Saturday, June 30, 2012

Friday Market, Nelson

Here's a street fair in summer,
White and blue canvas kiosks
Under an after-rain sun,
Homemade goods, organic foods
From local farming co-ops,
Amplified drumming thumping
Under Canadian flags.

The evening's too beguiling
For rhetoric to save me.
I'm not the sort to name names
As if naming could conjure
The irreducible world.
When I'm done naming something
There's only the name to see--

Hemp, bouquets, dreadlocks, tattoos,
Strollers, chinos, wet pavement--
Which details are important
Enough to suggest the heft
Of everything not mentioned,
Which details earn forgiveness
For painting nothing but names?

Friday, June 29, 2012


Bits of tree cotton drift
Lightly as jellyfish
In the dry mountain air,

White parachutes without
Warriors, snow without cold,
Angels outside of faith.

Chickadees, nuthatches
Siskins, robins, and crows
Overlay choruses

On those of the insects,
Of cotton-carrying
Breezes, of porcelain chimes

Hanging in the high sun
Over the creek and lake,
And there's nothing to say.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Blue Window

Enough of the fog green and moss grey
Thinks the garbage collector as he stomps around
The cabin on his self-appointed rounds.
No one local needs to be told the local weather anyway.

The day goes as it goes,
Not as he or anyone wills it, not just,
But it's hardly a total bust.
The vicissitudes keep him on his toes.

The collector sorts recyclables, phrases
With enough pith left that it's puzzling
They're so lightly tossed, no ideas about the thing,
Not even the thing itself, just the bit that amazes.

At the end, or nearly, when a pink sun
Decorates the blue windows, and the trees
Hum in chorus, hoarse angels happy for a breeze,
The light is dreamy and the garbage collection is done.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Cliff Dweller

One of the ridiculous pleasures
Of flirting with disaster is that,
Having yet once more skirted the worst,
One feels inclined to kick up one's heels
And caper about delightedly
Because everything, briefly, seems easy.

Is it raining? How magnificent,
The world's more magical for the mist.
Are there too many bills overdue?
What an accomplishment to post them!
Does the body continue to ache?
How delightful, it aches less and less!

Does one seek out the rim of the cliff
On good days in hopes of feeling fright
Enough to trigger genuine glee?
This cabin's on a cliff, high in mists
On a wet, green summer afternoon,
Rain syncopating the cabin roof,

Sarah's soup simmering on the stove,
My thoughts full of their own cleverness,
My curdled corporeality
Curled up on a comfortable sofa
Like an old tomcat, self contented,
And this world is good enough for me.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Life begins within life begins
Within life begins within in life.
By your father's count, Sequoia,
You're reaching your third beginning,

The first since birth, the second since
Conception, counting only those
Transitions involving a new
Being, new thing in existence.

This time you're conceiving yourself,
You're emerging as a human.
The imaginary glimmers now,
Like a distant star approaching.

As you put your dolly to bed
And feed your plastic toys their snacks
And mime eating with a big grin,
Your life as a theorist begins.

I'm as spooked as fascinated.
All the favorite folk exemplars--
Caterpillars, tadpoles, acorns--
Inadequate analogies

For the transformation of flesh
Into ideas about the world.
Your soul, whatever it isn't,
Announces its mystery now.

You can't see it yet, but I can.
The day will come when you know it,
When you know yourself as a self.
Then the real wondering begins.

Monday, June 25, 2012

For Yvonne Gilmore, With Mixed Results

The reason real life is boring
Has nothing to do with what
Doesn't happen but what does,
The way it does, all mixed up,
Good and bad, cheerful and sad.
The soberest existence
Executes a drunkard's walk

That sprawls in all directions
And shuffles muddied patterns.
Have you seen the cosmic map
Of background radiation
Foolhardy astronomers
Dubbed the "face of God"? A mess
Of blotches, spots, and splotches.

