 as my family visited Michigan City,
stopped by the beach, the outlet mall, the zoo,
hitting up pretty much almost all the attractions before 2:30 p.m.

Weezer roared on the stereo and later at the august
Tinley Park Amphitheater,
where it was easy to park but impossible to escape.
The band tore into the much-requested cover of Toto’s ‘Africa,’
knowing everyone who paid a ransom to be there
just wanted the hits and to get home
and cocoon themselves unthinkingly in the comfort of Netflix,
just waiting to arrive home.
Joseph S Pete May 2018
No matter how dire it gets,
no matter how despairing,
no matter how forlorn, how hopeless,
no matter how little reason there seems to be to go on,

Kendrick Lamar spat fire and spoke truth,
at least for a few years,
as did a few hundred other contemporaneous artists
who laid it down on the track.

Emily Dickinson
did not stop for death or thee,
but prolifically tackled issues
of universal import in her lapidary recluse's verse.


Chakaia Booker turned shredded tires into museum centerpieces,
hunted spirits, eluded the chimera of consumption,
forged reclaimed rubber into toughness,
a rough-hewn canvas for a displaced people.


You can have nothing going for you,
nothing substantial to look forward to,
nothing above to guide you,
nothing but averted eyes on the street and professional shame,
but still be transported away
by a few glorious minutes of song or poetry or sculpture.

When there's nothing else, there's always art.
No matter what, there's always art.
128 · Jun 2018
The End of American Retail
Joseph S Pete Jun 2018
The liquidation sale went on and on and on.
Trudging lines of bedraggled souls stretched seemingly for miles.
Those soulless carrion birds, with cartfuls of deep discounts,
looked you right in the eye, said how sorry they were.

The last few weeks, we waited for someone, anyone
to buy the last few tchotchkes, fixtures, headless mannequins.
America haunted that half-vacant big box store,
was embodied in a row of limbless mannequins.
121 · Aug 2020
Dinosaur Jr.
Joseph S Pete Aug 2020
I wandered out of that rock club,
ears ringing with tintinnabulation,
gnarled and deadened ears unable to hear
as I stumbled around the empty courthouse square
searching for my parked car.

That indie band was loud,
loud as hell, loud to the point
where I was deprived of one my vital senses,
at least temporarily,
but I never had a better time.
111 · Mar 2019
The Dead Stagger On
Joseph S Pete Mar 2019
The factories rust oxide red,
The parking lots sit cracked and empty.
The vacants molder and rot away.

Manufacturers flounder and fail.
Blue-collared workers flee to warmer climes.
Death stretches on, forever protracted.

Once-proud communities erode away slowly.
A seemingly rock-solid way of life is forever lost.
We used to make something, the forgotten lament.
Joseph S Pete Feb 2019
We went to war.
We went to war.
We went to that godforsaken war.
We went to war as fair-cheeked boys
and came home as wizened old men.
We left behind the best of us
on that unforgiving battlefield
and never live down
our great needling guilt,
that all-consuming sense
it should have been us instead.
It should have been us instead.
96 · Jul 2019
Soviet Synthpop
Joseph S Pete Jul 2019
In the bloom of youth, we were all awkward and weird
and contrived in our own inexplicable and ineluctable ways.

We were all sunglassed fictions, heroes in our own heads
and less than that in the slow gnaw and chomp of reality.

We might croon, leather-jacketed, about the dawn before a disinterested audience of wights, hollow-eyed and resigned.

We might jam on a Casio keyboard atop a file cabinet
and hope, idly, someone, someday, might eventually get it.
96 · May 2019
Series Finale
Joseph S Pete May 2019
The long-running, much-celebrated show
turned out not to be a metaphor
for climate change, feminist empowerment
or anything anyone at all hoped for really.

The show turned out to be just a symbol for itself,
for failed institutions, institutional disappointments,
a theme mined by a much better HBO program
that ended its run years and years and years ago.

Viewers were up in arms everywhere over errant
character arcs, unearned twists, abandoned storylines,
forsaken backstories, squandered character development,
the burning detritus of lazy writing atop a pile of false promises.

