Kill Starlings

by Christian Drake

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The second album by rockabilly poet and rogue naturalist Christian Drake, including poignant, loud, humorous and captivating work from 2008 to 2011. The album, recorded by the author in his rich and distinctive baritone, is included with accompanying poetry text. Listen and hear why Christian is known by the spoken word and slam poetry community as simply "one of the best."


released January 26, 2012



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Christian Drake Dhaka Division, Bangladesh

Christian Drake is a six-time National Poetry Slam team member and has performed on three National Poetry Slam Finals stages. Originally from New England, he bas been a host of popular slams, poetry shows and burlesques in San Francisco, CA and Albuquerque, NM. He's best known for his often loud, erotic, and political nature poetry. He currently a science teacher in the New England wilderness. ... more

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Track Name: The Day Laborer and The Palm Reader
The sign at the strip mall nail parlor & botánica said,
Free cup of coffee with every palm reading,
so the day laborer dismounting the truck bed across the street,
wearing the cologne of grease and vaporized grass
the way the devil wears sulfur,
decided to find out his fortune.

The palm reader wore pink sweatpants beneath her gypsy skirts.
There were pictures of two children tacked on the corkboard
next to some tarot cards. She turned up his right hand in hers
and frowned. The whorls were gone,
fingerprints burned off and anonymous. The topography of a life,
all sanded down by an ocean of work. All that remained
in the callused hoof of his palm was a life line
that frayed like weak lightning and then disappeared.
She squinted like an astronomer into a cloudy sky,
and said, I'm sorry, I have to give you a refund.
You have no future.

He said, Puede todavía tengo la taza de café?

She said, Yes, you can still have the cup of coffee.

Sipping his coffee from a styrofoam cup, he said,
Maybe you can read the future. But I
can do something more useful: I can read the past.
Look again. See this range of calluses
below my fingers? This is my shovel line.
This scar on the heel, I got pushing an old car out of a ditch.
My fingerprints were scalded off by the poison
they spray to make tomatoes perfect.
On the index, the mark of rope-burn.
The middle, from guitar strings.
The ring finger, caught in a belt sander.
The pinky is somewhere in Guatemala - I'd rather not tell the story.
These are the stars I have placed in the sky of my own fortune,
one by one, as if putting oranges back on the trees.
Maybe I have erased my destiny, but if you can read my scars
scattered like tea leaves in the cup of my open palms,
you can tell what sort of man I am,
and can become.

That night, as he was unwrapping her quilted gypsy skirts,
her K-mart bra, precisely undoing the tiny gold clasp
of her necklace with his glove-like hands,
she would show him the twilight of her body: the scar
under her lip where the toy fire truck was thrown. The black vein
like a tattooed river on her thigh. The ironing burn,
the cigarette burn on her wrist like a kissing mouth, the c-section.
Her body was like the sky, and her marks
a Cassiopeia in the shape of her hard life, and all the dog bites
and bruises laughed with her as they were revealed,
as she matched the map of her scars to his,
scars that for working people are always birthmarks,
and they made love until they both knew each other in a past life,
their bodies together a busy storyteller,
they made love until they became an augury in the mirror
and a prediction that has already come true:
his body, an open hand on the bed.
Her lips, an oracle talking in her sleep.
Track Name: Ordinary Powers
The night I was struck by lightning,
I awoke with ordinary powers
the likes of which the world had seen before.
I could manipulate sound waves to
make other people hear my thoughts.
I could generate heat, even on the coldest days.
When I turned 13, I discovered I could extinguish
at least 13 flames with a single breath,
and with another breath, make campfires burn hotter.
With practice, I even learned how to transfer my breath
to a drowning man, and start a heart beating with my bare hands.

The day of the science field trip,
I was bitten by a spider,
and my latent human abilities manifested
in ways I'd never dreamed.
As a child, I stepped on a caterpillar
and discovered I had power over insects.
In high school, I turned invisible.
My first kiss turned me tangible.
My first break-up, I learned my heart can heal
from wounds as open as outer space.
My cells fully regenerate every seven years.
I am in my fifth body.
As far as I know, I am bulletproof.