We like our stories in arcs
And wheels, starting and stopping
At points of loss or success.
We don't like a random mess,
We recoil from randomness,
And that is why we suffer.
We don't want the world we're in,

Perhaps because, per Darwin,
Beasts who need the stars pretty,
Babies stupendous, and life
Full of meaning outcompete
Kinfolk who demand nothing
Beyond what they find. Perhaps,
But why hunger for meaning?

Whyever it is, we do,
And that leaves each with a choice
To pace our cages growling
Or try to pick out the locks,
And it seems there are only
Two directions we can spin:
Surrender or denial.

Accept what is as it is
Or insist that it isn't,
That a plan, invisible
At any moment governs
All--two plans in fact, cosmic
And personal, everything
In one, me in the other.

Both choices are perilous,
Narrow paths that tend to slide
Over and into others,
And we can't stick to a plan
Anymore than the world can.
Those who choose calm surrender
See meaning glowing in it,

And those who choose God's rule
Find themselves surrendering,
And so we're back to random
Daily moments of wisdom,
Moments of doubt and despair,
Alternating chummily
As fortunes in a market.

Just yesterday, for instance,
After a reasonably
Harrowing weekend journey
Through the pleasures of limbo
In a dullard's Idaho,
I drove past the most ornate
Roadside cross memorial

I have ever come across,
An arc of sumptuous purple
Flowers over a garlanded
White cross in a flower bed
With the name, "Yvonne Gilmore"
Painted across the arm bars
In thick, black calligraphy.

Yvonne, this poem is for those
Who lavished their bereavement
At your last intersection
Between real and imagined,
And for their story of you
And your life's meaning, and for
All who pass by, and for you.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Time, the Money, and the Weather

What is this impossible
Configuration of links
Between the way everything
Contributes to everything
Becoming nothing like what
Anything contributed.

Here is a lake infested
With houses, shallow and small,
Ringed by puny, bumpy hills
Forested by various
Stages of recovery
From the nearby paper mills.

And here are rented cabins
In a cluster on one shore
Where we never intended
To spend any time, much less
A night, then a whole weekend,
Getting to know the owners,

One of whom dreams of selling
A lurid, sprawling novel
About Cajun swill smugglers
During the prohibition,
Both of whom tell us about
Their recent car accident.

Combinations of notions,
Hesitations, decisions
Appeared to have led us here,
But our deliberations
Couldn't have mattered that much,
Correctly guessing nothing,

Not what these days would be like,
Not the strange bed, the quiet,
The midnight drive through the fog
To get to the hospital in time
To stop anaphylaxis,
The boat ride around the lake

The next day, our daughter's first
Time in a boat, with the couple
From Spokane in the cabin
Next to ours, who decided
On a whim to weekend here,
So they could take their boat out--

Patty and her wife Becca,
A fifty-something fireplug
And a zaftig nurse in braids,
With a cooler full of beer,
A scruffy, palm-sized rat dog,
And a lot of cheerful talk

About nothing. A weekend
Conjured out of a million
Little fears and fantasies,
Ill health, strained budgets, desires,
Giant universal laws,
Subatomic particles.

Can of beer and cigarette
In one hand, her other hand 
Piloting the boat, Patty
Explains how rarely she gets
The boat out. "You need the time,
The money, and the weather."

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Melancholic's Catechism

Is it any different
If the planet explodes
Than if we singly go?

When you say that the world
Will go on without you,
The comfort it gives you

Comes from the fact the world,
The world you imagine,
The only world you know,

Is part of you, and you,
However you dread death,
Must seem alive in it.

And what if the world won't
Go on without you, what
Happens when cultures die,

Whole peoples are wiped out,
The last of a species
Dies alone, continents

Sink into the sea, ice
Scrapes continents to rock,
The rock sinks back to core?

The world's not one of ours.
Our worlds die with us, and
All our comfort is gone.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Toy Boat

A boy I know roars into battle armed
With a push-button panel of alarms
Not a single button of which connects
To any causation science detects.

He's in charge, he's the pilot, he's in love.
Nothing happens with anything he does,
But he keeps pushing buttons anyway,
Worrying over which to push today.