Every institution fails you in the end.
In the end, no matter how much it seems like a marble pillar
or Valyrian steel forged in a furnace of dragonfire,
every institution ultimately fails you in the end.
96 · Jan 2019
My Insecurities
Joseph S Pete Jan 2019
They are but innumerable hordes
massed outside the ramparts.
And I stand alone
to combat them.
94 · Dec 2018
They Steal Everything
Joseph S Pete Dec 2018
Oh nascent soul in a starched Oxford,
know that corporate grinds you down,
takes your time, your hustle, your ambition,
your early mornings and late nights at the office,
missed time with family and friends.

They steal your health, your waistline,
your smoldering fire, your last spark,
your giddy sense of a boundless future
and endless possibility.

You slave away, grind yourself down
so shareholders who swim in pools of more money
than they’ll ever realistically need
can reap a marginal benefit.

And in the end, no matter how much you give them,
they’ll just cast you aside like trash anyway.
There’s no more expectation of a gold watch at retirement,
no more decency to the people who keep the profit flowing in.

It’s a machine that chews you up and expectorates you.
It’s a machine that knows no kindness, no mercy.
It’s a machine that feasts on blood and rumbles on eternally.
92 · Sep 2019
What the Wind Knows
Joseph S Pete Sep 2019
The wind knows
the rustle of the oak boughs,
the susurrus of the prairie grass,
the fragrance of the wildflowers,
the stillness at the edge of the lagoon.

The wind knows
the trilling of the warblers flitting through the tallgrass,
this flat and endless expanse of verdant, sun-bathed flora,
this kingdom of wide-open spaces, the big empty,
these geographies that define us, within and without.
87 · Jul 2018
A Night at the Theatre
Joseph S Pete Jul 2018
Amid the glitz and blinking lights of the theater district,
where even the obligatory McDonald’s was dolled up
with flash and pizzazz, a showy two stories with a Vegas marquee.

we strode into the buzzing, lavishly appointed lobby
in creased jeans and wrinkled T-shirts,
and loaded up on draft latte cans, single-origin tea, and IPAs.

We ascended to the balcony seats I once thought were
the sacred preserve of aristocrats, but which turned out
to be the cheapest seats in the house if the view was obstructed.

True, our grandparents dressed up for such occasions.
But their contemporaries were the indecorous ones
who failed to turn their phones off after multiple warnings.

The play wasn't a musical,
but it was serenaded with factory-issue ringtones
that chirped and chirped over the playwright's dreamscape.
84 · Mar 2019
The Rumpled Writer
Joseph S Pete Mar 2019
Some days, the words flow forth like the mighty Mississippi River.
Some days, they trickle like a creek.
Some days, drought ravages the barren land,
the word processor screen as blank as the expansive emptiness
of a sun-charred desert landscape.
83 · Oct 2018
Tony Hoagland
Joseph S Pete Oct 2018
Tony Hoagland later revealed himself as problematic
On issues of race and empathy
But what a wit
What a talent
What a social observer
What an analyzer of narcissism
What a chronicler
Of Bible studies, jet fuel imbibing and America itself
What a piercer of the illusions
Of blue-haired college students with tongue studs
And aversions to comfortable homogeneity
The spiked collar of strip malls and spoon-fed mass entertainment

How do you
Separate
The art from the artist
Do you
Should you
Can you

Where does the conversation stop
Where does it end
Where does it loop back
Where does it germinate
And begin
81 · Jan 2020
Sturm und Drang
Joseph S Pete Jan 2020
My father returned late, a little unsteady,
gin pulsing from his breath,
gin sweating faintly from his pores.

After closing the door softly, he went thermonuclear
when he saw the shoes in the foyer in scattered disarray,
ripping me out of bed in a rage in the middle of the night,

ordering me in a bellowing voice to straighten the shoes right then.
“It didn’t really traumatize me that much,” I professed at the bar
while nearly halfway into my fourth gin that night.
80 · Feb 2020
Magnetism
Joseph S Pete Feb 2020
When you're young,
lust burns like a wildfire,
wild and indiscriminate,
wayward and incandescent,
raging and all-consuming.