I was born on a dying world, packed into a lonely cradle,
and crash-landed on my home planet,
full of fantastic creatures and hostile natives.
I learned I could make my mother materialize by calling out her name.
When she died, I learned I could achieve mortality.

People of Earth, I have time-travelled here from the year 1982
to tell you I have not come alone;
that we walk among us, we freaks,
born to a world that hates and fears us,
constantly bombarded with cosmic radiation,
we shape-shifting apes,
grandchildren of the amoeba,
ancestors of a future race of spacemen.
By night, we travel to a bizarre alternate universe
unbound by physical laws,
to do battle with monsters wearing our friends' faces.

And by day, we put on our normal suits
and pretend we are normal,
that we cannot hear the distant cries for help,
or the heartbeats racing in the liars' chests.
We keep our true identities a secret in our citizen costumes,
knowing we have the power to save the world or destroy the planet,
that we can rescue others by making hands appear in our fists
and eventually we must
because within each of us is a force too great
to be contained in mere skin,
that wants to push and build and comfort
and pilot the good that is the atom of the Earthling soul.
We must realize we possess incredible powers
that only seem ordinary because they are common to us all,
because with ordinary powers comes an ordinary responsibility
so heavy on our giant shoulders:
to be beyond what we believe we were born to be,
more human than humanly possible.
Track Name: Dear Jane
Dear Jane,

By time you read, I will be barefoot, I.
You will find shoes you bought me
polished by front door,
but I have left by bedroom window
to go back to Africa by only trees.
I will find my elephant, my chimpanzee.
I will never touch ground again.

Please understand, Jane, I was never sad to learn for you
how to use spoon. I will miss bed,
how we made linens smell like moss.
I chose to live on ground for you, Jane:
Look how I cut hair.
How I do not eat your goldfish when I am hungry.
Look how I speak man now.
How I learned to whip your horses like you told.

I am not going back to jungle
because I do not love you, pale deer.
I return shoes to you forever
because a house cannot contain my love.
Do you remember fruit bats drumming moon?
How I laid you bleeding out on medicine leaves,
your body white as fast river,
and we fell asleep to mating song of frogs?
This is how I love you.
How can I explain this, sitting in chair?
How do I say this, but in kill-cry from roof?

For year, we swept floor, we made church.
I did not bark when dog barked.
I made me human for you, I.
But you never Africa for me.
I made myself fireplace for you, Jane..
But you never burned like dry season for me.
When neighbors called me black thing because
I eat for hunger, because will not whip butler,
you laughed like butterfly fallen in soup.
Kissed me like buttoning top button.

I brought jungle in hands to you, I.
You folded it into napkin.
I learned to apologize, I.
You never screamed like leopard in heat
or even let bad magic word bloom from lips
like exquisite corpse-flower.
Even your horses know to be wild if leave gate open.
If you could learn to bite through skin,
or walk naked in house with windows open,
or let breath stink with too much sleep and meat,
I would know you understand love.
Lover should not need to learn how to use fork.
Lover should learn to eat raw flesh
of just-killed lion with fingers.
That is love. It is savage thing.
It eats snails off ground to survive.
Love kills only what it needs.

I have taken knife, only thing you did not teach me to use.
I was human, for a year.
Now I am all animals again, together.
Cannot stay where I frighten canary with laughter.
Cannot be full man if you keep you woman locked in corset.
Still, I will miss you from treetops
when moon rises like fever on our wedding night,
last time you spoke jungle to me.
It is a strange place, this house of human heart.
I am glad we are both left it now
to live where we always belonged:
howling into night that always hunts us,
suffering exquisite wilderness.
Track Name: Love Is Like Barbeque
If you know why the pigs
on barbeque joint signs
are always smiling,
you know what it truly means to be in love.

