Saturday, December 31, 2011

Home Again, Home Again, Market Is Done

How is this not that?
Yes, stupid question,
I know. I know. But,
How? Two weeks ago
I wrote a poem here,

Not actually wrote,
Not with a pencil
A sheaf of foolscap
And a furrowed brow,
But wrote, more or less,

A poem, more or less.
Now I'm here again,
Having gone away
With wife and daughter
To visit in-laws

In the big city,
Contemplate winter,
Celebrate Christmas,
Be in the present,
Open my presents,

Present my presents
To others present.
What the hell was that?
Whatever it was,
It isn't, nor this.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Please Use the Revolving Door

The great hunter, the great spider,
Her starry egg-sac in her thighs,
Climbs in the south of northern skies.

I see her. I know her. I know
She is more real than I can be
And only a figment of me,

Getting close to the end again,
The miracle of calendars,
The brilliant insight, the cycle.

Ragged, imprecise orreries
Spin brass-wheeled table-top marbles
Representing these lurching spheres.

Damn us that we should have to know
That everything both ends and then,
But differently, begins again.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Hell's Half Acre

Stories can only lie
So much before we give
Them up for dead and crawl
In other directions,
Locusts leaving bare fields,
Nothing left but locusts

And indigestible
Truth, all that sweet fiction
Chewed down to dirt. We thrive
On story's inherent
Nonsense, the myth of plot,
Beginning, middle, end,

The plot of myths. Oh yes,
We argue over facts,
But we rarely notice
That the whole arrangement
Of plot is fictitious.
Stories lie by being

Stories, framing the world
In ways we know are false
But irresistibly 
Tasty, as close to true
As honey to flowers,
Fruit to soil, soul to brain,

All that we devour, but
None gone too far from truth,
Lies gnawed close to the bone
Where the meat is sweetest,
Enabling us to eat
Our world as narrative.

To refuel on beliefs,
Digest them with deceits.
We love to fool ourselves.
We live to fool ourselves.
We overrun the earth
Because we fool ourselves.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Were one to worship
At any true church
It might be the church
Of brilliant sunlight
On common objects.

More than one painter
Received communion
And enlightenment
From life's still altars:
Plates, chairs, fruit in sun.

It's worth desert heat
Or stinging sea air
To be close to light
That turns surfaces
Almost to angels--

A cracked stucco wall,
A leafless aspen,
Old clothes on a line,
Moss scorched on a roof,
A broken sheep skull,

Revived by that light
Like a soundless voice
With no signs to show,
And no other means
To mean but to glow.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


When my daughter makes a noise,
I try to guess what it means,
And, if it means, if she knows
That it means and what it means.
I catch myself and wonder,
What do I mean, "what it means"?
What sort of thing is meaning?

As if I were first to ask,
As if there were no answers
Instead of way too many:
This sequence of sounds goes with
This or that sequence of things.
Goes with? Associates with?
Indicates? References?

Is there any better term
For the way words mean than "means"?
Never mind words that mean words
Or words for forms of grammar,
For naming "the stuff of thought."
How does a sound, a symbol
Mean, stand for, anything else?

The link must be in the brain,
Chemical, a thing itself,
Though at bottom are no things
Unless we call patterns things,
And we're trapped. What does "thing" mean,
Anyway, if not pattern?
One is tempted to defer

Like a French philosopher
Or poststructuralist critic,
Call the labyrinth a maze
With no way out, supposing
The maze itself is something,
A metaphor with meaning,
Word for word where we began.

Monday, December 26, 2011


A delirium of ghosts and orphans
Dances around my ordinary dreams,
A masquerade I reel through all night long,
A life in which I am even more lost
Than I am by day when it's forgotten.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Merry

It's a large holiday,
Bigger than religion,
International, weird.
It commandeers fortunes.
It requires conviction 
Not to celebrate it.

It evaluates you,
Makes or breaks your business,
Redefines romances,
Loneliness, families,
Sentiments, happiness,
Nostalgia, the weather.

It can measure status,
Ideology, age.
It can track a person
To the ends of the earth,
To hovels and mansions,
Alleyways and atolls.

It's lyrical epic,
Not a fragment of faith
But a mythology
Of itself, accruing
Story upon story,
Rite upon ritual,

Its own ecosystem.
Supposedly, Romans
Used to hold holidays
Half the days of the year.
Maybe they needed them.
We don't. We have Christmas.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Known to the Bone

There aren't any mysteries
Only ordinary facts
Obscured by our confusion--
Puzzle answers, misplaced keys,
Exciting when discovered
But not once common knowledge.
Questions thrill us; answers bore.

