On the Way to WorkRichard Soberpaintings

The Wrong Brothers at
Kitty Hawk


I’m an ordinary prisoner
looking for a new place to hide.
The sky’s high and cold, a ceiling
touching another skin.
Someone let me in.
Their kindness was a lie.
They vandalized my trust.
I was never comfortable
sitting on a sofa for more
than five minutes. An old habit
I picked up when I was teaching
myself how to exit before entering.


Some people build prayers from sticks
and stones, some people stay up
all night manufacturing their own
film noir, some people dance
on rooftops turning their shame
into a talent for forgetting.
I hope your walk down the lonely
road is a good one., clear-eyed and calm.
Avoid too much loneliness and bad food.
It’s a lot like filling your car
with gas at Love’s in Amarillo;
cold wind, nothing to stop it,
six in the morning.


I didn’t know I loved cold tired ravens
in the bare elm so much. Oblivious
to the lives of humans crushing
other humans in passageways
where laws are made. I didn’t know
what a failure I was until I saw
the gallows against the stars
in a city that glows in the dark.
One bad word from a stupid person.
I used to fly a kite on a beach
early in the morning, watching
it hang in the sky while men
who had their portraits painted
plotted my future heartbreak.


I like my coffee and doughnuts, I like
to watch steam pour out of the dry
cleaners early on January mornings.
Bogart at the airport. O’Toole asleep
in the clean desert.
I like my fat and my sugar,
sunsets and sunrises uninterrupted
by anything I don’t understand.
I like my riots to feel like parties,
I like to wear camouflage
to the coffee shop.
Redford and Newman
jumping off a cliff.
I like to buy candy for the boys
at Walgreen’s. I like to watch
the world go by.


The only people I saw today
were a one-armed cyclist
and a woman with a pink scarf
who refused to cover her mouth.
Her dog was small and white.
It evaporated under the blue
sky that I’ll never be able to paint.
Another cycle of promises is about
to begin and all I can do is wonder
how my friends are doing.
The wind made the air feel colder
than it is. It felt like a life of Sundays
that were already lived sixty years ago.


With so many people alive in this world
why do I feel so alone? It always feels like
four in the morning and I doubt my eyes.
My friends and I lose track of time,
We conflate events, forget who said what
to whom. One day we will meet each other
and become friends for the first time again.
A conjuror came along and mixed everything
up. I thought my immune system was tiptop,
but I tied myself up in knots trying
to defend myself against his lies
and his deceptions. I became ill,
but felt fine until I looked out
the window. Everything was changed,
people looked uglier
and we really did have to go
through everything twice.


And then I asked the barista
at the drive-thru Java Joe’s
how she was and she said,
“It feels like the calm before
the storm.” I agreed, though
I can’t put my finger on it.
A few moments before that,
speaking of invisibility, I was
thinking of a friendship that
took a wrong turn. While
my sadness will outlive my anger,
I was stunned that the longevity
and closeness of the relationship
fell to earth, quickly to nothing.
As if I had dreamed it all, and woke up
not remembering anything but
meanness, narcissism,
lies, loss, an attempted insurrection, a universal

Uncertainties are an ocean,
certainties are stones.
Individuals usurp their own freedom
and watch horror unfold like another
day turning into a week and a month
and a year. What is a country made of?


Meanwhile, back at the ranch,
descendants of the moral majority pound at the gates.
The senators have left the chamber. “We are fucked,”
I still hear Pete Zawoski say as we stood at the corner
of 30th and St. Paul, September 12, 2001.


Amnesia is a friendship.
I couldn’t even borrow
a safe place to rest my soul.


The tyrant works in stealth, grooming his illness
descended from whoremongers and slumlords.
A mob of characters from Bosch’s paintings
storms a building. Thugs and bullies, conspiracy theorists,
right-wing nut jobs, gun-carrying habitués of coffee shops
from the upper peninsula of Michigan break out of the canvas
bringing along their own gallows, guns, and clubs.
Their faces are eyeless and toothless and their shouting
is a silent film chasing ghosts down a hallway.
People love the flim flam man, the entertaining
buffoon, the confidence man on the riverboat
floating down history’s river where only he
can save the day, worthless as a thousand lies.


