National Poetry Month: Mike Alexander

Long time readers of this blog — and poetry connoisseurs in Houston — will know of Mike Alexander. He has long been a mainstay of the Houston poetry scene, and I’m happy to call him my friend lo these many years. I hope you’ll enjoy this offering from him, “Graphite Furens,” which expresses early on an image from my fond childhood — the hardcore, pre-electric variety, classroom pencil sharpener. They just don’t make them like that anymore.

Here is Mike’s wonderful poem.


Graphite Furens    


Never the sharpest point in the classroom box of pencils,
            I tried to whittle something out of silence,
only to fall in love with the turbine sharpener mounted
            beside the blackboard with its chalk-lip pouting.
Nothing I narrowed down – reductio ad absurdum
           created any permanent impression.
I was the squeak of a cursive letter the second the chalk broke,
            a snap that gathered nobody’s attention.
Never, until the day I did something so utterly stupid
            as running down the street; I wasn’t looking
where I was going, a sharpened pencil held in my tight fist,
            as if to write down something in a fury.
Tripping, I fell in the gutter; falling, I could have dotted
            my eye, to spend the rest of life a pirate,
eye-patch over a marble replacement, a cylops squinting,
            oracular, at sketches of the future.
Luckily, no, for my mouth was, as usual, comically open.
            The spear-point scored the soft roof of my palate.
Blood bestowed eloquence to my newly inspired out-pouring.
            I felt the flood-gates open in my word-horde.
Orpheus couldn’t have sang any louder when he was in Hades
            to woo his loss. I don’t know what I swallowed,
face-down flat in the gutter, but somebody must’ve heard me.
            It wasn’t anyone I knew. A stranger,
often in myths, is a god or a goddess who happens to drive-by.
            I made it to the hospital, where stitches
closed the new mouth the graphite had opened, writing my new name,
            a secret message from the god, deposit
under the base of my brain, hidden from anyone else’s
            unaltered voice. From that point, ever after,
answers appear on the tip of my tongue to idiot questions
            that no one else around admits to hearing.


Mike Alexander came to Houston in 1996. Everything here is so extraordinary, it’s hard to define the ordinary. Nevertheless, he contemplates the quotidian every day. He also served for a time on the board of Mutabilis Press.



Poem-A-Day 2021, Day 9: Mike Alexander

How often have you wandered outside of your office or some all-day appointment with a lunch bag and sat down on a concrete ledge or park bench to sit and eat, alone perhaps, trying to imagine yourself in nature even though this iteration of it was only some boring hedges and a few trees next to a glass and steel building full of people who didn’t know each other, not really, next to a parking lot that smelled of heat and exhaust next to a street that was loud?

Mike Alexander, another mainstay of Houston’s poetry scene, reminds me of this in his poem “Holy Places of the World,” which I love.

And now I want to tell you another story, a lunch downtown story. Half my son’s life ago (literally — he was seven), I took him to the medical center for an all-day appointment. For those who have never seen the Texas Medical Center (the largest in the world, if I’m not mistaken), it is many city blocks populated by very large buildings and decently sized sidewalks. There’s a light rail that goes along the street and a lot of both car and pedestrian traffic. There aren’t really any green spaces between the buildings themselves — only parking garages and more buildings — and not even any piazzas to speak of, but a few of the buildings do have stone or cement steps leading up to their front doors.

On his lunch break, I took my son and our lunch boxes down the street to one of these cement staircases leading up to another official-looking building. We were outdoors, at least. It was a pleasant spring day, about this time of year. I knew my son had, at that time, a phobia of the wide-open sky, but since there were so many tall buildings, it didn’t seem like the sky would be much of a problem today. Plus he had a hoodie, and wearing a hood or a hat was always a good antidote to that particular phobia. As we walked along the sidewalk, and he plastered himself to my side and wanted me to walk with my arm around him and my hand covering his head, it became clear his dislike of tall buildings was not just about architecture.

Over lunch he articulated something new about his phobia to me.

“The problem, I think,” he said around a mouthful of ham sandwich, “is the word skyscraper. I don’t like that word.”

“Oh, that’s interesting,” I said. “What about the word bothers you?”

“Well, are the buildings going to poke holes in the sky? Because I know that behind the sky is space, and I really don’t want that falling on me.”

