Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Commencement Advice for Another Lost Piece of the Puzzle

Go get 'em, kid. It's a big mess,
A big pile of look-alike shapes,
And it's hard to notice one gone,
But at least you know you're unique.

Hang on to that. It's your best bet.
You don't need to reshape yourself,
And you'd never fit anyway.
Trust old Polonius this once.

Know yourself, be true to yourself, 
And accept that being yourself
Is limiting, won't always work,
Won't always land you where you'd like,

And can't possibly allow you
To be both on the cutting edge
And at home in the mystery
That hides the pattern of the whole.

Oh, and one last thought. The puzzle
Has nothing to do with pieces.
We disappear on completion,
Nothing lost, nothing left over.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

House of Bastet

Every day, even the dullest,
Drags its own terrors and rewards
Desultorily as a cat
Deposits prey on the doorstep,

And like a cat, predictably,
Maintains its bit of mystery,
Its scrawny bit of dignity,
That habitual secrecy

Native to the predators' world,
Of which we are either a part
Imagining we stand apart,
Or rats time tosses until bored.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thought Turns off the World

The adoring corpse, snoring now and then,
Turns over, dreaming of daylight, thinking,

It's easier to be here, sun shining
On the dry grass, rocks, rooftops, and red sand,

Or to construct a story for myself
Reconnecting the stepping-stone dots here,

Or to lay my story down in the sand
Alongside other, more famous stories

And spend the afternoon comparing them
As if life were choosing stories to wear,

Or to fantasize more boring stories
In which everything is always the same

Because everything goes exactly as I want,
And what I want remains mostly the same,

Than it is to struggle to understand
How I, a part of a body, passing

Through the scene more swiftly than scenery
(Sun and so forth) that I note in passing,

Could make this dream, could dream this universe.
Why would I make what cannot care for me?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Things Change Prayer

Things don't change. Things aren't things to begin with. 
A thing just a thing would be like a day 
Without pain, a fragment of bone worn smooth
By rivers of words flash-flooding from clouds
Through permanent shapes and firm intentions:
In short, an idea, a philosophy,
And not at all just, in itself, a thing.

Humans have no things. Humans know no things.
What we know and have are philosophies
Of things (and, occasionally, poetry).
No matter what our station, each of us
Holds some philosophy, plus the desire
To share it with others like us, proudly,
As if desire ever changed anything.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

It Goes By Itself

No shortage of mule deer, cops, or tourists
Around Moab this holiday weekend,

Despite three or four years of gloominess,
Far horizons churning with flashing storms,

All the usual bellwethers tolling
The decline and fall of America,

The world as we know it, markets, climate,
Civilization, the human species.

Ah, apocalypse, our favorite romance.
Well, perhaps. Pass the beer and leftovers.

The world has ended so many times now,
A prophet hardly knows where to begin.

This inland desert corner of the Earth
Holds its share of fragmentary remains:

Canyon ruins, cliff dwellings, granaries,
Enough to prove human systems can fail.

The world as we know it ended before
We knew it. The world as we don't know it

Remains immune to knowing, immortal.
There never was an empire that was ours.

Friday, November 25, 2011


With all the cheap technology
For storing and playing music
In brain-deceiving perfection,

I crave the sound of radio,
A broadcast playing late at night,
Something classical, through the hiss

That gives the composition depth
The composer never meant to,
A reminder of the distance

That notations, mass-printed sheets,
And the decades of recordings,
Remasterings, digitizings

Joined forces to annihilate
And failed, leaving more emptiness 
Than solace between song and us.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Crate Full of Mysteries

Who knows the dark trick that turns the crying of night,
The howl in the storm, sad sounds sighed in bed, 
Too grim to enjoy, into hard, sweet love
Dark cannot destroy must be a poet,

If not quite satanic, not quite a witch,
An engraver confusing blood for ink
And sharp-edged confession for precision
At least. That's what I used to think when young

And squirming to become such a pilgrim,
Not realizing prepositions redeem
More truth than propositions, dangerous
To forget when training to be a liar.

