Thursday, May 31, 2012

Joe Six-Pack and Heidegger Walk into a Bar

It is the universal failing
Of smarter than average humans
To feel they see the future better
Than the average humans around them,
Although randomly sampled genius
Graphs out the same supreme unreason
Spanning unlikely scenarios
From millennial Utopias
To an imminent apocalypse

As can be found in an average pub
Just before happy hour, when the sots
Who have survived evening and morning
Plumb their depths for nostalgic treasures
And urgent, grim prognostications.
Times have changed. Greater change is looming.
Brilliant, drunk, and average, the future
Remains our monster about to pounce.
Not even a god can save us now.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Broken Weir

For some reason we're always asking
Each other the names of everything,

Including the names of each other,
And we'll make up the names we don't know.

No one asked Adam to name the world.
Certainly the world didn't ask him,

But with every letter, I'm itching
To render this moment as catalogue--

Wind, hemlocks, firs, birches, and birdsong,
Creek roar, dandelions, bumblebees,

Blue-grey navies of rain-dragging clouds,
Snowy fogs rising off the glacier,

A straight shot of sun through the canyon,
A logging truck pounding down the road,

A toddler upstairs, taking her nap,
A mother downstairs meditating,

This bench, my shapeless old green sweater,
Cold ears, aching knees, moss on the trees--

Nothing that answers the question, what
Sort of purpose is there in naming

That could deserve such desperation
As fills up our lives and libraries?

What is it a well-made net captures
Half-rotted knots of my lines cannot?

Fish. Prey. Enemies. Nuggets of gold.
Words catch things by letting others go,

The rush of experience itself,
The stream that hurls life down through the world.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

His Dragon World

The real secret of the merfolk
Has nothing to do with the deep.
Merfolk don't live underwater,
Only the selkies can do that.

The real secret of the merfolk
Is that they never shed those tails.
They're almost helpless, once ashore,
But life without air would kill them.

They rarely hazard the ocean,
Preferring remote mountain lakes.
Mostly they swim in the shallows
And haul out on secluded rocks.

You may have talked to one for hours
One summer swimming in a lake,
And wondered why, when you went in,
Your new friend swam away from you.

I recognized a merman once,
By the way he swayed beside me,
Lower torso underwater,
Neither quite floating nor standing.

It was early on a clear day
In spring, no one else at the lake.
To be polite, I looked away 
From his odd shape as we conversed.

To be polite, he pretended
Not to feel my feigned disinterest.
I asked him about the water,
If he liked it even this cold.

He shivered a little, then stared
Out to the middle of the lake,
Where cloud shadows darkened the waves.
"I would love to get under it,

And be at peace in the gold jails
Bars of sunlight made around me.
Here, now, I feel like I am it,
Although to be it would kill me."

Monday, May 28, 2012

Breathing from the Lake

I have an unslakeable thirst
For etymological puns,
As if the histories of words
Could disclose the architecture
Of the lost minds that nourished them
The way dark grass outlines ruins
In the bright fields of poor farmers
Whose crops root down to buried towns.

Consider how one word for breath
Could mean life, eternal essence,
Imaginary deities,
Hobgoblins, ghosts, and strong liquor--
Water of fire, water of life,
Spirited, spiritus, spirits--
The cold thought that scorches the tongue,
The danger that glows in the skull.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Box of Light

Something or other wakes up,
Falls back into dreams, wakes up,
Almost dreams, counts breath, wakes up,

Finally fully wakes up,
Begs its eyelids to wake up,
Begs its legs, wake up, wake up,

To this home, this box of light.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Somewhere Not Very Near Vana

It amazes me how many miracles
I imagine without believing in them,
Without believing myself susceptible
To any kind of miraculous thinking.

