Memoir poems

POEM | Flailing Chaos (For My Mom)

Flailing Chaos (For My Mom)
by Mighty Mike McGee

(Inspired by the Spice Girls’ 1996 album, Spice)

Mrs. McGee, if it is Spina Bifida, then the best as we can tell is your son is gonna be… special. His spine is fragile, so he probably won’t be able to walk. He’ll be slow to learn and he may never talk.

Jokes on them. My mom spent the next fifteen years letting me prove them wrong. It’s really something that one incorrect snap diagnosis from a doctor making things up as he went could lay a foundation of You Will Never for the next 26 years of my life.

The one time my parents danced together was at their wedding. They almost lasted three years after that. My dad just doesn’t dance.

My mom loves to dance. With the right people, that is. “Michael, pick a tape for us to listen to while we clean okay?”

My little hands were steel to the magnet that was Michael Jackson’s “Off The Wall.”

I hope I never forget the memory of my mother sweeping the kitchen floor while singing and swaying to “Rock With You.”

“Come on boys, dance with me!”

It’s okay if I dance, mom?

“Sure, just be careful!”

And we dusted and danced and danced and cleaned.

I remember standing in the bathroom while my mom put make-up on our roommate Nick.

I giggled. Mom! Boys don’t wear make-up!

“Yes, they do, Michael. Anyone can, especially if they’re going dancing.”

“Isn’t your mom making me look pretty, Michael?”

Yeah, Nick! She is!

Then I lived with my father for a brief period of time. He meant well.

“Michael, what’s all the ruckus up here?”

I’m dancing.

“By yourself?”


“Well, it’s probably best if you didn’t because it could injure your spine.”

I like dancing, dad.

“I know, son, I’m sorry.”

Comedy world, here I come!

Several years and four more kids later, I remember sitting in the bathroom watching my mom get ready to go out dancing. Watching her eyes. Seeing how happy she was to be getting out of the house.

I want to go dancing with you, Mom.

“No, Michael. This time it’s for me.”

I sort of understood. But my step-father didn’t. Her nights out dancing ended shortly thereafter, followed by her marriage.

I remember my stunning date to my high school senior ball. “Why did you bring me if you didn’t want to dance?” she said.

It’s not that I don’t want to, I just don’t. I can’t. Fat guys look stupid when they dance. I could injure myself.

But she was gone, already dancing alone in a sea of hormones.

This was the tenth time I rejected a person who wanted to move with me. Inside me, I could feel the sitcom audience of a thousand ancestors frustratedly sighing. You idiot! She wanted to share something unspoken with you. Something no teenager can explain! 

I wish I knew it would have been okay to look weird. I was already weird. This just would have been intentional weirdness to a beat. You got flailing chaos in my weird! You got weird in my flailing chaos!

Why was I the only one not dancing?

Every teenager but me understands that they need to move. But that may be all they understand. “Hi! I am new to this world! Nice to meet you! I just do what my genitalia tells me to do. Right now it wants me to flail around you for at least two songs.”

At the very least, Social Dancing should be taught throughout primary school with the distinct purpose of making people feel comfortable moving their bodies however they want in the same room with others.

I am the result of the paired and shared movement between thousands of people from hundreds of cultures that needed to dance to understand that which could not be spoken. “Who are you? What the fuck is this energy? This music is controlling us. It wants us to make babies. We have no choice. But I like this song! And I like the names Stuart and Maggie.”

At school they said, “Mrs. McGee. Your son is… special. He’s very imaginative and intelligent, but he lacks motivation and he talks… a lot.”

Sadness and stress stopped my family from dancing, replaced it with The American Way: carbs and sugar and television. But we could laugh. That was gospel and forgiveness. Laughter is the one dance everyone knows. 

Holy shit. Let me be THAT DJ!

Let me make people dance in place with their whole bodies. Let them come to me with tears in their eyes pointing to the part of their body that is now sore from laughter.

Let my weird be a music.

My mother has never asked me to make her laugh. I just know she needs it. She’s always an innocent bystander to my sense of humor. Her laugh is big. It’s beautiful. It’s one of my favorite sounds. It dances into my ears and says, “Welcome home, my bright boy. I love you with every heartbeat. How did you become you? How are you so special?”

