Monday, September 30, 2013

Calm Rain Song

There's nothing easy or calm
About a calm and easy song.
The rain outside the window
For so long,
For so long,
Could be wrong, could be gone.

The ball lightning pitched all night
Like a fact to crack the sky,
Might be true, might be right,
Might not know the season's why,

But the rain outside the window
For so long,
For so long,
Could be wrong, could be gone.

That dull boy, thunder, grumbling
Might be pleased with his own rumbling,
Might not know he's slow and stumbling,
Might not see the moonrise coming,

And the rain outside the window
For so long,
For so long,
Could be wrong, could be gone.

I never thought you'd hang on
For one last calm, easy song,
But the rain outside the window
Won't be wrong
Now you're gone,
Gone so long,
So long gone.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Zep Tepi

Just yesterday, the ice
And the mammoths were gone,
The bipedal apes winnowed
And blended to a single race
Fanned out across the continents,

Just yesterday, the first
Occasion of farming, strange
What a miracle and a burden
The hard work of that harvest
Became, over and over

Again, abandoned and
Rediscovered so many times
Before getting its grip
On the most of the earth,
Apocalypse and window,

Just yesterday, opened
Along the flooded Nile,
Desertification all around,
Nobility and slavery, us, today,
As we began just yesterday.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Turnip Watch

"All in a day, it seemed on looking back: all in a day he had stepped outside of it all, with a sigh of relief and a twinge of loss and a nod of resolution that he would not turn back that way now even if he could, and he could not, it was too small to go back into, an intricate clockwork sphere that he would carry with him then like an old-fashioned turnip watch . . . in perfect working order, only stopped forever."

Or his paternal grandfather's
Longines, gold-cased and engraved
With a foolish faux gothic lettering
Commemorating silver years
Of service to the molding of plastic
Dinnerwares made in New Jersey
With a stench that he remembered
Floating over green hill and highway,
So unbearably foul he smells it now,

A machine so finely corrupted
It won't work even after dozens
Of assiduously sought-out repairs.
(English! Bloody language,
A million ways to break a line
But none avoiding permanently
Ending or beginning with one
Of those cursed little words
The well-tooled turning rests upon.)

What did he want to say, either
As grandfather, wearing that watch
Through another five-plus decades
And a half-a-dozen leather straps,
Or as grandson, carrying that last
Incarnation of strap in a box
Still attached to the proper watch
For two or three decades more,
As if time would make time work

Again for its bread and butter,
For its creator who dropped it
Out on the heathery glen?
Little world that someone loving
Made so well and wedged inside
Its tiny golden shell, why suggest
You have a something more to tell
Of this metaphor of positions
Locked forever in your chest?

Friday, September 27, 2013

Its Shape Is Ours

What have we made? If it fits,
Does it follow that we made it
For ourselves, or that we can
Understand it, being our own?

We want to say what we don't
Understand can be made
To be understandable; we want
To understand what we want to say.

We can't. We understand that,
And we understand that it makes us
Mad in all senses, archaic and grand,
Contemporary and spare as a cube

We have designed for living in,
We who are determined to escape
The cave, the shades, the entrancing
Of us, the mages of our own hands.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Bayesians and Frequentists

I do love that we can fight over this
And make it a matter of politics.

Step over, step up, step across
The water-striding ignorance

Of a man raised ordinary, dimming,
Then given access to tangled webs,

A bug among the Arachnida,
A prayerful pretender among deceits

And tensions tendered by the real
Predators of God's counterfactuals.

Here's your etymology my boy,
Now take this horsehair parlor armchair

And convince me that you know
What I'm salivating to expose.

Reflection belongs to the shallows
And grows rarer over the depths.

Here are three boxes. Do you know
The chances any one of them holds

Monte Carlo Hall and all its baroque,
Baronial, baccarat-tabled splendor?

Here is your Gongora. Here is
Your innumerative hyperbaton.

Here is your sour Quevedo, singing
"In the long run, we'll all be dead."

Tell me again what side of this box
You are on. The brain-teaser side?

The missing-child side? The inside?
I would tell you, but you're done.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Home, Again

"He neither much desired to go where he had been headed, nor much desired to return where he had started."

The woods are foxgloved, overwrought,
And the gnomic tree roots mutter
About their undiscovered gnomes.

"In any other book, any
Other autumn-chasing summer,
We might not expect this shy look

To be dangerous, as it comes
Out of a glance from emptiness,
But then again, any other

Writer might not really intend
To dig out mushroomed, loopy puns,
To nest one looping reference

Involving things just under leaves,
Like frost, like lost children's teacups,
And things so buried under hill

The caves that tempted their makers
With shuddering, sea-deep darkness
Have sunk themselves into lifeless

Silences, the stuff of nightmares
For getting dreams away from doubt."
What? You heard what I haven't said.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Gambel Oak Legs

To be social is to lie.
Other people may tell you
Differently. They're being
Social. Then again, to speak,
To use language, to know it
Means something to mean something
Is to lie. Poetry lies.

