Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Drink Me

Deep inside there lies

The only outside,

Assuming any

Outside's possible,

Keyhole through the soul.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Morning Glory

I come across an old note

Lying around in my head

That says something on the line

Of "all stories are fiction,

Especially the true ones,"

And I have to ask myself

What the hell I thought I meant,

And why can't I get beyond

Repeating these sorts of thoughts

As if they were insights, when

They're really more like small walls

I keeping bumping into, or

The insurmountable crest 

Of the hill that blocks my way

From going any farther

Every morning as I stroll

Up sidewalks with my daughter

Past banks of drooping flowers

Dropping late-summer petals

Under the great trees that tell

No tales I have to believe.

Monday, August 29, 2011

To Express Thoughts in a Shareable Form

"It is a pilgrim's death to die

In a sacred place, a beast's death

To die in barren wilderness.

They're the same!" Enkidu complained

In one of his many lectures

On the strange nature of culture

That Gilgamesh came to detest,

Much preferring sex and wrestling,

The prerogatives of a king,

To these semantic distinctions

Fine enough to comb out the nits

Infesting the thoughts of his friend.

"Die wherever you want! I wish

I'd never taught you how to talk,"

He grumbled. Then Enkidu left

The king bereft. You know the rest.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Beers and Laughter

"students of fish behavior and evolution certainly have their disagreements . . . but they typically remain amicable, and debates are often carried out among beers and laughter."

Oh, if only, if only

Academia could be

Absurdly convivial,

Absurdly relaxed, carried

Out among beers and laughter.

The greatest academics

I knew, scientists, poets,

Geniuses uninterested

In business or leadership

Or literary theory,

Could drain a fifth of whiskey

Or a pitcher of cheap Bud,

But were rarely contented

And laughed at their own expense.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Because of What We Are, It Grows

The world may be evil.

The universe may be evil.

Hell, God

May be evil or, worse,

Indifferent, per Hardy

And Crane,

But people, even bad

People, are not evil, not 

The source

Of evil. At worst,

We are to evil what

Dry pines

Are to leaping, rampaging,

Death-dealing, all-consuming


Friday, August 26, 2011


We don't practice

What we preach because

That would spoil the point

Of preaching: tigers

Dream of slower deer,

Not of slower tigers.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

High Clue

The most startling accomplishment

Of humans has been to accept

Stars are so far away from us

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"Be Here Now. Be Somewhere Else Later. Is That So Complicated?"

I'm tired of asking myself why

Joys can't come without harms,

Why those forever young lovers,

Peace and Sorrow, always

Wrangle in one another's arms.

Just because I don't perceive

Intentional loving kindness

In our dark, star-dotted universe 

Doesn't mean I can't delight

In its coincidental charms.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

No One Gets Away with Dreams

The most beautiful roads

Are the worst on your bones

And paradise is a wilderness

Of solitude you can't reach alone

Monday, August 22, 2011

How Should I Then Live?

So I'm minding my own business,

And I read in the online Times

(Which I should leave alone, were I

Truly minding my own business)

That Frank Schaeffer, son of Francis,

Has a book out, Sex, Mom, and God,

Debunking fundamentalist

Christian myths about his parents.

Well. It's 1979

Again, and I am a junior

In evangelical prep school,

Driven to Manhattan to see

A movie about some Swiss guy,

A minister with a goatee

Living on a sort of commune,

But Christian, preaching about things.

I don't remember everything,

But I do recall my teachers

Asking me, solicitously,

What I thought about what I'd seen.

I told them I believed it all,

Everything he said, the whole thing,

Which was true, as far as I knew,

And seemed satisfying to them.

The other main thing I recall

Was that I learned a big new word

That day, euthanasia, which meant

Atheists killing old people,

And this peculiar memory

Hitches a ride on my thought stream

Until it reaches the triptych

Of my maternal ancestry,

My mother's mother, mouth agape,

In a New England nursing home,

Completely unaware of me,

Around 1973,

My father's mother, mouth agape,

In longterm care facilities,

Sleeping through various visits,

Circa 1992-6,

And my mother, who died last week,

Propped up for her last photograph,

Mouth agape, beside my sister

And my niece holding her newborn.

Hooray! Four generations caught

In one snapshot before too late.

