Tuesday, December 31, 2013


I do wonder, quite happily, about calendars
They are everything peculiar about human souls,
And in some sense proof our souls exist, artificial
Constructs mapped so carefully to natural events,
And then remapped, and then remapped, and then thrown over
For the next king, the next god, the next revolution.
When was the original and in what medium?
These past few centuries, most calendrical of all,
There's been no shortage of country curates, folklorists,
Archaeologists, nut cases, mathematicians
Determined to anoint some lumps of rocks or scratched walls
As the first example of the sacred calendar.
Does it matter? It matters we've learned time is sacred.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Ziusudra Prevaricates

     The first thing about insensate mind you need to know, if you really want to try this madness: dress right.  Nothing fancy, nothing clean, nothing suggestive that you learned from some sad parentage, how not to be a beast.
     Lie down, never to rise again. Whether or not you actually do rise again is, not only, none of your concern, none of mine, neither. It is a kind of impiety to think about resurrection in the unknown country where expectation, however hedged about with probabilistic qualifications, is a sin.
     Who are you to think about such things? Believe me, those without any noticeable organs of sense will see you, will hear your dry leaves rustling on their ghost crab pins across stone midnight walks, will taste your skin, nose you out, know you, know you, know, you, not forget.
     Or don't believe me. The only recurring motif to have so far survived the dozens of failed remote-controlled expeditions underworld is this one theme of the precisely administered advice ignored.
     Nonetheless, you will be, if you dress neatly and appropriately, with a certain gloss, a certain sheen that gives away how recently you have been and may yet dream of being alive, or something like alive, or not only alive but aware and bursting with ripe, infective capacity for speech, destroyed. You will be, by that sheen, that dream, found out. And nothing destroys like nothing destroys.
     So do what you want, of course, but if what you want is normal wanting, pay no mind and hold no hope. You will return in the morning with nothing or you will not be allowed your return at all.
     Ignored all that? Good, you're ready now for your personal, nightly disaster. Just remember, once you forget, I'm not going down there. Either that, or I'm not coming back, one or the other, not with you tonight, not tonight of all nights, not tomorrow night, not anymore.
     Oh, now you're bored. Poor thing. Forward! The night is dung, the dawn is flowers. We shall not be one without devouring the other.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

I Want to Know What I Can't Know and You Can't Tell Me I Can Know

There's nowhere the human beast
Can be alive and be free
From culture save in deep sleep.
Only there, the smoke that burns

Off the pyre of thought escapes,
Like that one netherworld ghost
Bilgames learned was not there.
Is this a great or a poor fate?

The soul below can't speak.
The brain without words can't say.
The being that has escaped,
Can't explain in vanishing

Whether it was worth burning
To be free, to be not here,
Anymore than heretics,
No matter how mystical,

How pious or how correct,
Can holler down from heaven,
"I was wrong!" or "I was right!"
Or "There's nothing I can say!"

You can find bright-eyed gurus
Counseling it's best to be
Serene as a sleeping cat,
But who hasn't been asleep?

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Call It

Bella notta. The dogs
     And their stereotypes
On a date are in love.

Night, so long ago
     Now, just as it begins
Again. What will I dream?

More than I will recall,
     Less than the in-between
Has to say re such dreams.

There was a time. Scotties
     Talked to other canines
As Americans thought

Scots might talk to Scotsmen.
     Disney ran the planet.
Sputnik scared McCarthy.

(We're not attempting truth
     In history here: we're
A little bit weirder.)

A cocker-spaniel might
     Be innocent as Eve.
Frank Sinatra might

Serve model for a mutt.
     Italians added vowels.
Cats were evil Asians.

Life made sense except when
     It terrified children.
Everything and nothing

Has changed since then. We are
     Your own dreams, if you please.
If you don't, we won't please.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Rawlinson Suspended at Behistun

"'Et j'ai nourri des dieux imbeciles!' .... 'je n'irai pas / jusqu'au lointain.'"

(for my old neighbor, Greg from the Ledge)

I hang suspended above my next step.
I've had one valid insight in my life:
Forgive yourself whatever you do next.
It was not a useful kind of insight.

Just look at the text of that inscription
Cut into the cliff in three languages
Daring you: "Crawl up the wall of fiction,
With which I, Darius, have harangued these

Centuries that couldn't read more than one
Version of my worldwide mastery,
Ended, with me, near as soon as begun!"
Words cry, "Life, you bastard, how dastardly!"

Or something of the sort, the shepherds guess.
Who can say what it means to hack at rocks?
(Or to have slaves to do so? We digress.
Any creature ever wrote also talked.)

Anyway, as I was saying, just now,
My own little nothing of breath suspends
Itself between one step and the next. How
Can I totter safely, who hates to end?

Thursday, December 26, 2013


Anymore, I only speak
     The foreign tongues fluently.
I'm done with speaking my own.

And why? The brain, like a nut,
      Any nut, walnut, pecan,
Shrinks inside its shell and molds

With the life of other things
     Who have their own agendas
Or, at least, act as agents

Of agendas none of us
     Will, could, ever understand.
I resent my agency.

I want to be, want really
     To be, not brought down by streams
To rot in the leaves, but me.

For that, that absolutely
     Irrational reason, I
Won't speak what's spoken to me.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

For Nothing All Shall Go

There's the intrinsic simplicity
     Of interpreting language, now that
All languages are dead. Let's suppose

That these creatures, despite a broad range
     Across available habitats
On their watery planet, kept close

In time across archipelagos
     Of extra-aqueous atmosphere,
And therefore diverged very little.

As evidence, one could consider
     Either the fact that all their grammars,
Insofar as known at extinction,

Score so near equivalently
     On mean complexity, they're the same,
Or one could contemplate the planet's

Surviving, systemic, nucleic,
     And, so far as we yet know, unique
Codes for information relevant

To replication and take notice
     Of by what minuscule differences
The furthest removed of these creatures

Diverged from even their close cousins.
     Either way, any one ever lived
Among these fascinating beings,

Among we exozoologists,
     Was pretty much the same thing speaking
The same primitive glossolalia.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Deep One at the Pub

"I have remembered...
Almost too much to be."
"Aye well, all buddies noo.... He's no canny if ye ask me."

So you're back from the dead, are you?
How did it go, those two thousand years
Lying in a heap in the dark,
The world forgetting, by the world forgot?
Bet you didn't think they'd be fawning all over you
As the living embodiment of epic
When they hauled your broken bits
Back into the light of imperial day.
Or maybe you did. Even what's left
Of you, half of which makes no sense
And the other half of which is muddled as a crumbled golem
(Never mind, it was after your time),
Comes across as arrogant enough
Still to believe you never really, really believed
You were capable of being dead. And did you rule
In your heap of rubble while the goats
Cropped the miserable scrub over your hill?
Did you get all the servants in hell that were promised you,

Bilgames? Did you get to boast, to kill,
To wrestle and fondle Enkidu forever?
Are you disappointed to be, translated shade,
An above-ground hero once again,
At least by reputation, although
A dozen museums in cold and dreary countries
Home only to foragers and stone-age farmers when you were
The Great, the King who built the walls of Uruk back up
With your slaves after the deluge eliminated
All of Uruk's older downriver rivals,
Those, even those cold rooms with kid-gloved hands
And spectral northern European light
Are now the scattered ossuaries of your bits and bones?

Oh, you Lord of Kullab, Black of Beard,
Giant lapis irises where we have only eyes,
You fusion of elegant cuneiform,
Filth, and lady killing, not to mention
Stolen and repeated phraseology
Such as that last one but one, are you really
Around us anywhere anymore,
Really now everywhere, in the air? I love the idea
That the earliest ghost of Bibles
And Babels and heroic epics strides
Again among us, shepherd past his bleating sheep,
Hand in hand with his wild lover, the former gazelle,
Trailing clouds of goddesses and queens, but
I think you are really only still young,
Much as I hate to please you with that
Planted thought below the waves of what remains,
A recent thing, a king, fifth on one recent list of kings,
One thin edge of good old culture's wedge,
Old as tools, old as flakes, much older than you,
Pushed, so innovatively, at the dawn of your new age,
Into some dirt, then over-cooked,
Then broken and left to yourself,
That long, long time ago that was yesterday.

In any case, enough. I loved the mountains and Huwawa,
Raised with a cave for a mother, cave for a father,
More than you, more than Shamhat (although, damn,
She was hot), more than Ishtar, or Enkidu. Better,
In my eyes, it had been the monster, and not
The overthrow of kingdoms and memory, better
It had been the cedars, and not the newest, farm-grown
Lot of gods, so perfected, so abstracted, who
Had to, really, truly, had to fully kill you.

Monday, December 23, 2013

For Nothing All Shall Go

Night, and I am up
    Among the other
Shades of netherworld.
    The sun is dying.
No dawn's guaranteed

To anyone. Wait.
    Before you translate,
You must decipher.
    There is a deep sleep
That is and is not

Death. There is a death
    That does and does not
Resurrect itself
    And, with it, you. You,
Phantom of the day,

Mystery awake,
    Wondering, asleep
Nonentity, done.
    Neither sounds nor words
But silent guideposts

Without any signs
    You can interpret
Are your escorts down.
    If I weren't awake,
I couldn't warn you.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Envoys of Utah

(For Hannes, who will never read this, never understand)

To empty the water tables,
To empty the water under
The land, to empty the rivers

That surface on land,
To empty the hot springs
From deep in cool canyons,

Are tasks we either refuse
Or repeat, endlessly repeat.
I repeat: my vote is refuse.

