Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Two or Three Countries Separated by Uncommon Language

"The capital's most iconic statues are now adorned with bespoke head wear created by the best British milliners."  -BBC News 

What is it about this sentence
That captivates a yank like me?
Iconic, bespoke milliners
Didn't exist where I grew up.

They don't flourish  in the language
Spoken around me in Utah,
Nor in British Columbia.
They survive in the crevices

Of books and academia,
A few anglophilic elders.
I'm not an Anglophile myself.
I doubt most Britons speak this way

Although some few bespeak their clothes,
And many know of milliners
At least as well as mad hatters,
And not all icons sit on screens.

I regress. Why do I like this
Awkward and passive-voiced sentence?
It borders on nonsensical
To someone raised American.

It's not only that it's British,
However patently it is.
It's that it comes from Wonderland's
Exquisitely drab silliness.

Imagine a grey capital
Of statues decked in goofy hats
To prove the creativity
Of a capital of statues.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Hold on a Second

Would you like to write about where
You are or where you want to be?
Where you are the air circulates
Through centralized machinery

And light comes from fluorescent tubes.
But you're only here a minute,
And now you're back out in your car,
Your own hunk of machinery

In which you feel so much at home
You don't even notice the air
Circulates through the same system
As the grim building was using,

And you're strapped tightly to your chair.
No, you're not. You're home on the porch.
It's sunny and swallows circle.
No. You're at the local park. No.

You're home reading to your daughter.
No. The sunset gilds the green wood.
A ceiling fan spins lazily.
No. You're hauling her up to bed.

No. You're back stretched out and tired out
And the moon, which, unlike the sun
Does rise, lights a Max Parrish sky.
Where were you? What was the question?

Sunday, July 29, 2012


Down at the lake, forbidden
From entering, stuck overlooking
The kayaks stately as swans
And garish as plastic flowers
Paddling through the dapple
Under the massive granite
Of a golden afternoon, one guesses

It's time itself that's timeless,
As if it were happening
As it's happening
When, as it happens, it's not
Happening at all, except
That vacancy perceivable
As timeless at the time.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

We Who Don't Exist Salute You

Public language creates private
Thoughts that create private self-hoods
That create private theatres
In which private trounces public
And the self becomes a hero
Public language must adulate,
And that is why the private self
Survives despite its public birth

Friday, July 27, 2012

Distinguished from Truth

"A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth."

There's that sunrise again,
Angling in the window
Like a smart argument

That bars our way with light
And particles dancing
To entertain our sense

That the world is truly
Beautiful, delightful,
Built for self-renewal.

There's the moon's reminder
In evening gowns of clouds
And hand-me down starlight

That whatever shimmers
Will wane and grow again
And wane and grow again.

There's that unnameable
Birdsong in the garden,
Memorably whistling

An old advertisement
For the reproduction
Of old advertisements.

Here's the rearrangement
Of obsessive rhythms.
You've read all this before.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Simple Idyll

They sit on the porch at the edge of the wood,
Little and big. Little plays with a daisy,
Toy farm animals, a towel, a napkin,
A pine cone and a stick. Big plays with a phone.

The sun is getting low and angled just so
That its glow nestles in the lowest branches
Of the congregated firs, pines, and hemlocks,
A light at human height, just paces away.

Little spots the silhouette of a squirrel
Leaping branch to branch, chittering raucously.
Big spots the waxing moon on the twilight side
And hoists little up on a bench to see it.

Little points at the moon, repeating its name.
Big steadies little and watches the swallows
Thread the sky with their hunger. Little and big,
They stay that way while the sun sets.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Dare to wriggle forward without
Your sensory appendages
Extended. Keep those eyes shut tight.
Don't stop. Don't hesitate. Don't slow.
You're in the cave of what happens.

Darkness and risk and chance all meet
In the bent etymology
Of a term for bold recklessness,
Reminding you that in your mind
Clairvoyance is just one more sense,

That the enculturated mind
Is a collective appendage
For assessing nearby hazards,
That the future is a message
Foolhardiness paints in the cave.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Daily Bred

The glory of the Catholic mass
Remains transubstantiation.