The sole approximation
To bottomless mystery
Lies near the core of boredom,
Under forever known things
We'll never lose or forget--
That we tire, things move, days end,
And that words, bizarrely, mean.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Wood Woes

"Woe unto him that says to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise..."

Let stilted curses in faux Olde English
Work like highbrow poetics in bar brawls.

Let high-brow poets borrowing old words
From lost vernaculars be hanged as dogs.

Let dogs bred out to the edge of wolfdom,
Tame as men, howl wordlessly as poets.

Let every howling thing that goes around
Keep going, as the moon drifts from the earth.

Let the going moon sputter like curses
On this world lacking foul words for dark woods.

Let sleeping woods lie to their roots,
To the last dead leaf's serrated black teeth.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Fanfare From a Common Primate

We hate what we make and admire 
What we make, billions of busy
Monkeys yammering our desires,
Displaying until we're dizzy,

Apes in disguise as prizefighters,
Clowns, whatever's expedient,
Fiercely hammering typewriters
To find encyclopedias.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Overcast Suburbs at Noon

Sequoia snuffles in her sleep.
The clouds redouble their efforts
To minimize the light and keep
Everyone under the weather

Between the mountains and salt lake
This greyest midday of the year,
Their opportunity to make
The longest shadows disappear

Along with the most dazzling hopes.
It's nap time. Our heads are woolly
As lint traps, sweaters, winter coats
And Christmas hymns dutifully

Broadcast, caroled, played and replayed
To blanket us in warm feelings
Of peace and goodwill unafraid
Of winter's lowering ceiling.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011

Less Pain Is Less Life

Weather churns the world's ultimate conceit,
Endlessly changing metaphors for time,

As, for example, this lake-effect fog,
Precipitated by traffic exhaust,

Blankets the city with particulates
That block the sun and crystallize as frost,

Eventually whitening into snow
That prettifies the cold, grey human minds

Shuffling down increasingly slushy streets,
Treacherous at first, then benign again

As sun breaks through the fallen dome of smog,
Ice melts, mists rise and fall again as rain.

Call it all time, stomping crust from our boots
As we enter and exit the cafe,

Complaining to each other, asking when
It will ever be warm again, knowing 

It will be, and we will be, or we'll be
Gone as this damp day that makes our joints ache.

The journey has got to be the reward,
If we never have anything for sure

That we can't lose, except for the weirdness 
Of never having anything for sure

That accompanies every lost moment
Acquired as the thought that now it's lost,

Perpetual sense of transition
Gone only from satori, surgery,

And the even stranger gift of deep sleep,
States lacking sense of eternal passing.

Otherwise it's not, perhaps, very wise
To try to hurry through, skip, or avoid

Even the most inconvenient feelings,
The exhaustion, the boredom, and the pain

Which are the textures sensing living brings,
Sooty winter solstice pangs, fine as spring.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Highly Improbable House

Poetry pretends
A love of rare, important things,
Beauty and truth and lost causes
Chasing each other like kittens,

But one wonders,
Given the housebound, homely lives,
Given the lovely, venal lives
Recorded for the finest poets,

How much of the blearing of minds
By burning midnight oil
Was actually devoted less
To scritching drafts of verses 

And more to mundane wishfulness--
Less to revolutions, lovers without
Mercy, or the mysteries of grace
In a godless, god-soaked world,

More to common, improbable
Fantasies: lots of money, handsome
Houses high up on hills, paid for
And perfect, endless time to kill.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Weirdness of Now

How many goddam haystacks
Did Monet have to paint
Before he got past his obsession
With getting them just right,

So that whatever was needling 
His brain skipped to lilies and sooty 
London bridges and other 
Distortions of the light?

Now is my haystack, 
My field of moments taunting me,
Always with another variation
On the same weirdness I write

Out over and over, and out
On the umpteenth brilliant blue
Morning or navy-blue moonlit night,
I look up and around and know

This, as momentary as moments get,
But the same forever as itself,
Same as other moments were
Themselves themselves, almost

The same as not being themselves
At all, almost nothing 
In and of itself, but all the moment
I can get, who am the same

As now, and as I am now, almost
The same as not being now,
Being now and nothing and not
Myself, not being a self at all.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Epigram for Beethoven's Birthday

If Ludwig van Beethoven
Had lived only in the now
When he couldn't hear a thing,

What great chords would be broken,
What echoes choked underground,
What odes to joy would choirs sing?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Supra Spem Spero

In the weepy, Evening,
A dying woman tells
Her daughter not to be
Scared. "There are no mistakes,"
She says, and we are meant,
It seems, to understand

She has made peace with death,
With regret, with her life
Of feeling regretful,
And perhaps this cruel world
Knows what it is doing
And all turns out all right.