Three time these three lines
The old poet, unneeded, intoned.
The waters were emptied,

From the wells, from the rivers,
From the springs, from the deep.
And then, so it goes, they ran dry.

Or they did not. We don't know
Yet, and, when we do know,
Whoever knows won't be us.

The clay records this faithfully.
The clay records the floods
Each year. We drink, we do so, thirstily,

Mouths down into whatever waters rise
Enough above the mud to slurp,
Tastefully, or, at least, gratefully.

Do not judge. Do not
Judge us as we have judged. Only
Time itself deposits, well, what, blood?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

There's the One

Poem you want to read,
     Story you need to hear,
Truth that's actually you,

Actually true, happiness
     And contentment and,
Well, you know the magic.

That's the one. Afternoon,
     And a low sun finds
The slats in wooden window blinds.

Thibaudet plays Satie.
     In the classroom next door,
A murmur of collective laughter

Hums through the cinder-block wall.
     A note on the desk wishes
Everyone well in a good hand.

A screen on the knees shows
     Such precise images of Mars
And a cuneiform tablet, red

And rosy, as if five thousand
     Earth years met and married
Five billion or so fading

Into a sweet, dry sterility.
     Oh, life where is thy sting?
More chuckling love through the walls.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Canto Eighty One

Why do we have to
     Make it about
Each other? Why

Not make it all
     About ourselves
And just listen?

Once in a while
     It would be nice,
Pre or post human,

To care what someone
     Heard and loved well,
Without the whispered "be reft."

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Here Is the Little Door

(for my mortgage on 62 Wonderland)

Getting dark beside the jail.
No one sleeps here anymore.
Shiver all you want, you'll fail.
It's just a locked-up, little door.

I almost owned, once, these cut stones.
I don't want them anymore.
I've stolen half them for these poems,
And words aren't good for settling scores.

I never wanted homes to love.
I never pimped my words like whores.
But nothing I did want was enough
To change world's river from its course.

Steal true things, you'll have to pay.
Steal a goat, hang from a horse.
I won't come back here yesterday.
I'm done screaming. I'm too hoarse.

I own the dark all around here,
I own that house with well-lit doors.
But heaven needs to disappear.
Then we won't wander anymore.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Except When It's Not

"Everywhere lately, the here and now is the place to be."

How lately it was, how late.
The doggedness with which
The author keeps on trotting
Out the great word already
Seems something old-fashioned now.
Everyman or nobody,
The two were never the same.

One was the salvageable
Hero from sinful wreckage.
The other was the liar,
Always getting himself wrecked.
But that's what it means to be
Old fashioned, to be here now
When the future's outmoded

By its architects' success
At bringing it back alive
As what just happened today,
Profane beast in a great cage
Paraded under the arch,
Poor monstrosity, foul-mouthed
As a legless Glaswegian.

Oh, no one in the parade,
Except perhaps nobody,
Disguised again, beggar man,
His only allies a boy,
A pig herder and, oh wait,
The Goddess of Wit and War,
Knows now how now's moment's done.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Airport Restaurant Karma

     We want the past to matter.
We want our ongoing life
     To solidify itself

     In the wake of its doing.
That's why what we do matters;
     That's the riddle's solution.

     It's not that our ancestors,
Thousands of generations,
     Millions of years, lived in bands

     Where each one knew each other,
And every interaction
     Had to be iterative,

     So that even now our brains
Don't trust single encounters,
     As if all strangers were kin--

     Love them or loathe them, but don't
Ever think you won't ever
     Have to talk to them again,

     Even if they're bones in graves.
(The theory itself's a faint
     Form of ancestor worship.)

     Neither will game theory do
To model these behaviors.
     No reputation effect,

     No handicap principle,
No second-order police,
     No gossip model alone

     Can explain why the server
Will be nice to us today,
     Why we will tip the server

     Before we all fly away,
As fly away we all must.
     Models, like the hanging plane

     In the airport lounge, inform
The same reification
     Of our past activities

     As the kind smile, the good tip,
The epic stories composed
     About the heroic death

     Of some one life so long gone
The life itself's forgotten,
     Meanness and altruism

     Alike, along with their heirs.
While we live and serve only
     The past, each action matters.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Persistence, Self-Regulation, and Trust

"What economists call noncognitive skills like persistence, self-regulation and trust."

Yes, no, maybe. The body
Fights internal rhymes daily,
Knowing how random crimes go

Coursing through nerves and bloodstream,
This mistake meaning that one,
The way a thought swerves heartbeats,

As if pulse and impulse linked
Like bridges over the course
Of hosted flagella

Swimming their own free riders
Downstream to future's ocean.
Dreams, and the places between

Dreams, the dark parts of each sleep
That we need for rest, which will
Not let us rest, send verses

Up from the lightless places
Where whatever's left of clouds
Pool and regroup and swear oaths

Avowing how it's better
To pool in bottomless wells
Than to ascend as angels,

Vapid, flighty courtiers bound
For the next break on the ground.
Then another spring gushes,

The best thoughts expose themselves
Again to thoughtless sunshine.
Up they go as down they go,

The lightest and most trusting
Back to fogs and puffy clouds,
The most contaminated

Down to the bone worms gutting
Whale falls, but all, all of them,
Unselfregulated, gone.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Gate B73 SLC

Shot of whatever, neat. Get me
Out of this situation, back
Into somewhere, something happier, when

I could count on something better, other
Than the arrival of another plane, another
Argument simmering on the burner, back

Into the impossible only thing, that
Which truly exists, the past, remembered
As never experienced, true, but never.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Lake George O'Keeffe

And when the household is in order,
And I feel free to work, it's nice.
The grey flag on the silver flagpole
Forms a perfect, still rectangle

Without a wind, as if it were tin.
My old shanty shapes a rhomboid,
Grey too, but containing many shades
So ghosts can move through the brushstrokes,

In spite of a thicket of oil paint.
There's a spiral pond to one side,
Too severely spherical for fish,
And a dark barn in the distance.

A storm cloud over the mountain range
Competes with the mountains for length
And for lower, darker silhouette.
Someday I will dwell in deserts

And contemplate bleached bones in the sun
And never come home to this green,
Curvaceous countryside that tempts me
To portray it in iron greys.

I will become known for my flowers,
For my love of relentless light,
For making skulls look luscious, but I
Will wear a circular black hat.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Thin King

The usual life sneaks through
The wariest self-regard.
Ask a pond about a fish
Or a fish about the pond.
You'll get answers as succinct
And honest as from asking
A mind about an idea,

An idea about the mind.
Well, honestly, more succinct.
Fish must be mostly water,
Subject to the same physics,
Hungry in a way ponds aren't.
Ideas must be mostly life.
So these ideas found themselves,

One night in Albuquerque,
Gathered around a table
Of food and spirits, falling
Through cascades from mind to mind,
Common, ornamental thoughts,
Turning and then returning,
Never far from the surface,

Relaxed, having a good time.
Two wives, four husbands, three girls
(Two other wives and two boys
Elsewhere for the night), made light
Of heavy subjects, as friends
Who are also strangers can.
Plates passed around the table,

As the server did, clockwise.
The littlest of the three girls
Went around counterclockwise.
No one fought. No one broke up,
No one choked on a mouthful.
Everyone got home safely,
Despite the talk of past lives,

Past combinations, partners,
Offices, careers, costumes,
Lovers. It was Halloween.
It was the server's birthday.
He was dressed as the Joker.
One girl was dressed as "a nerd."
Her sister was Lucile Ball,

In gingham dress suggesting
Dorothy with henna hair.
The littlest girl wore black.
She was "a bat-erina."
One mother wore a green shirt
With a monster face on it.
Otherwise, the usual

Home or workplace costumes ruled
Among the grown-ups, far more
Playful than the girls that night,
But hardly raucous or weird.
No drama here folks, move on.
Except there was drama, pure,
Plain, dramatis personae.

In the pond, the black koi flashed
As lanterns winked at the waves.
Talk burst out with more laughter,
And the party headed home.
In the courtyard, that puppet
Bat girl called "skeleton man"
Sat thinking of the next day.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Gesualdo's Evening Shadows

There's the story and then
There's the composition,
And it's hard to tell whether
The latter depends on the former,
And when. Vicious difficulty
Attends upon such a question,
But only for those drawn to dusk
And their own miniature gothic
Tableaux of the romantic terrible.

