Monday, October 31, 2011

All Hallows' Veils

A poem goes as a newborn
An old man goes as a young mother

A sunrise goes as a tangerine
A breakfast goes as a fruit dish

Affection goes as a brace of doting grandparents
A bittersweet recollection goes as a scenic commute

A silence goes as a self-startled ghost
Noises go as a scholar's marginalia

Cottonwoods go as last week's bouquets of dried sunflowers
Fields go as unmade beds

Mountains go as reclining nudes
Clouds go as ballroom dancers

Time goes as space
Mind goes as a couturier

Sporting a cumbersome tricornered hat
Suspiciously like a blue sky

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Slow Ghost at Daybreak

The room moves
From almost lightless
Almost silent

To a distant,
Mourning-dove grey,

An unnoticeable light
That spreads into the bed,
The empty corners,

The soft snoring
Of mother and daughter
Wedged together

At the edge of something
That never is without,
Turning around within

Itself. Neither anything
Still, nor nothing not
Still, the room moves.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Pinhook Burn

Get me out of here, I'm fond
Of repeating to myself,
Although I don't want to get
Away from anywhere but me.

Sequoia's in her car seat
Because she needs a long nap.
We head into the mountains
Where new snow's already old,

And orange autumn hunters
Draw beads from slush-banked roadsides
On rumors of trophy elk,
Bracing rifles in the wind.

I imagine the best elk
Can't resist posing grandly
As the circle of hunters
Closes ranks excitedly.

Every dumb prey animal
Dreams of daring transcendence.
Every escape artist dreams
Of being more tightly bound,

Too many locks without keys,
One more miracle release
From the prison of being
An escapee every time.

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Fine Mundanity

The Colorado River's running red.
Thick ochre ichor clots its canyon bed.

Long sticky lines start running red.
Thick diction clogs a cracking head.

I take back what I said.
Say something else instead.

Day ends and pops back up again, undone
By cliffs still playing footsie with the sun.

I do my work. It comes undone.
I watch my daughter. Have some fun.

I take back what I've done.
There is no one in won.

Everything sociable gathers below:
Shadows, scribbles, in-laws, murders of crows.

The local pond's been drained so low,
Bellowing cattle come to blows.

I take back what I know.
Earth's the star of this show.

I'm overfed
On doubt and bread,

And what I've done
Can't be undone.

Sun set below
Dirt will not grow.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Man with a Talking Problem

~for Scott Abbott
"Opinions were like kittens.
I was giving them away."

I knew a professor grown tired
Of profession who said, "The more
I profess, the further I get
From knowing what I'm professing.

Humans are beasts who secrete
This horrible, sticky substance
We like to call conversation,
Earth's nastiest ecosystem.

I explain myself to students
Who excuse themselves to me,
Then excuse myself to colleagues
Explaining their complaints to me.

No matter what excuse I make,
They make, you make, anyone makes,
It all adds up to more talking,
More lies, more severe, more sincere,

And this is true when we're silent
As well, when we read, when we write,
When we engage in productive
And scholarly activities

That form further conversations
About the nature of ourselves,
The world, the origins of talk,
Gods' endless apocalypti,

Particles exceeding the speed
Of rules we built to contain them,
Cryptographies, intentional
Or unforeseen, which we worry

For meanings we know they're hiding,
Like cats worrying catnip mice,
Until we're too proud and too bored
With the tatters of our efforts

And become strange and reclusive
By turns, and by turns even more
Loudly, bombastically verbose,
Trapdoor professors who burst out

Of rooms and meetings and hallways
To pounce on hapless passers-by
And harangue them with opinions
As I am haranguing you now,

Despite every voice in my head
(And there are wonderfully many,
Most of them rather unpleasant,
As are, I'm sure, a few of yours)

Begging me to cease and desist,
Reminding me I can only
Make matters worse or, worser, worst,
Me! The last teacher who should talk,

Catfish, hermit, antisocial
Social scientist, telling you
About too much talking, when I
Can't make myself available

For listening to anyone.
I study people, for their sake!
What kind of an ethnographer
Never keeps an open office?