A vacant presence in a home,

Ghastly, surrounded by offspring,

Not "in the Presence of her Lord,"

As my sister put it, until

The body itself at last died,

As God and selection designed.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Great Shadow

Our old friend, the poetaster,

The one who writes a poem day

And likes to natter on about

The meaning of meaninglessness,

Was out with his infant daughter

For her dawn perambulation

Down the dirt road through the forest

Picking at berries and flowers,

Having his usual deep thoughts

About seasons and calendars,

Singing his morning song cycle,

And chattering at his daughter,

When he noticed a large shadow

Up ahead on the hill-road home.

He paused, stopped shoving the stroller,

And scrutinized the black outline.

Damn if it wasn't a big bear,

Biggest black bear he'd ever seen,

Blocking the path, sniffing the air,

Depthless silhouette in sunlight,

So large that its hindpaws rested

In one wheel-rut, front paws athwart

The other rut, straddling the road.

Lord God in Heaven, it was huge.

All thoughts of meaninglessness flew

From his oversized monkey brain,

Now completely preoccupied 

With fight or flight, freeze or defend.

He roared. He raised his arms. He sang

The song of Disney's harmless dwarves

In the deepest tone he could groan--

"Heigh-ho! To scare the bear we go!"

Slowly, softly, the shadow turned

And sniffed the noisy hominin.

Quieter than a bear should be,

It slipped back into the forest,

Leaving our friend and his daughter,

One wired and one oblivious,

To contemplate crossing the spot

Where that great, black shadow had been.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

"People Underestimate the Capacity of Things to Disappear"

There was a boat here, once,

A giant wooden cube,

Held all the animals

That ever were, in pairs.

It's long since disappeared.

There was a goddess cult

That ruled and kept the peace

And was the normal way.

Then male gods ruined it

And made it disappear.

A great Jewish empire

Roamed North America

With chariots and steel

When dark ones' corruptions

Wrecked it. It disappeared.

There was a planet once

Held life with all its joys

Intact, without sorrows.

Nothing ate other things.

Love was free. Now it's gone.

Friday, August 19, 2011

To Ruin

It's late in a late-arriving 

Summer, and already the days

That only just barely warmed up

Are getting shorter, nights colder.

A nervousness, a chippiness

Flickers through pre-autumnal air.

Life's exploring twig-tips quiver

With strategic indecision.

Birds, bugs, plants, and bears are restless, 

Wavering between behaviors

Honed for August or September.

The lake is twisting in its bed.

Along its shores and surfaces,

Locals, tourists, boaters, fishers,

The odd lunatic still swimming,

Express their own anxieties,

Mostly to do with banks and homes, 

Jobs and family obligations,

Becoming territorial

Of the lake, when it's time they crave,

More summer, more light, more long days

Promising endless emptiness.

The clean and open lake feels small

As the summer shrinks around it.

One family fishing from the shore

Gesticulates at a fast boat

When it roars past their out-cast lines.

They cup their hands on cheeks and shout,


"Go out! Get out! Our lines are out!"

The water-skier jeers at them,

So they bellow louder, "You've got

The whole goddam lake to ruin!"

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Time Is a Crooked Bone

As long as I don't look at it

Too long or too closely, I think

That I can just about stand it.

Resisting its own gravity

Almost successfully, it twists

With every bit of history,

Every injury, the prophet

Memory, an anxious angle,

Bent to catch that which gives way next.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Slocan Monomictic

The lake turns over once a year.

Some of the water that rises

And some of the water that sinks

Is the same, I suppose. Not all.

Some of the people returning

Are some of the people who leave

Beginning and end of summer,

Beginning and end of each day.

Not all. Their comings and goings,

Mysterious and incomplete,

Haunt an inner echo chamber,

Turning me over in my dreams,

Confined inside my narrow cot

Of thoughts about the world I know,

Whatever I am when waking.

Some of me, I suppose. Not all.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Of the Wisp

Comfort comes most often

In the lingering dream

Of timeless persistence.

Essence is forever,

However we quarrel

Over what's essential.

If only finity,

Being true, consoled us,

We'd forgive forever

For being the one thing

We can't have as we are.

We can't because we aren't

Consolable except

Surpassing death, I don't

Know why. I don't know why.

Monday, August 15, 2011

In The Flesh, It Is Immortal

Flying away from my mother's

Funeral, it occurs to me,

Brilliant insight, I've never died.