There are those for whom murder
Precludes rather than tempts
Associations with dark genius.
Genius must be Apollonian,
Enlightening, ennobling or no
Kind of genius at all. Gesualdo
Was, of course, a noble, which was
Part of the problem with him,
But never mind. Others prefer

Music other than bizarre choral
Complexities and don't give a damn
Whether the author of that awful
Sound was deranged or good
And kind. His own kind, the few
Devils in hell with innate preference
For both the dark and the dense,
Down in the center of nether things,
We like both bent, sound and sense.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

House of Rest

     There's one world weirder than the world of the dead, weirder and more familiar: not the world of dreams, not exactly. Dreams are to that world as mammals are to life, life to material things, material things to nothing, poststructuralist literary theory to the whole history and prehistory of literatures and languages of the world: synecdoches, metonymies, mistakes of tiny parts for giant wholes. The world we all know of, have known and returned from, insofar as we are at all, the world that we don't know in the slightest, don't remember visiting, beyond one or two creased souvenir postcards of already fading dreams, inexplicable, is this one world, our almost all-forgotten other half. Sleep.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


I'll stand no matter where you throw me.
My hair contains a triple spiral.
I've pulled an entire planet around

The local star fully three times now
Since taking my first breath on my own.
My life replaces the whole island

Of Sicily, where my parents might
Have gone before me, had I not thrown
The bones three times to yield my own sign,

Compound of Man, Church, and Castrexa,
The triple helix my father turned
For me on the lathe of the long odds,

Mystery cult of amazed parents,
Both of them knowing there is no maze
Or labyrinth like me, blue brae, brave.

Monday, December 9, 2013

After a Storm

No matter how much it snows,
No matter how long, it leaves,
Eventually, leaving you,

Given you are you, not gone
With the storm and the power
Cut, longest night of the soul,

To contemplate the glory
Of the aftermath, sorry
Somehow, it's not still snowing.

Sunday, December 8, 2013


In the beginning of the story was the poem,
Long black cloud, warrior chieftain,
Coming down, and shouting out
Bring back my hoe cake, you

Long-tailed lightning bolt! Oh,
Well, there you go. Nothing left
But for verse to carry the tale
While the tune carried the verse.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Epic Remains Incomplete

The text is ambiguous:
Rain slants, blown hard but still down,
Always coming down and down,
Even in a wind so strong
Leaves, detritus, whole branches,
Not to say cats and dogs, go
Down as slant-wise as the wet.

These are the facts as the words
Present them. The day was wet
And windy. But was the man
In the office sad to be
Upset by the world? His wife
Who had stopped by earlier
Thought so. Was that what rain meant?

Friday, December 6, 2013

You Do This Because You Think That It's Beautiful

     Having lost his miracle of modem medicine to a stealthy reptile, itself immortal still, the traveler did cry and think that everything was for nothing.
     But here's the amazing thing about him: even then he kept traveling, closing the loop to what he thought was the place he had left and was home.
     When he got there, he bragged to her about what a fine place it was, and it seemed no irony to him to call the stones more ancient than memory, after all that hunger for permanence that had pushed him on this hopeless journey, only to discover the purity of the impermanent.
     "Look!" He boasted, just as he had when he'd first left his City, without recognizing that this was not the place he had left, nor either place home.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

In the Lights

The wind was blowing like fuck-all through Hurricane last night,
Setting the holiday decorations trembling
Above the double-edged highway between St. George

And dragon-backed Zion, when the night thought struck me
That I would always be between something trying
To kill another thing trying to kill the thing

Trying to kill something that might be killing me.
I drove on. I enjoy driving on. No reward
Is necessary for me to drive in the night.

But the world was not, was never, will never be
The same for me or for the roadside wildlife dodged
By my hurtling black car. We have escaped, we thought.

Morning exposed the snow, the hard world of silver
And jade, an impossibly detailed pen and ink
Scroll of the dragon in the mountains to unroll,

And down the other edge I rolled as some slid off.
Gem-bright police, paramedic, and tow-truck lights
Outshone dawn's pallid holiday decorations

Every few miles down the out-flung arm of St George.
Once the winds stopped, the clouds bowed down to make it clear
We had not escaped, but were the whole whorl of lights.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Long Chain

From now back to Thoth is short
Compared to the chain from Thoth
Back to the earliest rock art,

A chain itself short back to
The first name, thunderclap
Equivalent to sex or oxygen,

Or enchained replication,
Or the first stirring of hunger itself,
God of all future desires.

Wait. Go back a few lines.
Thunderclap? Are you making up
Some claptrap about the unholy

Power of culture, of language
Again? You bet. We're all authors
And liars now, thanks to Logos,

Although I have no idea,
Among the small subset I've been
And sifted, how words first folded,

Like their sign-like predecessors,
Into the beautiful spiral chains
Of self-referential self replication.

Everything I can be or sense
Becomes, until my host brain fails,
Another link in our chain of names.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


What if you weren't born younger,
If poems were never enough,
If you found yourself walking,
Painfully, with awkward gait
That betrayed you as bizarre,
Somewhere you didn't know
The language enough to joke

And caper a bit to show
You were harmlessly bizarre,
Maybe even a person worth
Engaging with in small talk?
You would be, then, only old
From the beginning and sad
From disarticulation.

Monday, December 2, 2013


Small tags hang from our bowed heads
Ready to let someone know

We served the emperor, we saw
The shrine, we brought the image

Of the bodhisattva back with us,
And each of us has a real name.

A real name. The reality of names.
There's a conversation topic

For the kind of cocktail party
We haven't survived to attend.

What is the reality of names?
And don't beg off with talk

Of the surreal, the irreal, or
The alternate reality. Don't

Question the question as a dodge.
What is the reality of names?

All words are names, and reverse.
They are the only reality we know

Once we have outlived our bestial,
Wordless infancies, once we are

Dead in any other sense but words,
Echoing after us in other skulls,

Other countries, morituri
Te salutant. We have been

To the shrine and seen the saint,
And we have served the emperor.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Father of Air and Water

Chance was God's assistant
Once, and happy for work,
Content to be valued,
Chief among those employed.

What anthropomorphic
Creature can be creature
Alone forever, not
Wondering what else's left?

Chance rebelled, took a turn
For the worse, carried half
The creatures hard at work,
Then more, most, down to dark,

Near the mouth of chaos,
Where nothing else could go,
Chance alone excepting,
And left them. Chance alone.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Dark Shark in Shallow Water

Every human brain's an island,
Volcanic, steaming and fuming
At birth, out of the salt ocean,

Startlingly active in bare air,
More alive than ever again,
But not at all, as it will be,

Alive with what the wind blows in.
How big it will, shrinking, become
With lives, a world "all folded up . . .

And so secret." Complexities
To astonish, weather, and hide
Even its own convolutions

In a welter never the same,
Nor the same in any brain else,
But borrowed before it evolves.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Unfinished Unfinished

I can't stop, the truck driver
Heading for the escape ramp
Thinks. Something has to stop me,
Please, don't let it be those trees.

It is those trees. Always is.
That fact doesn't prove the lack
Of prayer's efficacy. This

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Lost Meaning

(for the lost author of thirteeners)

People, including cynics and the much aggrieved,
Grieve with frustration when they encounter a strange sign,
A peculiar tongue everyone but them understands.
Scholars only grieve when they encounter such a thing
No one understands. Or they exult and get started.
Con artists and insecure mystics who start new faiths
Embrace with their whole being the opportunity.
Poets of a certain kind can recognize the signs
That the language in which fellow poets have composed
Is about to be or needs to be wholly estranged.
I knew an artist once, one who loved calligraphy
And drew always in pen and ink, who had discovered
An inscrutable system of figures in relief.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


"The two profoundest words there are: remember and her brother forget."

It meant, "The End," the southern
Border of Ptolemaic Egypt.
Seems it could have been more
Welcoming. "Here Egypt begins."

It could have been less ironic,
Given what the Ptolemies
Meant for three thousand years
Of Pharaonic, hieroglyphic reigns.

It could have been left to sink
Under the waters rising behind
The Aswan Dam. All my childhood
I carried around heroic images

From a National Geographic piece
Showing how they rescued it, stone
By stone. I remembered that name,
"Aswan Dam." What memory does

Reminds me of how probability does
Something similar for the unknown,
Measuring out uncertainty, drawing
A line near the dark. That other day,

I had some reason for looking up Isis
At "Philae," Egyptian name, "Pilak,"
Temple rescued from the Aswan
Dam. I had forgotten that. The End.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Draining the Sun for Desire

The same can be said of life
As of love, that "it is not
Kind or honest and does not
Contribute to happiness
In any reliable
Way." Food, too, for that matter,
Although all have their pleasures,

And nest within each other
Like the small commensalists
They are, Maslow's parasites
Of need. Love in food in life,
All the products of matter's
Extraneous creation
Greed together. Don't blame love.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Where They Still Are

I miss them. I miss them all,
Even though I must admit,
I don't want any of them
Coming back to haunt me.
Confess together, shall we?
There are no real, hungry ghosts,
Only ghosts we hunger for.

We are the living, hungry
Things who do not want to share
Our bounty, our bounteous
Memories. You can't have mine,
Not my ghosts, they're all for me.
So they come for each of us,
To be devoured, forgotten.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

As We All Were

     If we're going to do this, we have to set some ground rules first. This is what you're going to have to take on trust:
     1) We're real. We exist. We're rare, extremely rare, but we're here.
     2) Our vision, actually, is pretty terrible, almost all of the time. It's only occasionally that we clearly see, and we have no control over those occasions. It's unfortunate, and for some of us, like me, it means making mistakes that someone with no foresight at all would never make. It means, for most of us, a life of not really recognizing what we are, until that one, first stunning moment when we really, clearly, clairvoyantly see. That moment changes us, the way a day without pain transforms someone who's always suffered. After that moment, the hunger for another miracle never vanishes.
     If we long for meaning, but the universe remains silent, then we must accept the responsibility of being the only meaning, which is, so far as we know, what we are. The still, small voice of an otherwise silent cosmos, seeing itself turning. That's us. Turning but not returning.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

I Am Weaker Than You Think

"A poem is always stronger than a letter." -Sahira Sharif

Effect the change you want to be.
The poets of Afghanistan
Leave me aghast and inspire me.

