POEM | Widespread Orchestra

Widespread Orchestra

Today, I dance knowing
someone somewhere dances with me
Us, cutting two different rugs
that would look great together
if given the chance to sync

This morning
in the shower and the garden
I sang off-key, but somehow
it was in harmless harmony
with someone somewhere else

This afternoon I wept as I did the dishes
a tear disappeared into the soapy water
but I know it will go to meet others
it will add to the upright rivers
and oceans weeping with me
into their own dirty dishes
and dirty laundry
so much to clean
so much time to do it

Tonight, I write this poem-song-biography
by candlelight
a group effort of somehow from
a widespread orchestra
of me and you
and someone, everyone
somewhere else

© 2020 Mighty Mike McGee

POEM | Ode to the Delightful Hearts of the Valley

ODE TO THE DELIGHTFUL HEARTS OF THE VALLEY
An ekphrastic poem by Mighty 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. See and read about the mural here.

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 worry less about money
and to make laughter instead

I miss the folks
I have 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 still worry 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
summer
autumn
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
laughter
sunlight
and whatever us is

This is for the thousands of seconds
we’ve spent together
here
yesterday
and tonight
thank you all
thank you for filling this valley
with your delightful hearts

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.

“static”
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
SO
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
sound
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

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.

ODE TO THE DELIGHTFUL HEARTS OF THE VALLEY
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
summer
autumn
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
laughter
sunlight
and whatever us is

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

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

POEM | 50 Words On The Orchestra of Human Sound

50 Words On The Orchestra of Human Sound
by Mighty Mike McGee, 2010

Listen
Someone once said

we listen to music
for the silence

In this quiet
you are all music
          a symphony
          of ears
          eyes
          and hearts

Time moves fast
Let’s take it slow
          before we
                    heartbeat it to the punch

Let’s all listen while
we all
play our song

 

My Very First Performance Poem

In the summer of 1998, my friend, Geoff Trenchard, newly dear to me, got his first car. The first thing he did was probably buy something with which to get high. Then he went to an open mic in downtown San José and got hooked on poetry, written and spoken. From page to the stage. Took him a while to convince me to join him so that I could perform stand-up comedy in front of a real crowd. I was too scared; no one would understand me except for every single one of my legion of friends. While he urgently attempted to lure me downtown, our friend David Perez was convincing me that I could and should write poetry. What the hell? I hated rhyming unless it was over beats. I still held it in my heart that I would be known for rapping and acting in sitcoms, a la Fresh Prince.

In no time, I was writing ode after ode to all things beautiful and funny. Geoff, David and I immersed ourselves in the San José open mic scene, which was healthy and full of a wide variety of writers and performers. We fell in love with the community and output of the Beat poets, the delivery of Saul Williams, and the hilarious subversiveness of Bucky Sinister.

Here I am, twenty years later, heavily involved with a new version of that community Geoff and David discovered, only now it seems younger, more vibrant and incredibly robust.

It is National Poetry Month and I am in the midst of a schedule that includes of a number of poetry events here in San José and in Portland. I am exhausted and congested. Not sure if it is due to allergies or some cold, but it’s been a very annoying trying to breathe through half a nostril.

But just now, someone I do not know on Facebook messaged me asking to help them remember a poem of mine:

“Hey, I hope you are doing well. You don’t know me and I don’t know you. But I was just sitting out in my sunroom having an Ol’ talk of life with a friend when our conversation led me to an old poem of yours. I used to have it memorized and tried through the few beers and 12 years to pull it back up but just couldn’t. Now I’m searching the internet with no luck. It was your ” as an observer I sit joyously watching all that surrounds me”. If you could point me in the right direction I would be eternally grateful”

The poem they’re asking for is called “The Renaissance Revolutionist’s Plea.” This made my night. I had been thinking of this poem a lot lately. It’s not especially good or exemplary of my usual work. It’s sentimentally “frustrated” in a way I remember being in my teens and twenties. It was the very first spoken word poem I ever wrote and I was 22 when I wrote it. I hear poems like it from young people all the time. It feels good. I wrote it because I had heard Geoff and David read their poems out loud at the open mic and wanted to see if I could do it also. I remember reading it to a lovely crowd. I read it on my knees for some reason. I do not recall why. I do remember it being received warmly. I didn’t read it very often since I was always writing new poems and essays and always had to share something new each week.