He's hurting, he's spending, he's sounding wise.
In his forecasts, everything's a surprise.
When things turn out somewhere near as he thought
He's delighted; when they don't he's distraught.

About his prospects not much can be said.
Pleasure and catastrophe dead ahead.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Vapors

Right as the afternoon
Gives way to evening, clouds
Rearrange their vapors
And the cabin's in sun.
Clouds! What weird entities.
Gargantuan beings

That aren't beings at all,
The world's best exemplars
Of transitoriness,
Potent irrelevance,
Boats that are their cargo,
Precious, cursed, weird structures.

Shall we make metaphors
For clouds to bear along?
Instantiated, held
Up to evening sun,
Most nothing of somethings?

The clouds above this roof
Regather, not for poems,
Poets, philosophers,
Nor for the ironists
Of neighbors complaining
About weather, an art.

No, they just regather,
And once again block sun
For no reason at all.
Can we say they're the truth?
One, they're real, and no doubt.
Clouds are not gods or myths.

Two, they're not like the words
We use to describe them.
Three, they emerge and go.
Four, they have no borders
Worth defense, but they're dense
And my cabin grows dark.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

My Whole World

What does it mean to be nothing,
The creator of everything
For the pleasure and suffering
Of everything made by nothing?

We watch TV on an iPad,
A  game unique to our moment
On one weird curvature of space.
My daughter's a fan of Elmo,

The red Sesame Street puppet
Voiced by a man older than me
Using a high, babyish voice.
I've never understood puppets,

Or clowns, Saturday Morning cartoons,
Fuzzy, animated creatures
Well designed to make children
Feel fuzzy and animated,

Not even when I was a child.
My first nightmare was of a clown,
Before it was fashionable
To shiver at clowns, I might add.

I find that I "get them" more, now
That I understand that adults
Animate them all while winking
Over kids' shoulders at adults.

Elmo's World's made of crude drawings
Meant to resemble crayon art
Of the real preschoolers who watch
To get tips on how to grow up.

It's clever, and it's more benign
In appearance than what you'll find
In the "Brothers Grimm and Gorey,"
Long rumored to have been outlawed.

One particular episode
From several years ago we watched
The other morning around six
Involved the theme of how to draw,

And, in between video clips
Of kids around the world, drawing,
Elmo drops the aside, "Elmo
Drew his whole world!" So don't we all.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

All Things Are Expedient, All the Time

So this guy inside my head says to me,
"If you preach that the rules aren't important,
What's to stop people from being awful?"
And this other character answers him,
"Never mind that! Every failure of yours
Will be evidence you're the awful one."
Another ghost to tell us what to do.

The human brain's the only haunted house
That can be relied on for noisy spooks,
And it's because of our own haunted brains
That we drag our latest technologies
Into abandoned buildings, seeking proofs.
Ghosts are dolls that make themselves, dolls in dolls,
Ghosts in ghosts, complaining, all the way down.

Monday, June 18, 2012


No one suspects that a wave on a lake
Entertains the delusion that it knows
Whichever direction it's going in
Or can decide which direction it goes.

But waves are all thoughts themselves amount to,
And whatever we believe in or feel
Sweet or sick about comes and goes in waves.

Just don't fall out of the boat
Because you saw me wavering
Under the water like a halo
Around the shadow of a thing.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

That's About It

Stop talking to yourself, silly man.
You won't do this, and you won't do that.
You won't even listen to yourself
Commanding, "stop talking to yourself."

God knows no one else is listening,
Even if it seems no one else knows
God isn't listening much either.
It's not about audience or self.

It's not about genius or madness
Or deity. It's not about fate,
Choice, good behavior, enlightenment,
Mercy, salvation. It's about it.