Something must be terribly wrong
With any anthropologist
Who closes the door on colleagues
But wants a window on the sky.

No,  it's not just me and teachers.
Watch how administrators talk,
Mostly ex-professors, lawyers,
Or political appointees,

A few actual CEOs:
They sweep clouds of scat past their tracks
For a few years at each college,
Then they're gone to the next victim,

Leaving just enough of a wreck
For an heir to pretend to fix.
They play the world's easiest game
Of musical chairs, where no chairs

Are ever removed from the game,
Only occasional players.
Well, you know what I mean.
I'm old, or I feel old enough,

That I'm nothing more than dead wood,
A twisted, dried-out talking stick.
If I don't do something useful soon,
And by that I don't mean useful

To this school that will forget me
The moment I'm wheeled out the door,
I'm going to die without leaving
Any legacy to speak of.

I'm talking about cultural
Menopause here, pardon the term.
I'm talking about it instead
Of doing what I'd like to do,

Which would be nothing much at all,
Maybe a long walk at sunset
With no nagging mental chatter
About books, colleagues, or career.

You get me? Years I've lost talking,
And in the middle of all this
Talking, talking, talking, talking,
I realized, I can't feel my life."

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

No Pictures

The road was open. That was all
I needed to know to believe
In whatever it was lay ahead.

The aspen groves, last month's gold-robed
Angels, had been reduced to ghosts
Like all ghosts, living as though dead.

The soft skies were promising snow,
But glittering, sunny winter
Hadn't descended on skis yet.

Another one of those moments--
Closing tunnels between seasons,
Apertures anxiety threads,

Chasms to fly one kite across
In hopes of bridging metaphors
That carve chaotic, rocky beds--

That in-between nothing of now,
Darker than could be or has been,
Kept playing possum in my head:

"In my end is my beginning.
In my beginning is my end,"
Fall mountains, calm as clouds, as dread,

Were closing in to convince me
My twisted, scenic, looping way
Was about to be barred. Instead,

The road was open. That was all
I needed to know to believe
In whatever it was lay ahead.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Wakey Wakey

The body that makes me
Was making me a dream
In which, as usual,
I misplaced my waking
Arrangement of the world
And savored some nonsense

Involving dead people,
People I've never met,
And people not people
At all, poorly lit scenes
Humming with emotions,
Swarming clouds of black bees,

Nuisances, confusions,
Those ineluctable
Toads, unrealities
Of the invisible,
Mindless contrivances
Of a slumbering brain,

All that unrest of rest,
More pretentious even
Than the organized self
Confabulating day
Into thick, gelled mindsets,
Sclerotic clarities

Code-named reality,
When a voice from the crowd
Announced to my dream self,
"From now on, don't take it
So damned seriously
Because it won't last long,

As you know you know well."
And I was comforted,
Until I saw shadows
Of trees silhouetted
On bright afternoon lawns
And thought, "But it's wondrous!"

Monday, October 24, 2011

"Squab Jays and Scrawllows"

Cats'-cradles of contrails, dozens of them,
Weave the only clouds over the valley
This evening. Otherwise it's all blue sky
Rimmed by cliffs so picturesque you've seen them,
Or something like them, in films or motels.

The sound of the creek competes with the road,
The junipers compete with prickly pear,
Cold beers in a camp-chair compete with words,
A sun-warmed cairn competes with a  cold hearth,
An idea competes with a memory.

A memory is never singular.
The nominalization of memory
Must always be a kind of common lie
Occasionally raised to proper tale
Of how something happened as it didn't.

Or it did. You can't beat competition
For arriving at a kind of winner.
It's impossible to tell a story
Without some part of it becoming true
Once any part of it gets repeated.

Birds skitter past, below blurring contrails,
The only clouds over Castle Valley
This evening. Otherwise it's all blue sky,
Purpling as the sun sets behind the Rim,
So picturesque, you've seen it. Someone has.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Functional Neuroanatomy

You are this looking at this,
Thinking of this as you
Looking back at yourself as this.