Words turn into other worlds inside things,
The details of which remain mysteries.
Worming inside a crate of poems I saw
That the lost years were good, the found better,

A gift within a gift within a box
Within a pile of forgotten papers
In an office within a library
Housed inside a glass-and-brick cube that stands

At the foot of a university
Within a sprawling suburbopolis
On the slope of a foothill just over
A long, flat lake just under the mountains

White with ice, sharp as knives slicing a sky
Grown feathery soft and thickened with smog
From pilgrimage, for which I am grateful.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

For Whom It Is Intended

"Good writing communicates the writer's ideas effectively to the audience for whom it is intended."

Know your audience. Understand
What moves them, what makes them bristle
What persuades them something is true,
What makes them charge into battle.

Know their cultural references.
Get into their heads. Deprive them
Of ways to evade your logic.
Counter counterclaims. Deride them.

Rob them of anonymity.
Rummage through their secret desires.
Pick apart their anxieties.
Expose their heroes as liars.

Burrow under their conscious lives.
What fears lurk in suburban thoughts
Of dark forests and falling nights
Where dreams are what the wolves have caught

And torn into visceral shreds,
Expiring in silver moonlight
With no audience at all except
The hungry predators' delight

At not having to starve just yet?
Get all the way down there, writer,
Deep in the root, pith, and brainstem,
The urges for freeze, fight, or flight,

You ghoulish, dream-snatching, stalking,
Leering, puppeteer of the heart.
You're alone in the dark, talking
To yourself, alone, in the dark.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Two AM Chinese Liver Cleanse

I have a friend who drinks a little bit,
Maybe a little too often too much,
That is, if you think that the point of life

Is to extend the time that you survive
And minimize your opportunities
For being, to human society,

What a burning fragment of cosmic dust,
Self-consumed in the local atmosphere,
Is to the spiralled backbone of the night,

A silent squib of light caught by rare eyes.
He tells my wife, as she tells me, that he
Wards off the early death that snatched his friend, 

Another captive fiend of fire-water,
Water of life, whatever name you like,
By purifying his abused liver,

Organ of redemption and suffering,
With some obscure, Asian method he knows
That rules waking in the wee hours of night.

Okay. That last part, the night part, I know,
As well as I know ancient, highland malts.
But in my case I wake up around two

Not to save my liver, ungrateful wretch
Of cells the same as blood, heart, eyes, and brain,
But to save my amortal, fictive soul,

Fool of awareness, nothing, and wee hours'
Startled, sudden, waking-from-dreams insight
That we humans are all drunks, all addicts

Falling from flash-flooded rivers of life
Through the constricted slot-canyons of death,
Narrow tropes for all constrained pieties 

Or poetry, or philosophy, or
Any of the named academic fields
Of delirium where sober bores doze.

I wake up around the time that my clock
Calls the darkest hour of the night to write
I am, I am here, but I need cleansing.

Monday, November 21, 2011


"Love Less Ash" reads a shop sign
Visible from the highway
Slightly south of Price, Utah.
Whatever this means is just
A matter of perspective:
Who you were when you glimpsed it,
How you traveled, what you knew,

Whether or not you liked puns,
Whether you liked words at all,
Or ashes, or irony,
Or omens, or mining towns,
Or the Loveless family
Whose kids you went to school with,
Whose Dad once caught you smoking.

It gets darker as you drive,
At least from the perspective
Of earth that spins more slowly,
Which you know, but don't notice.
Above the highway, the stars
And a couple of planets
Offer their appearances

That look like constellations,
Rotating over your head.
The names of constellations
Are as silly as shop signs,
Conventional as pronouns
Preferred by lyric poets,
As real as your given name.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Tabby Random

Nothing gets better. It circles itself,
Like a dozing housecat on the sofa,
Imagined by its befuddled owner
As wise, as imagining the sublime,
Although the owner knows, tranquil as cats can be,
That no cat is ever, actually, wise.
The owner, cat, and circle are complete.