Because love is like barbeque.
You get your hands in the sauce down to your elbows
and smeared all over your mouth
‘til you’re grinning like a carnivorous clown.
Love takes a lot of paper towels.
Love is best slow-roasted over low coals
with smoke in its eyes until a kiss
might shake the meat from its bones

And the Saint of Love, right there
above your own name spelled crooked on the menu marquis
is Bubba the Pig, wearing Chicago bluesman shades
and a chef’s toque, as if to say,

I am both the cook and the supper.
I have fattened myself to fatten your belly.
I have danced to the scrape of the knife on the strap
and I have entered the knife,
and prepared myself for you with black pepper
and a long, pleasant bath above the flames of hell.

Now complete me.
I exist to be delicious,
and it is a joy to be pulverized
between the teeth of something incomprehensible,
a piece of my heart bulging in your cheeks
as you lick you lips, you smile, you swallow,
you loosen your belt.
Track Name: A Petition to Sarah Palin, From the Polar Bears
A Petition to Sarah Palin, from the Polar Bears

The starving miles grow longer for us now, Sarah.
The ice floes drift apart like prodigal planets,
making us surrender to the water and drown.
The cold sea is a taxidermist.
It keeps us too perfectly in its refrigerator
as the crabs pick our bones.
You don't yet know what it feels like
to be a deposed god in your own church.
You will.

We have a saying in our language:
"Beneath the surface, everything white is red."
The ice is a living creature;
scratch its skin and you'll find seal blood
bubbling up under its white fur.
Its heartbeat is our North Star,
our Ursa Minor, our cub.
But we can't feel it under our paws anymore,
and we grow lost.

We stand before you to represent the wolves,
the Kodiaks and the caribou.
We are the nightmares of the Arctic,
but we are the only dreams it has.
But now they fence us in with pipelines,
starve us with laws,
and when we are weak,
they come for us in airplanes
when we have no cover,
no wings.
Shoot us from above,
so far outside the reach of our claws.
You call this "hunting,"
but you don't call it "hunting" when you stand a prisoner
against a white wall as pockmarked as the moon.

And you, Sarah, sent out this air force of executioners
with the click of a pen.
We imagine you with your legs tightly crossed,
saying grace over a plate of wolf meat
in a dining room wallpapered with grizzly pelts.
You must think you're a real predator,
Sarah Barricuda,
pit bull suckling the microphone,
chanting "Drill Baby Drill"
until all the humans howl for blood.
You think beneath the surface, everything white is black.
You think you can kill your native monsters with a wink.
And the worst part is,
you know you can.

Step out on the ice with us.
This is your subpoena.
We'll show you what it means to be a real predator.
We'll let you have your rifle, your Bible,
and the famous moose-dressing knife.
Step out on the ice in the boots you bought in New York.
Try to become us. Wear the bearskin rug
you used to make love on,
the beast on which you conceived your brood.
Try to find us in the white.
We can smell your perfume from further than you can see.
We will be watching you with lifeless eyes
as the crabs devour us,
as you cannot find us on the ice
because we are under your feet now,

as the bear mask falls further over your face,

as the plane begins to circle,

as the ice applies its red lipstick.
Track Name: Delilah
After a hard day of killing,
his skin flayed with sunburn,
Samson would fall asleep in Delilah's lap
while she brushed the blood from his miles of hair.

She was beautiful as a lost kite.
Kept her own hair short,
cut it every time she lost a lover,
wrung the smell of him out with bleach
and changed its color more often than a spy
so she could keep her grace,
float from room to room unburdened as light,
and she made the moon jealous of the back of her neck.

But in the intimacy of their cups,
bathing themselves in the river of his locks,
she rolled a grape along his sternum,
and asked Samson,
What makes you so strong?

And he whispered,
The days fly away behind us, dead yet alive,
like hair.
Every day we grow a new cell,
and we put our memories there,
a slow film reel of our lives blowing in the wind.
I earned my strength
carrying the crushing length of my whole history
on my head. The weight is almost unbearable,
but now I can dent the executioner's axe with my neck.
If you can hoist the planet of your past above your shoulders,
you can brush away a thousand soldiers
like gnats in the wind
with any bone you find on the ground.

You read my autobiography every time you run your fingers
through my hair, Beloved. Look:
Here, at the tips, I was born.
Here, my childhood fever.
Here, I killed my first snake.
Here, the car crash. The knot where my mother died.
Here I killed my first man, a Philistine.
And see this place, near my ears?
This is where I met you, Beloved.