What if the daughter took
Mama's deathbed advice
Perfectly literally,
Even prospectively?
You will never ever
Make one single mistake,

You can't possibly make
A mistake, no matter
How hard you try. "Try not 
To be so scared." You're good,
No matter what happens.
That's a philosophy

Crazy enough to try
On for size. Crazy as
My ancestor's' motto
"I hope beyond all hope."
Why not? Hope against hope
I can't make a mistake,

Even here in the least
Of all possible worlds;
Any decision works.
Random or foreordained,
They'll all add up the same.
How could I know they won't?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

To the Greenwood Gone

The people are the forest
Now the rest is dead and gone.
The middle world is quiet,
Murmuring trees without beasts,
With barely any birdsong.
The invisible still seethes,
But the trees sense only trees.

Woods have never been richer,
Thicker, more light-devouring,
Billions seeding billions more,
Metaphor on metaphor,
Condensing a twilight world
Grown dreary, leafy, hidden,
So confusing, so confused.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Noneness of Oneness

Supposedly, Salinger
Had a keen interest in Zen
And maybe Advaita
Vedanta Hinduism.
No wonder he stopped writing.
When you're one with the noneness,
Nothing's what left to express.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Child's Praise of Doggerel

"three quarks for muster mark!"

When that I was and a little tiny boy,
My parents made rhymes that played on my name,
In lieu of lullabies, so I could enjoy
The tiny boy's sense of adoration and fame
That mother's and father's attention gives
When he is the only named child in the world
And everything he believes is his is his.

Every night, some chanted nonsense rhymes unfurled
Banners for an army of silly phrases,
Strung out in raggedly parallel syntax,
Narrative formations stumbling in places,
Luring me to sleep in dimly planned attacks....

On a lark
We saw Mark
In the park 
After dark
Building his ark
From pine-straw and bark
To protect us from sharks
But just then a spark
Lit up his ark
So Mark
Who was smart
Right away disembarked
From his ark full of sparks
And he made the remark
That bark
Was for larks
Who live in the park
And sleep in the dark
And not for bark arks
Hammered by Mark
In the park 
After dark
When there's always a nice fire
Giving off sparks
A lot more sparks than sharks...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Spontaneous Monkey

It's boring to always play
The pensive, symbolic ape,
Head hanging and mouth agape,
Tracking down scampering prey,
Small thoughts in mental landscapes
Who know the thrill's to escape
To chatter another day.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

First Birthday

Three hundred and sixty six days ago,
We'd been sleeping in snatches between contractions
For three consecutive nights already.

Our midwife was growing increasingly restive
About a well past-term delivery
An hour through mountains and snow to a hospital.

So we gave in, loaded the truck and went
Away from our nest, down to the damn hospital 
Timing each interval along the way,

Barely looking out at the Silvery Slocan
As we rounded Cape Horn under the Lid,
Skies like cold blankets soaked in Slocan's black water,

Narrow Route 6 walled by old snow and pines,
Winter-dark farms trailing woodsmoke, towns of few lights,
All the landmarks we loved in summer, dimmed.

We reached downtown Nelson under a light noon rain,
Pulled into the hospital parking lot
And jockeyed for a spot, not being urgent yet.

We had an appointment for a stress test,
But we weren't Canadians and had no health cards.
Our own crappy insurance meant nothing,

And before we could check in for the test,
We were separated, one doing paperwork,
Making various guarantees to pay,

Via credit cards and blood oaths, all coming bills,
While the other was stranded in a hall
Being torn up for renovations, unheated,

In labor on a plastic chair, alone.
By the time we were reunited and upstairs
Things were too far along to go back north.

The home-birth in the cabin by the lake was out.
We made peace with the little hospital,
Dowdy, underfunded, expensive, but friendly,

Kind to anxious first-time parents on edge
And in pain. They settled us in a soft-lit room
Down a hall where loud screams would be okay.