And you're not it. You're not even you.
You're a pause at the intersection
Of revelation and confusion,
And your decisions decide nothing

About anything. You might as well
Try to quit trying and be open
To the adventure of helplessness.
And stop taking orders from your poems!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Baby in the Bathwater

Gurus of more than one
School of meditation
Like to compare the mind
(The unenlightened mind)
To a noisy toddler
Demanding attention.

They don't have much to say
On how to enlighten
An actual toddler
Who's loudly in the room
Demanding something now
And will not go away.

Friday, June 15, 2012

And What If Causation's the Myth?

What to do? Whenever the thought
Hovers over the stream of mind
And indecision's palpable,

That little bit of space appears
In which choice seems like a real thing
And the world could go either way.

Something waits in the trees, lips curled,
Considering, the beginning
Of all faiths and philosophies.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


Some damned thing keeps asking
How real is this, these trees,
This intermittent sun
On a rural highway?
Does it matter at all
Whether this is a dream,

A boring midday break
In a muddy pullout,
Or the contingent truth
Of shapeless emptiness?
The body wants to know
If its fluttering heart,

Twisted bones, faint muscles,
Compromised guts and skin
Allow themselves comfort
In a quiet moment
Or a few, among trees
And the occasional

Road songs of logging trucks,
Have they betrayed a world
Of more important things?
The sources of patterns
That contort into verse
Want badly to rebel

Against something
Worth making something else
But are nothing themselves,
A myriad nothings
Invisibly humming,
A wail of tiny words

Within these walls of trees
Hacked back, burned, and regrown
Quick as thoughts, selves, worlds, dreams.
The words aren't looking, but
A yearling mule-deer buck
Browses grass beside them.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Stop Motion

Seven canoes of seven
Pairs of teenagers chatting
Make their way around the bay
In ragged, paddling processions
Of awkward stares and poses,
All taking their time, then gone.
Dread, anticipation, blank--

Youth offers the afternoon
Its dank, fishy metaphors
Until a pileated
Woodpecker, tall as a hawk,
Mercifully interrupts
Conceits of adolescence
By alighting on driftwood

Pulled ashore by a cyclist
Who rode down to the boathouse
To see how his kayaks fared
Through the rains and high waters.
The woodpecker inspects logs,
Then struts up to a swimmer
Perched on one, stares at him, leaves.

"That was rare," says the cyclist.
"Are birds always that relaxed
Around you?" The swimmer lies
By shrugging his vague assent,
Then dives back in the water
Where everything familiar
Stays timeless until it's gone.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Three Views of Valhalla in June

1. Foreground

She waves at the park ranger,
And the park ranger waves back.
The man in black swim trunks tries
Triangulating the scene
By angles of diffidence.
How eager is the woman
To talk to the park ranger?

How eager is the ranger
To talk to him, he to her?
How much overlap is there
Between their three distinct worlds?
Survey all this correctly,
And the resulting social
Hologram will feel quite real,

As if an actual world
Existed beyond them all.
But he fails. The park ranger
And the woman are a team,
Launching their boat together,
Its blue-roofed aluminum
Hull thocking into the lake.

The engine and radio
Rev and they're off on patrol,
"Valhalla Park Ranger One."
The sweet stink of diesel fuel
Floats to the man on the shore,
And wake waves slap at his toes.
There is no world beside this.

2.  Delta

The profoundest geometry,
The fan trapped inside the circle,
Proliferating triangles
Packed tight as angels in each sphere,

The waves rippling out from nowhere
To pass the outermost orbit,
Their equilateral symbol,
Symmetry for signifying change,

Most fecund plane of existence,
Nonlinear heart of paradox,
Placeholder for infinity,
The joker boxed with equations,

The idealized abstraction
Of experienced difference,
The monster of covariance,
The essence of evolution,

All that, less and more, keeps hidden
In those echo shapes of mountains,
Their conical halos sunk deep
Under the endless wavering.

3.  Distance

Maybe I'd rather just look at it
From the village's civilized shore.
No one goes wild into wilderness.
We carry humanity with us,
Rules, stories, technologies and all,
No matter how lonely we may be.