Carry your anger away from your heart.
The industry of conflict has enough of humanity
hooked. The country is hung up on forgetting
unpleasantness. The mess rolls on. I am the strange
relative in mismatching clothes.
the smelly uncle who stuffs his pockets
with scraps of paper, hoarding lines for
poems illegibly scrawled on offensive
stains. Everyone makes up stories explaining
meaning to themselves while the devil we don’t
want to see wields his foul word across the breadth
of his bigotry. I am the anarchist in the crazy family.
I am Scheherazade who makes up stories to stay alive.


Joaquin, with the nimble fingers on the strings,
tells me that they want it this way, want everything
to stay the same, for the virus to never end, it will
always be here, they want to hug anger, grief,
pain, it will never end, I’m telling you.
It is not the summer of love.
Who is “they”? Who is old? Who is in the way?
In the way of what?
Like a film running backward
you see people make victims
of themselves, casually, naturally as
not looking both ways
before crossing the street.


Becoming is a boat I want
to float downstream. What I see
are “terrified survivors”
those searching only for
their own spirit. Is this what we’ve come to?
We fly a hundred feet and walk off the field.
One day I will get you out of my mind, shed
your presence, unlearn the hurt. It was I,
who was unworthy of your friendship,
who allowed your wound of anger
into my life. I am worthy of other things.
Everyone is allowed not to be hurt.


I wish the current bleakness of the world
was only the disappointed rattling of old men.
Maybe this happens every generation; meanness
recycling through the ages, trickling down
between friends in the obscurest corners
of earthly kingdoms. What sadness drives
betrayal and deceit? Envy? Too many
sleepless nights? An inability to come to terms
with memories that remind you, you didn’t get away?


The sky leaked through the roof, then the ceiling,
Then it fell into my heart and stayed there, I couldn’t
get enough. It was a habit and a passion. Maybe we flew
too high, maybe not high enough, maybe the loss we
inherit will open the door to daydreaming.
of Ikaria where men walk five miles past vineyards
and orchards, past the smell of almond blossoms,
olives rotting on rocky soil, to join their brethren
for a cup of coffee, leaning against whitewashed
walls in the afternoon sun. Of Ikaria dancing, burning
the midnight oil, conversations like great wings
flapping over the forested mountains, a cool breeze
dawning from Turkey. We didn’t have the confidence
to change our minds. I heard a loud splash in the clear
blue sea below us. What, on Earth, was that?


My wife is in the kitchen paying bills, balancing
the check book. I am in the middle of embracing
my failures making walls of words, pushing
mounds of wreckage away from our house.
I am unworthy of the task, but at this point
in my life I am too old to stop. If alienation
is a mainstream state-of-mind then walking
five miles to have coffee with friends is
an effort worthy of a slave who insists
he is free. My fantasies always take place
on foreign soil. Paying bills is more important,
but priorities were never my strong suit.


America was such a beautiful country
when I handed in my project on Missouri
in the fifth grade, the same year Risa Blivas
gave me a black eye, the year Kennedy died,
the year my left pinky was fractured,
the year my mother lost so much blood
my father would not let us upstairs.
When the ambulance came Ed Sullivan
was on tv looking more awkward than usual.
Today was still an endless highway,
Paula Gellman was gone forever,
I never wanted to take off my madras shirt.
My father was on his knees all night
washing out the tub.


Letters will fall off the calendar,
they’ll be trashed, deleted,
more ghost stories for the weary,
another anonymous end to a thread
in the brotherhood of man, a remnant
of memory remaining here and there,
unforeseen changes that make life,
life. The incurious will also be
unforgiving, confidants will be
betrayed, you will drive past
Kill Devil Hills at the speed
of someone who sees nothing.
I, too, live in my head, so I can offer you
no escape plan. What are your wings made of?