When I unwrap it after battle,
I can remember everything:
every bee sting and stolen kiss,
every day I fought and lost, or prayed to false gods,
took kindness on the enemy's child,
bowed down to the wicked,
and yes, every single day I have loved you.
Remembering your love is what makes me so strong.

And Samson fell asleep under her fingertips,
as her peculiar kisses landed around his temples,
with a sound like,

This is why I cut my hair short the day I left you.

This is why I turned the scissors on myself.

Why I came home looking like a stranger
and looked at you like a stranger,
too weak to fight anymore.

This is why I call myself Delilah now.

Why I begged the barber to be my surgeon,
to cut away this agonizing weight,
to preserve my heart in his jar of blue alcohol,
to burn the clippings,
as you and I
fell away
onto the checkered floor.
Track Name: Radio Free Hell
Good morning,
Good morning, unloved lovers.
Mothers who never wanted children.
The factory workers with hands
mangled by the machine, who still work the machine.
The prison guards with murderers inside.
Rise and shine.

You are listening to Radio Free Hell,
bringing you the sounds from the underground.
I can't answer your prayers, but I play requests.
I'm alone and listening for you, too.

This song goes out to the girls in their bathrooms
letting their blood with x-actos
to make sure they are deeper than the mirror,
and to the machete-scarred girls in coffee country
who cannot possibly imagine them.
This song is dedicated to the innocent prisoners,
the starving children whose parents steal food from them,
the first-time heartbroken.
Twist the speaker dial like a knife in your ribs,
listen closely.

We are Radio Free Hell.
We are the resistance.
We send blues from the tenement trash fires
to the heights of the Golden Gate.
This place does have borders,
though you may never reach them,
and we bring you lullabies from the other side.
I am not preaching the gospel;
I am here in the crowded fire with you,
broadcasting at whisper range.
I am not here to tell you the cavalry is coming.
The cavalry is not coming.
I'm here to bring you music on the killing fields.

For the woman who daily binds her breasts
so they never again invite a rapist's stare,
here's Rhapsody in Blue.
Here's a dance beat for you slaves in the diamond mines
x-rayed daily so you cannot eat even the stones.
For the suicidal astronaut considering cutting your umbilicus
when you see the true nature of the stars:
here's your mother's piano.
Come home.

Last night, your tears sparkled like an ambulance.
Last night, you felt the phone go limp in your hand
like a wounded bird. You had the dream again,
you pissed the sheets in fear.
But today you will put your hands under cold water on purpose.
Today you will divine our signal,
a lonely tapping in the pipes
trying to reach you after so long.

When you are lost in the desert of salt,
turn your radio on.
When the ceiling at night
is busy with the traffic of headlight ghosts,
when the sun will not help push
your broken-down heart, turn your radio on.
Wave your antenna from the top of the roof
like a man in a flooded house
and listen through the static.
There is good news coming, maybe.
I don't know how to save you yet.
I'm burning, too.
But turn your radio on.
Because if the day ever comes to escape this place,
we will be broadcasting instructions.
We will read the list of the names of found souls
over the new national anthem,
with its guitar sobbing triumphantly,
and you will finally realize that this voice
has always been your own,
and then you will hear yourself
read your name.
Track Name: Southern Gothic on Crack
Southern Gothic On Crack

After Daddy done got done with Bethsheba-Rose,

Jesus wept and flooded the hog barn

and we found grampa rowing to shore in the wheelbarra

singin' Confederate songs, even though 

he was three years dead. 

The day Mama got out of the state pen

covered with tattoos of lilies-of-the-valley

and the names of dead soldiers,

the 'lectric company miraculously decided to turn

the lights back on.

This was the summer that corn turned

to whiskey on the stalk, due to the frost,

and the possums played dead between

slices of Sunshine white bread at our feet.

This was the July of my first woman blood,

before we weaned Daddy Jr. from the hound dog's tits

but after the circus elephants trampled

the rye field and knocked up the tractor.

The vampires came then, and took to eating the fireflies.