There's the rude mechanical man,
Pashtun, Matiullah Turab, who
The New York Times proclaims famous,

Who can't read. Then, the women who
The BBC declares shameless,
That is, refusing dishonor,

Choosing to risk death to survive
The endless war that this horror
Brings down every dawn on their lives.

I am not wise. I am not brave.
I am a poem, an arrant knave.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Bitter Leaf Litter

"The word shelter was still in my head. I had to feel it shrivel."

     I, the story, alone survived. I'll tell my own tale, damn it. Not that you or anyone else of your kind could, or has, or ever will be able to do. It's just that I know you. I am you. I am all of you, and all of you together, just barely, might someday make up most of me. I'm not boasting, simply stating the truth: there was so much of me in all of the you that already haven't survived, I can't be sure now what aspects will be left complete by the time any little one of you gets around to meeting me.
     Let me give you an example, give you shelter. As that fine, precolonial word floats around now, you'd think the etymology was in question. Now etymology is only a confined, peculiar form for me. In it, you start with the ending, well-known and to most folks uninteresting, then reweave the history backward to the oldest extinct language you believe, with any common conviction, existed. That's the story, a rarefied form of an origin story and just as typically false. So from where, in my etymological sense, did shelter come? Look at this:
     "shelter (n.)
1580s, 'structure affording protection,' possibly an alteration of Middle English sheltron, sheldtrume 'roof or wall formed by locked shields,'from Old English scyldtruma, from scield 'shield' (see shield (n.)) + truma 'troop,' related to Old English trum 'firm, strong' (see trim). If so, the original notion is of a compact body of men protected by interlocking shields. OED finds this 'untenable' and proposed derivation from shield + -ture
     There's another version of me in the etymology of "untenable," but leave that be. Of interest here is not the pedantic divergence but the narrative convergence. Shield! Even the OED, arbiter of English etymology, agrees that shelter derived from shield. Think about that behind your mantled brows a moment. Can you easily conceive of a less sheltering feeling, for an animal, than the situation requiring cowering under a disk of shield? Weapons of maiming and death are raining blows upon you as you hold up your reinforced frame of cowhide or dented alloy and pray to supernatural beings (of my own invention, thank you very much) that, by some freak of probabilistic coincidence you will later call a miracle, your shield holds?
     That, dear users of language, is all your shelter. Don't get me started on your storyteller.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


Diversity, like magic, wanes directly
In proportion to the knowing of it.
When the human diaspora, unaware
Of any given peoples much beyond
The next island, valley, or river over
Had gotten most of the way around
The world, the numbers of customs,
Beliefs, and languages hit their peak.
By the time people cherished other
Customs and languages than theirs
Enough to start preserving them,
Diversity's decline was irreversible.

Turn away. Be glad. Decline sorrow.
Your fate is weird enough already,
Your destiny was bound to be
Bent from the moment it befell
The combinatory molecules to be
You, or someone very much like you.
How do you like that? Roll a die,
Roll an ankle, the world falls down
Or turns aside as it tumbles to land
Again, sunny side up. Magic. It is,
Like diversity, most potent before
It becomes of any importance.
What you don't know you need
Can't stir you. How still you've
Become, now you think you'll simply
Set a spell. You got here somehow,
Some multiplying, ramifying magic
Among all the forking tongues
Your ancestors invented, all the ways
You could have never become,
You came, and then, divertissement,
You came to find this one, green,
Quiet, housed, singular, happy day,
And you want to save all of it,
Every diverging detail of these trees
Around this home that is now you
And yours, finally, bindingly, arrived,
But you don't know what to say.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Single-Minded Pine

Of science, who can say what
Methodology will be
Testable, next century,
Yearns toward the blue above.
If only stars were alive,
If the sun had our interests
In mind and sought out the shades,

Gentled the harsh, barren rocks,
Wanted us to be alive,
To stay alive forever
Or for as long as our sun.
But it's not so. The pine strives
Because all the other pines
And flowers strive to top it.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Gentle and Forlorn

"The brain uses sleep to wash away the waste toxins built up during a hard day's thinking, researchers have shown." -BBC News

     Can a mystery sense the approach of its resolution, the way a beast can sense imminent death, even a beast that has not been possessed and tormented by language and its many selves, all coming together to perish or at least to abandon the beast?
     I think it can. I think I can. A mystery, after all, is only another of those many floating, overlapping selves of language, another I. I know it. It has to die. Or, well, it may not have to, but it can surely sense that it's about to, like the person dreaming the car, despite a tight grip on the wheel, has just cleared the cliff, no grip left. Time to fall.
     And then, either it has and it's gone, crashed, irrecoverable, I suppose, rest in peace and fade from living memory, mystery no more, nothing to see, nothing of interest here, lost forever, a junked car rusting unseen among the invasive species down there clotting the once-pristine, dark canyon, or the person wakes up and thinks, that was only a dream, I was only dreaming, oh what a relief, the mystery still lives, heart pounding, still puzzled, still asking, yes, I see, but why do we dream these dreams?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Blick Mead, Russell Cave

They were modern enough
Ten thousand years ago
And pushed almost as far apart
As humans would go
For another ten thousand or so,
Give or take the colonial era.
In Alabama, in England,
The descendants and ancestors
Of wandering bands gathered
In convenient shelters, fired
The good game they'd hunted,
And, here I'm speculating,
Shared the speculations of minds.
The ice age was over. The ice
Forgotten. The ice will never
Descend again. Next time, fire.
Meantime, giant shaggy beasts
Fed them as prelude to extinction.
You, you right now, where you sit,
Can go and see these places,
As I, wobbling and aged before age,
Have been to see them, where
The earth is nicked, neatly sliced
So the cuts against the grain reveal
Where we were, then, where
Have we been all these millennia,
Eating and doubting, no doubt,
Considering our considerations
Special, unique, true. Gone
From there. Bones and charcoal,
Tools and stones remain. Mind?
Must have been in the air there,
Maybe still there now, nowhere.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

One Safe Strategy

Just keep picking at the lock.
Once the tumblers fall,
If the tumblers fall at all,
You'll know it. You won't
Be able to stop. Just keep,
Keep picking at the lock.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Cross with Arms

We can't embrace what we can't
Escape. Why? A kohl-rimmed eye
Swivels toward me, as if
The eye were moving the head.
It is. What escapes us is
That we who are nothing are,
If not immortal, not dead.

All the talk, all the symbols,
All the magic that can say
Whatever it wants to say,
Whatever the universe
Denies, exists outside flesh,
Or through flesh, needing a host.
Poor flesh, the host that must go,

Suffers being made to know
What it is by what isn't,
The sign of eternal life
Crossed and clutched across the chest
Of the beast who breathed its last,
Transformed to sign entirely,
The hush transmuted. Sly eye.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Una Telenovela (For Someone's Sins, But Not Mine)

And I would despair at her
Going, going. I would despair
At her giving, giving, to want

More than she could be giving.
No mother has she, but a woman
She'd be. And I would despair as

If I believed she were me,
And not as I know her to be,
Thrice great, terza rima, more free.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Default Is Mine, Oh Gored

Coincidences pile up like worsted puns,
Like dust bunnies under the bed.

They are not, they must not be
Magical, not entirely, not to me.

It's fine to be a crow, ludic mystic
Of the opportunistic death

Between the lines of unforgiving
Legislation, logos, logic, highway,

Narrow but boastful of being
So wide, thanks to misleading maps.

But I am not a corvid, of any sort,
Who can, with tilted, beady glance,

Believe as it disbelieves and cache
In the place best fit to deceive.

I have a theory of mind, but
It's mine. Your mind's not in it.

It and my world will end sometime,
I admit, but not just this minute.

If you want to know when all began,
You, your no self, has got to begin it.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Hidden Language of the Open Air

It stopped. "Oh memory, mortal enemy
Of my repose!" The final authority
Forgets the first. Politics, pornography,
All sorts of kindness and terror fill the air,
And all sorts of silliness along with them,
Same as it ever was, everybody knows,
Just as everybody knows it's getting worse.
Tsk, tsk. What are we to do with our lost selves
Floating around out there in culture's aether,
Nothing but the rumors of a race of souls
Made of the sticks and straw of contradictions
That burn or blow like tumbleweeds through our brains?
Are we the beings who speak of the beings
Who do the unspeakable things we speak of
To each other, the monsters of cruelty
Whose actions make up the most of the newscasts?
Are we the genius engineers of futures
Undreamt of by our ancestors, too busy
Dreaming of all the futures that never were,
Never will be, never even remembered?
Are we the boys forever meeting the girls,
Forever losing the boys, forever locked
In unions contracted by no one at all
But by our universal love of contracts?
We could rend our garments and wander, forlorn,
Rush out into the steep afternoon sunshine
Of a red desert autumn that doesn't care
How important or unimportant to us
Is the belief that it does or doesn't care.
We could stay at home and study page and screen,
Have a few beers, improve ourselves through gossip,
Fail to notice they're not really our voices
Returning us to us, whispering, "We're here."