Science and religion lie.
Pure, perfect mathematics
Elaborates the best lie,
The lie of escape from lies
Without leaving truth behind.
Anything's fabrication
If it means anything, true?

Monday, September 23, 2013

King Aha

Here was a man the world
Had never seen before,
King of territory
With patrolled boundaries,
The first pharaoh, the first
Divine son of the sun

Say archaeologists
And Egyptologists.
(I'm making the last part
Up here. I'm not really
Certain what the experts
Argue about Aha.)

All I can think of is
How new and yet how old,
How ancient and recent
This surprising chieftain
Must have been: almost these
Politics, genetics,

And familiar terrors
We live with today, but
Almost eternities
Ago, historically
Counting generations
As Napoleon did,

Invoking scriptural
Thunder, the way tyrants
And upstarts have done since
Scriptures were to invoke,
Bellowing to soldiers,
"Men, fifty centuries

Of history look down
On us today." We few,
We happy few.  Aha
Might have made such a speech
With less precedent, no
Less conviction. No more.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Uncle

On front of the paper of record
A frame from a smuggled recording
Showed him standing casually, about

To execute a shirtless soldier
Cowering on the ground. How can you not
Love humanity for its excess cruelty

On a planet that is beautiful because
It has been cruel for so long now
That the atmosphere itself is blue?

It's been weeks since that picture
Sickened me into details: the videos
The soldiers about to be executed

Had of their own gleeful crimes
On their cellphones, the motives
Of vengeance against a minority,

Revenge for a missing father,
Sheer sadism. Who can measure
What has happened since,

What it meant, or what next?
Ask the young man in purple fleece
Who looked at the camera and smiled.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Statutory Statuary Man

Face of a saint on a Byzantine mosaic,
Postcranial shape of a freak show specimen,
The man in the forest with moss on his shoulders
Doesn't move.

                                Maybe he does, but he takes so long,
Not even the moss is disturbed. His urgency
Goes undetected by everything else alive,
And that obliviousness protects him,
As if he and we were here independently,
While suggesting here's what isolation feels like,
Life a legal fiction brooking no exception.

Friday, September 20, 2013


I tried to write a poem about him once.
Of course, I succeeded miserably.

He was, as I composed him then,
An ordinary man. Only

Because he was a grandfather
Of mine who had died, I had tried

To consider him important.
He was important, after all,

To me. Enough. He didn't break
Any rules I've ever known of,

Or bones, like his son, my father,
Or like me. He seemed constantly

Decent, albeit with a taste
For olives, whiskey, and crackers.

He taught me how to crumble them,
Those soda crackers, into soup

Without making a mess. I have
Made many messes since, the poem

In his honor first among them.
Today I read an article

About the early dynasties
Of Egypt, which led to Bahrain

And another article
On the prehistoric wells

Of sweet water still drawn there,
Dedicated to E-A,

The "house of water," but I thought,
Abruptly, ineluctably,

Of the initials of the gardener
I grew up around, like one of his vines.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

At the Time

I'm not nostalgic because
Of particular fondness
For a particular time
This time reminds me of.

I'm nostalgic for the past
Because it is the past
And because it is present,
Whether I liked it or not.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

As a Children's Book, Yes

The grasshopper kissed
The stink bug. I know he's
A grasshopper, but he's not

Going to hop. No? No!
He only has one leg.
Crooked hopping's still hopping.

I'm going to feed the ants.
Those are red ants, sweetie.
Yes, but they won't eat me!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Anxious, Hushed Things

He tried to find a cabin with a swing,
Views out to the Cedar Breaks,
Rocks and trees, rocks and trees,
That was the idea. All night, rain
Dented the tin cabin roof.
In the morning he built a fire
And read to his daughter
Until she got bored with storybooks.

By afternoon it was time to move,
For no good reason but scenery.
They drove to where the rugged trail
Crossed through a paved overlook.
Oversized people and cameras
Rotated through the parking lot,
Out to look down on the spires
Of red and white rock, sliding
Just above the tips of the trees,
Those anxious, hushed things.

His wife hiked their daughter
On her back through the mud,
Vanishing toward an alpine pond.
He waited, watching. Wind lifted
And combed fog out of the snarls
Of hoodoos and pines. He waited.
Voices, lowered but distinct,
Floated over the edge of the rim.

Fog's closing back in. Is it?
It's a lot prettier when it's got
A full sun on it.  Ah, here comes
Some sun. But it's not shining right
Down in there yet.  And it probably
Won't, either. That layer's basically
Gone. Quite a ways over that way,
See, a bird of some kind, greenish,
With a greenish tinge to it.
I'm always afraid of missing
A better view down the road.
If God made landscape any prettier,
He's keeping it to Himself.
When is sunset? Somewhere, there
Must be those, you know, these things.