Riddle me why coincidence is mere
Whereas meaning and purpose are profound,
And I will be the cat on your sofa,
Utterly dependent, seeming aloof,
Curling my thoughts in one perfect circle
Of sublime, snoozing wisely all the time.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Field

Can confuse itself with the corn,
With the barley, the beets, the wheat,
The grey scarecrow, tattered and torn,
Propped for the sake of convention,
With no hope of scaring the crows,
Rustling in every bit of wind
Through the remnants of others' clothes,
Lisping straw-filled hints and whispers
Of wisdom a field cannot own,
Being an area, barely,
Where more things grow unknown than sown.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Richard of York Gave Battle in Vain

Mnemonic solecisms work fine
If one really wishes to risk recalling
How music was forced to fit fire.

Horizontal bands of sunlight
Hundreds of humans high
Stripe the mountainsides,

But the weird red helicopter still hovers
In the gaps of the half-dappled sky,
And the mule at the roadside barbed-wire

Stays head down in brown grass
As the gravel trucks go by.
It's a trap to remember just why.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Human Communication

"Everyone knows the rules,
And no one gives a shit,"
Remarks a Navy Seal
I know who's Buddhist now,
Eats donuts for breakfast,
Burns incense at his desk.

We're chatting about pain,
After someone else joked
In an elevator
That pain is never good
Except after feeling
No sensation at all.

"They told me it was good
When I was bleeding out.
It meant I wasn't dead.
But I didn't buy it."
No, me neither. Better
To feel good and be dead.

Not that that's possible,
We suppose, but morphine
By the bucket comes close.
"When we know they're dying,
And they know they're dying,
Screw the rules. Go in peace."

Frosted donuts in hand
He heads to his office,
Returns with a present
For me to share with him,
Rich, bitter dark chocolate
He eats with his donuts.

I try a couple bites,
Shuffle to my own desk,
Rearrange books and files,
Read news, Tomasello,
Meet students. It's Wednesday.
My bones ache. I'm alive.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


The ghosts of ghosts float around me
Wearing their old animal masks,
Dreams stuck to scraps of personas
Where otherwise faces would be:

Fox and coyote, elk and crow,
Raven and mouse and confusion,
Wavering, boskish contortions,
The things that are but never know.

The deities requiring trance
And sickness to come in glimpses
Are not harmless apparitions,
Are feral thoughts that, broken, dance

At night on the grave of the day,
At dawn in the dead coals of fires,
At noon sprawling drunk in green shade,
At sunset as time slips away,

Little skittering souls that hop
And plot in the wake of minds passing,
True poems, neither human nor beast,
Showing stories don't end. They stop.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Conversations That Will Never Happen

Dominate my dim imagination.
Bland inanities, half-clever wrappings
Ornament long-winded explanations,
In which I win by virtue of vices,
Ripostes and bon mots, wisecracks and comebacks,
All the tired rhetorical devices,
Uninterrupted catchphrases, thumb-tacked
Neocortical cork-board announcements,
Cartoons of unlikely interactions,
Caricatured opponents, arrant nonsense,
Hazy daydreamed hindsight satisfactions.
Aloud I say nothing. The sky, dove-grey,
Comes down for crumbs. I have nothing to say.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Diamond-Based Life Form

Pencils and charcoal
And it will be worse,
Maybe not before
It gets better, but
Nonetheless, unless

This moment includes
Actual torture
From inquisitors,
Addiction, plague, or
Cancer, as you please,

To the point of death,
Abstract dimension
Acutest at its angle
Of apparition,
Of which I can't speak

And shouldn't compose,
Knowing no better
Than compound fractures
And post-op green rooms
What surviving death

Might demand of me
Before the end, no
Worse than dark carbon
Pentagrams demand.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Poet in a Bottle

Watch him molt, every day crawling
From successive skins shed as husks,
Isinglass exoskeletons,
Colorless and dry to the touch.