They took the usual measurements, ultrasound,
Signatures, due note of our birth requests--
No painkillers, minimal monitoring, time,

Especially time. And then the push
Began in earnest, hour after hour after hour,
Each featuring its own turn of events,

Our doula arrived, then departed to get soup.
The soup was tasty and soothing until
During one contraction it came back up and out.

The dim day turned into a foggy night
By the middle of the afternoon, and the room
Was shuttered, the lamps and machines muted.

The nurses changed shifts, the midwife and doula stayed,
The one quiet except for instructions,
The other encouraging, crooning, holding tight.

The scene shifted from bed to birthing tub.
A calmer, chanting, almost tranquil phase began.
For a few hours it was almost blissful.

We joked, we sang, we said sweet and endearing things,
Between the contractions and the pushing,
And we thought you would emerge soon, but you didn't.

The midwife was concerned things had plateaued.
Around late mid-evening the tub was abandoned.
Now we paced the room between contractions.

The pain lost its mystic, spiritual distance
And became a beast with teeth and hot breath
Capable of ripping out howls, curses, and real screams.

The nurses changed shifts again. The date changed.
The doula comforted us. The midwife took notes
And shook her head, pursed her lips, and advised

One more hard push, and if the water didn't break,
She would open the amniotic sac
To free you for the hard swim toward your own life.

And then the scene returned to bed for good.
The next four hours knotted themselves into a rose
Of blood, pain, deep-throated howls from shared throats

Mother, father, doula head to head together,
Midwife at the foot of the bed, by turns
Looking pleased, concerned or bored, nurses here and there,

The fetal heartbeat monitor our guide,
Our steady beacon through the small hours of the night,
Your confident reassurance to us

That you were still there, you were all right, you were calm,
Even as you and your mother entered,
Father following, the heart of the labyrinth

From which we must emerge transformed, as three,
When at last a wiser nurse suggested a change
In the rhythm of breathing and pushing

And finally, just after four in the morning,
From the wet coil of exhaustion and pain
You began to rotate your way out to the world.

In the necessary gush of dark blood,
After all those days and nights and hours you arrived
In a rush so quick you were hard to catch.

You glistened in the red dark, your eyes wide open,
And we placed you on your mother's soft breast. 
We were glad, spent, and stunned. And you were here.

Friday, December 9, 2011

"Something Weird Happened"

You, yes, you
Wake me up
At midnight

Crying out
"Something weird
Happened!" then

Falling back
Into sleep
Leaving me

To wonder
If I missed
Something weird

And the world
No longer
Is the same

And if so
What's different
Now what's wrong?

Then one night
One week on

You do it
Once again,
Waking up

To call out
"Something weird
Has happened!"

Now I think
It must have.
It must. What?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Extra Wise and Far Away

Lady of the wilderness, wife of nomads,
Queen of the desert and scribe of hell, read me 
That bit again about the forest's revenge,

The part you left out of those other stories
Of intemperate gods, lusty goddesses,
Homo affectionate kings and wild men tamed,

You know, in between where the dreams go missing
And where the surviving king screws up his quest
To find the secret to living forever.

How is it the cedars let us cut them down,
Even without gods or demons to guard them?
What secret rarer than life could they save?

I know there must be a tablet left somewhere
Among the kings' crowns piled in the House of Dust
Where you recorded some wisdom cut trees kept

And will keep until the time comes when deserts
And wastes, dominions of scribe and sepulcher,
Have covered the world and been covered themselves.

Then lost, long-buried seeds will stir that waited,
Like the dinosaurs' feathers and mammals' teeth
To make possible the next order of things

For the ageless metaphor, Atrahasis,
God-tricker, shell-builder, code-carrier, life,
To set loose from fresh mountaintops far away.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Too Far from Music, Too Far from Dance

"Music begins to atrophy when it departs too far from the dance...."

Somewhere inside a cold day
Under the big, cold mountains
Professors gather to debate
The world going on without them,

And successfully, strenuously
Reach no actionable conclusion,
But to anxiously, contentiously
Frame their own debate as delusion 

And adjourn for the rest of the year
Amid laughter, consolations, tension
And the usual professorial fears
Mixed of desolation and self-deprecation.

Returning to classes, offices, homes,
They carry out internal revisions
Of the one common human poem,
The verse of eternal decision 

That writhes in the coiled neocortex
Reversing, turning, counter-turning,
Never to rest or stand. At her desk,
The dance professor sits, relearning

Where her agile body fits her mind.
In the stairwell the psychologist
Whistles an effortful, grunting rhyme
As he ascends and gravity resists,

While the elderly archaeologist
Quarrels with a memory 
Written on one wrist
In spidery ball-point summary

Detailing something insightful
About the origin of sin
In the Pleistocene symbols
From which all nonsense stems.