From the grassy slip by the boathouse,
The houses and highway behind me,
I can look at the heart of the park
Out in that dark, green distance, as if
Wild earth were unmarred heaven, as if
I really wanted to be set free.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Awakening

A third of our existence
We don't exist, don't recall
What our nonexistence did
With itself while we were out.
The two-thirds left are less real,
Make no sense, arrive daily,
Blaring welcomes to strangeness.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Large Basin of Attraction

This is my life. It won't last. I live
In an instantaneous universe
Where everything is always waiting.

The feeling isn't universal, but
One has to follow anthropologists
Into remote parts of the world

To find exceptions, and nuanced
Exceptions at that. No species
With less diversity has ever been

More in love with its own rumors
Of its own exceptional diversity.
We're boring, but we won't admit it.

We are boring because we aren't
Instantaneous. Our little evolved
Trick is to think of one dimension

Of space as pliable and call it time.
It's clever, at least from our clotted
Perspectives, but not terribly fun.

The subgame-perfect equilibrium
Is unfair, yes. But beautiful.
There is space, endless and eternal.

And then, in our monkey minds,
There is time, in one direction,
Maybe two, full of what we can't find.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Ambush

A poem appears in the distance,
A squiggle of a thing from one angle,
A bit of a tune, almost, from another.

Ignore it. It can't see you from there.
Poems have notoriously poor vision.
It will probably wander away.

Whatever you do, don't provoke it
Or tease it or offer it food.
Where there's a poem, there's a poet,

And you don't want to suffer
An encounter with a poet.
Perfectly wonderful people

Become unbearable in that skin,
And those who inhabit it full time
Tend to derangement and hunger.

It was a poet like that who birthed
The notion that wolves were the ones
In sheep's clothing. Of course.

The better to sneak bad ideas
In woolly language by.
It's the poet who blamed the snake,

The toad in the garden, the sphinx.
Ok. You caught me. I'm very sorry,
But I'm going to have to bite you now.

Friday, June 8, 2012


The water keeps rising.
The spiders are frantic,
Hunting less and less shore.
Dead wood rinsed from the slopes
Jostles in rotting piles.
Women talk on the pier

Discussing the boathouse
Now knee deep in water
And floating detritus.
Their kayaks are inside.
They give up on boating
And reminisce instead

About summers thirty,
Forty or more years gone,
When their kids took lessons
From this pier and came out
Blue-lipped with cold, about
The boys who were bullies

And threw other kids in,
About how their father
Beat them at home, so no
Wonder, right? Talk all comes
To gossip in the end.
Looking back at the lake

As it tears at its shore
And all the broken trees,
One woman folds her arms
And shrugs. "Well it does that."
They wander back to town.
The spiders keep hunting.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Duck Weather

The world wraps the cabin in wet for days.
Things happen. Enough water will damage
Almost anything sooner or later,
Even the sea. Think of all those glaciers.

The exquisite lenses of perspective
Sat on a log in the rains overnight.
Now everything looks misty, close, and dank.
The mountains withdraw. Birds quiet. Worms float.

Each small, local thing seems to lose its place,
Caught up by waterfalls, churning creeks, mud,
Blocked vortices circling in high meadows
Then rushing down rocks to cold, swollen lakes.

What a beautiful misery this is,
What monotonous, sorrowful solace.
What is it about wet weather that serves
As a kindness only to loneliness?

When it is silent except for the rain
There's peace, but any companionship's hard.
The wet creeps in, dissolves fellow feeling,
Invites mildew into each warm embrace.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Things We Perceive

"Nothing in our brain is truly objective. Our perception is deeply and pervasively shaped by how we feel about the things we perceive."

Aren't there. Aren't that,
Aren't as we perceive them.
We know this because we've tested
Each other with various lies
And found that we fail to recognize
The truth that our ruses
Are designed to disguise.