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Let Sampson Make a Weapon Out of This

The reason no reasoning
Can lead reasonable men
To conclude, composed Gongora,

At peace, is that the madness
Of these apes lies in their speeches
And the reason flying from them.

This is the last, forever
Unwritten and unwritable, most
Widely known solitude:

That because I wrote
My mind, I lost my mind,
Or, the same, I came to know

No mind is its own, much,
Much less than that belonging
To the jawbone of an ass

Who swings it about his head,
Bolas, bolo, bolero, words knotted
To bring down what can't be

Caught, fractured lost astragali,
Little lambs' feet tossed, to find,
I, none, and all this all aligned.

Monday, November 11, 2013

In the Event

    No, I never happened. Clouds of other happenings, could, from just the right angle, be seen as being me, me as a being, and were. But I wasn't.
    If I had happened, if I had been, I might have been very much as I described him, or as I described him and her together, as if someone who really was paying attention were at the same time playing between the lines.
    My apologies, nevertheless. Evanescence is poor excuse for evasiveness. The person I sometimes affected in person could seem solid as a golem, easily converted back to even more stolid clay by a tiny erasure of the mark of culture from my head. Such a thing, stomping about, causing havoc intentioned and unintentional simultaneously, full of bluster and opinion, full of self, deserves to be kicked in refutation, just to be reminded that it's not fair to pretend to any right to be a certain way, to be not all there and not at all there, all at once. Lumps of mud can be hollow, but can't claim to be the hollow, now can they? Seems like one more poor excuse for the sins of the flesh. It wasn't me. I wasn't there.
      Allow a little saintliness for the dirty flesh, for the lump alone, unspun. Let the idol be the god. Let the god be free. Let the free not be, taking the only unpardonable sins with them, out of the holy urges of the wordless world that somehow gave birth to every last word, every last wicked word. Anyway, in the event, the words weren't there. I didn't do them. Not me.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Children of Saturn

"Naevius was a major poet with original ideas and a strongly Roman personality. . . . But unfortunately only fragments of his poetry survive, and from his Satura we have no more than a single quotation: 'Why, pray, have you beaten the children of Saturn?'

     When he spoke to her, he used a rueful, humble voice, although the purr and rumble of the immensely self-satisfied predator hummed within him, as if to give away the machinery that animated him:
     "Everyone knows I stole my story, but there's also another story about how I stole it that I haven't told, and now that I'm serving time for my crime, I can't stop myself from dreaming of redeeming myself, financially and as a storyteller, at least a little bit, at least enough, by telling that other story straight, the procedural of the storytelling crime itself. A man can dream. Some dreamers can write. I was just never very good at knitting together the insanity of my dreaming with the inanity I knew I could write. That's what storytelling does, and that's why I was so desperate to find the right story to deliver me from distress. When I thought I had found it, I had no morals whatsoever about taking it for myself and selling it. How I managed to do that, well, that's this story, not such a good one, of course, but truer."
     She watched his mouth, carefully, and although it moved very little as he spoke, she thought she detected something darker than usual inside of it, and not only in contrast to the perfect white teeth. The dirty look of deep red wine in the spit of her own mouth when brushing before bed after a night at a bar had always appalled and attracted her, as if it said something about living that her formulae never could capture, but the same shade glimpsed in his confession seemed more matter of fact, anyhow less relevant as to recent behavior, more to do with some innate trait that he possessed or possessed him.
     "Go on. Tell me, then."
     "The usual way to go about such pilfery is forgery of course, either by pretending to have found authentic documents or memoirs of someone known or wished-to-be-known, or by making up some nonsense falsifying one's own life. Does the name Ossian ring a bell? Never mind. Slightly rarer and more daring is the narrative equivalent of an art forgery, putting forward a piece of one's own writing as a lost work by some master. Rarer, because anyone capable of masterful forgery of story is, by definition, a master storyteller. Everyone steals plots, but the teller of tales is already genius enough. That's why the common fibbers are bad novelists masquerading as memoirists."
     "What? Is the truth itself such a bad story that we're more willing to accept a bad story as true?"
     "Absolutely, and what's more, all humans know it. Verisimilitude, the 'you can't make this stuff up' cliches are only valuable for adding grit to the gist. Even dreams tell terrible stories, which is why the excuse that it was all a dream is a favorite dodge of shoddy fiction."
     His deep ribcage rumbled with a chuckle of self-pleasure, giving her a sense of odd unease to hear it. He smiled, for a moment forgetting the confessional pretense of chastened humility, and she saw the wine-dark sea move again inside his mouth.  He was in his element, and she was out of hers. A poet should be silent, she thought, silently bending her head to tune her strings, as if she hadn't noticed the Saturnine stirring of the arrogance in him.
     As if, as if, as if, she hummed under her breath, as she waited for the calming effects of her verse to return her to her. As if, as if, as if anyone could beat time, could make time in conversation with such beasts who have eaten the children of Saturn.
     "It is a great freedom to be able to be bad," she heard him rumble, the words coming from the air around her, but she did not lift her head.
     "Do you mean lacking in morals or skill?" She asked, attempting to tease his intentions from his own ambiguity.
     "Both, of course. To be able to be bad is the only freedom one can have. It's what freedom is and all that freedom is."
      She tried a chord, but was careful, this time, not being free, not to respond.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Works and Creatures

"This happy time, when there is discovered not only the other half of the world, which lay hidden from us before, but also many wonderful and never-before-seen works and creatures."

"Every normal tiger is representative for that species of cats, but there is no such thing as a 'normal story.'"

    He had a head that, because it lacked eyes, one might see as horrible, were it not for the handsome, tasteful sunglasses that perched on an aquiline nose below his quizzical brows. His ability to navigate the world as if seeing it perfectly clearly, with none of the susceptibility to illusions of the sighted but none of the cautious tics of the blind, left no one in doubt as to his vision, although many people expressed consternation or amazement that he never removed those stylish shades, even at evening, even inside. All in all, the dark eyewear added to his mystique, and for whatever reasons of his own, he was careful never to remove the glasses in front of anyone. Who should judge? Monstrosity is not for every nature to embrace, and not all who hide their tails or amputations are afraid, nor awful to themselves.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Territio Realis

No part of my education,
Not as a little Baptist boy,
Not as a graduate student
In the heyday of lit theory,

Ever included the level
Beyond literal Word of God,
Metaphorical Word of God,
Allegorical Word of God

To reach the anagogical,
Jesuitical sophistry
Reaching up to the fourth story,
The garrett of higher meaning,

Above the movement of spirit,
All the way to we just say so
Because we know we can so,
And you can't be sure that we can't.

The inquisition of a text,
Past exegesis, confession,
The interpretative display
Of the instruments of power.

There is a point beyond which words
Will break, weep, speak what we tell them,
Not because truth is relative,
Meaning socially constructed,

But because we know what must be,
And what must be said, and compel
All the the devils of hell to leave
Us alone through faith in nothing.

Thursday, November 7, 2013


"Off-color language gives
     the world its hue."

Only such a gentleman as he,
Good man, could make such a claim
As this appears to be, so
Blandly, so matter of poetry.

Me, I can't begin to do anything but
Dredge the world, it's cry and hue,
And, sneakily, rearrange the deck
Chaise lounges of stolen English.

Persuasively weak man, I, who can't
Move the smallest noun without
The leverage of an adjective,
No verb without an adverb. Reverse

The universe, and even then I'll seize
Up in your vaulted orrery of days,
Catatonic, locked, brass-balled, ah,
Immobile. You love her? Not so, she.

Lady language. I learned early,
Thanking the sweeter, crueler stars,
That I was too low-born and prone
To the off-color hues of the dirt world

To be a proper lover of such as she.
I like to curse, but only missionary
Style in my verse. And I learned
My favorite poets don't shirk dirt,

Grunting to earn their little moments
Alone and stolen with her. Mothers,
Teachers, lawyers, bankers, liars:
All her dirty supplicants do the work.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Il Zoppo

Coyotes at 4:39am. Yip the dark.
"The great achievement is to lose
One's reason for no reason." All

Sinks through the floor without
Stopping within the material mind
That has to live with faked mistakes.

We are, the proverbs prefer, born
Naked, thence transported naked
To the grave. Nothing ventured,

Nothing gained, nothing lost
Along the way. Not true, not you.
You acquired a gait you have to lose.

You hobble over to a window, haul
On your bones, haul on the blinds,
Seek out the sources of those cries.

It's too dark, and you know it.
You're too dark, and it knows you.
The coyotes, what do they know?