Oh look, he seems to be struggling
With yesterday's skin. There's some left,
An itching, irritating scrap
He just wants to get off his chest.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Baby Rocks and Ditty Bops

"Sometimes I want to shoot irony
In the face," Sarah said around dawn
Yesterday after alternating
Nights when the baby slept but not her
With nights when the baby screamed us up
In that relentless unhappiness
Of no clear cause that infants love to share.
"That's good," I told her, "that's really good.
Can I use it?" Oh, the irony,

Poor faceless mug, like Death come for Scrooge
On the day he wins the lottery.
"Oh, well. This will be awkward," quoth Death.
Only modernists loved irony,
Really loved him, made him a member
Of the inscrutably cool kids' club,
One of the Brothers Minor, gave him
A sort of a personality,
Almost, but not quite, a real boy's face,

But he keeps cropping up, the bastard,
Homicidal maniac impaled
On his own prop sword, as for instance
Friday, calendrical oddity,
Binary frippery, Eleven
Eleven Eleven, oh holy
Mother of invention, why the need
To imagine a Gregorian
Coincidence numerology?

There is nothing special in a date
Except we make it so. Our charming
Friends, no worse than Web or TV news,
Had told us to do something magic,
Had spent years orchestrating parties,
Writing grants to subsidize this day
Had discussed, philosophized, and craved
One numerical affirmation
In stoner chit-chat and yoga class.

And we smiled. What could we find special
In a random, arbitrary date?
We decamped from a motel at dawn
And, on a whim, took dim advantage
Of a dark and somber desert day
To use Arizona for Utah
And climb up Zion National Park
The just-slightly-less-traveled-by way.
In medias res we turned the Page.

Oh, and it was almost exactly
11:11 on the dot
When we pulled the car off on a crest
Beside the highway, overlooking
The great, steam-belching power-station
Churning from the Navajo Nation
(Viva Ozymandias!), and danced,
Drunk on cold, grey wind, celebrating
Our silly human power over years,

And talking about what we'd just seen
Pass on our insignificant drive,
Infant at last asleep in her seat,
The backlot of Monument Valley,
Peculiar geographic features,
An outcrop sign-posted "Baby Rocks,"
Ship-shaped rocks that were not the Ship Rock,
While listening to the Ditty Bops
Harmonize charmed loss. "The writing's done."

Friday, November 11, 2011

Well Being

As such, is not the subject,
Nor the great vision nor goal
Of any big religion

That I, the heretic, know.
Therefore I apostrophize
This gorgeous apostasy,

Piquant, epicurean,
Sensuous, ethereal,
Simple sense of contentment.

It's no cause for conversion.
No one needs to be convinced.
All aching humans desire

To feel desire for nothing.
We want to not be in want
And only mock what we want

When we dread we can't have it,
This not wanting anything,
This moment beside the fire,

The right music chiming
In the closest of quiets,
A moon overhead, somewhere,

Shining in the pureness
Of effortless reflection,
Deep, shimmering, well, being.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

"Money Is a Kind of Poetry"

Money is the least of it.
Everything is poetry.
There's no buying out of it.

This window is poetry,
As is the electric sign
Of the restaurant franchise

That glows all night long, above
Poetry's eight-lane highway,
Under repair the whole year.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Too Fast for Me

Can we get fresh hypotheses,
Possibly falsifiable,
That could humble the big questions
By revealing their origins
In trivial conversations?

Let's say language itself evolved
First to talk about the weather.
A guy walks up to me today
And asks me to concur it's cold.
Without this wisdom he's speechless.

I play along, as usual.
Encouraged, his wisdom deepens.
"They say Utah has four seasons,
But two of them don't last a week."
He chuckles, strolling beside me,

Convivial now, a colleague,
A professor, a PhD.
I nod, but look at the mountains,
Where winter's already turned white,
And think how spring climbs the canyons,

Spreading up from the lake's wetlands
To the soft, alluvial hills,
Weeks later reaching the south face
Of each of the mountains' kneecaps,
Before its tendrils climb their falls,

The whole process taking four months,
Ending in July's alpine blooms,
And then how it all reverses,
The long mountain autumn slipping
Month by month to the valley's feet.

I decide to add my wisdom,
Blurting out the observation,
"Well, but it's a different season
That ends up being the shortest,
Every given elevation."

He stops walking to look at me.
Perhaps he's evaluating
My face for signs of Asberger's.
Finally, he shrugs. "All I know
Is, it gets cold too fast for me."