It's not that a wafer transforms
On the tongue of each devotee

Into literal flesh of God,
Impressive belief though that is.

It's that the extravagant claim
Specific to one miracle

Is, in the general sense, true.
All I can ever know or be

Is pure transubstantiation,
Not from one thing to another

Nor from a baked good to a god,
But to transubstantiation.

Nothing of me exists except
This perpetual in between,

Miracle of incompletion,
Incompletion the miracle,

Repeatable as morning mass,
Mutable as orthodoxy,

World always becoming nothing
Like a substantive conviction.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Poem 548

"The Jātakas. . . . are the stories that tell about the previous lives of the Buddha, in both human and animal form. . . . The Theravada Jatakas comprise 547 poems, arranged roughly by increasing number of verses. According to Professor von Hinüber, only the last 50 were intended to be intelligible by themselves, without commentary." -Wikipedia

The subsequent life of the Buddha best
Exemplifies the truth of emptiness.
To be freed from rebirth is to be freed
From further sequelae to your story.

No more Buddha after the banyan tree,
But so many, many lives beforehand.
We understand, somehow, enlightenment,
Death, and transfiguration mean the end

Of narrative. To be sure, ghosts can have
Stories. Imperfect gods can have them, too,
As can vampires and other immortals
Who haven't completed their destiny.

But the completed, perfected being,
Whether resurrected or taken up
Or rumored to be returning one day,
Can have no further adventures, is done.

A story requires an imperfection.
A narrative, however misleading,
However impossible, cruel, contrived,
Must honor the tumbling incompletion,

The perpetual falling that is our
Constant and constantly disappearing
Experience of being aware of life,
The always undone moment of doing.

Other arts, those pretending to stillness,
Statuary and static images
Are the primary means of portraying
The enlightened, redeemed, perfected thing.

Even music and poetry, stubborn
When striving for heavenly timelessness,
Immortal melodies and turns of phrase,
Are chained to sequence and thus to going,

To story, to incompletion, to ends
That are never fully satisfying,
No matter how many thundering chords
Conclude, no matter how perfect the rhyme.

There's always another turn on the wheel
Of retrying to come to some good place
That if ever achieved could only mean
The end of any further achievement.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Is There Anyone Here Like Hordedef?

"Accept that death humbles us, accept that life exalts us, the house of death is for life."

Scribes have been scribbling verses
In praise of scribes and scribbling
For about as long as scribes
Have been scribbling anything,
Mostly to convince ourselves
That scribbling gives us power
Over the place of silence.

Funny that. Writing is not,
So far at least, a living
Being--the very reason
That, like fossilized footprints,
It can evade what living
Beings can't. Texts brick tiny
Pyramids for Pharaoh's scribes,

But despite what elegant
Sonnets still spell out for you,
They are no more immortal
Than wars' wordless monuments
Weathering into the sands,
Although to something alive
They hint something was alive.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Sword-Horn Sutra

I've never seen a monk
Without another monk
Or several or hundreds
Nearby. Plurality
And uniformity
Seem the nature of monks

As much as of armies
And police and so forth,
If not more so. It's strange,
Then, to read these verses
Translated from birch bark
Sheaves preserved in clay jars

For two millennia,
Collecting earlier,
Perhaps preliterate
Sayings centuries old,
Purportedly among
Buddhism's earliest,

Repeating the advice
To wander off alone,
Cutting family ties,
Abandoning offspring,
Lovers, and friends alike,
Consorting with no one

Except maybe someone
Even more unattached.
The verses link loosely.
Most make analogies
To noble animals
That shun society.

Browsing, one imagines
Humans surrendering,
En masse, human nature,
Everyone wandering
Off to enlightenment,
No one hoarding birch bark.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Making It Up As We Go Along

I have a small friend
Who's just beginning to pretend,
To have her toys act out small scenes
Such as night-night, wake up, and snoring in between.

She can cover a hundred sheets of paper
With frantic scribbles, wriggle out of any diaper
Accessible to her stubby fingers and run around
Announcing "I'm naked!" as she stomps the ground.