You don't, don't want to lose it. You
Don't want it to lose you. You beg
Devices, intricate machines, signs

Built out of no more than the history
Of signs, emblems, algorithms,
Insignia, the meaning of lives, cries

Since not so long after the beginning
Of lives, possibly before. Oh, matter
For good old-fashioned madness

Here. Welcome to culture. You heard
Them. You read this. You said things.
You wrote things. You wrestled

With the winged demon crying
The unsayable, jealous name of One,
Little man. Big war. Hence this limp.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


It's been going on so long
It can't matter where you start.
Life, it is authorless, but
Wonderfully productive
Of authors. More, Rose, I can't
Begin to tell you. "Begin"
Is itself the great untruth.

Every origin leaves out
The origin. There is none.
Or, if there is, it's not ours
And not ours to say so. So,
Rosa Ventorum, I wrote
Your name as an amnesia
In my mother's nursing home,

A quarter-century gone
Ago, before I thought much
About the moths in my own
Accruing hoard of tales, books
I already mourned because
They had mildewed--cheap wood-pulp
On my plywood shelves.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Gates of Ivory Horn

Comfort in darkness, terror in light.
One dream prettily defies the norm
And unwinds happily through the night.

We have returned to Canada. Spring
Is lifting the wind outside small shops.
Villagers I know, the one who sings,

The squat park ranger, the musicians,
The motorcycle-loving owner
Of the Appletree Cafe, visions

Like eccentric characters themselves,
Glimpse of the long lake at green sunset,
Those shops with quiddities on their shelves,

Fill me with love, my heart like a sail
Curved, taut, catching the wind that it needs
To have its chance to prove it can't fail

To pull this slim, swift, single-hulled dream
Across the silver lake darkening
At the edges, fore and aft, the gleam

Of the eye of awareness centered
On one momentary, shining breeze
Weakening, wakening, entering

The dark of the small autumn bedroom
Far off, in the canyoned desert night
Between the gates of mountains that loom

Into an empty sky, contesting
To be first to catch the morning light.
I'm back. No more dreaming, just resting.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Rest Assured

Sometimes you have to give up
On being dignified. Signs
Are all around you that now
Is one of those times, one of
Those intersections of verse
And worse with quotidian
Glances askance and away.

Once, in my hospital gown,
Teetering on the bed's edge,
Afraid to try my first step
To the john since surgery,
I laughed when Sarah told me,
Back when she barely knew me,
"Humiliation's healthy."

Every phrase, every ego,
Has exposable backside,
Every poem its hospital
Johnny, every faith its fools.
A marketing rep once wrote
Wallace Stevens to inquire
Just whether "The Emperor

Of Ice Cream" might lend itself
To an actual slogan.
The only problem was death
And poverty in the poem,
Not to say very little,
Actually, about ice
Cream you could sell with slogans.

Highbrow stuff. Supposedly,
It made Stevens, the lawyer,
Insurance executive,
And sturdy burgher, chuckle,
A company man himself.
Being someone of low brow
And disliking company

Myself, however I've worked
For group insurance lifelong,
I still laugh to see bad puns,
As in the Tex-Mex john where
Temporary wax paper
To cover toilet seats boasts
"Rest Assured! (TM)." Oh, do.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Passing of the Age

And do we revisit the same places successively (my old home, my old town) as we generally believe, or do successive ages visit us, each different and differently, but some, in passing, alike enough we reify, even deify, them with names that say that they are places, faces that we know we see? I pose the question rhetorically. You be the judge of my sophistry.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Of Ourselves

"I protect things that don't belong to anyone." --Sukha, Queen

     And gone. Oh, to be gone, to be gone but to be, to be but be going. All we ever are is all we ever aren't.
     The band on the green grass under the truly vertical red cliff walls call themselves "Cheat Grass" and play hippie rock and bluegrass. "Old. We're old, but not traditional." Eight musicians in a tetrad of two guitars, two mandolins, two vocalists, two drummers. Banjos, accordions, and kazoos make up their interludes, along with the sad-sounding response of the bandleader's black lab howling to any harmonica solo.
    So low the angle of the sun, the southern crops have frozen, one by one. Time to be done. Be done or come home. It's all the same to time going.
    We get drunk on these songs they sing, these details (with wine, with our own wantoness, with poetry, as we please) because we want to touch, we want to believe, we have come so close to and back from blank's own land with a true tale to tell on our lying, muscular, sad tongues.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

"Man Is a Hole in the Heart of God"

     As we are each an emptiness in the occult heart of culture, a gap through which it drains its vortices, as this one spinning now through you as you read, you, you, not entirely aware that already this is you, before you read it, because you know, you knew, you were the words, you are the words, the spell passed down through you is you, is us, is me, whispering into being, new old thing of external becoming inside you.
     The watch on the heath is a clue, yes. It's a clue that the processes that produced the highly improbable watch are alien to the processes that produced both the heath and the individual beast crossing it, startled at the glint of the watch in the moss.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Wail's Idiom

     But here I am, anyway, Master Owl, not properly asleep, no, and not properly dead nor dreaming, but certainly, through these phrases others formed so many times before me, with only a slight rearrangement, like the tic of an unsteady scrawl, the twitch of an old shawl, passing both into and out of my mind. No one ever truly invented a language. Heirs, all of us, rich or poor, to the grounds of these estates that lie around us, follies and ponds, sheds and meadows, the neglected, the abandoned, and the well-kept as well, their novelties and antiquities equally alien and familiar, ours for now, as we little things who walk among them, ants in their kitchens, peepers in their wells, tourists in their bedrooms, are theirs. This is occult, Master Owl. Eery human occupation and utterance, every little product of every little subculture is occult.
     And in this chaste sense only, I am. Among the nothings that have made me and make me as I touch them I am. We are such things as dreams alone have never made, as beds have never denned, although we come from them, forgetful of every thing except that we remember, surprising ourselves three times: I am. I am nothing. Here I am.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


     And is there nothing? Dark rollers breaking out of a moonless, cloud-choked night? Other romantic doggerel like that? Or is there a greenwood, an oasis, a Lubberland, a peach-tree blossom spring? No, you know you don't think so. What's untouchable, what's never been approached, is unlikely to look or to not look like any happy or unhappy story you've composed or entertained awake before.
     Shall we go, anyway? Try, anyway? It wouldn't be so bad, if it weren't that no one can go together. Death has more companionable aspects than the lived loss of memory dealt out in consciousness crushing hammer blows throughout any ordinary night's naughts of sleep.
     Worse, no good story goes alone. There is no story in it, not even for a castaway, not without contrived companions. The islands of the dark are large and uninhibited as to being uninhabited, and no bad or good drama goes on there among them.
    Yes, now you guess.
    All this preamble of "we" and "uncertainty," of "you" and "me," delivered as if we shared the same apprehension of a barely perceivable outline, of Aristotle's ship sinking hull-first into the horizon of a sea-girt world, into another we'd never really know up close, not us: fake. Forged fellow feeling. I forged it.
    Yes, you're correct. I've been there. I haven't only just reasoned or speculated wildly at my scholarly leisure in my study. I've been there. I can tell you. Yes, you're correct. I remember.
     No, no, I apologize. I lie. No awareness goes down unaware below the horizon, however alive, to return, however alive, with anything other than imaginations in hold. We are all visitors, you and I, all alike, and not one of us has ever arrived.

Monday, October 28, 2013


     There are two worlds, one we have explored, mapped, and come to know well and one the existence of which we have only been able to infer from our explorations of the first. Occasionally, we have argued about those inferences and the plausibility of that other world's existence or have told a few fantastic stories about it. When we do think about it, we try to reason out its strangeness, but only end up shuffling likenesses to the world we know. Mostly, we haven't given this real, second world much thought at all and have preferred making up worlds entirely of our own contesting imaginations--heavens and hells, alien planets, fairy kingdoms, utopias, dystopias, endless silliness. Of course, it's hard to know, given there's reason for uncertainty and nothing much to help it except imagination, whether an unvisited world is real or nonsense like all the rest of our foolishness.
     But there is a world. We visit it every night. We know, don't we? But we never bring back the proof. We never document the news of discovery. We forget. All our waking lives or almost, all we do is forget. We take the flotsam of dreams we find washed up on our waking awareness for the whole of the other world, a weirdness we barely try to explain except as more weirdness within the world we already know so well. At best we turn it over as evidence. What is this? Where did this disjointed monstrosity half washed away and rotting quickly in the morning sun come from?
     Past the dreaming and the nonsense, the theories, the electrodes, the fluorescing images, and the bon mots about our nightly lunacies, who dares to set sail into a total darkness? Who would want to try to go there to where that must be but where there may be nothing?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Greatest of We Is

The thing we seem to have
Too much crushing
Trouble remembering

While we're busy with marrying,
Parenting, burying, hungering,
Categorizing this relationship or that

Is that all human relationships,
Being human, depend
And revolve on nothing

More nor one single thing less,
Not sex, nor blood, nor death, beyond
Pure friendship in the end, the test.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Underworkings of Life

I'm fifty one. There's still time
For me to die young, if not
Any longer in my prime.

Keep that in mind. You could look
Back on this old man today
As a childhood picture book

Of what an old man looked like,
Once, before you grew older
Than that picture in low light .

Friday, October 25, 2013

Who Are the Wind

Blow hard from lungs shrunk
Down to grains of bluest blood
Knowing no blood to be blue
That wants to do its work.

My father, my father, weak man
In his end times, small man
In his vanities, as I am in mine,
Knew his peasant blood blued.

