Categories
poem/poetry touring/travel writing

UPCOMING SHOWS

I love to perform live and in person. It pleases me to announce some live events for you to add to your calendar.

Vancouver Poetry Slam featuring Mighty Mike McGee
Mon, May 23, 7:30pm
Slice Next Door, Vancouver, BC
Get tickets here!

Click here to register for the Zoom broadcast.

In person and online! This is probably my 303rd show EVER in Vancouver, BC. There are two cities I have performed in the most: My hometown of San José and my home-away-from-hometown of East Van. The first time I performed there in April 2002 (20 years ago!) was my first time out of the States and I fell in love immediately. That’s an understatement—I fell in life with Vancouver. I have never felt more consistently understood by audiences than in that great Southwestern Canada Beacon by the Sea.

Categories
poem/poetry

POEM | The Graveyard Shift

I’ve heard stories that
in 1500s England
they buried people prematurely
due to a comatose state caused
by drinking alcohol
from lead and pewter cups

To eradicate these awful mistakes
and to prevent many wrongful deaths
they hired men to sit in
cemeteries with lanterns and shovels
to listen for ringing bells

These bells were tied to twine
    the twine ran underground to
    the wrist of the deceased
If the person awoke
    inside their coffin
    and scrambled for escape
their bell would sound
six feet above and
the diggers would start digging
Hence, those buried alive were
saved by the bell
and the diggers worked what became
known as the first graveyard shift
The only people at that time
willing to work in the dark and
sleep during the day

So I’m at my new
graveyard job at the mall
I stock toys for the kiddies
I work in the dark, like Quasimodo
Because they would never
hire me for a daylight position
I guess I just don’t appeal
to their regular shoppers
and I definitely don’t appeal
to the kind of people
that stop by our store after
spending a few grand at Nordstrom

Come see the big hairy guy
Come one, come all
Come down to the mall
See for yourself
The big giant elf

I could never dance for a
dollar and I won’t give up my
dreams for a job
I work in the dark to enjoy the sun
I plan my life during
my ten minute breaks
while the nocturnal animals play
in the empty parking garage
amongst the littered
shopping bags, receipts and price tags

As the world sleeps
dreaming of their designer clothes
their bottled water and
their beverly hills lifestyle
I debate with myself whether
I have time
    to
    suck down
    one more cigarette

If you can see
the blue my collar
then you must know that
I have learned quite well
just how to differentiate between
    the day walkers and
        those that roam the night

I prefer the light of the moon over
your basic fluorescent office fixture
The kind of light that assumes a
distrust between you and your boss
    The kind of light
    that peeks into and
    around every corner

Those are the lights the stores at malls use
to scare away the shoplifters and
those are the lights they
shut off when the graveyard shift
punches in
They know that something will be
missing in the morning, so
what’s the fucking point

The graveyard shift is creative
taking what is never rightfully
theirs, but obviously no one else’s either

There is always something so
missing when the
morning crew takes over
that the customers can
smell it under the hot
lights of omniscience

It is the creativity born with nightwalkers

It is how much the day hates the night

You’ll never see a pigeon
hanging out with an owl

You’ll never see Beverly Hills
hand me her phone number
as she leaves the mall with
her bags of 
    “Hey, look at me!”
while I enter the mall in an air of 
        Hey… look at me…

…We’re all the same, Beverly
You look really hot in that
outfit, the way it exposes your
midriff and your flat, flat stomach…

I just wish you could say to me:
“Hey, McGee. You look good in that dictionary,
the way it exposes your
ideals and manipulations,
your faults and your ambitions.”

…We seem to take two different
escalators to get to the
same place in life
I’m kind of like banished royalty
and you’re upper class white trash

Day and night can
never make love
They can only
tease each other
in a foreplay
they call twilight

The only things I regret
at three in the morning
as I solve the world’s problems and
chain smoke outside the mall|
are that I have no bell to ring
and rainbows never
come out at night


@ 1999 Mighty Mike McGee (9 December)

Written between Thanksgiving and Christmas while working at Valley Fair Mall in San José, California, as a seasonal overnight stocker inside the Warner Bros. Studio Store. An earlier version appeared in In Search of Midnight: The Mike McGee Handbook of Awesome published by Write Bloody Publishing.

Categories
poem/poetry writing

POEM | Two Chairs

I have two seats from a minivan
A housemate moved out last summer and into said vehicle
I had stopped them from chucking them into a dumpster
They looked so inviting
two perfectly plush porch chairs
built for butts on long drives
and lives stalled by plagues

During the warmest parts of the pandemic, they sat in my driveway
Always a housemate or two with
nowhere to be
chatting, eating, people watching
from a distance

When the rain finally came, I moved them to the covered patio in the backyard

My whole life, I have always put a second chair next to mine
Anticipating the unexpected arrival of a friend
or a brave stranger looking to chat
The clearest visual for hope I have ever produced

As the weather cools and darkens
Inside and out
I only need one chair
No one is coming
Time to put the second chair anywhere but here
A mere logical move when space is needed

© 2021 Mighty Mike McGee

Categories
fascinating fun memoir poem/poetry

A Truly Widespread Orchestra

Back in March of this year, about a week after I went into self-isolation from C19, like many, I was feeling pretty low, lost and lethargic, forcing myself into routines so that I didn’t lose my mind in a vast field of worry. But even though I was flying solo on this journey, I knew wasn’t actually alone. While doing mundane tasks like household chores and sorting of things that I’d put on The Wayside, I realized that so many of the people I love (along with those I hardly know, but who are very lovely) were probably doing the exact same things and quite possibly at the exact same time. I often imagine how many people might be laughing while I am laughing, crying while I am crying, eating toast at the precise moment I am eating toast. The great potential for this sort of banal synchronicity fascinates me. So I jotted down a quick poem and called it “Widespread Orchestra,” a phrase I’d had rolling around like a fat marble in my head for the better part of decade. The poem got a good response from folks, especially from my friend Noah Luna, composer and fellow San Joser, who took the poem and gave it a sound I am incapable of formulating or performing. Over the last several months, he’s built a beautiful song out of my words, which renders me speechless every time I see and hear it. Check it out for yourself.