After all these years, I still love Chinese food.
Maybe it’s the bubble of a late Sunday afternoon
after a pleasant weekend and just before the start
of another week of wage labor. The last supper
before the calendar shoots itself in the foot again.
Pay attention to what you pay attention to.
In other words, what do you do with your time?
Before you know it, your teeth will be cracking
from all that silver dentists thought
was good for you. Now you have zircon in your
mouth. If a truck runs over you,
you’ll still have that zircon intact, good as the day
it was clamped over one of those fractured
molars in your now lifeless oral cavity.


I should have realized I was not too clever
for my own good. I should have known I was not
the concern of those who were always intrigued
with themselves. I should have stayed in the sun
with bones and shadows more substantial
than their owners, dogs barking behind high
cinderblock walls along the trail running along
tracks to oblivion. I should have liberated myself
long before I let you pounce on me. Now I pay
the price of an isolated patient in the asylum
of his mind. I should have never buried myself
in your grave. After I smelled the repetition
of your mistakes replicated across a continent,
I crawled out in the middle of a damp night,
like St. Charles Avenue shrouded in mist,
milky lights. I should have been more
of a procrastinator, more of stunned observer,
so I could have lingered longer with the indecisive
instead of slipping out the door to fly a kite
on an empty beach where I dreamed
of not being anything to anyone, proving
nothing in a world where you always
have to leave in a few moments.


An estranged friend calls himself an outsider,
but he’s an outsider who wants to be seen.
He announces himself every week,
faithful to a voice always calling him inside.
He is the bad boy overturning tables
at someone else’s party.
The less freedom some people have
the more they want stand apart,
fabricating a reality that sees through
metaphysical blindfolds. Only someone
who recognizes his captivity will try
to be free. As for language,
it would be advisable to speak
in a more American kind of way,
but if you’re going to be skittish
about showing up on the village green,
it’s best to dispense with the idea
we are all in the same boat.


Everywhere the sun hammers out
the last trace of deep color, everything
just bones. Crows scrape against
the blue ceiling. Measure sleep as if
the heat of a still afternoon burned
passion into dreams, maybe it is
the world outside doors that is
isolated. Like men who’ve organized
themselves into camps, tribes, keepers
of faiths, builders of palaces nuzzling
next to black seas.


I dream of a Greek isle, a lifetime
getaway, endless cups of coffee,
Bougainvillea hanging over high
retaining walls along the narrow road
falling down to the white village clinging
to a rocky promontory crashing
into the sea. My wife is there
with me. I can feel her gentle breath
on the walk back home.

Ikaros, who never died, lives
happily ever after on this island
with his beautiful wife and five
winged children buzzing through
almond orchards, sucking on
pomegranates. I dream of this
island where my afternoons are
spent drinking coffee, leaning
against white walls baking in
the sun, the one that’s always
been there, reliable as the sky.
White and blue, white and blue,
white and blue. Mountain forests.
My old friends, whose words
are translated into this imaginary room,
are sitting with me, in fabulous
light, laughing, at last, creases
around the corners of our eyes
smiling along the hours, with every other
wrinkle in the world.


Reliable as the sky, close as the wind of national hallucinations,
barbarians with American flags beat each other up
in marbled hallways, portraits of wigged founders staring down
from cracked canvases, fat men at the Alamo, roll on Columbia,
roll on. Echoes of “fuck you, too” resounding inside
the cabs of pickup trucks headed back to the wetlands, the badlands,
the sandhills, the prairies, the forests, the bayous, the mesas and canyons,
the gulches between oilrigs, the upper peninsulas,
the swamps. the corn belt, the wheat belt,
the bible belt, the beltways, freeways, the my land,
the fruited plains, the your land, the hill country, dullness
of Sunday mornings, steam on the windows of Dunkin’ Donuts,
Walmart parking lot tantrums, place of many bones, big muddy,
boogie woogie Oklahoma City lockdown shutup right-to-life
side road Dairy Queens, purple mountains majesty,
drive-thru breakfast specials, sonic taco bio-secure
hog barns, the old folks at home, grandma and grandpa
Sunday evenings, their medicines sorted into pill bottles,
brutal thoughts crisscrossing with chem trails darkening the sun,
flagpoles clang across deadly suburbs, rubbing shoulders
with the wrong brothers at Kitty Hawk.