Friday, August 31, 2012


For Sarah

1. Sheep Bridge

Why would a bridge require
Anything from its burdens?
It's not alive. It doesn't aspire
To anything certain.

It's an arrangement
Of tar and stones, cement and wood,
A momentary estrangement
Of gravity's evil and good.

One asks these things, sheepishly,
Knowing they're rhetorical,
Swaying a little, sleepily,
In suspense above the portal.

2. Beam

You wouldn't think the deep woods
Had a bridge in the middle
Unless you were the deep woods,
And dropping logs in ravines
Was what you did in a storm
When the winds get too gruesome
For any kind of thinking.

If you are the woods, you know
Ravines belong to themselves
And are none of your affair.
Some days must be sacrificed
To throw beams across water,
A few to last as archways
Between might be, isn't, and were.

3. Branches of the Log Supine

What do we have now, however
We got here? Retracing
Is an option tempting
As falling. The ants,

Those complicated sisters,
Comprehend the skin
Of the last one over among them
To wonder on the other side.

There's no reorientation
For the green magician,
Barely time to make camp
Among the unknown fictions.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Retreating into Dreams Is Frightening

It's midnight in the forest,
And while the moon is out and clear,
Homes invisible to daylight reappear
As what they are, not houses,
Not cottages in which faeries live,

Just sheer projections of forest,
Inessential, durable gossamer,
The places that thoughts retreat
Into when they are not thoughts
But dreams, nothing much at all

Like sunny thoughts that think ways
Through the rustling hunger of leaves
And needles for a daylight stronger
Than these disturbing reflections
The moony midnight homes provide.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Stranger

One morning we wake to discover
We are what we wanted to be,

What we wanted first to be,
Before we had any idea

Of what it would be like to be
Ourselves and what we wanted,

To be what we wanted to be ourselves
And not what we envied in others.

All the intermediate wishes fall away.
We have failed to be someone else,

We have not second-guessed ourselves well,
We have suited up in uniforms and certifications,

Robes and elaborate prostheses,
Each fitting like a glove fits a bear's paw.

We are what we knew we wanted to be
Before we knew the satisfaction or the cost,

Before we felt constrained by our wishes
And their endless imperfections,

Before we or anyone really knew,
Other than that tall, gaunt, unknown man,

Already dying, who knocked on the door
One morning near the beginning of grown-up things

And asked in a theatrical voice
Husked by cigarettes and cancer

To see the poet.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Berghaus im Wald

The forest forgets when it began
To forget. There's no way to detect
A hole in the middle of the world;

There's no world there to detect.
The forest doesn't know this. It can't.
It sets out new leaves. Seedlings flourish.

The seasons confirm enduring things.
Snow, ice, retreat, rain, mud, flourishing,
The green-gold cathedrals of summer,

Eternal transience of autumn,
That gorgeous gypsy of surrender.
Snow, ice, retreat, rain, mud, flourishing.

The regularities of being
A summary of being alive
All contribute to the whispering

Of wishes among the short-lived leaves
Who believe they alone are martyrs
To a forever that transcends them.

Monday, August 27, 2012

An Interesting Character

Where does one find such a thing?
Everyone wants one
Wants the power to be one
Or invent one
Everyone knows one 
Or many or a few
Although almost no one
Has one under control

I saw one down in a well
When I was little enough
To be one myself
I thought I could make my own

I wish I could bring it back 
Into life now, I wish
I could wrap it up to sell
To other well-wishers

Who would only buy because
They were still wishing
To capture one to sell themselves 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Life in an Expanding Universe

The last time I knew, we lived
In an expanding universe, the woman
Who wore her hair in a white tower
Piled on her head said to the old man

Who was nodding off even as he shuffled
Alongside slowly in the organic aisle,
His frizzy temples bobbing
In the gently mechanical breeze.

Or maybe he was just nodding wisely,
Who can tell with old men nodding?
He seemed distant, either way, increasingly
Distant from everyone, to me.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Hermit's Gossip

In the space between once and now, a storyteller lived in the greenwood, doing his job, explaining the forest to itself. . .

When a wind moves through the leaves, it moves you with them, it moves you along away from them.

When there is no wind, you settle back onto the branches and into the ground between the roots.

No one tree can claim to make you, and all the trees together make you, but when the trees are quiet there's no you that you know of, no you at all, although everything that will be you again is still being made as quickly as ever. You replenish.

When they can, the leaves release you. You are all the things they send to each other, altogether, the whole conversation, not the phrases.

Never mind the birds and squirrels, nor any of the nuisances and monsters that carry bits of you off and trouble you. Never fight the wind. It can or cannot carry you. You cannot carry yourself.