I browse a book on Buddhism's history
And feel sad that so many gods and ogres
Got involved in marketing enlightenment,
Engulfing any truth with wish fulfillment,

While I squat here, ogre on a cabin porch,
Embodying all the vices of craving--
Lazy, slovenly, crooked little creature--

And imagine myself an enlightened soul,
A being radiating wisdom and truth,
Admired by all, wealthy by mysterious means,

Me, not anyone worth writing home about,
Nor actually suffering for wickedness,
Certainly not enough. I can hear the wind
And waters rushing down the wooded canyon

To the lake where I worship something like life,
Something like fullness, something like emptiness.
I am not. I am small. I am ravenous.
As such, if I fail, I belong to this world.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Oh Mosquito

Why do we hate being animals?
Why do we loathe being beasts?
What sick, twisted thing has culture done
To hoist us above ourselves?

It's true we're not bodies but language
About bodies, dissembling
And thieving as it works through our brains,
But words only live in flesh,

Confused and confounded by themselves,
Leaving behind petroglyphs,
Standing stones, museums, libraries,
And more lost, stumbling bodies,

Unable to understand desire.
Dreams become technologies
About technologies, the caverns
Containing charcoal paintings

Of long-gone, hungry, humped-up creatures
Piled on top of each other,
Gifts of gone painters fascinating
The cameras of today.

Nothing's evil for being mortal,
Accidental memory.
The immortality of culture
Provides twilight for our lives.

My bones lean on the corpse of this tree.
A mosquito bothers near
Who wants to borrow blood as I waste
Time as a self, wondering.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Human Behavior, 17 Months

She picked up the grape
From the plate of sliced
Fruit and dunked it
In her miso soup.

She sucked the soup
Off the grape and
Put the grape back
On the plate.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Devil Beating His Wife

It's an obnoxious expression
If ever there was one,
And, if anyone, right now it's me
The devil is beating.

Clouds part and the sun reaches me,
But soon as I'm in sun,
Fat rain drops splatter over me.
When they stop, the sun hides.

It's amusing how tormenting
This alternation is.
If I were not outdoors by choice
Heavy rain would be worse,

But as I'm down here at the lake
Hoping to steal a swim
Between the rolls of low weather,
I feel it's taunting me.

While I try to get warm and dry
Between freezing quick dips,
I think of the devil's poor wife.
How in hell did they meet?

What sort of character is she?
Especially evil,
Like him, a match made in heaven,
Assortative mating?

Or is she just the opposite,
His devoted angel,
The only woman pure enough
To love the wicked one?

Part of me would like to meet her,
Imagine her at least,
Although she's no more real than him,
Shadowiest of beasts.

I'm cold, but I'm almost dry now,
And the clouds move aside
From the grey shore where I shiver.
The devil's back inside.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Last Word

If there were a prophet
Or a philosopher,
Or a mad scientist,
Or a team of any
Above, combined, who could
Pronounce the final truth,

The complete description,
The authoritative
Revelation from God
Or the equivalent,
One last word, there would be
Nothing to explicate.

The proliferation
Of exegetical
Commentaries, meantime,
Is all the evidence
We need that their subjects
Told nothing like whole truth.

Monday, May 21, 2012


We, the ephemera
Of bodies making worlds
From the worlds they're given,

Imagine we arrange
And maintain our bodies,
Our homes, ourselves, our minds,

Funny little wavelets
Generating spindrift
To manage the oceans.

Although we know we're not
In charge of anything,
Knowing we're not thrills us

Because any knowing,
Even of invalid
Incompetence stirs us,

For reasons we don't know,
To pray our lives, minds, waves
And winds will yield to spray.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

And It's Nice, For the Moment, But We Can't Ever Go Back

Death and the future are one and the same,
Twin provinces of the undiscovered
Country from which no traveller returns.

We all are on our way to both of them.
We all will lose ourselves along the way,
Without ever arriving at either.

