(c) 2021 by Michael L. Utley

A handful of words hastily shaken
Thrown like dice against a filthy brick wall
Skittering across deserted sidewalk
Bouncing into foul gutter rill
Profound thoughts from a tired mind

Is this all I have to say and if so
Does it even matter when no one cares
These words buoyant as a waterlogged corpse
Sink slowly beneath the surface
Of a world bereft of conscience

I mix metaphor and stark imagery
Insert heart and soul, blood and torrid tears
Craft a paper boat to launch on oceans
Of antiquity and futures
Yet to be and watch as it sinks

Words fall like proverbial autumn leaves
Raked into pretentious piles of damp dross
To become compost to feed the dull worms
Of bitter earth and mindless murk
Where nothing echoes but darkness

I have shouted from the tops of mountains
I have whispered in sepulchral shadows
I have groaned in blackened pits of despair
I have lost my voice so often
I can no longer hear my thoughts

Sharpened edges of serrated starlight
A thousand vapid cuts my soul bleeds out
I offer up my penance to the gods
Ragged blood-soaked sheaves of parchment
Etched with runes of my existence

It is not sufficient for redemption
For what are words but empty utterance
The fetid breaths of wretched souls exhaled
As dying light slips languidly
Beyond aloof eternity

“The Trunk”

“The Trunk”
(c) 2021 by Michael L. Utley

There is a place for things
That don’t belong in
Other places
That sere and weathered
Trunk that hunkers lupine-like
Amid dust-addled attic shadows
Wood split and gouged
With time and neglect
Iron bands and fittings
A crumble of rust
Lockless clasp broken
From endless breeches
And pryings
I should have
Replaced that lock
Eons ago
The ill-fitting lid
Is too loose
More decoration
Than function
And tends to rattle
Of its own accord
Much too frequently
For what’s inside wants to
Pop knuckles
Champ teeth
And feed
And only I can
Contain it

I am the guardian
Of my thoughts
The gatekeeper
Of my soul
The sentinel
Who slumbers
Far too often
And I have the scars
To prove it
Pandora knew nothing
Of depression
Of the sticky ichor
That coats minds
Chokes souls
Rends hearts
Ends with
Restless bones
In paupers’ graves

There is no light
In this trunk
It devours light and life
Siphons energy
Drains minds of clarity
Its bitter harvest
A wretched bounty
Of lies and darkness

I have discarded
This trunk hundreds of times
Thousands of times
Banished it to
The furthest reaches
Of the void
And when I turn around
It’s still there
Lurking stealthily in
Tenebrous attic shadows
A dead-blue
Feral glow
About it that
Bespeaks of
Baleful knowledge
Best kept under
Lock and key

Mere vigilance is futile
Hyper-vigilance exhausting
This night never-ending
The callous sun
Cannot penetrate
The claptrap slats
Of my mind
I must stand
On my own
In this blackness
And fight to keep
This trunk shut
To render impotent
Its contents
To save myself
Or die trying

“The Golden Door”

“The Golden Door”
(c) 2017 by Michael L. Utley

The golden door is caked with blood
A patinated crimson tracery
Its gilded crest a filigree
Of ruined hope

There is a sense of something there
Beyond this barrier intransigent
A light a balm a restful place
But not for me

What lies beyond is out of reach
No matter how I pound my broken fists
Upon that door immutable
I can’t get in

My voice grown hoarse, I cannot call
Aloud, my screams which echoed through the years
Are silenced now, a whispered wheeze
Is all that’s left

The gulf that separates two shores
Impassable, impossible; a leap
Too great for wretched mortal minds
And riven souls

What have I ever done to earn
The wrath of all creation? Even stars
That light the velvet void grow dim
Regarding me

With pale scornful eyes, the moon
A frigid face inscrutable, its gaze
A blazing condemnation of
My life’s disgrace

And still I stand at golden door
With bleeding hands balled into angry fists
And pound away as stinging tears
Burn blinded eyes

In futile faith that things will change
Before I can no longer will myself
To fight this fruitless battle and
Abandon hope

That something better lies beyond
The golden door

“The Thing on the Corner”

“The Thing on the Corner”
© 2013 by Michael L. Utley

The thing on the corner
That squalid revenant
That only I could see
As my daily peregrination
Took me through the city
Past vulgar monuments
To capitalism and greed
Through roiling seas of
Soulless apathetic drones
The mindless rhythm of
The ebb and flow of futility

The thing on the corner
That filthy phantom
That caught my eye
And no one else’s
A sort of uncanny gravity
About him
That caused my pace to slacken
As if I were being lured into
Some kind of anomalous orbit
Around this peculiar specter
Just a tug and then I was free
To continue along my way
In my daylight world of
Noise and glare and stench

The thing on the corner
That wretched eidolon
That haunted my dreams
That stood in judgment of
All who passed before him
On this unremarkable corner
In this forgotten city of despair
The bastard kin of
Minos, Aeacus and Rhadamanthus
His throne a decrepit cardboard box
His shroud a blanket that reeked of
Age and disease
His crown a greasy scarecrow of gray hair