Her laugh dances into my heart, which responds:

Mom, I thought I couldn’t dance. I thought  there were rules I was breaking. There are things I am not allowed in this life, right? I thought I was too disabled, fat and ugly to show my face on the dance floor. But it is all I want to do, Mom. Because of you, whenever I think of dancing, I think of love. Thank you for dancing with me and telling me it would be okay.

Dance is love. A language I want to be fluent in.

We all show love in different ways.

I talked a lot because my body wants to dance.

My body has something to say.

I am a great dancer.

Which makes me a great lover—especially when I dance alone.

So if you can’t dance, it’s okay!

Do you mind if I dance near you?

I’d be honored to dance around you.

Let me make you laugh.

Let me dance and laugh with you at your table.

In your living room. In the backyard.

We can bob our heads on the bus.

We can tiny dance from the waist up while sitting at a cafe.

We can slow dance in the kitchen and on the porch.

We can dance if we want to, and we won’t leave your friends behind

Because your friends don’t dance and if they don’t dance well then

let’s get close and say I love you with our floppy flailing chaos.

If I am dancing, what I am saying to everyone in the room is some combination of

  1. I love you
  2. awwwwww yeeeeaaaahhh!
  3. We are so alive.
  4. I love… myself.

Huh. That’s what you meant mom! It was for you. Not the men in your life. Not even us kids.

And because you danced with me, I learned to love myself too.

I want to dance with all of you.

Show me how you want to be loved.


Making my mom laugh at lunch after visiting the Empire State Building, 6 Aug 2014
Memoir poems

Poem | static

On March 3, 2003, I set out to write a poem with the hope it would be something I would like to perform a lot. I won a quite a few poetry slams with this one through 2004. It is an intense piece that I still love and I still perform it when I am feeling too quiet. It ended up becoming one of my favorite poems to perform as a group with Shane Koyczan and C.R. Avery as our band Tons of Fun University. It was the opening track on our first album, “The Them They’re Talking About.”

Listen to it here. It gets loud.

Read along below. It stays quiet.

by Mighty Mike McGee

Now, hear me out
I licked the acidic pages of poets who showed it through rhyme and verse
psychedelic thoughts immersed so I could rehearse these words in my head
Fuck MTV, I want my RC Weslowski

Hip-hop is a language of the street anyone who speaks it well is an artist of the world
because the world is covered in streets—we all live on streets
the street is where you go to find out what the world is up to
I wanna be hip-hop

I want to be so in tune with the world that I am a language
that every line I write is almost an unimaginable concept
like becoming static
When you turn on the TV to a channel that isn’t there
you hit static

Most of us change the channel to find silly situations to escape with
but static is art; static is discovery
It started as energy and then someone wanted to hear it
so it became
Then someone wanted to see it and television was born, to bring static
to the masses
Nobody understands it, some of us call it dead air, but it’s alive
like you and me
maybe even more

Everyday I discover just how alive I am
Every room I enter, there’s a living woman who doesn’t realize how
much she loves me yet
I will bet it’s only because we haven’t been introduced
I wanna be hers cuz she doesn’t
I’ve wanted to be hip-hop ever since I wasn’t

Ladies & gentlemen, I wanna be the scores of yours
I wanna be rock and roll, a rolling rock
I’m running out of time, so fuck the clock
Time paints us whatever color it sees fit
I wanna be black or white or brown or yellow
I wanna be consumed by shades of static

I wanna be on TV – in between channels 2 and 3
I want to be chromatic static
comfortable white noise for all the B-girls and B-boys
lulling them to dream, reaching to scream
I know I’m not what I seem
I look like shit, but I taste like cream

I want to be that of which only a few people watch when they should be asleep
I want to be the place where seeds are sown so others can reap

I am static; romantic electric camouflage
I’m the dead silence before applause
the healing qualities of wound wrapping gauze
a big, bag of presents from Santa Claus

I’m not the first poet or a Last Poet, but in between
I want to be nomadic
in static submissions
the rock and roll star at the end of all transmissions
People will watch me without knowing it
rocking you and rolling you without showing it

From time to time, at three in the morning
as you solve the world’s problems, I’ll be there
at the beginning and the end of your radio dial
If you wanna see me on TV, unplug your fucking antenna