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


A world is a word,
A short metaphor,
A painted brass ball
Meant to represent
Nearly everything,

On a brass lever
Sprung from concealed gears
Describing cycles,
A minor device
For table-top thought

Built to entertain
High-born bit players
In low, bitter wars,
Fighters for title,
God, and privilege

Whose title survives
As a name for small
Machines meant to spin
Concentric systems
As if they were worlds,

Pure worlds and not words,
Without spheres or gears,
But sudden and rough
As spots where creeks cut
Years' notches in rocks.

Monday, November 7, 2011


Thoughts are starlings, numerous and common,
Invasive, drab, undifferentiated,
Cumulative as a poem's adjectives,

Selfish as a city's inhabitants,
All-consuming as cannibal locusts,
Noisome as a relentless telethon,

Dark as galactic clouds with black-hole eyes,
Useful as a pestilence at harvest,
A plague in a mob, a mob in a tent,

A tent in a rain of guided missiles,
Guided missiles in a lunar vacuum,
A lunar vacuum in a starling cloud.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Oneiric Outlaw

With which would you prefer to live,
The image or the abstraction?

The freight train stuck dead in the snow
Of Emptiness, Utah, that night

Or the observation that this
Is not now, is not this, is done?

You could read the journals for hints
About what else to write, believe,

Listen to knowingly, and nod.
Or you could pull over for lights

Swirling in your rear view mirror,
Make a mad dash across the snow,

And disappear into the train,
That starts up again, leaving you,

Miserable, waiting arrest,
With stars and snow to comfort you,

Singing twelve-bar blues, "This is not
Now, is not this, is done. Yeh, this

Is not now, is not this, is done.
Midnight, cold stars, each one a sun."

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Middle Story

What's going on in there?
Everyone's rummaging
The prefrontal cortex.
The room where the kids play
Erupts in strange noises
And a couple of screams.

The eyes over dinner,
The eyes in the mirror
Go dark and blank at once,
The way water closes over
Whatever's too heavy,
The thick, capacious look.

Mysteries are being
Put together, starting
With a corpse. Histories
Are being taken down
That will stomach our end,
Starting from that dark horse.

Friday, November 4, 2011


"Working on the fly, it furiously reconstructs not only what happened but why"

Can we spare a kind thought
For the interpreter,
The confabulator,
The host of the machine
Who weaves a sense of self
From odds and ends of brain?

So much grief we squander,
Calling our selves liars,
Which they are and must be
For us to imagine
We are things that exist,
When we're stories, not things,

Stories about being
Things truer than stories,
And, yes, it's frustrating
To be what we aren't, but
That a fairy tale tells
A good lie is good truth.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

All Souls' Aftermath

I, whatever that means,
Had a nasty nightmare
About a poem of mine,
Of all things, around three,
The worst of the wee hours,
Dark to mineralized bone,

In which I was scolded
By a bizarre creature,
Part me, part my father,
Part fossil hominin,
Big-toothed, small-skulled, pissed-off,
Beer-consuming biped,

Who gave me a lecture
In Queens Borough English,
On how I made no sense.
I wrote down every word,
Then turned over in bed,
But some thing still dreams me.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

And You Know It

Something simple, damn it,
You know, in plain English,
So I can tell what it means
Without scratching my head.

Like, for instance, you say,
Nothing is as slippery
As the idea of "probably."
Ok, so, now tell me why.

Don't go off on some tangent
About saints and snowflakes and lakes
With green waves or whatever.
Tell me what you meant.

Why is "probably" trickier
Than, you know, love or truth
Or some other poetry word?
I mean, I was interested,

You sort of had me,
And then you lost me,
And I kind of feel like it was deliberate,
Like you didn't know how to explain yourself

But you couldn't admit it,
So you covered it up by sounding poetic,
And that's why people don't like poetry
Because it feels like it's just snooty words

And bs, sometimes--
Most of the time, to tell the truth-
You know, just nothing, just faking it,
When it probably won't mean anything, really.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


No concept so elusive
As probably. Every breath
At the edge of this lake of saints
Raised up for generations
To believe the end is near
Is probably not my last.
Probably I will forget

This crushed air, this atmosphere,
This deeply moving cloud bank
Confusing snowflakes with waves
Down uncertain surfaces,
Corrugated green copper
Water roofing shallows
Where probably something lives.