He was afraid the skyscrapers would scrape tears across the sky, and then the enormous infinity of space (another thing that terrified him — and OMG why wouldn’t it??) would come hurtling at his head.

Fortunately, this was a really helpful and logical explanation, and I’m pleased to say that with a fair amount of loving support from his family and school, he has overcome his phobia.

He still wears hoodies, though. (Just like nearly every other teenager we know.)

A city park, the sky and space beyond it, even a cement staircase in front of a nondescript building downtown in a huge city — these can all be holy places in the world.



You take lunch outside the bank.
It’s not the hanging gardens of Babylon,
but at least it’s out of the sun.
A chlorine sting washes the sculpture
garden, emerges from pre-fab waterfall.

You get used to the smell, the no smell,
the no taste to the egg-salad sandwich
you make yourself chew. You swallow
artificial air. Watch the long shadows crawl
from one end of the hour to the other.

Do you wish yourself elsewhere?
An architect worked late into the night
to give this corner an anchoring holiness.
In a poster outside the travel agency, a woman
walks a suntanned Mecca, nearly naked.

Wading into a postcard of the Aegean, snorkeling
the great coral reef? Ruins of unnatural blue
shimmer in your vision. Okay,
so it’s not the wailing wall.
Can’t you at least pretend to pray?


Mike Alexander came to Houston in 1996.
Everything here is so extraordinary, it’s hard to define the ordinary. Nevertheless, he contemplates the quotidian every day.

Poem-A-Day: Mike Alexander

I first met Mike Alexander — with regard to being a poet, he went by M. Alexander in those days — back in the late 90s at a regular reading series in Houston that was held at a dive bar called The Mausoleum. I think I learned about that series from Bucky Rea, who had been in a poetry class with me in college, and I read at The Maus in that series every now and then. That bar’s owner took the place through several incarnations, including Helios and Avant Garden. In the mid-2000s, I ran a monthly bellydance show there called Eclectic Bellydance; it was a fun and easy gig; the bar’s owner had actually been a member of the first dance troupe I was in, too. I can’t tell you how many concerts and festivals I’ve been to at that place. It’s a Houston institution and has for decades been a haven for artists of all types.

But I digress. As a poet, I’ve always trended toward the reclusive, not attending or even giving readings very often. But eventually I did come back into the scene more regularly and found Mike again at a Mutabilis Press anthology launch party. We were both published in it. Mike also runs a reading series in Houston now called Poetry FIX at Fix Coffee Bar — incidentally, next door to Avant Garden (or whatever it might be called now). That’s a fantastic series.

I’m so pleased to be back in touch with Mike again, and equally pleased that he shares a poem with us on the blog more Aprils than not. He’s extremely adept with form, capable of “hiding” even true rhyme in the clever rhythm of his work. Enjoy this wry and deft critique.



In time of plague we all subscribe
to Exodus. Hysterical,
the paranoia of our tribe
eclipses the merely clerical
dispensaries of diagnosis.
We anodyne the tell-tale sores.
Obedient to a coxcomb Moses,
we butcher lambs, then tag our doors.
Ankh-eyed, mummified & Coptic
at the threshold, one hand reaching
for our dollop of antiseptic,
we echo back the viral preaching.
An angel of quarantine shall slaughter
the firstborn sons of swollen glands.
Believers, see the parting water.
Inoculate. Wash your hands.


Go to this month’s first Poem-A-Day to learn how to participate in a game as part of this year’s series. You can have just a little involvement or go all the way and write a cento. I hope you’ll join in!


Mike Alexander came to Houston in 1996.
Everything here is so extraordinary, it’s hard to define the ordinary. Nevertheless, he contemplates the quotidian every day.

Poem-A-Day: Mike Alexander

I always like to include a poem by Mike Alexander in this annual series. He was heavily involved — possibly even running? I don’t even remember now — the poetry reading series at a bar called The Mausoleum here in Houston back in the late 1990s. I used to read there, and it was a pretty fun venue. A lot of Houston poetry scene regulars were part of that series, and I have fond memories of it.