I will be static, you will be hip-hop and breath
I will write to the beat of your feet & read it in your death
I want my hip-hop rhymes to be so good they just don’t rhyme anymore
But what’s in store for the whore that is me?
The one they call Mighty Mike McGee?
Fuck that, call me Johnny Appledog
Because the seeds I sow will grow to be trees of thought that walk to
you when you call them

You see, beyond hip-hop and the rigmarole of rock and roll
is just me who used to be a little boy who couldn’t but wanted to give
the world
a little more of what it never really had
offering happy when it felt a little sad
a little bit of static in a world gone mad
I am creating a destiny for the rest of me in a life I attest to be the best of me

Laugh cuz shit’s funny
cry cuz it fucking sucks
Say hello to the world before goodbye and gone
turn on the TV when you know nothing’s on
and think of me before you panic
cuz when I leave this world, I’m coming back as…TCHSSHHHHH

Memoir poems

Poet Laureate Emeritus

Today is the first day in two years in which I woke up and was no longer Santa Clara County’s poet laureate. To have had and fulfilled the honorary title over the previous 730 days was one of my dreams come true and an adventure I could not have gone alone.

I am grateful for the poets who helped me in every poetic endeavor. I am so grateful for a county that raised me, that fueled my humor, my poetry, my love of words and my need to shout them wide and often. I am grateful for the people of Poetry Center San José whose unyielding support has kept me going in ways they could not have known I needed, a testament to their good character. I am grateful and indebted to the folks who saw to it that this opportunity would land in my name and embolden my weird, uncommon need to see to it that poetry shines and sings across this valley.

I am grateful for the guidance and friendship I have received from the poets laureate who came before me, Nils Peterson, Sally Ashton, David C. Perez and Arlene Biala. I am grateful for the incoming poet laureate, that they too wish to help hard, beautiful words resonate for our neighbors in this time and the times to come; I, too, will be here for you in poetry and in friendship. Thank you all for letting me be a part of a foundation for expression in this place I love so dearly.

An ekphrasis by Mike McGee

After Julia Chang’s mural, In The Valley of Heart’s Delight, San José Museum of Art, 2017. Debuted live in front of the mural at the SJMA’s 10th Annual Poetry Invitational, April 18, 2019

From this basin
between these ranges of hills
made for feet and hooves
I’ve seen the sun at every angle at every moment of the day
I’ve seen moon rise up from every possible hill
This goes to impossible beauties
even when I was unprepared, with eyes closed
or overtly selfish and unblinking

In my time, here
under the newest trees
in this land of graveyard orchards
and industries that fed three generations of my people
Keeping my mom and her mom struggling to keep us from struggling
I have worked for a paycheck at every hour of the day
In all of the seconds that come in year, there are none I have yet to laugh in
This goes to those who’ve made me laugh
in every city this valley cradles
This goes to a family that taught me
to be better at making laughter instead of money

I miss the folks I’ve made it to 4am with
the sunrise set
Protectors of the block
guardians of bookshelves on
2nd & Empire
6th & San Salvador
5th & Julian
all the way North First Street
Maybe I was the mayor of Alviso (all nine acres)
the love child of Sunnyvale and Santa Clara
Campbell’s loitering layabout
I could write odes to my crush on Milpitas
And Los Gatos
I’ve heard of you

This goes to
the protectors of Nancy Lane and the East Side
I think about you
To the living history at Alum Rock and King
To the cherry blossoms in Japantown
to midnight at the midtown Safeway
To leaving and always coming back
To the children who will find love in this valley
in between falling into industry
and children
and struggle
and a balance
like our four impossible seasons:
light summer
and extreme autumn

This goes to the streets in all of our cities
and to the people who use them get somewhere
but especially to those who the streets got to first
to those who push everything they own in front of them
and yet, have nothing to speak of
This too is for you

This goes to the valley I hope to die in
if only this body would generate enough ash
to cover all the streets I’ve lived on

There is no perfection in perpetuity
Even a noble, ancient industry of fruits and vegetables
will be paved over for something easier

The sun shines brighter here
to see the impossible beauties
they come in glimpses
sometimes in a breeze of mock orange blossoms
in how our motherboards
help us put together the right combination of emojis
to let the best person we know
know how much we love them
Or how we love
orange sauce
and whatever us is

This is for the thousands of seconds
we’ve spent together
tonight and

thank you all
thank you for filling this valley
with your delightful hearts