Note: “Linus Phelp” was David’s poetry pen name back then.

The Renaissance Revolutionist’s Plea
Mike McGee, September 1998 (or maybe 1997?)

As an observer, I sit joyously watching all that surrounds me.
Whether or not it moves, breathes, sings, plays, kills or loves,
I enjoy its existence now.
I wake to each day as that of a newborn baby.
A newborn with debts, but nonetheless, a bright-eyed wanderer on this pretty blue ball we call home.
However, there is this lack of what we need lately.
I’ve grown tired of this garden.
The farmers and greenthumbs have become bland.
They now plant the same boring, corn year after year.
What happened to the colorful corn and asparagus and apples of yesterday?
I miss those tastes.
I miss the sound of a new guitar riff.
I miss the sight and capability of pondering new colors on a painting that I will never fully comprehend.
Money has become primary.
Add green to the status of Yellow, Red and Blue.
I am not pleased with the poets of today.
Have they forgotten the world we live in?
Has their community died?
I want a world where skies are gray when they need to be.
When autumn eats summer.
I want the sun in due time.
When spring pounces on winter and shoves it up a depressed poet’s ass.
I want my revolution.
I want my Renaissance Revolution.
I want to be one of its millions of observers.
I want to write like writing was a new thing.
I want to slash and burn the Internet.
Burn it down, it’s making us fat, unoriginal and way too dependent.
I don’t need to have my words reach you at the speed of light.
I just want them to reach you.
Slash and burn anything that kills free thought, free love and free life.
Freedom of expression is my duty to further myself.
It’s not just American, it’s human.
I will not evolve into a computer.
I will not be used by a machine.
Slash and burn the old ideas that do not work.
Make new, make love, make life.
Make a friend, make an impossible friend.
Shake hands with your beauty, my beauty and someone else’s.
Tell it to fuck off if it doesn’t work for you.
Find something else.
Talk about your testicles at the dinner table.
Bring up your clitoris at school.
Once upon a time, a friend of mine and I watched the sun go down to wherever that son of a bitch goes.
Sadly, my friend was afraid of commenting on the truths he felt.
The “uncool” truths.
And finally, he mustered the courage to say that the setting sun’s sky looked a “pastel pink.”
The beauty of smog and the terror of the ending day had indeed made the sky a “pastel pink,” and I agreed.
For him to pontificate on this type of thing is normal, for he is a great poet and everyday becomes even greater.
But for him to deny himself his “revolutionary” right to “dig” and “groove” to his own world is a crime.
It is a punishment to all the real poets of the world, to subject them to the horror of feeling ostracized, for simply holding up a mirror to the world and saying, “Take a look, this is you. It’s okay to like what you see.”
I am just an observer.
But even I could see that the sky was a “pastel pink.”
What caused him to hold back?
Could it be that art is dead?
Could all of the the true artists of the world have gone fishing?
Can anybody hear me?
So, I want to thank him.
Thank you, Linus Phelp.
Thank you for showing me the “pastel pink” sky.
Thank you for putting the Renaissance Revolution in me.
Let’s show the world what we see.
Let’s love the world for what it is and what it will be.
Let’s spread some artistic mayonaisse all over the walls and cribs and playpens of the world.
Let us march to the closest and farthest nurseries and orphanages and plead with the next generation not to give up on us.
Not to give up on their world, for they are the world and it is so very precious.
It will be hard, but so worth it.
Musicians of the world, unite and entertain us. Put our lives to a soundtrack that rivals our own heartbeat.
Artists of the world, band together and paint the murals that will stand forever as a testament to the uniqueness of what we were.
Poets and writers of the world, teach us how to teach ourselves to be whatever it is we want to be.
Observers of the world, show us what we can’t see yet. Please be patient with us, we will see it someday.
And all who may be willing, please follow onto the train.
The train that will take us to the Renaissance Revolution.
How mysterious the revolutionist can be.
For he is the key.
To finding what we long to be.
I am one as he is me.
Tell your neighbours, tell all your friends.
The world is much bigger than the chair you sit in.