Or they are there. They are
Whatever it is that we believe
They are. It is not the blind
Men groping the elephant
Nor the social psych subjects
Tricked by postdoctoral confederates
Who are fooled, except in our stories,

Designed, like errata
Notices produced by media,
To convince us the truth is
Out there, or in here,
In the text of our expert reports,
Vouchsafed by these very same
Revelations of precisely measured mistakes.

There never was an elephant.
There were only those few worlds
Of finite organisms feeling something
With necessarily limited senses.
And if that's not the whole truth,
Then design your own trickery.
I am that which perceives that I am.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Four Short Meditations from a Cloudy Shore

1. Apology

The poem is always better behaved
Than the brain that takes credit for it.
Even the most scatological
Or curmudgeonly, misanthropic,
And just plain hateful of poetry
Probably amounts to rebrewed tea.
Trust the honest, the confessional,
And the revolutionary least.
The naked will have the most to hide.

2. Sutra

We only think that we know what we want.
We only want what we think that we know.

We only know what we think that we want.
We only think that we want what we know.

3. The Dog That Doesn't Care

There's a boy on a lawn, throwing a ball.
There's a dog on the lawn, ignoring him.
It's summer, or almost, in Canada,
But the rain is still raining every day.

The boy wonders why the dog doesn't care
While his mother, inside the house watching,
Wonders why everything about her hurts.
The dog gets up and goes into the woods.

There's a boy on the lawn, tossing the ball
To himself and catching or dropping it
Between fits of showers, while his mother
Talks on the phone inside. The dog is gone.

4. Watery Ear

The lake is dark this afternoon,
No gold underwater today.
One duck keeps croaking urgently.
A chainsaw buzzes in the woods.

The globe is warmer somewhere else,
One supposes, and colder too.
The brain sets up scenarios
From memory of the unseen.

If a mind could stay here, right here,
Emptied of the news of the world
And thoughts of greater importance
Than a dog's bark, a fish's jump,

The soft, continuous echo
Returned by the mirroring lake
That sums raw wood and village sounds,
Would that mind be released or trapped?

Monday, June 4, 2012


Take off your shoes, old man,
And quit your complaining.
The light tonight is mild.
You still have your senses.
You sit in a green world
And tonight it is spring.

You remain in your world,
Your miseries are mild,
Sweetness fills your senses,
And the squirrel complaining
In the hemlock at spring
Loves life like an old man.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

All Politics Are Local

The union of this body
Seems to be coming apart.
Cells in the feet have rebelled
Against the stoic-celled heart.
Cells in the brain crawl away
And refuse to do their part.
"Save us from this flesh!" they pray,

While pretending to themselves,
They are anything other
Than what everything else is
In this parliament bothered
By back-bench insurrections,
Against the rules that smother
Rebels' hopes of redemption.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Clouds of Water of Clouds

What is my mind making now, crazy thing
That won't leave itself alone one moment?

I would like to think that fog is out there,
Just as it appears, rising off of pines

Like the backdrop for a Japanese poem
By a long-ago Zen master in robes,

Something requiring precision to catch
With the correct thinking, correct science,

But I'm quite sure that this is only me,
Only nothing whatever once again,

Hearing sad music in a wet landscape
In which what is is inseparable

From what was and what I imagine
Might be about to be, all this fog,

Rolling down from glaciers, up from the lake,
Wisps fingering through me, mind made of trees.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Is That So

"The koan is something like, 'What is this?' or something, but it's not that, exactly."

Wise or foolish, there's no escape
From being aware of being
When all we are is awareness,
Unless we are no longer there.

And what is it we're aware of?
Myself, I'm nine parts fantasy
And, most of the rest, memory
Torn up to make more fantasies.

It does sound like a good idea
To give up the fantasizing
And live only in the newest past,
The ongoing just-gone called "now,"

But the delta of the just-gone,
However complexly braided,
Is expansively shallow marsh
Sinking in the gulf of the past.

Whatever it is to exist
While all tangled up in living,
To be aware of existing
Is to imagine existence,

To imagine swimming upstream,
To want to return to the source.
But awareness is neither fish
Nor water, only the river.