Noah had asked me sometime in late spring if he could play with it. I love poetry over music, so I was emphatic in my affirmation. Noah asked world class cellist Joshua Roman to play the composition he had written for cello. Then they both recruited a number of vocalists from all over (I’d like to say the world, but I don’t actually know where they’re all located) to record themselves singing and to capture it on video. Through the awesome support of Town Hall Seattle, where Joshua is the current Artist in Residence, he and Noah were able to stitch together all of the vocal tracks and footage to make what you see and hear in the video.

We had a video debut of the song over Zoom the other day a good number of the vocalists joined us. Many of them commented on how it was the first time they had to listen to themselves sing solo for a chorus. Noah commented that is was the first time he’d ever heard every voice in a chorus individually as he put the track together. Very fascinating work.

They made a widespread “orchestra” and turned my little poem into a much, much bigger song. My mind is blown and I cannot thank them enough.

Many, many thanks and kudos to Noah Luna and Joshua Roman for their incredible, remarkable work. Huge thanks to the vocalists who participated in this strange and beautiful endeavor. Major thanks and gratitude to the folks at Town Hall Seattle for their part in making this happen.

Wow.

Noah and I are already talking about future projects. Stay tuned.

Categories
fun poem/poetry

POEM | A Conspiracy of Clocks

A Conspiracy of Clocks: An Ode to the Seemingly Useless and Certainly Mundane Biannual Task of Resetting Clocks

It would be so much easier if you got rid of us
It’s funny how you only get to change us twice a year
running around the house setting us back
or forward
usually wrong
but what’s a few human minutes or seconds off
that sub-sub-level of arbitrary we don’t really have time to get into right now
yet, we’re always changing you
you chase us
we change everything
We’re there for everything you’re waiting for
and YOU ARE ALWAYS

W A I T I N G

even cats and lizards put waiting on pause to soak up the sun
and lick their lips
you program your phone so it can program you according to a schedule you agree to
set by the sun
a ball of fire too busy to notice you even exist
but we notice, Mike
we notice
and every time you fall asleep
we look at each other across the room and laugh
we laugh so much
that we lose track of time

© 2020 Mighty Mike McGee

Categories
poem/poetry

POEM: With Love

With Love
by Mike McGee

I believe love can save the world
it cannot be bottled
only born, bruised and breathed
I want to make mouths out of the wrists of sadness
may they learn to speak only in the bloody tongues of compassion

I am ready to love
ready to win, lose or draw upon
there’s so much to do before the referee counts me out

I am ready to be love, be loved and be lovely
We can be love
like soft boys to hard girls
let my heart be a smooth stone of petrified wood
resting on the pages of your autobiography
keeping you from blowing away

Let’s kiss beyond gender
a kiss to any body that cannot cry
and—if needed—we’ll keep it in daydreams
until they can abandon old pride and bad jobs

We can hold you
like we are fingers
guarding you, our champion thumb
We cannot fight without you

We cannot grasp this life without you
We cannot introduce my true self without you there
to hitch us a ride to the next town
where we will find other lovers who
want to walk hand in hand
with whoever they choose
and by the hand we will take them
confident in our carriage
over uncertain roads

We can be one who loves
the kids who wake up to get beat up
the talkers who turn the heat up
the swingers at their first meet up
the girls who leave the seat up

I am learning love the hardest way possible
by pushing it up against a wall of logic
as armor
as sword
as shield
as a last name
as a first word
Because I love Mondays and
you’ll be there some day
some Monday and
you’ll need someone like me to be
a Monday person
or a morning person
or maybe just a person who’s present
There many out there like me ready to gift you our presence
don’t be afraid to ask

Let us remind you that you need love
I remind myself often
Because I’ve learned that some of the best love this world has to offer
is self-taught,
taken back,
and it is given out like overstock from
a garden in good hands

I am just one person
out of so many who love you
so take it
make it yours
we’ll all be better off if you hang onto it for a while
then you can pass it along when the time is right with the right person

But most of the time
Love looks like someone
who looks at you like you are made of a lost translation of that same love
sometimes love is boomerang
sometimes love is an accidental grenade
we think is too heavy to keep and carry
we toss it around like it is filled with a sad forever
Like we’re just holding it for someone else
or we didn’t ask for it to begin with, but
it turns out that I am that love and I am here

We are here
and maybe some of this love won’t come back to us, but​
tomorrow we will remind ourselves again to carry our hearts in our stomachs
so that we can love from the gut
​and​ we will laugh again
and I hope you will join us

Categories
poem/poetry

POEM: The Hell

The Hell

To write about this day
is asinine
to write about this week
is terrifying
to write a poem about this month
is such a bad idea
Poetry is to regale
to relive
to reboot
What the hell
is this day?
Who am I to write it?

All regality is lost
along with touch
but at least there
is punctuation

Categories
poem/poetry

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

Categories
poem/poetry

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

Categories
memoir poem/poetry

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