Being much older, I pretend to give the commands,
Make the decisions, keep the upper hand,
An elaborate improv I also play with my whole world
But never so contentedly as with this mighty little girl.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

All Wounds

Where does it come from, this gift
For self-repair that means life?
The universe appears full
Of matter and energy
In endless, conjoined tango,
But the stars don't heal themselves.
Galaxies don't patch their gaps.

We know the consequences
Of the gift: competitions
That never end, extinctions,
Parasites and predators,
Marvelous adaptations,
Symbioses and stand-offs,
The whole mad beauty of Earth.

We know how the gift frames us.
Only what rebuilds itself
Can hunger, succeed, fail, die.
But the gift itself baffles.
A rock can't be infected.
A river can't nurse its wounds.
How did what makes rocks make us?

Rebirth, renewal are forms
Of the gift, our sexiness
And parenting extensions,
Expensive alternatives
To ordinary repairs
Of the flesh. We get better,
Or, to hedge our bets, divide.

In one sense, we're pure success.
Nothing alive around us
Has failed yet, continuous,
Unbroken back to the dawn
Of self-preserving habits,
Redundant, miraculous
Survival of survivors.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Thunderstorm and Fairy Tale

They're ill-shaped, those stories
About beasts and witches,
Children being eaten,
Poisoned, hacked to pieces,
And we don't really know
Why we even like them,

Nor why they were first liked,
Nor when they were first told,
By what sort of people
In what sort of village.
Presumably, campfires
Anchored early versions,

Assuming campfires came first,
Not narratable worlds.
Like symbolic squiggles,
Geometric patterns,
And ghostly hand stencils
On cliffs, caves, or bodies,

They're easiest to find
In remoter places
And as the handiwork
Of typical children
Who build their first stories
From daisy-chained events

Linking chunked memories
To startlingly gruesome
Disasters and triumphs.
Today in this village
A small boy is telling
A tale about thunder

That is entirely his
And composed of nothing
He hasn't been given.
There was a sick old man
Who was hunting a bear
Way high in the mountains

But when he shot the bear
It got really angry.
It was a magic bear,
And he was shooting it.
It kept getting bigger
And it roared the thunder

And then it ate him up,
But he was shooting it
From inside its stomach
And the lightning came out
And the bear roared and then
It exploded the rain.

Monday, July 16, 2012


It's about time someone wrote
Something cheerful around here.
Swallowing existence whole
Just makes for acid grumblings
That ruin local picnics.
A birch rustles its leaves,
And ferns and daisies agree.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

More Books To Throw Over the Railing

"I suspect that for her the world was more accidental than any book's plot. Twice I saw her so irritated by a mystery that she half rose from the shadow of her chair and flung the paperback over the railing into the sea."

News item from the accidental
World: avalanche kills
Nine hikers on Mt Blanc.
Assignment: draft a novel
About nine healthy Europeans,
All their hopes and dreams,
And bring them together
On a mountain. The end.

More news: thirty-nine Nepalese
Die in a bus accident.
Assignment: plot a mystery
About thirty-nine diverse
Peasants and merchants.
Get inside their heads and prayers.
Put them on a bus. The end.

The same week: ninety-five
Nigerians burn to death
Collecting spilled fuel
From a wrecked petrol truck.
Assignment: complete an epic
Romance about the intertwined
Lives of nearly a hundred people,
Each negotiating a private world.
Spill a fuel tanker on the road
And have them rush together
To gather free fuel. The end.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Your Little Death Pamphlet

It smells like cool slices of mountain,
Cantilevered, interlacing wood wings
Braced by the heavy arcs of streams
That root through flowering slopes

Artfully concealed by mats of clover,
Countless abandoned, minuscule
Fallen parachutes of cottoned pollen
And thick necklaces of leaves.

Friday, July 13, 2012


Early yesterday morning,
Leaving the lake villages,
I curled a shoreline switchback
Through firs and made eye contact
With a coyote peering
Over the old concrete berm
Like a front-row spectator.

I nearly waved in greeting
Then looked up at my rear view
To see lithe fur cross the road.
Veteran pedestrian
That one was, wise to machines,
Waiting for the way to clear,
A trickster myth with street smarts.