You were born because the trees that lived were best at floating their signals simultaneously in the softest and wildest winds, the same.

You will think you are the wind because its movements bring you. You are the use of the wind for the trees to say long winded formulas that are you.

Because you are always in that circling wind, there is no mirror for you but those formulas that remake you in long fragments that begin

In the space between once and now, a storyteller lived in the greenwood, doing his job, explaining the forest to itself. . .

Belonging to Strangers

The waiting area seems clean
And relatively efficient.
It's tempting to say the people

Are of all sorts, an old cliche
When it comes to the DMV.
It's a pretty casual group,

Dressed for driver's license photos
As for any other errand
To a store around the corner.

The chatter sounds patient, cheerful,
A little nervous. So much depends
On having a driver's license.

Everyone negotiates one
Unspooling, stuttering sequence
Barely touching on the others,

Although some have brought their children
Or converse with total strangers
In a jokey, narrative way.

Most trips to the counter go well.
Documents are stamped and paid for.
Folks leave with cards of belonging.

One man from southern Africa
Here for his first Utah license
Is taking it seriously,

Wearing dress pants, white shirt, and tie.
Sadly, it seems he failed his test.
He will have to come back again.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


To imagine a future species
Stranger than humans
Begin by imagining
Anything stranger than imagination.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

If Only Imagination Had Eyelids

Turning off imagination
Turning off indignation
Turning off emotion
Is like turning off ears

Except that there's no advice
Industry out there making bank
From selling instructions
To think or pray or meditate
Your way to not hearing

People sensibly
Humbly buy earplugs
And noise reduction headphones
Or go for long walks in the woods
Or bury their heads in pillows

They do not contemplate deafness
They do not ask God to shut their ears
Or if they do they don't
Aspire to complete hearing control

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Fire

I forgot how easy it is
To waste reams of lovely paper.
Between emptiness and vision
Piles a universe of mistakes.

Sequoia draws on anything
And with anything that leaves marks--
Pencil, paper, crayon, table,
Ballpoint, wall, stick, sand, charcoal, stone--

But she much prefers blank spaces--
Smooth, scuffless, never once erased--
And best of all is a big sheet
Of perfectly creamy paper.

"New one!" She'll announce in triumph
At the start of drawing frenzies.
"New one! New one! New one!" She'll yell
In desperation near the end,

A dozen discarded pages,
Each with a few fantastic strokes
Assaying some toddler vision,
Scribbled over, sprawled at her feet.

I aspire to be an adult--
Sagely amused and indulgent--
But all I can think of is how
I used to cram shelves with notebooks--

Spiral, cloth, leather, arty, plain--
Purchased singly or in bunches,
Each, blank, filled with future genius,
Each, after a few notes, cast aside.

Only this digital era
Saved me from hoarding more false starts.
Scrawling in this notebook tonight,
I admire Sequoia's daring.

I don't believe Mozart wrote
His scores straight out as claimed, not him.
He was a profligate man-child
Who persisted to perfection

And knew well enough to destroy
The debt-enhancing stacks of scores
Of blots and halts and frustrations
In the fire behind the white door.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Dreaming

Telling stories about the world
At a campsite in Montana,
A world obviously nothing

Like any of our story worlds,
Too many people, trucks, and trees,
Too many random incidents,

The light in the ponderosas,
That giant mushroom on the stump,
The details that will not cohere,

It occurs to someone talking
Avidly about last night's dreams
That dreams are as unlike the world

As the world is unlike stories
And as much more incoherent,
That much further from narration.

We are most ourselves in stories,
The distillation of human
Into clarified adventure

False to the world that's false to dreams,
And if we have to ask ourselves
If we are awake, we are not.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

We Are All Already Free

From the cycle of rebirth and none
Too happy about freedom, neither

Whatever it is that knows it is
Knows it's whatever it is that goes

Whatever it isn't hangs around
And around and around and around

Saturday, August 18, 2012

My Siblings Rarely Cleaned Their Rooms

“Fate is a really useful way for adoptive parents to entitle themselves. ‘Of course I’m your mom! I was meant to be your mom! God said I was your mom! This isn’t coincidence! So go clean your room!’”

To this day, I'm not really sure
What motivated my parents
To get themselves carried away
By adoptive extravagance,

Seven children in seven years,
Orphaned, abandoned, knocked around,
From orphanages, from the streets,
From broken families, from none,

From Korea, New York, Boston,
Aged newborn to adolescent,
A smorgasbord of accidents,
Ethnicities and impairments,

Plus two more neighborhood extras,
Kids from big broods around the block,
Ordinary Jersey white boys
Who lived with us more than at home.