The mountains grow dark.
The campus, muttering, splatters light
In a broken, moon-shaped arc
Around the drowning lake of night.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Night Dreaming Dawn on the Colorado

Day breaks creation
Over and over again

And the wreckage of all
Days' creation becomes 

The landscape it litters
With us and litters

Us with, and us, 
The ones who keep

Shifting and recollecting this
Rubble in hopes of filling

A box we have labeled
"That Which Is Both

Beautiful and True," although
We feel small and disappointed

When we notice the box is not 
Filling, remains empty, mostly,

And tempts us to include
The most abundantly beautiful

But false, or more rarely,
In fits of pique and defiance,

The unbeautiful, to our minds,
But thumpingly true, because

In being so wonderfully
Wrong and persistent we are

Pure, typical parts of this world
Ever striving to improve,

In more hunger and crumbling
Destruction, creation.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Flee, Muse

The ghost that rattles 
At the bottom of the well
And cries out to me all night

Has escaped.
All I have now is a fading wail
Across an unwalled world.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Agency, Choice, & Concentration

"Read words on large billboards.
Drive a car on an empty road.
Find a strong move in chess
(If you are a chess master). . . .

All these mental events
Belong with the angry woman--"
Experience tells us. And why is it 
We mock the experienced drunk,

For, precisely, the fact
Of experience, when
We would never so mock
The experienced triathlete,

Or mathematician,
Or lover, or poet,
Or tenured academic philosopher,
Even given we know nothing

About the self-gratification
And self-sacrifice in teetering,
Roller-coastering imbalances
Any of these experiences take?

But I'm far now from system
One, automaton, and doing 
A poor job impersonating
System two, The Thinker.

Start again, and this time
From monastic sobriety,
That state, which is to awareness
What organic labels are to produce:

I am not learning. I know.
And by that misfortune I learn, 
To my regret, where it is that I, 
Like  you, like us all, in going, go.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Wonderful Things Mr. Brown Can Do

Damned weird sometimes to still be here,
At least as far as here is here

Still, when it's always somewhere else,
And I'm always somebody else,

At sunset, between house and porch,
Spying on the birds on the porch,

Fond black-headed juncos that stuff
Themselves on scattered seeds and stuff,

Overhearing Sarah reading
To Sequoia, also reading,

That is, by turning the pages,
As I've been turning for ages.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Music of Themselves

You have to get near the water
Running freely in its own bed
Deep into twilight promising
A dark, starlit, inhuman night
You'll never get out of your head

If you want to hear them clearly,
If you want to believe they're there,
Themselves, not stories about them.
Let the wind die down around you.
Let the last whispers comb your hair.

This world is not for living things.
However rapaciously life
Craves and consumes it, in the end
Stars, rocks, and water are immune,
While bloodied life eats bloodied life,

And you are among the living
And can never belong, not quite,
To leisurely infinity.
You howl, and coyotes howl back,
Organized predators at night.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Genes, Words, Us

The evolution of life
Cannot be comprehended
By change in gene frequencies.
Life is not that meaningful.
If the measure of success 
Were truly taken by genes,
Life would be data, unhusked.

Genes encode meanings, themselves
Inert and too unselfish
To be the source for so much
Unbridled motivation,
The relentless hungering
To keep going and going
And going that defines life.

Because genes are meaningful,
We like them. We decode them,
Enjoy their cryptography,
Order them, count them, name them,
Chart evolution by them,
Measure life's incremental
Degrees of separation

Mutation by mutation,
And working backwards believe
That, mutatis mutandis,
We can arrive at the source
Commands of all living things,
Perhaps to reorder them
More to taste, lively prospect.

There's little doubt we'll manage
To do some clever damage,
And in so doing we'll be
Executing one more turn
In the spiral of desire
Through carbon and oxygen,
Data and catalysis

That shows no sign of ending,
Inventing death and meaning,
Sex, war, and altruism,
Ruthlessness and compassion,
Waste, consumption, and science,
Means to more means without end,
That which keeps going going.

Products of life, we value
Life for its products, but life
Roars through its products as fire
Roars through the bonds of atoms,
Fire in reverse, making more
And more of what it consumes:
Genes, words, us--these bonds life's fire makes.