I'm bemused by the benign
Non conversation we shared,
Guessing how much religion,
Doubt, fairy tales, and visions
Stem from anticipating
A greeting that never comes
From something not one of us.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Little Engine that Reasoned It Through

If you could shrink the whole planet
To the size of a billiard ball,
You would find the planet smoother
Than any billiard ball ever.

That's how flat our sphere really is,
Such featureless topography
There's no traction for a pool cue
When you dwindle right down to it.

And here's this peak in front of me,
Steep and scored by avalanches,
Appearing to fill the whole view,
Gorgeous, immense, and ominous.

How much is a trick of the eye?
How much my even smaller size?
How much due to flatlander views
Formed by zipping around the globe

Quickly enough to chase the night,
The way a dog chases a car
And returns home triumphantly
Having not gotten anywhere?

I'll go with being super small,
This mountain huge compared to me.
No cue from space will shoot this sphere.
What a foolish analogy.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

"Never Drive a Car When You're Dead"

"It was the anonymity of the stories and the poems that went deepest into me. And the curl of a rhyme was something new."

"Tout le Gout,"
Something new
On the side of a Coke Zero can
For the anglophone American,

Mind of mush, chalk bones, heart half schmaltz, half cynic,
Driving himself down to the local clinic,
Bearing another old wound that won't heal,
Another green serpent stuck to his heel.

The clinic takes cash from the foreigner
And sits him down next to a coroner,
Retired, who says he speculates in gold
To pass the time now that he's grown too old

And ailing
For sailing.

A poet friend
Sits at the end

Of the row of chairs, spots him,
And comes to sit next to him.
She grins at him and bends her head, pert and lean.
"Are you in communion with your machine?"

She asks conspiratorially, as he pecks
With one finger at his phone, and thereby wrecks

His latest foolhardy attempt at rhyme.
He smiles, weakly. "Never rhyme time with rhyme,"
He jokes, but it's too late
In the day to play straight,

And he wonders why he tries so hard
To stay cheerful in the charnel yard.
All that gusto, what a waste
When zero cans all the taste.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


What's progress for a lake?
It's not dammed. It's been here
For at least an ice age.
A few hundred people
Showed up a few thousand
Years ago. That was it

Until the silver boom
In the 1890s
Kicked off what's locally
Considered history.
An industrial lake
For a while then; steamships

Belched their coal stacks, hauling
Galena, silver, lead,
And logs from mushrooming
Villages boasting names
Such as El Dorado,
Silverton, New Denver,

All very picturesque
In photos, but a mess--
The carious mine shafts,
Stripped hillsides, early deaths,
The long-sunk ore ship
Still in the hold of the lake.

Then what? The long decline,
The Doukhobor settlers,
Japanese internees,
Hippies and their decline,
And now an afterthought
Summer vacation spot,

All mod cons, yet pristine,
The fresh yearly reports
The water's fit to drink,
The shoreline's not too bad,
The effluent minimal.
The lake falls and rises,

Turns over once a year.
It's all very boring,
Although this year it rose
To swallow the whole shore
And only now recedes.
"That's progress," Ranger Bob

Notes, seeing the water's down.
"There used to be a guy,
Maybe ninety years old,
Came every day at eight
To record the distance
Off from the jetty's edge

To the high water mark.
We rangers kept records
When he died. It hasn't
Gotten as high as this,
Not since the seventies."
He grins, gets in his truck

With Ranger Bruce to check
The state of hiking trails
Around Wilson Creek Falls.
I watch the small waves lap.
I want my beach. I want
The lake to eat us all.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Sucking Air

Life is maintenance, and so long
As you're busy with your errands,
You're alive and either keeping
Up, ahead, or more or less clean

And well- swept. You can try to shift
The dust onto someone other,
Make the renters water your plants,
Get your boyfriend to move the fridge,

Convince the dogs to lick your wounds,
But your cells have to clear themselves,
Your synapses have to stay linked,
And something has to love to breathe.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Last Wolf Died When All Was Well

Really, no one can
Pronounce enjambment.
(You lie down in poem,
Tell the story
Staring up through trees.)