This flesh that manufactures me

From bits and bobs of other things

Derived from flesh itself alive,

Derived from flesh itself alive,

Derived from flesh itself alive,

Derived from flesh itself alive....

Bodies birthing other bodies

Grew old, of course, and later died,

But the flesh, it is immortal.

And then the hard thought follows fast:

All that living, generating

Eternity was never me,

Not until very recently.

I myself am momentary,

The flickering space flesh creates

As one survival strategy.

My consolation lies outside

Life's gift for continuation,

In the extraordinary glare

Of knowing I am this knowing,

Nothing containing everything.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Impiety Attends a Mennonite Funeral

He would prefer to see himself

As suave as Mephistopheles,

A dark and elegant sophist

With fearsome powers of persuasion,

But he knows he's just another

Slovenly evangelical,

Home among sisters and brothers,

Chanting four-square hymns together,

Albeit one who's discovered

How cruelly the truth reverses

Their arrow of theology,

Their one way away from heaven,

This life, that is, the one they claim

Holds no death for them and no end,

Just affirmation of their God's

Linear dominance hierarchy, 

The Father, the Son, the Ghost, them,

Then angels upright, then sinners,

Then beasts lacking souls to salvage,

Then fallen angels at the end.

That end, the Fall, the sole haven

From life's perpetual tumbling,

Their piety considers cursed

When it's all the assurance left,

And the Imp, one rung above them

On the ladder to damnation,

Draws his own dim consolation

From knowing he knows what they won't.

God dwells at the very bottom

Of their deep wellsprings of belief,

Booming back hymnal melodies

In His sepulchral basso thrum.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

I Pretend I Hate the Rules

When in fact I love them

As a lab rat loves his pellets,

As a cracker-jack addict

Loves his crack-

Er-jack. Rules

Are to the prefrontal

Cerebrum what heart-

Beats are to the brain-

Stem, sex to the cerebellum,

What such dumb poetic

Conceits and analogies

Are to the poetastic,

Humanistic, neuro-

Anatomically, log-

Istically ill-informed.

I love rules because

They keep me

Occupied with watching

Out for them while

I study them, the way

The mad field primat-

Ologist watches out

For violent dominance

Displays by male

Chimpanzees behind her

Back while she counts cops

Continuing in front of her.

Friday, August 12, 2011

"Circling Low and Inside Tonight"

She wouldn't like a poem like this.

She wasn't much for poetry,

Except, perhaps, for gospel hymns,

And I don't write hymns anymore,

Or not the sort that take us home

To Jesus, more the sort that drag

Me out along the Great Divide

Where pilgrim bluegrass singers pour

Their extravagant narratives

Of whiskey, blood, and hallelujahs

Over violins and banjos,

And farther up the pine-clogged slopes,

Old, jaded Chinese poets hide,

As impossibly taciturn

As the balladeers down below

Are emotively loquacious,

Writing to write beyond language,

Drinking and sighing in their beards,

One eye watching clouds for dragons,

The other squinting at three words'

Wavering black calligraphy.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Model Species' Lament

We keep pointing fingers

At and/or apologizing

To each other, when

We've got nothing

To do with it, with how

It started, now it's going.

Here we command as

Little preference, truly, 

As a pigeon commands

A life in a lab, a life

In a plaza, a life spent

Strutting for nothing

Or pecking for treats, a life

Spent for other lives, for life, a life,

The life.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Another Dumb Something to Be Proud of That I've Done

Sometimes poems are exorcisms:

You try to smoke the monster out

Before your tiny cottage bursts,

You pitchfork the gleeful demons,

Prodding them as they prance about

And poke you back. It fucking hurts.

With any luck, the monster shrinks,

The demons scatter and get gone.

Tidy up those lines, now. Move on.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Words that Make Their Own Music

Defining beggars description,

Description leans on anecdote,

And anecdote atomizes--

Poem for poem, back where we began.

Can we claim that anything counts

As poetry if we claim it?

Everything counts but not enough.

It's not just what we say it is

Or is not. And what should it be?

Every should is a social should,

And poetry should be social,

But so should all the language arts.

It's usually unusual,

We recognize it as special,

One of the synonyms for life,

Genius, that blasted unicorn,

A dream thing known but never caught.