When you're older and settled down,
when you've accreted some experience,
a few creases, and maybe some midsection flab,
lust draws you to your yoked partner,
connects you with the reliable stability
of a gift shop magnet plastered to the fridge.
79 · Dec 2019
A Christmas Carol
Joseph S Pete Dec 2019
You can be so penurious and parsimonious,
so selfish and greedy, such an avatar of avarice
that a trio of ghosts must haunt you
to get you to behave like a basic human being.

Today, that's the norm, what our culture celebrates.
And the Ebenezers can feel warm about themselves once a year,
while watching theater or the BBC, never making the connection, never leaving a good tip, never giving the homeless a buck, never paying an employee "more than what the market will bear."
Joseph S Pete Oct 2019
The bespectacled elite gathered in the glassy box
of modern architecture, prattling politely about the
poet’s new novel, analyzing psychoanalysts and
parsing the layers of rhetoric that shaped the modern age.

The high-speed spreading at high school debates
served as a high-minded metaphor of linguistic legerdemain,
contained a critique of the vacuity of the era’s political speech.
Outside, a panhandler begged for bites of a breakfast sandwich.
71 · May 2020
Sweater Song
Joseph S Pete May 2020
When I was young, I was a bookish soul
who hung out in the chafed leather chairs
at the Barnes and Noble
wearing an itchy, chafing sweater,
listening to Weezer,
waiting for something good to finally happen
in my rotten teenage life.

It didn’t.
It never did.

The "Sweater Song" would always come on Q101
as my family visited Michigan City,
stopped by the beach, the outlet mall, the zoo,
hitting up pretty much almost all the attractions before 4:30 p.m.

Weezer roared on the stereo and
later at the Tinley Park Amphitheater,
where it was easy to park but impossible to escape.
The band tore into the much-requested cover of Toto’s "Africa,"
knowing everyone just wanted the hits and to get home
and cocoon themselves unthinkingly in Netflix,
that everyone swaddled themselves in a sweater
somewhere
in some cozy and familiar domicile.
66 · Oct 2019
Møns Klint
Joseph S Pete Oct 2019
Something's rotten in Denmark,
maybe something awash on the beach
in a country where you're never
more than 52 kilometers from the ocean.

Møns Klint stands a spectacular natural wonder
overlooking the endless expanse of the Baltic Sea,
an imposing facade of white chalky cliffs
towering over the vast teal expanse of water.

There's 120 meters
and then there's 120 meters
to the horizonless sea below.

The glaciers of geological prehistory
gave us a stunning sweep, as breathtaking
a seaside vista as you will ever see.
66 · Dec 2019
Dine-and-Dash
Joseph S Pete Dec 2019
The woman had scarfed down many chalupas

in the Taco Bell drive-thru at the ash end of 3 a.m.

She wolfed down the $3 dollar tacos with “chalupa” shells,



seasoned beef, a three-cheese blend, tomatoes,

lettuce and “reduced fat” sour cream,

with a robotic intensity and general incuriosity about its origins.



So she was shocked when she sat down with her kid

at the immigrant-run El Amigo restaurant

that served fresh salsa with freshly baked tortilla chips.



She had never actually tried an authentic chalupa,

a flat tostada-like deep-fried mold of masa dough

filled with meat, onion, chipotle and salsa.



The manager told her it was in fact

the kind of chalupa you’d find in Oaxaca or Puebla.

He told her he’d replace it, remove it from the table or take it off the bill.



She begged off but ultimately stormed out of the building

without paying the $12 bill, ultimately landing a felony charge

she appealed all the way to the state court of appeals.



The higher courts probably should not be adjudicating

Mexican cuisine, Tex-Mex and pale fast-food imitations,

but it was what is was; however it was served up, it was what is was.
60 · Dec 2020
Belushi
Joseph S Pete Dec 2020
The greats flame out in the fire of their own passions.
They burn like scintillating firecrackers against the dark.

From a distance, you feel lucky to witness such incandescence.
But the brightest brilliance burns through the feedstock of dry rot.

That Jello plate was pain, that half-bitten sandwich pain,
that drunken urinating a barely concealed cri de cœur.
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