That bar eventually changed its name to Helios because the owner, a woman named Mariana, wanted to let some metaphorical light into the place. A while later, she changed the name again to AvantGarden, which is what it still is named now. Over the years countless musical acts and even music festivals have performed there, my brother debuted his music video in a party there, and back when I was still bellydancing, I hosted a monthly show there called Eclectic Bellydance. Before us, back when it was The Maus, some friends of mine hosted the Gothic Bellydance show there on Tuesday nights, and plenty of other dance troupes and shows took their turn in the venue as well.

Just across the fence from AvantGarden is a friendly little retail center with, among other things, a coffee shop called FIX. Mike Alexander now runs a poetry reading series there called Poetry FIX, which is in its third year, and which has been one of the places I’ve most enjoyed reading my work over the last couple of years. If you’re ever in Houston on a Tuesday night, see if they’ve got a reading there that week, because it’s really fun. They’ll have two features and an open mic, and I highly recommend it.

This poem of Mike’s was recently published in the Mutabilis Press anthology Enchantment of the Ordinary.


A block from my suburban home, just off the highway –
a host of emails in my head, a deadline met, a deadline
threatening, my radio a celebration of long-awaited weekend,
already overbooked, the volume absurdly high, it’s true,
on Lady of the Morning, a song I hate by a band I hate,
but at this moment, its syrupy bombast, a delicious irony,
a final crescendo announcing my triumphant return
from another day’s battle at the office, when, just as I pass
the last of so many stop signs, that’s when I see it.
A large white Leghorn, I think, — what do I know
about chickens, right? — tall for a bird,
its prominent breast meat proudly held, steps
deliberately, defiant, with a certain military
precision, like a brigadier general in its dress uniform,
but aesthetic, like a dancer working out a routine
for his next performance of the Nutcracker,
directly into the road. I ease my foot off the gas,
come to a standstill, knowing this is a moment to wonder at.
At the same time, I fight my first impulse, which is to roll down
my window to yell, “Winner, winner, chicken dinner!”
That would be crass. This might be somebody’s prize pet poultry.
Besides, I’m not thinking food, I’m thinking probabilities.
Situational ethics. Zeno’s paradox. I’m thinking
my wife will never believe this, but for some reason,
I don’t pick up my cell phone to snap a picture.
A chicken crosses the road, & a lawn, surreal blessing,
like a poem, into a stand of azalea bushes, & then it’s gone.


Mike Alexander came to Houston in 1996.
Everything here is so extraordinary, it’s hard to define the ordinary. Nevertheless, he contemplates the quotidian every day.


Poem-A-Day: Mike Alexander

This seems like a reasonable follow-up to yesterday’s post about responding poetically, ekphrastically even, to another person’s social media presence.

Mike Alexander composed this marvelous poem and posted it on Le Book of Face recently and has graciously allowed me to share it here too. You might notice it is a sonnet; this is something he does particularly well. I remember back in 1999 he had published a chapbook called January Y2K Blues, which was a collection of fourteeners on that theme — one for each day of the month, in fact. In addition to its being well written, the book design itself was really just gorgeous.



A FRIEND told me in chat that I could see
his new vacation photographs – I think
I clicked without a moment’s thought the link
he sent me – O how clueless could I be –
At once, a slew of questions came to me.
I gave the answers, so I’d be in sync
with this new media, this Facebook, Inc.,
surrendering all rights to privacy.
I never saw my friend’s exotic pics;
instead I saw a thousand invitations
from friends I never knew I had, a mix
of selling points & social obligations,
cat videos, hateful ranting, politics…
I gaped like Aztecs at the first Caucasians.


Alexander now runs POETRY FIX, a bi-monthly reading (most months) on Tuesday nights at FIX Coffeebar in Houston.

Poem-A-Day: Mike Alexander

It should come as zero surprise to anyone that I like political and/or satirical poems. I suspect we’re in for a lot more of that in the near-term. But the ones in this series won’t always be. This one needs to get out there, though.



He thought he saw a castle wall, built on bad advice.
The president informed him it would be a paradise,
where avocados could be bought for just three times the price.

He thought he saw an oil spill contaminate a fjord.
The president declared it was a co-pay that insured
a preexisting malady that cannot now be cured. 

He thought he saw a gathering that nobody attended.
The president informed him that the party never ended.
I’d best not say a word, he thought, lest any be offended. 

He thought he saw the televised results of an election.
The president declared that there had been an insurrection
whose perpetual exposure somehow escaped detection. 