The district court judge sucked a twelve-gauge

on account of his youngest runnin' off with the boy

who sold sunflowers, and everybody cheered.

Mama hung my stained drawers from the pickup antenna

and the vampires ran after the truck like pups.

The gators yawned like welcome mats on the chapel porch

and the con man's tabernacle collapsed, killing us all.

We're a proud people. We bury our cannonballs with crosses. 

The chickens scratching at the red dirt will find our bones

just under the surface, cakewalking with the Devil

the mayor cast out years ago by law, before he did the thing

we don't talk about anymore.
Track Name: Viva Outlaw Earth
Birdwatching in the city is not a sport for the weak.
I’ve dodged junkyard dogs to get a better look at a dove,
and the other day in the Bosque I scared off a great blue heron
when I stepped on an empty vial of crack.
Listen, I’d love to be out in the virgin wilderness
communing with the Great Turtle Spirit or whatever,
but I’m what happens when Mark Trail spends his gas money on beer
and doesn’t get weekends off from the coffeeshop,
so I’m getting down with Mother Earth
out behind the WalMart.

At the cusp of every city, the forest knocks on the backdoor
of the Barrio, and you can find me there,
where No Hunting signs are motheaten with bullet holes,
where teenagers come to smoke pot and their little brothers
come to build kick-ass bike jumps, where generations
of hardworking lowlifes come to smash beer bottles,
so the clearing becomes a meadow of glass
with a million sharp blossoms of sunlight.
I’m birdwatching from the hobo camps of the world,
where the trees are spiderwebbed with plastic bags
and the car drunk-driven into the ravine twelve years ago
has been repo’d by wildflowers.

While we fight to keep the Earth free
for the wolves and the whooping cranes,
let’s never forget to save enough wilderness
for the outlaws.
We need a wildlife refuge for the fugitives,
the drunkards, and the trespassers,
because the best way to protect good land
is to put bad men in it.

Viva this outlaw Earth.
Viva the hideouts of panthers and thieves.
Viva Pancho Villa’s rattlesnake paradise
and Robin Hood’s forest of laughter.
Viva the broad red borderlands that conceal immigrants
zigzagging under stars and Joshua Trees, hands hungry for work.
Viva the bootlegger’s swamps, and the city slickers lost in them,
fumbling for moonshine on a moonless night.
Viva the guerrilla terrorists
of the American revolution
hunting redcoats in the jungles of Massachusetts.
Viva the midnight skinnydippers at the reservoir.
Viva rednecks, y’all,
because they know more about Nature than you do,
because they siphon it through the barrel of a double-gauge.
Viva the illegal campfires warming illegal hands by the riverbanks,
and the endangered snow leopard pausing to sniff the moon
among the caves of Al Qaeda.

When the cops and the taxman want to find you,
they will bring you back to the city,
give you an address in the projects
and tell you to show up for jury duty.
They will boil down the forest with Agent Orange
so they can find you by airplane,
kill the buffalo to starve you out,
and if you run for the hills, they will stripmine the hills,
because they know
the last refuge of the free will always be the outskirts,
the badlands, the sweet lawless scorpion planet
where the golf course ends,
and I will be there,
birdwatching from the edge of the junkyard,
grateful there are is enough wilderness in the world
for us to still be wild.
Track Name: Pinocchio As An Old Man
Pinocchio As An Old Man

If I could make my wish again,
I would have liked
to have been a tree instead.

When the fairy asked me,
half boy and half pine,
to choose between blood and wood,
no one knows I hesitated,
and chose mostly for the old man's sake.
He had worked so hard to carve me
out of the gnarled heartwood
into a doll in the shape of a son,
and I wanted so badly to please him.
Love was an irresistible unknown then.
My true mother cast me down a hill
as a seed cone, and I was not born
until after the forest fire.

So when the fairy asked me to choose,
I told her I wanted to be a real boy,
and my nose did not grow one inch,
though a termite chomped at my heart.

It has been a good life, by anyone's measure.
The old man taught me carpentry,
how to shear wood into a violin, or a toy ballerina,
or a crucifix, but I never showed a talent for it.
My hands were unsteady.