It's what poets write poems about 

The ones no one else cares about,

Except poets and their mothers,

Or some of their mothers at least,

The sort of poems that start off strong,

With titles like sunlit water,

Hinting at deep green clarity

But blurry and unrevealing

Of anything but the shadow

Of the swimmer squinting down, down

In search of some profundity.

Monday, August 8, 2011


This world is so weird, either we're

Wired wrong for it or it's a joke.

Nothing capable of mercy

Is capable of innocence.

Nothing innocent, say, the sun

Or the earth shrugging in its skin,

Is anything but pitiless

If we plead for something different.

And if life, per Darwin's smartest

Metaphor, is but one damned tree,

Then the world-chopper, word-chopping

Poet's a nodule on a root

Deep underground, where tree meets dirt,

One of the points life pushes in,

By algorithm, not foresight,

With each dim, mechanical poem:

"Every time this is good, I say

'This is good,' to myself, and hope

That by acknowledging the good

I've somehow made the most of it."

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Toast on the Beach

     "I met my good friend, yesterday..."

The wheel of fortune, being
Well and truly loaded, never
Turns well, never hones
Its chops on tunes
A Pythagorean understands,
Makes nothing like the music 
Of a sphere.

     "...The one who is okay..."

It never turns at all in circles,
More in arabesques
Approximating oblong gestures,
But oh my sisters, oh my brothers,
Oh my gods and little fishes,

     "...With driving drunk..."
Still it turns, it burns, it turns,
Like the drunkard totters, searching
For a well-lit wallet lost
Long ago and far 
From this illuminating streetlamp.

     "...Without a seatbelt..."

It turns on all of us before the end,
And if it's turned on you, believe,
Somehow it will turn on me,

     "...In the middle of the day..."

And given that our fate's not ours
To comprehend, much less command,
Then I don't know, let's share a drink
Or hoard our own, each dire to each,
In honor of our little ends.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Stop Me if You've Heard This Before

A German, an Englishman, and a Canadian,
Brought together by their love of model airplanes,
Those working ones that can fly by remote control,
And by simultaneous August vacations,

Talk shop convivially under the whining
Of their little wonders looping over the lake,
Until one puts his plane into too steep a dive,
The German, and it stalls and crashes in the waves.

A fool on a boogie board, surfing the creek mouth,
Paddles out obligingly to rescue the toy.
Someone makes a joke about the German losing
The dogfight, and only the Canadian laughs, 

Enough to sound polite, then goes to the German
As to a dumb brother, to give him good advice.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Et in Canada...

I love the play of humaness,
Language hovering like a cloud
Of gnats over bathers chatting
As they enter into the lake,

Three women of bathing-cap age.
"Then the rigor mortis sets in!"
"I could use more rigamarole!"
"It's hard on your boobs, really hard."

It's beautiful to listen to,
Not three women, really, but one,
Co-created conversation,
Being in which I, too, am one.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Early 21st-Century Meditative Lyric

"here I sit, having some poetic thoughts"

I guess our bodies make us up
Because we help them reproduce.
We tend to feel like we're in charge
And our job's to take care of them.

We're engineered to make the boasts
And take the blame, however life
Decides to treat us. We've been framed.
There's no soul ever planned a life

Much less built and succeeded,
Nor failed in its execution.
My body belongs to me as
Waves belong to the foam they make,

Still I suspect I am useful,
A social self among the selves
Of other bodies. Bodies thrive
On thriving bodies, big surprise.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Sacred Material of the Profane Spirit

This is this, and that is that.
Here and gone goes the only
Spiritual material.
It's not a house; it's a wave.
Ride it. You can't dwell in it.
Or something like that. What is
Intimate, impersonal?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Lord, lord how personal our bodies are,
How rare and strange to themselves and others,

Such elaborate instruments of life
In its grand quest for continuation,

Built from (simpler, and more complex than) stars.
I'd trade mine in, if I had my druthers,

Beater that it is, but it's not my life
To swap, only my peregrination

To ride out as its creation, its soul,
Its nothing, its genius, its void, its whole.

Monday, August 1, 2011


1. Möbius Strip

You shall forget the truth
And the forgetting shall
Set you free. That's the truth.

2. Koan, the Smartass Librarian

If you find yourself
Worrying about what
You need to know, you
Already know too much.