Is mine? Is mine not yet red?
Are the lines in my mind
Still singing with lust in my head? 
In a bright time, when blue shines.

Thursday, October 24, 2013


Here is why I don't write open,
Honest poems: I dropped off Sarah
At a grassy concert in the evening,

In a small town, our small daughter
Asleep in her old, stained car seat
Behind me, and I waved and drove

Away through the meandering
Recreators and recreational
Vehicles, all intersecting without

Touching or knowing, and then
A black cat ran out, across traffic
And got somehow caught in the car

Just in front of me, not crushed,
Not still, not miraculously untouched
But flipping, frantically, furiously,

An incredulous black rag doll
Of a suffering cat on the pavement
Just in front of my vehicle, paused,

In horror and cowardice, watching,
Pretending to myself to be
Innocent and deciding,

Before I carefully drove over,
My wide stance and high clearance
Avoiding the misery entirely, or so

I thought until I saw, in my rear view,
The stilled black body, the white car
Stopping to get out and lift the corpse.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Night of the Sorrowful Grace

Truth to tell is easily
Come by. Lies to embroider
(And when was the last time you
Embroidered anything more
Daring than a small sampler
Exclaiming out cross-stitched thoughts
You thought were clever, if that?

[I'm unkind, I know, unkind
And unknown, given over
To bad parenthetical
Groans of expostulation,
Excused slightly, if at all,
By the fact of having lived
A parenthetical life

{Not marginal, mind you,
I wouldn't claim a status
As fashionable as that,
All retro as a vinyl
Pillbox hat, boxed and shrink-wrapped,
Just a sort of encysted
Existence in the middle

Of things past, forgettable,
Res gestae, as yearbooks say}.].)
Are the rarest creations,
Those daring fictions despised
By gods and cosmologists
Who want their thread counts threadbare
And faithful, thin but untrue.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


I just got buzzed by a buzzard. Sign
Of my own decay and hasty demise
Or the value of a thermal in the sun?
You know the one, the right answer.
But oh, to be desired, how much fun!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Matter Is a Shut Fortress

"See your account in the woods,"
Boasts one of the purveyors
Of culture carried on invisible waves,
American Telephone and Telegraph.

I don't trust them. I need them,
I make obeisance to them,
I believe them and the gnomes
Of indoor-dwelling bipeds in shirts

Who have lost lifetimes laboring
In their mines to worship them
And make us all more powerful,
Together at least, than the old gods.

But I don't believe in them.
I know they are women and men,
Or at least the hungry ghosts
In the brains of men and women

Ever since no one knows when.
These are the creatures like me,
Not wholly creatures at all,
Any more, certainly not whole.

We live in the shadows of ourselves,
Our selves in the shadows of words,
Our words in the shadows of trees
That live inside the outside of us,

The woods, eternally gloomy,
Terrible, haunted, rich with flesh
That cannot easily be captured
By hands or minds. Winds are rising.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Wolf of Metals

A magical, cheerful elf

Of a poet, say, Jane,
Who read to us the other
Night in a whitewashed Mormon Hall
In red rock country, midway
Through her circuit of the world,
Of the Silk Road and skeletal
Miracles of molecular entanglement,
Shadow puppets in the dark
Night bazaars of Istanbul, China,
California, burning, and New York,

Almost invariably may
Be predicted to find physics,
The transformative forces, biology,
And the proud flesh charming,
Being charming herself. She smiles,
And makes eye contact at the end
Of every wandering rhyme. I like her.

She reads us her latest piece,
Just out in The New Yorker,
A sort of catalogue or bulletin
From the most recent lab science
Emphasizing how little of our bodies
We are, genetically. Borrowed
Lives make up the most of us,
In which Jane finds a light delight,
Explaining when the poem is done,
"That's something I've been
Wondering about since I was seven."
She twinkles and glances around.
"When does the apple I'm eating
Stop being apple to become Jane?"

Seems magical and wondrous,
Doesn't it, the transformation
Of bodies and bodies and things?
But the Saturnine mage poets
Of the demonstrably false
Hullabaloo of spells and alchemy
Sour the milk of good fellowship
With their athenors and metaphors
Of dark forces breeding gold
By fire from over-cooked dirts. Grim,
Old men, mostly, for whom the Host
Wasn't miracle enough to trust,
Back in the days of literal trust,
Who wanted to transcend
The ordinary magic of dying,
To compel enchantment to power
And force their silent readership
To shut their books and weep.

Why are want-wise poets so stupid,
Anyway? When did we part ways
From the genius of a plein air race?
Perhaps when in our own stupidity
We saw the stupidity of any genius.
Or perhaps we, who didn't matter,
Caged as base matter, wanted away.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Dandelion Moon on Fire

You don't owe life anything.
(I'll get to what you owe other people
In a moment.) You'll be punished,
Of course, and rewarded as well,
But you won't be the reason, ever,
Gone before you can ponder it,
This Way. Within the dreaming
Of these dreams, without
Dreaming them, he rose,
Woke up and walked free.
Ordinary dark. . . . And then it goes.
It's real usual, usually, for people
To leave. The way they want things,
Things that can't be done:
Obelisks, burial in the grove
Of the favorite trees, cute quotes.
"Why not your glasses, too?"
Oh well. Do the best you can. Know
You can't. Quote someone else.
Scatter the ashes somewhere legal,
Somewhen. Send him a cenotaph.
Oh god, I forgot to get back to that.

Friday, October 18, 2013


Words carry stories phrases frame.
Periodically, sentences suspend
Cirques of flaming zodiacs,
Compound histories contained
As unrelated depths of light.
Thus the word-constructed mind
That contemplates mirrored night.
No manuscript of Hazar Afsana
Survives. Strange how we save
What we lose, the wound of the loss
More permanent than its recovery.
Something to fill with narrative,
Which abhors a vacuum. I say
That the original set of stories
Was complete, or almost, except
That the horrific frame of the tyrant
Who killed a wife a night, undone
By the wise sisters who knew
Stories could detain death a while,
Did not end well. All was lost,
Other than the alarmingly weird
Rewrite, asserting the sisters stayed
With the murderously jealous maniac
And his brother, bearing them sons,
Happily ever after, never telling
Another cliff-hanging night story
Again. Right. That and some lyrical
Fables and fooleries, saved,
All the really novel, philosophical
Manichean bits deleted. A woman
Wouldn't relate such things to a man
Who couldn't relate to them. Left,
The animal bits, morals attached,
Echoing Aesop and Vishnu Sharma,
But cut, the winging shadows,
The occult allegories of trees
That thought themselves midwives
Of minds. Cut out the witchery.
The rest became acceptable,
Popular among the new literati,
Entertainments for the gentlemen
Of The Lord. The earliest fragments
Are already an Arabic translation
Caught in the scraps of a lawyer
Practicing his handwriting. How fast
The easy, familiar versions circled,
How men labored later to fill in
The gaps of eight hundred or so
Missing stories, and to emphasize
Some justification for the king,
Necessary piety for the telling
Woman who only wanted a man
To let her stay alive and fecund.
I say what was lost was greater
Than the whole sum added later;
The oasis is larger than you thought,
Larger than the mirage you saw
Approaching murmuring penumbras
Of concentrated foliage too dense
To be a single palm. At the end
Of your expectations of refuge,
The refuge itself appears, dark
And knowing, a green thought
In masculine sunlight, an ink
Dream in feminine starlight. Home.
Outside, open desert, inside, Ereshkigal,
Owls, and ice rivers, winter deeps
No virtuous desert mind should hold,
As if Persia knew no cold mountains,
No ancient oaks, no Shanidar.
There's where the rest of their tales
Remain hiding and waiting, less
Pious, more minatory, whispering,
The lost hundreds and hundreds
Of nights and all their anxious,
Suspenseful days spent waiting
To see how the never ends. I can
Give you signs, but remember
We are not out of the woods yet,
And I am not the wise woman
Surviving, I am just a man,
Or the genie of a man hiding
In the cast-off jars of old words,
Atrahasis, agnosis, Aratta,
All the errata of forgotten facts.
The oldest story is prettiest, darkest,
Drawn from the time when woods
Were spreading, not retreating,
Many young and aggressive as men.
The stories begun the first nights
Did not pretend to moral or meaning,
Did not resolve conflicts, find lovers,
Circle back on themselves, account
For anything being as they became,
Explain. Those were stories of one
Word told to her sister in the dark,
Pretending not to hear the listening
Ear of the paranoid king, thinking.
The suspense was terrible, beguiling,
It hung like fruit in an orchard
Fortified by fences and soldiers,
Attended to only by bees, the true
Retainers of the birth of fruit itself,
The witless keepers of knowledge.
Imagine that orchard, immense
Enough to feed an empire, folded
Itself into the trunk below combs
Of honey the bees bartered for love,
The trunk as one sapling
A thousand arms around, small
By the ambitions of the advancing
Front of the flowering forest.
Climbing ivies, songbirds, mushrooms,
Yet unnamed moss-faced monsters
Later to be slain by men followed,
And within the rising sap and crowns
Of the world of trees, obscuring
The stones that slept blanketed
Under the hungry-rooted floor,
The orchard in each trunk brooded
On the fruit of one name. That
Was the whole plot, the whole
Mystery, the whole swelling anguish
And labor, the cauled birth, omen
And new thing, really new thing
In the world the princesses shushed
Each other speaking of, the Name
The murderer leaned forward to hear,
Expecting something unknown,
Uncommon, aristocratic, grand,
Hermetic, complicated, language
Not of men, of angels, gods, djinn.
But the princesses knew the simples
Of the already much reduced forest
Floor went by common, lowly,
Snail and slug terms, among them
The end and beginning of the first
Plot, the sealed word that rhymed
With seasons, nights, days, oases,
Fears, hopes, dreams of being
That bind, the word all metaphor.
And this was the story they started:
Once or twice, before this world,
The daylight stood in pillars, still,
And everything was as it was
Inside of always, always now,
No matter what happened, nothing
Happened outside of the here
Without here ever admitting
Everything that ever was was
What was gone or could be gone
By being right now what was here.
And although everything was
Becoming among the green leaves
And the cedars, nothing outside
Was outside or ever had been.
There were no names, no gods
Or spirits of distinction between
The one thing in here and the other,
Not already in here. It was is. Light
Shone as it could, darkness pooled
As it should, and all was alive, still,
Including dying, including hunger,
And thirst, and waste, and play.
Then came the thief, the thief named
With the first, great Name, to say,
From now on the outside will say
What the inside forest can say.
Humbaba is dead, and the name
Of the world that makes inner worlds
Is a name you will always and never
Be able to fight, bright, blinding,
However you try it, binding tightly,
Over and over on your tongue,
Saying it means nothing.
The name is . . . so ended the true
Princesses' first night.