He thought he saw the opposition take it up a notch.
The president pretended he would grab it in the crotch.
He couldn’t look away, but he could barely stand to watch.

Alexander organized the weekly readings at Helios (now Avant Garden) from 1999 to 2003. He was on the board of Mutabilis Press from 2010-2015, & has been active in Public Poetry since 2011. His book Retrograde came out in 2013. He is now running POETRY FIX, a bi-monthly reading on Tuesday nights at FIX Coffeebar.

Featured Poet: Mike Alexander

I received so many wonderful poetry submissions this year for this Poet-A-Day series, and while I couldn’t use every poem I was sent, I really enjoyed reading them all and curating this series again this year. Thank you to everyone who participated!

I wanted to share one more of Mike Alexander’s oems with you before this series ran out. This poem appeared in an online zine called Worm and then also in his book Retrograde.


The Great Year

We wake up the same
as any other day,
blind, naked, hurrying
to put the bathroom door
between us. We know
the day, set
in motion, spins us
out of our shared orbit.

Plato might try to console
the parted lovers with a story
about caves & philosophic
light, but then Freud
would be quick to explain
the darker overtones,
hysteria, birth trauma,
fantasies of sexual

.             No wonder
the working world steers
clear of either pole
as fast as it can spin.
We wake, & it’s
too late for aubades,
refusals, leaving that door

.        Plato says
all cycles come full circle,
somewhere in his dialogues,
I don’t care where.
Only that we still hope
for moving bodies parted
in individual circles
to approach, to recognize
each other, returning
to warm sheets.


Mike Alexander ran the Mausoleum weekly poetry open mic for six years of its ten-year run. His book Retrograde came out in 2013, & his most recent chapbook was We Internet in Different Voices.

Featured Poet: Mike Alexander

So while a bunch of the people around me are thinking about death and resurrection, and a bunch of the other people around me are thinking snide but funny thoughts about the undead, I thought I’d share this fun poem with you by Mike Alexander, because being raised Catholic and ending up Gothic means that I find this poem charming. It first appeared in the Magazine of Speculative Poetry.


What’s At Stake

First, there’s the boring wait on night to fall,
or light to fail — & light is more resilient
than one would think. Each dawn is like withdrawal.

Whoever said the dead move fast was brilliant;
that being said, it isn’t very often
they try to bring their habits up to speed
with what’s been going on outside the coffin.

Few night schools teach what nosferatu need.
Blood is the life, but still it tastes like death,
a greed that’s savored best in isolation,
a grief that clings like garlic to the breath.
Each kill is tantamount to escalation.

The jugulars we drain, night after night,
can never cleanse that first inhuman bite.


Mike Alexander ran the Mausoleum weekly poetry open mic for six of its ten year run. His book Retrograde came out in 2013, & his most recent chapbook was We Internet in Different Voices.

Featured Poet: Mike Alexander

Tonight’s featured poet is Mike Alexander. I first came across Mike in the mid-1990s when he was going by M. Alexander and reading regularly on the poetry scene here in Houston. We ended up reading on the same stage more than once, and I became a fan of his work.

Those of you in H-town can catch him reading tomorrow afternoon as well, at the New Book New Poems Reading at 2:00 at the Houston Public Library (500 McKinney 77002). Here’s a link to the Facebook event page. Also sharing their work at this shindig will be Robin Davidson and Peter Hyland. The event will be up on the 4th floor of the main building. Check it out!

You may also find Mike’s book RETROgrade at P & J Poetics.


Le Coup de Vent: Mistral Noir


This is a drunkard’s dance.

.                                        Courbet’s terrain
distorts a sober regiment of oaks,
into a bacchanal of greens, the strain
apparent in the pressure of brush strokes
& knifework. Boughs, unnaturally skewed,
leaves shaking. Wind-swept canvas, it evokes
the pagan frenzy of a nymph pursued
by satyrs,
.                    Orphic lute,
.                                        ecstatic cries.

The landscape sprawls, unfettered, like a nude
discarding her quotidian disguise,
more sacred now she’s shown herself profane.

Inebriated by a beauty eyes
cannot explain, she drops what veils remain,
& spins,
.                    the painter’s brush
.                                        her weather-vane.