The desire to be good Christians
In an evangelical church
That spoke of charity as love
And thrived on testimonials,

The increasing heroism,
Daring, and notoriety
Attaching to each addition,
Holy exceptionalism,

The growing sense of miracle,
As somehow the children fit in
And sufficient money was found
To hold the household together,

Genuine fun and affection,
Genuine sin and recklessness,
The wild joy of swooning into
The arms of a merciful God,

The inability to stop
Until they sensed they'd gone too far
And that maybe all the kids might not
Turn into successful adults.

All these things, and others, I've guessed,
Not knowing either why they quit.
The mothers who reclaimed their boys?
The neighbors who dared to grumble?

Age? Finances? A lapse of faith?
Entropy catching up with them,
Perhaps, as it caught up with us
In our forever junk-strewn rooms.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Let Us Rejoice

Here is the day that the day has made.
There went the friends under the shade tree
Examining fallen apples, words,
Ways of approaching one's weaknesses.

There went the child like Peter Rabbit
Loose in someone else's flower bed,
Collecting poppies and violets
And then somersaulting in the grass.

There went the long phone conversation,
Unintended, sweet, and comforting
After the spider leapt from the sink
In the house that was misbehaving.

There went the sun hour by the lakeshore
With books and snacks, after the errands.
A few things went as planned, more or less,
But better things hid in surprises.

Life's more random than any sampler,
But it's on us we can't love it more
For that, which defies all our efforts
To maximize charms, minimize spills.

Every day we flagellate ourselves
With fresh imaginary futures,
And every day our actual pasts
Find little new ways to forgive us.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Good, Good, Bad, Bad

Every system promises
To even things out, if not
To make us always happy--

Some combination of prayer,
Meditation, perspective,
Higher purpose, longer views

To save us from the whiplash
Of our ordinary days,
Our bodies' churning drama,

The sequence of homes we love
And loathe and love even more,
Houses of romance, friendships,

The dream of inhabiting
Beauty roiled by the trouble
Of staying habitable,

The falling-apart plumbing,
Invaders under our skin,
The fresh assaults of the ants,

The sleepless night that follows
The cheering dinner with friends,
Good, good, bad, bad, worse, better,

On and on, as if our lives
Were the sum of all brokers
In all financial markets

Over every boom and bust,
Bubble and burst, the long walk
Of trillions of drunk atoms

Trying to beat each other
To nowhere. We're Brownian
Emotions begging to stay

Put where we can't imagine,
Some place somehow perfectly

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Aeolian Mark

The wind makes itself,
I tell my toddler daughter
Who holds me responsible.
"Papa do the wind!
Papa do the wind!"
Cute, eh? Hardly poetic
Beyond the greeting card sense,

Anymore than my reply
Is metaphysically true
Beyond the sophomoric sense.
But let's indulge both of us,
You and I.  The wind sweeps us
Off the porch so easily,
Blowing away our drawings,

Just when we were getting good,
We thought, at doodling faces,
Chunking rhymes, and we deserve
Our own congratulations
And those of close relatives
Willing to call us brilliant,
Omnipotent, insightful,

Everything we reinvent
For ourselves as religion
Which is, shall we confess it,
The best excuse we can make
For wanting to think the wind
Anything to do with us
Our family, our crayons.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Angel

When you run out of ideas
And the store is closed,
And no one will deliver
To your rural postbox,
Not even those desperate
To make an extra buck,

You're left with the sun
And your licked-clean bowl
Of a skull, almost hoping
For one of those cultists
From the commune down the valley
To come knocking with pamphlets

And some version of scriptures
Wadded up under a nervous arm
Reeking of stale perspiration
And the shy desire to win
An argument by conversion.
Now there's an idea.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Remarkable Child

Of course she is.
At least four chains
Of pure logic
Conclude likewise.

Her grandmother
Says so. That's one.
Friends and neighbors
Say so. That's two.

She's ours and all
Children must be
To their parents.

That's three. She wrote
This poem herself
In third person
With her crayons,

With chord changes
And small portraits
Of truths. That's four.

Someday she will
Read this and laugh
And I'll laugh, too,
For sure. My girl.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Kohan Garden Meditations


A rustle like someone feathering
The pages of an old paperback

And a ragged-colored goldfinch,
Male, small, rather recently fledged

From the look of things, appeared
Within distracted awareness

That had been reading about a new artist,
Marvelously pretentious.