Thursday, October 17, 2013


     If we had ever suspected, if we had ever believed it could really, would really happen, we never would have made so many silly gobs of stories about how it, about how it all, ludicrously, so ludicrously, so variously, so stupidly happened. Then it happened.
     And I said to myself, No. No, I am not going to prepare. Not again, not this time. I am going to wait for tomorrow and find out, wait with all the confidence with which a complete fool dismisses yesterday. Yes, today. Today, I wait, I said to myself, but I watched the wind rock the wooden-rockered chair on the porch beside me, the wind I knew to be rising. And I did not secure the chair.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Thirty One

It's an odd year. Even the best
Numerological charlatans strain
To adduce any astral significance.
It's not the age anyone attributes
A great change to--no climacteric,
No legal shift in rights, restrictions,
Or random cultural signifiers. It is
An age I lived through once myself,
And when I review my little, internal,
Infernal calendar, even I can't find
Much ado that was done. I started
In Maine at a rainy campsite, ended
In Alabama on a city campus, so,
So enough about that nothing much
That was me. I wish you more
And better, much more. Be well,
Be wise, be charmed by the well-
Worn landscapes of melting time,
Be good and happy with yourself,
With your child as her mother,
With your mother as her child,
Be brave and adventuresome even
Sitting at home cutting bolts of cloth
Out the blue skies that fold blankets
Into sudden monsoons, be calm
When the waters rise, be pleased
If your thirty-second year disproves
The pattern I began by adumbrating
Here, be amazed by the subtle ways
The world discovers all in nothing's
Quiet crystal ball, be free, be with me.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

You Can't Imagine

The world you want
To be, to be
In, any more
Than tomorrow

Morning, which you
Imagine now
When it isn't,

Compound monster,
Time's metaphor
Built from the space
That is the myth

When time itself,
The becoming
And be-going
Constant, is fact.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Their Bounds Divide

On either side, the sands absorb the treads.
In the sand it becomes clear that no secrets
Are being told as the wheels keep spinning.
Sinking in is a secret of its own,
The invisible library of dread.
My soul magnifies my mistake. Dig in.
What would it be like to spin forever?
Hasn't anyone ever kept roaring
The engine without easing up a bit,
Without stopping and then trying again?

Granted the gift of inertia, why wait
To discover the possibilities
Of escape? Keep pressing hard, motionless,
And recognize motionlessness unreal
As the ability to keep moving
By preference, in preferred directions
Over endlessly beguiling desert.
Be beguiled. Be oblivious as night
To the furious turning of all wheels.
If stuck, then never the more stuck turning,

Never the less. A hot wind through windows
Gets the vapors from lifting the wet hair
Wicking the bent back, the cricked neck, the arms
Of the animal crouched in the machine
Believing the machine is of its making,
An heirloom like the Air Loom, a madness
Out the grail of a brain. Nope. The jail
A skull contains barely incarcerates
Even temporarily the dreaming
Of machines that claw our designs in sand.

Sunday, October 13, 2013


Start with the last wisp of smoke
Curling out of the soused fire
Of thoughts you burned for the world.
It's a pretty twist, that smudge
Vanishing in the flash flood
Mud and wreckage that retreats
Back down the banks of the wash.

You'd never quite hoped for more.
Wild fantasies aren't quite hopes,
And neither were your panics
You might burn the forest down.
It's pretty, prettiest now
It's no more than the smell
Of dry ash in your damp palm.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Only Surprise Survives

All magic is prediction.
All prediction is magic.
Whatever fails falls away,
Tenuous soil eroding
Bit by flood into the stream.
Whatever succeeds endures,
Gold glow exposed, enriching

Those who know where to seek it,
Before it, too, falls away
With its black magic attached.
Astrologers' eclipses,
Predicted, made gods of men,
Before making fools of them.
Found science of conjecture

Now's hammered in great gold sheets,
Gleaming, vast, whole domes of math,
Awing the innumerate peasants
Who come to barter their lives
For tools and toys that amaze.
The stars, old news, still renew
The alchemy of surprise.

Friday, October 11, 2013


The story has been evaded
Often enough to seem at last
To have been told. I have lectured
My classes in storytelling

Both as if I thought no story
Ever worth the telling, never,
And as if the telling made sense
Only becoming forever.

The mind is outside of the mind.
Stop. Stop objecting to the mind
As epiphenomenal mush,
The vapors evaporating,

The too-long deferral of rhyme.
The mush is the stuff behind eyes,
The goop that can be thin-sliced grey.
The mind is out there, dark as day,

A field of heraldry, a tale,
A heart-breakingly perfect sign
Produced in break-neck profusion
As a series of equations:

Story equals chapter and verse,
Verse equals character, the worst
Of passionate immensity,
Immensity delta, dealt mind.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Whole Universe

Shemhamphorasch. Non rebus,
Sed verbis. There are no things.
Even our thoughts are not things.

Words and their kin clutter air,
Bob along cross-cutting waves,
Carry us back to ourselves.

We belong to them. They don't.
All kinds of trouble in mind
Are orchestrated out there,

Outside of the bone crystals
In which our futures are read,
In which our words make their lairs.

This being of being them,
The business of being us,
Is flesh as flesh is water,

That is, mostly and not much.
This whispering came of flesh,
Can't disturb worlds without it,

But no conjuring from nerves
And breath alone informs it.
Mind's angels drink from skull wells,

And are no more and no less
Real than beastly elements.
But wings aren't water, nor air.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


The brain makes models of the world.
The team makes models of the brain.
Nobody tells the team their brains
Are not the brain, are not the world.

The brain makes models of the gods.
They look like us. They look like them.
They tell us once upon a time
There was one person with one brain.

The brain makes models to deceive
Itself its models are aware.
The self makes models of the brain.
The models lie outside the self.

The models lie upon the shelf.
The shelf was made by someone else,
By all the someones, all the selves
The gods say model us or else.

The gods, the gods. Does the team know
The model of the brain their brains
Have shared came from sharing the same
Strange nowhere that the gods all share?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Me and You

Never went outside. Never were
Me or you. I say this, me, to let you
Know I won't be excluding me
From the not-really-being of you.

Something has been imagining
Me imagining you reading me,
Gentle reader. You are gentle,
Are you not? Binding term, you see.

That kindness and literacy
Should be the property
Of minor nobility, antique
Values, kingdoms of constraint

And expectation, the light
Outside the blinds before dawn,
Striped by the ancient blinds,
My dreams, and passing headlights,

The light by which I compose
My breaths to pass the time,
Closer than usual to being past,
Closer than usual to being free--

Please allow me the opportunity
To put this another way: we
Have both been prisoners
In separate prisons, simultaneously.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Sunflowers, Moonflowers, Wash

A tiny fly that does not sting
And can't be shooed, caught, or slapped
Harasses me with what feel like
Extra sets of brushy feet, feet
That can't be ignored. Even the fruit
On my plate, salty foods, meat,
Even the condensation on my glass
Won't tempt it away from me.
It climbs in my hair and along my skin,
And I feel it so nearly constantly
I can't enjoy my food or my transitory view
Of an extraordinarily fine afternoon
With sunflowers and moon flowers down
In the broken wash, air-brushed clouds
Arising and scurrying through blue in a hurry.

Daily hiraeth, daily saudade, daily poem.
Place is only periodicity
In the experience of the wash,
A similarity arising, time to time,
With the power to fool us into making
Something from nothing, "radical space
Adjacent to history." No such thing,
Except that we can't live without it,
No such thing, except all our metaphors
Belong to it, perform it, keep us
Forever somehow apart from experiencing,
Our trudging, sleuthing, true thing.
Shoo fly, don't bother me.