But we've got this thing
About prosody,
About altering
Natural rhythms
To cry "Poetry!"

It's okay. It's not dumb
To parse the banal,
To chop your phrases
At the kitchen sink,
And feel creative.

Still poems are still poems.
They don't need chanting
Like menus need French
And priests need Latin
To transform white bread.

Should high verse vanish
From moonlit forests
Our dreams will adapt,
As when there were wolves,
And now, coyotes.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Is My Oyster

Back in the woods, not the deep woods,
(There are no more really deep woods,
Not of the kind made of forests,
Only those Black Forests of dreams),

The enameled blue lid of sky
Clicks snugly over peaks and trees,
And jeweled heat glows from inside,
And the observer is a pearl,

A diorama, a dancer,
A revolving scenario
Folded in the bright box of day,
Content for the lid not to open.

Friday, July 6, 2012


After days indoors, in the woods,
A few moments in the village,
The pavement of a mid-sized town
Thunders, reeks, and swarms with bodies.

A piece of shit pick-up truck thumps
Someone's clumps of awesome music,
Making the change in a busker's
Acoustic guitar case shiver.

I pretend not to be impressed
With my species' plague on the world,
Sensing how meaningless it is,
But, goddam, this is just one speck

Of modern town in the mountains,
A small dot of population
On any global cities map,
And it's not just loud and crowded,

It's a piece of flying island,
A chunk of anthro ecozone
With the same sparrows and pigeons
And carbon-monoxide backbeats

As can be found in any city,
Mutatis mutandis, on earth.
These are not just loads of bipeds--
A monstrous nonsense congregates.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


Metaphor for showdown,
No one here to trouble
Honor but mosquitoes,

The day, the northern sun,
The sliver of summer,
And the calendar year

All at or near center,
Wobbliest abstraction
On a wobbly planet,

Eliot's seduction,
The still point of turning,
Heart of stillness, the light,

Forget about it, son,
That thrush you hear singing,
That breeze roaming the trees,

Those Albertan hikers
Bright as tropical fish
Returning from the falls,

Anything you perceive
Would vanish in stillness,
The peace with the nuisance

Passing understanding
Because it is, you are,
Forever off center,

Not here, not gone, going,
There is no metaphor
For noon in the forest.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Present Moment

Fresh daylight shines
On a small, hand painted sign
Sticking out of the wild grass.


Beside the sign
There's a crude log bench
For meditating on the view

And the monotone thrum
Of the invisible river
Falling down to the lake forever.

Miles behind the sign,
The tops of the trees
Climb the opposite side.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Whispering

In a fever dream you wonder
If you've written about this dream
Before. The air outside

Smells cool and healthy,
The air within an inch of you
Roasts and sickens.

You should write something
Cheerful to help you recover,
But you have no idea

Which cheerful thought
Or image might do the trick:
The cheeping siskins in the branches

Just outside your sickroom window,
Your toddler daughter hugging you,
"Hel-lo Papa, hel-lo Papa!"

The knowledge you are well-loved
Despite your myriad compounding flaws,
The wind still whispering "tomorrow"?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Bivouac on Carpenter Creek

All night long, small watch fires burned
Here and there in brain and bone.
Intruders crept through the dark.
The lungs would panic and cough
At the slightest disturbance.
The mouth swallowed itself dry,
And a thick fog bleared the dawn.

A muttering runs through the corps:
Where will we be marched to next?
This day could hold anything
Between now and next midnight,
The bones crawl back in their bunks
And try to lie very still,
Hoping others fight for them.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Knox Hall Summer's Night Dream

This night was one for the ghosts
Who haunted the conversation
Wrapped in ever-present fog
As the water kept rising,
When going outside was an act

More of defiance than midsummer
Dreaming, the rain cocooning
Every slug and snail and tree root
In a ghastly wet embrace, love
That will give forth beauty

Long after this evening has drowned
In the mouth of a forgiving bog
That so improbably preserves our criss-
Crossed phosphorescent trails of laughter
In a lit room in a small hall in the dark.