What does it matter, if we're on our way?
Perhaps even more alarming, we're here.
Insofar as we are, we're already

In the instant of awareness we sought
And thought we would never find and did not
Expect would be like this, and not that, not

Quite the future, stuck, and dead to the past,
Forever exiled outcasts from ourselves,
Marooned, infinitesimal moment

By moment. Here we are, watching an ant
On a picnic table near a glacier,
While an unknown bird chirps syrupy songs.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Sun in the Window

The big, simple table made of wide planks
Shoved up under the log cabin's window
With its view of birches and mountainside,

The gush and rumble of the dishwasher,
An odd and welcome machine in the woods,
Where melted snow pipes streams "straight off the hill,"

The grim thrum of the refrigerator,
Enduring Sisyphean punishment
As an engine flouting the Second Law,

The muffled groans of the trees in the wind,
The claw-like gouges of snow on steep slopes
Where seedlings lose their purchase each winter,

These semi-random amalgamations
Of all five intersecting dimensions,
Light, depth, breadth, time, and lyric poetry,

These joint breaths drawn, felt, absorbed through the pores
Of trees, insects, beasts, and machines in spring,
Conspire and tremble to divide the sun.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Serpent Muses

Everyone other than Adam and Eve
Understands you need rain in paradise.
Not everyone seems clear on the reason.

I'm getting a bit suspicious myself.
What we call paradise is very nice
Most of the time, hellish on occasion.

We're putting a lot of pressure on it,
Trying to cram it all into our mouths.
Would it be possible to surrender

The idea of somewhere ever better,
The idea of anything more, more peace,
More joy, more contentment, more loveliness?

Maybe not. Maybe the only reason
We know the rain in paradise is rain
Is because paradise itself is pain.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

An Hour or Two

This is the world. Not the real
World, of course, if there is
Such a thing, just the world

As you are it, as you are,
Figment of profane imagination
And sacred apperception.

In the world, forested mountains
Remind themselves of fangs
With icy points. In the world,

Rollie the cabin dog, old white
Samoyed with trembling hips
And sharp, barky disposition

Trails you across the rocks
And giant driftwood on the beach
Fronting the cold, rhythmic lake

Of the world, where you swim
In brief bursts of sharp attention
Through the perfectly murky

Light. In the world full of clouds
That never move in one direction,
Only grow and vanish, you

Try to find washed-up treasures
That a comber would appreciate.
An hour. Glass. Sand. Char.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Nice Equation

There's a secret to this world,
Rumored to have been captured
In a single formula
Half a line long, elegant,
Tautological, precise,
Yet so vastly general
As to apply to all things.

Or there is no such secret,
Only that neat formula
Summing exactly nothing
But so, so beautifully
That one feels the solution
Deserves some brutal riddle
To heroically resolve.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Game of Bob and Alice

They're conventions used by game theorists
And behavioral economists
Of English-language varieties

When trying to explain their arcane
Disciplines to undergraduates
Unaccustomed to talking in maths.

Consider the counterfactuals:
"It is because of what would happen
If they were reached that they are not reached!"

E.g., "Why does Alice murder Bob
In Kidnap? Because she believes that
He would tell on her if she didn't."

Half-schooled as I am in the argot
Of games meant to model decisions,
I know that "Kidnap" is one such game.

Still, half-mired in story's telling lies,
It's easier to think of Kidnap
As a ghost town not far from nowhere

Where Alice, who is gaunt, brown, and tall,
And quite possibly that rare creature,
The full-blown female sociopath,

Has chosen to kill her lover, Bob,
Or perhaps the undertaker, Bob,
Or perhaps a perfect stranger, Bob.

Why Alice murders Bob in Kidnap
Has nothing to do with strategy
And everything to do with boredom.

Kidnap is such a dusty hell pit
Between hardpan and cactus deserts
And no one who lives there lives at all.

Alice just dragged out her revolver
From under her dirty gingham skirts
And shot Bob because she felt like it.

There's your game theory, there's your justice,
Planet Earth style, death because things die,
And death is your due, tough luck for you.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Bay

It's not the same, it's never
The same. Weather works on it,
The rising and falling lake,
Changeful as any river,
Albeit more deceptive,
More prone to look like itself,
Constantly redefines it.

Each passing life stakes a claim,
From the territorial
Spiders under logs and rocks
To trees advancing root by root,
To fish spawning in shallows.
Dogs and bears bring their feces,
Humans bring their fires and trash.