After he died, I joined the navy
to be as far as possible from forests
and the incessant crickets that kept me up nights.
But the ship's timbers told me war stories at sea
in a haunted baritone, and the mast waved slowly
and steadily as a pine in the strong wind.
The other sailors laughed at my stammering horror
whenever we passed a pod of whales.

After that, I became a lawyer, and was very good at it.
I took a wife, and had children we named after saints.
I know pain, and the pleasure of soft flesh.
Grandchildren try to climb me,
play hide-and-seek around my legs,
and this makes me happy.

But the termite is still in my heart, fat and relentless,
its jaws sticky with blood and resin.
It is still my habit to sit in my rocking chair
in the sun, letting the wind pass through my splayed fingers,
and listening to the soft rattle of maple leaves,
the pines rubbing their trunks together like cello necks.
Rheumatism creaks in my axe-handle bones now,
and I still dream about my ship's bare-breasted masthead,
and my wife complains about my dirt-caked toenails
after I've taken my coffee in the garden
and dug my knotty toes into the topsoil,
tightly as a fist's grip.
I wonder if I was ever made for adventuring,
rather than staying in one place
and simply praising the sun.

Blue star, grant me one more wish.
When they bury me,
don't let them put me in a wooden coffin.
Plant a sapling as my headstone
where its roots can reach my blood.
A pear, perhaps. Something I can offer
my great-grandchildren
who steal them from my branches
and fall asleep in my shade
as I whisper, Hush,

Track Name: These Are The Days
My grandfather died not knowing I existed.
His mind, a world atlas
folded in half and half and half again
until it could fit under his tongue.
It was not so much that he slowly disappeared
as we did, the grown grandchildren at the dinner table
mistaken for strangers. Fantasy
grew on his memory like patches on an old coat,
the holes in every story repaired with fictions
until my grandpa's coat was every color, unraveling.

Forgetfulness runs in my family.

Already I've forgotten so much of my childhood
it's like I've lost a twin brother:
I can't name my kindergarten friends, my sweetest nights,
the shape of my grandfather's hands.
So now I live my life the way I'll misremember it
when all sense has left me. We are young now,
but when we are old we will lie to our grandchildren.
These are the days we can still make tomorrow's lies true.

These are the days you will remember:
Your summer dress swings like a screen door in the wind.
These days, a bubble of blood rises in your throat
and burps with laughter, and your skeleton costume
tumbles in the dryer like a child down a grassy hill.
You will remember this wild pair of green shoes,
how you were brave with your hair. The one semester
of metal shop, when you performed surgery
on your bicycle with a plasma torch.
The heat, the orange life. These days,
you experiment with love like a little boy with mercury.
Once, you cupped your hands to the rain until you became a birdbath
reflecting the storm. You leave blue footprints
on the bathroom linoleum from your girlfriend's hair dye.
You drink beer in the morning and watch the rocket ships
leaving in great plumes from your fire escape.

These are the days when you stop at rattlesnake farms
and wade in, and this is how you will remember them:
walking drunk in the middle of the road like a king,
uvula moon vibrating in the night's mouth.
Hummingbirds swoop in to admire your earrings.
This is how you will remember these days: the good autumn.
This is how: the trek across Australia. The flat tire, where
the marriage really began. The Southern cross. These days:
the fancy scarves. The gypsy diseases. You gargle night
like baby oil. The alligators roll over to show their bellies
to your kissing lips. You lose your virginity
again in a trapeze net.

And some of these things will even be true.
But this is how you will remember these days when
you call your granddaughter by your first wife's name.
When the man with the tape recorder comes for your story,
this is your alibi. Cherish these days.
Muddy your face with these dreams
before you break into the hospital like a bandit.
These are the days you will remember when they force you
onto the last rocket ship, when the Earth dwindles
in the black. When you wake up before the sunrise
because there is no sun anymore, and the nurse is still asleep.
My God, the kites I flew! The kites I never forgot to fly!
The stars revolve like a mobile, and you write your life
the way you recall it, an autobiography like a suicide note
so delicious you could never put down the pencil.