Welcome to the shifting landscape 
Of a brain, which you believe,
With some confidence, however abstracted,

Might as well be yours. Lovely
Clay or plastic, digitized or 3D
Printed for your tactile perusal,

This model of your human brain
Or, even better, this image made
Inside a humming tube of you

Yourself, thinking thoughts,
Having subconscious urges
Brightly colored for contrast.

Holy cats, that very thought
Can be, and is here, recreated 
To a crude approximation

From this mug shot of your self-
Absorbed, fragmented, physical,
Long-gone and undersold soul.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Poem about This, #2

It's almost quiet here,
Under the cottonwoods
Whose Entrada sandstone
Curvaceously humbles
Back to sand in their roots,
Although there is a breeze

And the rattle of flies
Frantic for anything
Holding on to moisture
Or surface calories,
Plus the much louder drones
Of occasional jets

And of four cars, so far,
Two in each direction,
Shuttling from and toward
The university's
Desert research station
About a mile from here.

Once the cars and jets pass
And the flies try elsewhere,
There is only the breeze
And the hiss of breathing,
The thump of a heartbeat
To remind a present

Observation it is
Not the landscape entire,
Not solemn entropy
Of everything wearing
Down into everything
Under the sun, but one

Crumb of nothing anchored
To something still trying,
Like flies and cottonwoods,
To push life back uphill
Before it can fall down
To other lives, like flies.

Friday, October 21, 2011

What We Call Our Life Is Neither

Eyes open and close on fever.
Life slips in and out of focus,
A lover in and out of clothes,
Green lawn in and out of shadow.

Here comes the end of October.
Vacant skies could not be bluer,
And still awareness is confused,
Neither observed nor observer,

An observation born of both
That feels itself as true as false,
As much all the things not alive
As none, belonging to no one.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Cow Pats at Quakey Shake

I have Pema Chodron on my lap
And Steven Pinker on my iPhone
Such the twenty-first century man
Counting down to my half century

The cows around me don't give a damn
The cows around me don't know they're damned
And damned if I know I'm damned myself
Although I tend to suspect I am

Castle Creek runs into this cow pond
Waters collected and then let go
The kind of arrest that lets you know
Someone can stop you if they say so

And someone can always stop you
Something can always stop you
Whether it must let you
Go at last or not

Even here at
Quakey Shake
In bright

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


"That I am what I am, and I am,
I am surprised"

I have failed
All the five monastic vows

I have failed
To forgive myself failures

I have failed
To forgive others' failures

I have failed
To mitigate misery

I have failed
To be more compassionate

I have failed
To be a good example

I have failed
To publish a worthy book

I have failed
To be collaborative

I have failed
To falsify a thesis

I have failed
To keep posted office hours

I have failed
Not to be afraid of pain

I have failed 
To avoid disagreements

I have failed
To choose hard over easy

I have failed
To go beyond pettiness

I have failed
To treat the land as holy
My body as a temple
My career as a calling
My students as my colleagues
My colleagues as family
My family as my friends

I have failed
To be the things one should be

I have failed
I am failing I will fail

I have not
Failed to know I am to be

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Here is a pond a dam built.

Here is a park surrounding the pond a dam built.

Here is a tree in the park surrounding the pond a dam built.

Here is a lawn under the tree grown large in the park surrounding the pond a dam built.

Here is a baby at play in the leaves that cover the lawn under the tree grown grand in the park surrounding the pond a dam built.

Here is a mother, down on her knees, photographing the baby at play in the leaves that cover the lawn under the tree grown huge in the park surrounding the pond a dam built.

Here is a father, smile up his sleeve, watching the mother down on her knees photographing the baby at play in the leaves that yellow the lawn under the tree grown greatly to shade nearly half of the park surrounding the pond a dam built.

Here is an afternoon, all light and breeze, gilding the father, smile up his sleeve, watching the mother down on her knees catching the baby at play in the leaves that litter the green lawn under the tree that shades the park surrounding the pond a dam built.