The foolish professor brought
His love, his bones, his crutches,
His free time, his flask of scotch,
His weird need to go swimming
In stunningly cold water,
His pasts, and once, in winter,
His only child's placenta.

He teetered over the ice
To where fog rolled from the waves,
Setting the small ship of blood
Adrift on the dark water
Until it slipped out of sight.
That was here. That was not here,
Where May sun shines. Near. Not here.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Our Balance

We all lie to tell the truth.
The first lie that we believe
Is that there is truth to tell.
We lie to protect the truth.
Otherwise we would wake up
Atop an undercut cliff
Called "There Is No Truth" and lose

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Near-Life Experience

Magic always brings
Its hocus-pocus
Restrictions with it.
Perfection can't stand
Its own company.

The sleeping glacier
Rests its gleaming coils
Along Valhalla's
Serpentine stone spine
Right in front of me.

How ouroboros
To mate a pattern
Of no relation
To itself except

Magic doesn't make
Problems disappear.
Magic transforms them
Into new problems
Involving magic.

How to keep a spell
From sliding sideways.
How to disappear
Politely. So on.
It seems I've come back home.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Swallows of Payette Lake

The dude with the s'more bucket
Just walked by. We're at a lodge
We can't afford in a part of the country
Hard for us to ignore, where the snow
Hangs on into late spring. We love

Being crazy. The swallows circle
The heritage silver clouds
Of the high-country evening.
I've never seen so many swallows.
I had not thought life had undone
So many. Oh, but they're hungry,

Cruising for gnats and mosquitoes
While one furious raven complains,
And the splits of timber in the compass
Circle of the outdoor hearth just for guests
Collapse, spark, and point in all directions.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Billingsley Creek

No wonder rivers
Charm philosophers.
This water rushing
From black basalt cliffs
Over tumbled rocks
Foams so fast it seems
One perpetual

Marbled solid thing.
Eye catches motion
While mind feels sculpture,
Cold and perfect source
Of fond metaphors
From Heraclitus,
Buddha, and proverbs

In a thousand tongues.
Cross the old footbridge
To the cottonwood-
Anchored green island
Where the endless roar
Surrounds you and wait.
The past is changing.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Beer for Dinner

One of the few clich├ęs to constitute
A falsifiable hypothesis
Is the saw that asserts "most of the things
People worry about never happen."

I can't seem to falsify it myself.
Weirder still, even when I worry less,
The percentage of dread that comes to pass
Seems to stay about the same. This cheers me,

And I try to remind myself often
That the return on worrying's the same,
More or less, as the return on blackjack.
Too bad it's what we don't dread that gets us.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Jamais vu

It's all unfamiliar to me,
This white light filling the suburbs
Of a middle-continent town.

How many passwords have I lost,
How many former phone numbers,
How many names and addresses?

It's not that, not that exactly.
It's not just that I've forgotten
The tchotchkes of my existence.

Even when I know what I see,
The seeing and knowing feel strange,
And being aware feels absurd.

At best an epic catalogue
Of lyrical quotidian
Moments could only make a sieve

From cross hatching words and phrases
Through which the strangeness pours like broth
From unreconstructed stone soup:

More clouds now than moments ago--
Sarah meditates on the lawn--
The sounds of cars fill nearby streets--

The day's half gone--we have to go--
A campus clock tower chimes and gongs
A hollowed hour it can't complete--

However attention tightens--
However wisdom enlightens--
Gaps in shadows slightly widen.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Hive Mind

We perform our selfless services
To the selfish creative artists,
Falsifiers of hypotheses,
Elaborators of arguments.

We read their stories, we read the news,
We seek out poems for sustenance,
Discoveries for reassurance,
Ideas for hopes we can't outcompete.

We remain poor, humble consumers
In the marketplace of fantasies,
Cheering spectators in the cheap seats
Perched above the blood sport of ideas.

And what are the thanks we get for this,
We, sterile, worker castes of culture?
We get to elaborate our dreams
With the terrors felt by drones and queens.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Deep White Matter

The news was full of the full moon,
The super moon, meaning only
The largest, brightest moon this year--
Goofy, spooky nomenclature.