The thing on the corner
That defiled shade
That I can barely see as
I approach him
He is a mirage
A flicker and a shimmer
I squint my eyes as I stand before him
There is static, a signal dying
Over the expanse of eternity
An imperceptible howl from
Another universe
I reach out a tentative hand
And touch him
For an instant he is there before me
Vital and filled with the
Energy of supernovas
His eyes are alive and
Radiate truth the brightness
Of a hundred suns
He is real
He does not speak but
Only looks at me
For a moment
For a lifetime
Then turns away
And fades to

And the oblivious masses mill
Through the city streets like cattle
To the slaughter
And the city sighs
As anesthetic night descends


© 2013 by Michael L. Utley

I saw Odysseus sprawled on the sidewalk between
The squalid little deli and the boarded-up
All-night video place whose weather-stained
Posters advertised GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS
Amid obtuse indecipherable graffiti and
A fallen constellation of multi-hued shards of
Broken glass that crunched underfoot like
Bone fragments
The patina of snow about him
Pristine in its absence of footprints from
Passers-by as if the stench of his
Existence had formed an unseen barrier
A half-moon DMZ buffering
His world from ours
And ours from his
And seemed to accelerate those who passed
As if sling-shotting them along their snowy
Midnight trajectories by means of his own
Anomalous gravity
And he was invisible
This shivering, coughing Odysseus
This Odysseus of ancient rheumy eyes and
Filth-caked garb of indeterminate color and
Dirty twitching fingers destroyed by age and arthritis
That latched onto
Nothingness in the inhuman chill
Of this strange distant land
Far from home

I saw Odysseus standing on the corner
Across from the new shopping mall with
Hundreds of stores and a garish
Sign filling up half the blazing summer sky
The color of which no one noticed as they
Funneled mindlessly into the parking lot of sticky asphalt
Eager to rid themselves of their wealth
Like lemmings compelled by the inexorable call
Of the briny deep
This sun-stroked Odysseus’ sign
Garnered far less attention
And like some weird contrary magnetism it
Served only to avert the eyes of eager shoppers
Whose cash-bulging wallets held no alms
This day or any other day for anyone
With the temerity the gall the nerve
To spoil the festive mood of capitalism
And he was invisible
This gaunt, silent Odysseus
This Odysseus of haunted eyes the shade of
Tortured youth and abandonment
An aura about him that described an intimate ken
Of the black brackish hearts of fathers
Who show their children love by means of
The belt the closed fist the bruise the shattered bone
His outstretched hand unseen, voided
In the swelter and exhaust fumes
Of this strange distant land
Far from home

I saw Odysseus posed beneath the arc-sodium glare
Of streetlights in stilettos and not much else
As vehicles prowled the night like hungry panthers
Purring as they edged up to the curb to test their prey
Whose prayers, if any, went unanswered day by day
Whose god was the black tar of forgetfulness
Purchased nightly with the currency of her body
And she leaned hesitantly into the maw of the predator
A deal done through open-windowed anonymity
Then undone moments later amid an avalanche
Of raucous laughter and filthy epithets
As the panther sprang from the curb in search of other prey
Stranding her alone in the antiseptic wash
Of the indifferent streetlights that left her feeling
All the more dirty
And she was invisible
This trembling, empty Odysseus
This Odysseus of painted eyes the shame of which
No amount of camouflage could veil
The craving in her veins an all-out roar
Obliterating everything
Tears gone eons ago
Fear driving her like some twisted dynamo
Toward the blackness of the next fix
Or the grave
In this strange distant land
Far from home

I saw Odysseus pronated on the center stripe
Of a dark desert highway
Leather-gloved hands folded neatly on leather-clad breast
As four cops stood chatting idly above him like distracted pallbearers
His motorcycle a hundred feet away in a thousand pieces
His helmet still attached and useless
As the shield of a fallen warrior
A mere formality at this point
The silent ambulance en route with idiot lights flashing
To scoop this thing off the road and deposit it
Somewhere else
And he was invisible
This stilled, hushed Odysseus
This Odysseus of black leather and broken body
Who would soon cease to be a nuisance to the cops
And become a nuisance to the coroner
And then to the earth itself
And then forgotten
Just some meaningless blip on the back page
Of the next day’s paper where the anonymous
Go to die
In this strange distant land
Far from home

I have seen Odysseus at the hospital stitched with tubes
A human loom
I have seen Odysseus in the dim hallways of high school
Eyes glued to the floor in a gauntlet of cat-calls
I have seen Odysseus unconscious in the shade of an oak in the city park
Reeking of cheap booze and excrement
I have seen Odysseus on dusty shoulders of forgotten highways
Faded signs in hand that say Albuquerque or Denver or Phoenix
I have seen Odysseus in the bleachers of baseball games
On county road crews in supermarkets in churches
In unemployment lines in bars in prisons
In the mirror

Everywhere I look he is there
Trying to find his way back

In this strange distant land
Far from home