Here are the shadows, thicker than thieves, edging the afternoon's late light and breeze that gild the father, smile up his sleeve, watching the mother down on her knees dreaming their baby at play in the leaves that carpet the tapestry under the tree that graces the park surrounding the  pond a dam built.

Here is a moon, pale and kind as can be, gentling the shadows, thicker than thieves, edging the afternoon's last sighing breeze that flutters the father, smile up his sleeve, watching the mother down her knees hugging their baby at play in the leaves that create the story spread under the tree that anchors the park surrounding the pond a dam built.

Monday, October 17, 2011


We are not the stories
We tell about ourselves.
We know that, but we don't
Know what that means we are.
So we tell more stories
Of not being stories.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

We Put on Our Lives

On her birthday, in our
Nondescript hotel room
With a serrated view
Over packed townhouse roofs
Toward the Eastern Front,
Sarah has a chuckle

When she notices me
Stooping to dress, briefly,
For the minutes between
Our snug breakfast in bed
And my morning shower.
She provides narration:

"And he puts on his clothes
To take them off again,"
Which makes me laugh in turn,
And Sequoia laughs, too,
Because her parents laugh.
This is our mandala,

Our nuclear family's
Founding population,
For whatever birthdays,
Holidays, adventures,
Chances we get. This is
How we'll put on our lives.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

In Theory, It Seems Like a Bad Thing

When you finally get to sleep
And noisy strangers wake you up,

When you finally find the store
And then you buy the wrong item,

Or you forget the right item,
Or purchase what you thought you lost,

Which you find as soon as you leave
The store, or the store's moved or closed,

When you get to your big event
And there's no parking, or you hit

Someone's car in the parking lot,
Or someone hits you, or fights you

Over nothing, lots of yelling,
Or you're pulled over in traffic,

When any number of problems
Thwart, and frustrate, and spoil your plans.

And maybe your theory's correct.
But you know most theories are wrong.

Friday, October 14, 2011

What Do We Have Here?

A woman digs in the desert.
With brown hands and bleeding fingers,
She scrabbles at the cracked red clay.
This is what I dreamed of, early,

At the weird hour of the morning,
Moon setting and baby rising
From a nightmare to cry an hour
While her mother and I took turns

Singing slowly to console her.
As the moon disappeared, the sky
For once literally grew darkest
Just ahead of the ghosts of dawn,

And I passed in and out of sleep
Too brief for any rest, too long
For the brain not to be tempted
To try another sickly dream

In the dying of the moonlight,
An image of coppered sunlight,
Of the woman, curled like a root,
Withering but clawing the ground,

Digging to plant a single seed,
That my brain, tempted to dreaming,
In my head, lolling in moonlight
Beside the crib at last quiet,

Knew would have to become a tree,
Climbing out of the stony dirt,
Immune to the need for water,
And that tree become a forest,

And that forest cover the world,
And the world I knew of babies
And moonlight and weird morning dreams
Disappear among all those things

That were but might have never been
Save for the memory of them,
Itself now buried as that seed,
As that dream, as that moon, as me,

And I wake up, never having 
Really slept at all in my dream,
Of the woman and the desert
And the forest that resulted,

But I am, such as I am here,
By the crib, confused, awake
Where the question will never be
"What was that?" but, "What have we here?"

Thursday, October 13, 2011


"You could write a poem about rabbitbrush,
And relate it back to that strange first time
You saw it, in Boulder, this time of year,
When you asked the locals what that yellow
Flower was, lining the roads," says Sarah.

I could. It's October again, some years
After I was lonely and free enough
To drive for a week around south Utah
With nobody noticing I was gone.
All that beauty and self-pity haunts me still.