Thunder, thunder and a dozen finches
The following afternoon

Over the moss-addled lily pond.
Motorboats turned circles in the lake

Sounding much like angry hornets.
The brain confuses these sorts of things,

Makes a half-hearted attempt at art
Out of knowing not knowing what is.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Three Views of Eden in August

1. Not Quite There Yet

You haven't sat here in a month.
You never sat exactly here.
You used to sit not far from here
Psyching yourself up for each swim
In the startlingly cold water
That rose to where your knees dangle
Over a two-meter drop now.
Back then you were prepared to lose

Yourself, everything, all at once,
Or were being warned to prepare
By the examining doctor
Who was thinking of sending you
Straight to an ICU. Instead,
Your white-cell count came back normal
And you were only sent for tests
And IV antibiotics.

You weren't getting back in the lake
Anytime soon, not with that wound,
The little scratch that ate your leg.
"Glad it went this way," said the nurse
Giving your all-clear yesterday.
"It could have gone a whole lot worse."
So here you are, afraid to go in
To the place where you feel at home.

2. Dogsbodies

Seven of us on the beach--
The triathlete and her kayak,
The snow-haired hippy couple
In their sixties with their dog,
Two teenaged girls lying out
And me, all scars and crutches,
Under inscrutable sun.

The girls smoke pot and gossip,
The triathlete prepares
Her kayak just so, then goes
In a blur of rhythmic strokes
Far across the shining lake.
The couple wade and throw sticks.
The dog plunges in, barking.

I wait, swim out, sun off, wait,
Swim out, sun off, wait again,
Trying not to feel awkward
When I crutch over the rocks.
The girls are taking pictures
Of each other. One poses
Holding her belly and laughs.

The older couple avoid
The girls, aware of the weight
Of age, tattoos, old swimsuits.
The girls pretend they're not there.
We're all self-conscious, except
The dog, who gnaws a wet stick,
Growling embodied pretense.

3. The Apple Tree Restaurant

A crowd of Albertans has taken
The best tables before I get there
But I find an old tourist smoking
And drinking coffee in the hot sun
Who's willing to share her sunny bench
In the back corner of the garden.
She jokes with me in a rasping voice
While I wait for my sandwich. Her name
Is Eve and she's been here forever.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Complex Heuristics for Simple Choices

"It's good to be here." (Trademark.)
Here is time as well as space.
Time is always in motion.
Space is too, for that matter,
Neither without the other.
It's good to be in motion?
Trademarks make crappy koans.

Whatever here is, it is
Maybe not so good to drink
Trademarked maple-syrup beer,
Not even in Canada,
When one should be working hard
To salvage more afternoons
In Canada next summer.

There's the prettiest insect
Crawling over my textbook
Crammed with formulaic prose
And prosaic formulae
(No, really, utility
Theory has less poetry
Than law does) I'm sworn to teach.

A beer or two makes me ask
Not, how to teach this chapter,
But rather, how to figure
A bug whose life is like mine
In a poem whose life is not.
The beauty of poetry
Is that it explains nothing,

But the problem with trying
Hard at our tribe's most snobbish,
Minor, self-deprecating,
Non-remunerative art,
The literary lyric,
Is that the pronouns kill me
And no one knows who you are.

"It's good to be here." Ok.
By the middle of the day
Even lyric professors
Of Behavioral Econ,
Drinking beer, might grant us that.
But is it good to write this,
Right here, in motion, today?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

"Actually, Actually Ashley"

Says one small girl
To another small girl,
One of five small girls
Running up the hill

Just as our truck goes
Right below, right above
The shore the girls
Exploded from, akimbo,

A covey bursting from cover
Across gravel to green and gone.
"Actually, actually Ashley!"
Everything's still.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Late Summer Late Afternoon

What next? Where does the day lie
Down, once its dues have been paid,
Or not, by all those living

With the sudden vagaries
Of the day that wants to end
Now it's done its daily thing?

There's a sun, reputedly
Our own, that hangs, burning,
Or whatever stars do, there,

Beyond the mountains too high
For any of us to climb.
It has to go so others

Presumably much farther
Away from us and stranger
Can rise, hah, and wink at us.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

This Is Not a Dark Poem

Death has its anniversaries,
Even its fetes. One hundred
Years since so-and-so died.

This was the time of year,
We say, when she passed
When he passed, when they

Passed away. We shake
Our heads and shrug
Or sigh. We remember,

We drink a bumper
To their names, for such
Is fame. Then on we go

While we are anything to be
Ongoing, knowing the small rain
Down can rain, any day.

But one might imagine
Along the way, for a bit
Of mildly macabre fun,

That death really does
Have its own anniversaries,
Its own birthday to mark,

Although the planet spun
So quickly then, no time
Of year now could correspond.