The day dawned unusually cold
In the streets of Salt Lake City,
Relative to a mild spring here
Passed partly among relatives.

The grandfather rowed in the lake
Among the whitecaps, no sailboats
To interfere with his workout,
The raw weather a boon to oars.

The mother dragged herself downstairs
To where the invalid father dozed
And handed him their chirping child
Ravenous for yogurt and juice.

The grandmother rose late, worried
About the weather for a trip
Planned for grandchildren at the zoo,
But delighted at a day out.

The aunt and uncle and cousin
Arrived on time, ready to go,
Despite the chill, wanting to see
The blind sea lion at the zoo.

Small details, good compost for dreams,
The body's retort to the mind,
Reminding memory the moon
Will drag deep tides from sleep tonight.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

No Time in the World

How did we get here
With this exact past
Unspooling smoothly
As action, but never,

Never, never connected
Continuously as awareness
Or as memory, herky
Jerky here we

Are and there we
Are, or were, where
That was that, was
Not this now not this.

I'm confused, and knowing
A few dozen explanations,
Metaphysical, neurological,
Psychological, mystical,

And risible for why this
Is so hasn't helped.
The phenomenon
Of awareness resists

Itself like a poem
Resisting the mind,
Albeit more successfully,
Like a boot resisting

The tug from above on the straps.
There. Ugh. There's our mystery.
Where's the equivalent gravity
Holds us down against

The ignorant, innocent
Ground sometimes called time
Or the like, as if it liked
To hold all knowing captive

When the knowing knows
There is no such known thing
As knowing, nor as solid ground,
Nor as pure time in this world?

How did I get here
From there where I remember
Here was nonexistent?
I'll never.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Hang the Parrot

In one quiet corner
Of the cosmos,
A sun pearls a cloud
And a moon disks blue

To indicate to green
Suburban lawns
And leafy streets
Voiced by children

That a cyclic existence
Can be captured from the chaos
And spun on the fingertips
Of families woven

From recurring conversations
About when to water
The potted cactus,
When to eat outside

Under the arbor
By the neighbors' cherry tree,
About how gifted
Is a granddaughter,

How dry is the spring
This year, and how soon
To start the barbecue and hang
The ceramic parrot.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Second Law of Moral Dynamics

For whatever reason, we imagine
That although right must win out in the end,
Wrong is the more natural attractor.
We never think not knowing right from wrong
Means accidentally doing the right.

We never think the world's half right, half wrong.
It's either a right world sliding to wrong
Or a wrong world needing to be rescued.
How can it always be going to hell
And yet ripe for another redemption?

To be honest, I don't know right from wrong.
Occasionally I feel like I'm right.
More rarely I feel I've done the right thing.
Most often I feel like I've done the wrong thing,
For the wrong reason, to look like I'm right.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


My daughter tumbles in the dirt,
Begins to cry and then decides
She's ok and laughter's better.
I freeze every time she does this.

She's got no obvious scars yet,
But I know she'll have to get some,
Even if she's not frail like me.
Everyone has scars with stories--

A truth learned in intimacy,
As when I memorized the skin
Of her oh so lovely mother.
Beauty always carries small wounds,

Little pale patches with stories
From childhood for each one of them.
Monstrously stitched and blotched myself,
I know what a book bodies are.

I wish my daughter a rich life
In which she will tell some lover
The childhood stories of her scars.
I beg the stars those scars are small.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Like Yesterday

Your odds of winning
Tomorrow's lottery
Are the same as your odds
Of randomly picking the same

Number as the one that won
The lottery yesterday.
Do you dream of matching
Yesterday's numbers, ever?

Are you afraid of playing
Yesterday's winners today
Because they surely can't
Crop up again tomorrow?

Assuming all's as fair
In your lottery as in love
And war, the chance of the same
Numbers being picked twice

In a row is exactly the same
As the chance of any particular
Other numbers (for instance,
Yours) coming up tomorrow.

Does that sound right to you?
No? Does it just feel wrong?
Congratulations. You've just won
One more ticket in the game of life.