But what would I say now, married father
Of this ten-month old playing in the dirt
Under a juniper by the loud creek
Cutting through rabbitbrush and watered fields
Of the farms of Seventh-Day Adventists

Hiding out here, living here, just like me,
Just like the earlier Mormon ranchers,
And, I suspect, just like the earliest
Hunter-gatherers meandering here
In pursuit of big game, bigger game, home?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Pop Song Philosophies

Feel like they're enough for me.
There's no rigor of logic
In their gnomic bleaterings,
But when they get one phrase right
It hums under thoughts for years
Inscrutable as that stone
Becoming soup, wisdom, gold.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Dark

The moon is high and full. So there.
The clouds are silver below it.
Mountains glow, one long silhouette
Comprised of rising lines of lights

Delineating shining towns.
Parallel streams of cars that slide,
This way headlights, that way taillights,
Inscribe recursive loops on night.

All these little radiations,
Elaborate constellations,
Form no patterns, just perspectives.
It's too late to redeem the dark.

Monday, October 10, 2011

"You Say That It's Gospel, But I Know It's Only Church"

We do seem to need
To tell each other
What to think, and not
Only from pulpits,
Lecterns, podia,

Or ex cathedra.
The casual group
Practicing yoga
In the neighborhood,
Friends over coffee,

Doing field research,
Pretty much any
Small pack of people,
Children to elders,

Have the potential
To play thought police.
It's an odd habit
When you consider
We're not mind readers.

Telling each other 
How to behave or
What to say makes sense.
Coercion is part
Of being social.

Require some synching.
Membership demands
Matching our plumage.

But why try so hard
To leverage language
Into thought control?
Thoughts are jungles, words
Mere birds in their leaves.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Backbone of Night

Is it important to 
Be able to see this
Mottled pattern, mostly
A vague glow to the eye
Even here in high, bare,
Star-friendly desert air,

A kind of cloud, darkness
Layering against light
Against greater darkness?
We have better pictures
We see with the mind's eye,
Recalling as we look

Up into the middle
Of what some call our home,
Some call our destiny,
And some call our mother,
That huge numbers of stars
Are represented there,

With distances between
The closest packed of them
At least as much greater
Than the farthest we've gone
As the age of mountains
Is than our longest lives,

Scale so stupefying
One can only rehearse
The vastness stupidly,
As if saying something,
As I've just done again,
Or else join Walt Whitman

Exiting the lecture
To take himself outside
Just to "gaze in perfect
Silence at the stars." Yes.
Very nice. Except they
Don't need us to see them.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Etymology of Darling

(For Sarah, Who Guessed Correctly)

No wonder people take 
So many photographs,
Make so many movies
Of their kids. Description
Collapses as quickly
As order, cleanliness,

And plans around infants.
Sequoia Athena
Is reaching ten months old,
Approaching cherubic
Capacities undreamed
When she was a newborn.

Our pictures and movies
Can't capture her beauty
Any better than poems
Anymore. Everything
About recording her
Tends to desperation.

A golden atmosphere,
Ringing, glowing, almost
Supernatural, charged
With that ineffable,
Almost unbearable
Sweetness description fails,

Photography loses,
And moving images
Just hint at surrounds her.
Wordsworth almost had it:
"Trailing clouds of glory."
Except he missed the source.

We don't have it at birth,
However marvelous
Our wizened little selves
Seem at the time. It comes
Months later, it descends
Like Pentecostal flame,

That human magic trick,
Pure, immaterial,
Between mere babyhood
And the joyous sorrows
Of culture and language,
This space she occupies

Now, just now, radiant,
Babbling, demanding, true
To herself, false to none,
All emotions potent,
All expressions lovely,
Alchemical angel.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Poem about This, #1

It's not cold, but it's cold for here,
And the fresh snow on the mountains
Blanketing spruce and aspens,
White draperies dropping down, down

To skirt the top layers of the Rim,
Red rocks and juniper-pinyon
Eco-system notwithstanding,
Reminds me of the winter storms

That will not touch our porch for months,
Barring apocalyptic turns
Far from us, in the Pacific.
And since when has the Pacific

Not been as apocalyptic
As any fundamentalist
Praying, waiting for the world's end?
All climates are fickle and dire

To the species that survive them,
And we have survived more than most,
Although over shorter stretches.
Enough about us. The moon shines,

Gibbous, weak in afternoon light,
And I feel compelled to confess,
That I've long loved a gibbous moon,
Especially one in daylight

Because they are unromantic:
Not new, not old, not bright, not full.
Better poets may disagree,
May claim each generation's task

Is to find new analogies
To marry bright words to faint moons.
Ah. I've heard we have only now.
But I don't have now. Now has me.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Chickenhead Was a Bad Design

There's no hypocrisy
Half so rich, half so
Rewarding, half so fun
As finding the hypocrisy
In what others have done.