Yes. Once there was a new
Kind of thing that, living, died,
And death was born that day.

Monday, August 6, 2012

We Belong to What We've Never Known

The dark squirrel silhouettes
In the long dark firs scurry
All through the hot afternoon.

It's been a weak, wet summer,
The floods only just receded,
And the heat now doesn't mean

The days aren't already dimming.
The squirrels, the living ones
Active in the living trees,

Haven't known much else,
Maybe one or two summers,
Not much to go on, but look

How they answer to themselves
Not to their experience, not
To the world they've known.

It's the long-dead squirrels
Who ghost living woods successfully
In those descending silhouettes.

We've been carved to prepare
For events we've never experienced
And never suspect happen.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Another Kaslo Festival

Maybe a thousand human lives,
Under belated northern sun,
Half of them in shorts or swim suits,
The better to sun or sink with.

Who cares about the band playing
Next on the boasted floating stage?
Summer has found the Kootenays
With scarcely a month left to spare.

Me, I'm more interested in them,
Those however hundred many.
I don't give a good goddam 
About their nations or ethnies.

I honestly don't think those count
Except to everyone and them.
I'm caught up in the real numbers
Of personal existences,

Every one as rich and detailed
As every other, full of plans
And particular convictions
Trying to make life of a world

That is their own and alien
As the sunlight sunk in the lake,
As each of them remains to me,
As each of me remains to them.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Xenophanes Clarifies

If current estimates are correct,
Several hundred million years ago
A few multicellular life forms
Tried fore and aft configurations,

Arranging a horizontal line
With an opening and an exit,
And thereby inventing heads and tails,
Futures to squirm to, pasts to squirt from,

Something to get to, something to leave,
The sacralization of hunger,
The frantic escape from filthy waste,
The distancing of brains and bottoms,

The distinctions of body and soul.
We live out the perspectives of worms,
Turning our heads, nodding at the light,
Dragging our carcasses behind us,

Whether we're bugs, birds, apes, or horses,
We all have entrances, then exits,
Opening acts, middles, conclusions.
If we all had gods, they'd look the same.

Mushrooms, amoebas, jellyfish, trees,
If such creatures imagined futures
As they radiate from their centers,
They might imagine spherical gods,

But what thing lacking architecture
To distance pure thoughts from grotesque ends,
Lacking hindquarters minds could disdain,
Could sever the sacred from profane?

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Evening Is August

Thick virga trails draperies
Across the horns of the Twa Corbies.

Coincidence shapes the perfect
C of old snow below their obscura

And equally, opposite, in Valhalla,
The remnants of ice fields for retreat into mist.

The world has aged
Because it is human

And because it is so inhuman
That the gaps within the lace

Of imaginary memories
Only grow, blown cobwebs

Sailing in sweet summer storms,
Billowing out uselessly

For hardworking spiders, exquisitely
For fools in the god light

That arranges the clouds
And iron bars of sunset.

Thursday, August 2, 2012


She puts up with us pretty well
Despite our manifest belief
That we're accommodating her
And not the other way around.

It's on her to learn our language.
We make a minimal effort
To understand her take on it
And mostly call her hard work cute.

Oh well. She'll be one of us soon.
She's mastering nouns and phrases
And picking up speech rhythms.
She overhears our arguments,

Nuances fine as melodies,
Robust as polyrhythmic blues.
She's listening; she gets it straight.
She'll be a participant soon.

As for us, we can't remember
When we first played the game like this.
We only rehearse strategies
We learned at the knees of giants.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Your Server Today

"If you tell people up front that something might be distasteful, the odds are good that they will end up agreeing with you."

To begin with, I must apologize 
For the sour acidity of this poem.
I've laced it with droplets of pure envy
And a little balsamic vinegar.

I had intended to write something good,
But you know what a busy world this is,
And I like to get chores out of the way.
So here you go. I'll be back with your bill.

By the way, there are other poems, you know,
Good ones, well-seasoned ones, perfectly aged,
Rich with imagery, pathos, and insight,
Made from original ingredients.

Not here, of course, but around the corner
In a charming independent bookshop
With high ceilings, ladders, and oaken shelves,
A wonderful selection of volumes,

Formal, political, personal, sweet,
And savory on the tongue, all printed
On acid-free pages, bound in leather
Or in elegant paperback covers

With encomia and thoughtful portraits
Of black-and-white poets, slightly pensive
On the back, if still living, in small squares,
Or taking up the front cover, if dead.

Well, no, of course you don't have to read this,
But you've already finished most of it,
So I'm afraid I'll still have to charge you
Even if you send what little's left back