I can think of a dozen
Contradictions constructed
By my half-assed brethren,
My oh-so human cousins,
But none half-criminal, other than

My own, my glorious,
Ridiculous hypocrisies
Of poetic license and incensed
Ego, my poetic metaphors,
Half science and, in one sense,

Half neotenous theology.
What is wrong with me,
That I can claim that it's the truth
And not the ruefulness of knowing
I disdain? Where's your proof?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Despite our daydreams
And randomized trials,
We know, all in all,
Exactly nothing
About otherwise.

What if everything
We did were as good
As what we didn't?
We won't ever know.
We experience,

And then we complain.
We rail at ourselves,
Rethink every twitch,
Imagining how
This might have been that,

Whatever this is.
Whatever we did,
Whatever we get
From those distractions
Called pride and regret,

This world is its own
Beautiful monster.
We cling to its fur
As it carries us, 
Pretending we steer.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Jeff in the Midden

He's not dead yet,
But he's making
Steady progress,

Combing over
Heaps of his past,
Brushing off bits

Of detritus,
These forgotten
Things that felt right,

Things that felt wrong,
Although he finds
Them all right here.

Here's that old song,
The German one
He used to like,

The skeleton
Cuddling the girl.
It speaks to him

Now, as for all
The abandoned
Memory pile,

Sighing gently,
Give me your hand,
I am your friend,

I am not fierce.
Don't mind this mess
I've made of bones.

Monday, October 3, 2011

"Can an Ape Create a Sentence?"

"Only after we subdivide 
These concepts into their component 
Mechanisms can we hope to
Empirically address these questions."

Indeed. Indeedy do. The ape,
Social, hirsute, and incompetent
At walking on hindlimbs for long,
Conceptualizes mechanisms

For subdividing components
Of his beetle-browed intelligence
Into flesh: mammalian, primate,
Subhuman, human, and superman.

Hmm. Lessee. Where am I? I am.
At least, I am as much as any
"I am" thing is among those things
That are. Ain't I? I'm not? I am so!

And so forth. That is, I must be,
Since I like to argue that I am.
I'll bet you think that you are, too,
So much so that you needn't argue.

But then, you aren't an ape like me,
Now, are you? No? I didn't think so.
I'm too full of my apishness
To admit you are its victim, too.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

This  Myth of a Myth of Origins

(For Sarah and Leah and James to Remember)

One night in the bed of winter,
Snowy sheets and cloudy blankets
Rucked up around a drafty house,
The man who passes for this poem
Considered the nature of doubt
And came to the dim conclusion
That everything poems consider
Summed with everything poems leave out

Amounts to no more than the truth,
In this oneness of all that is
And all that isn't the oneness,
In the contemplation of all that could
Be contemplated in one sense
As the act of contemplation:
The act of the poem of a mind,
Which actually must be nonsense.

"I'm too tired to think," thought the poem,
Trying to rise above the snow
Heaped to muffle a winter's night,
"Too tired for a better excuse,"
Then spotted the switch of a light
Lit by the light the switch turned on
And turned on itself, ruthlessly,
"So that's the truth about this light."

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Nature That Is Ours

Staggering past the bathroom mirror
Just before dawn on a Saturday,
Phrases surface in recognition
Of something like an identity.

Well, it's all somebody else's fault,
That's all I've got to say, whoever
I am saying it, baby over 
One shoulder, not even sure what floor

Of this rented old house I'm on now,
Whether I have to walk up or down.
It's morning, more or less, another
Day, another month, another life,

Another transformation of this
Thing I'm in the habit of calling
Me, whatever it actually is,
Somehow in a kitchen, making tea.