Monday, September 16, 2013

After Him, the Work

What's better to carve? Ask your father.
He used to know his way around woods,
Even though his task was turning out
Mechanical imitations, kitsch,
And ostentatious kitchen boredom.
He did try to paint. He tooled leather.
He tried to teach you glues and dowels,
The urgent, supreme parsimony
Of time wasted on double measures

To avoid wasting costly timber.
Like him, you wander too easily
Into familiar, showy habits
That only impress those with no craft
Who want to tell themselves, honestly
Or even dishonestly, you're good,
And they're discerning, so together
Everyone involved is important.
No one is important. Crafts erode.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Writing Books and Storing Them in Caves

"But no one would listen when he attempted to expound, for they were mysteries no one should hear."

Constant temperature shields
Constant knowledge until
No one knows any of it anymore.

Except that they do. The painter
Of calligraphic scrolls on reeds,
The typist of ones and zeroes,

What did they ever know that you
Don't understand reading this?
Don't be so hard on yourself.

Not every parable is meant
To be easy, not every bestiary
Makes sense to the beasts

Left behind once the rest
Have gone for good, the best
Among them. You can growl.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Island of Ze-Do

Kingdom of supernatural bandits,
Too large for a body to own,
Too small to confine a body in for life,

What are your resources today
Between the demonic playground
And the austere gate of heaven?

A goldfinch in a scrub oak
Under blue thunderheads and silver
Angels made mute by unbelief

Appears as a flash to the last
Bandit scholar from the Capitol,
Marooned here and resentful

At the remarkable good fortune
Of a well-besieged existence.
He swings on his heels, exclaims.

Friday, September 13, 2013

To Lesson

Human misery, listen.
I will school you because
You think you understand
What makes you mad.

You are not mad.
You are not angry.
You are begging for someone
To say what you hear,

Which is that you are not
An argument for going
Forever away. You are.
Sure. I love you, but you are.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Sportsmen's Emporium

For William W. Abbott, Market
Street, Philadelphia, and his trout:
My mama done told me to watch it;
I know what you're all about.

That was random, said
The physicist angling
To catch Kokanee fish in his head.
The anthem, the stars spangling

Heartfelt simplicity,
The pointed leaf
In red and white duplicity,
The comfort, the grief,

These are all to me
As the chipmunk on the porch
Last month, the sweet,
The striped, the hungry poor.

No, I know.
You lie to me
Because you know I know
You want my taxidermy.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Ways for a Polar Bear to Become Famous

Sing. Tell stories. Compose
A tableau made of seals.
Remember that it hurts

To be predator or prey,
And convey this anguish
In a swimming pantomime.

Become a sophist. Read
Books that explain things,
Books that are written

By other polar bears.
Be pleased with yourself
For no good reason.

Fold a newspaper,
Delicately as elderly,
Urbane men with sorrowful eyes

Still do, sometimes,
On park benches
In their minds. Cry.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Making Plans in the Shabby Apartment at 4 AM

There's no if, then.
There's no true, causal trigger.
There's then,
And then there's pretend.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Lullaby and Good Night

She tried though. She can't fly,
But she tried though. She can't
Though. But I wanted you

To carry me all the way
To bed. Honey, I carried you
As far as I could go.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Endlessly Temporary Summer

Rain wrapped itself around the car.
The mother and child in the back
Shed their raincoats, made a picnic,
And read library books out loud

To drown the sound of the thunder.
Lightning was easy to ignore
Once they got into each story.
Beside them, an old magazine

Featured a pretty green cover
That was a painting of a child
On a swing under a big tree
Filled with white blossoms, titled

Endless Summer. Oh what a day,
What a day when summer remained
Without getting any hotter
Or shorter, when the lightning played,

Sang the mother, making it up
As she went along, waiting out
The storm. It circled their circle,
Further, further, calmer, closer.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Farmer's Market

Lucky-looking people looked
At everything in the booths.
There weren't many booths to see.
Shorty observed from the truck
As the sun beat on his knee
Like drumming fingers.  How long,
He wondered, do I play dumb?

He didn't have to play long.
A woman with a bouquet
Was patrolling the margins
In white blouse and long red skirt
Around the lunette of shade,
Approaching the last blue booth.
Could mean anything at all,

Shorty thought as he listened
To the few words he could hear.
She might have already seen
Him trying not to get hurt.
She might know he could see her.
She didn't see the future.
That he knew. She came his way.

Friday, September 6, 2013

"I went for a long walk and some guy was vacuuming his car, and his wife was yelling at him."

A weakness for the awkward
Becomes a verse in my mind.
Perfectly mellifluous,
Laconically elegant,
Exquisitely conceited,
And sublimely vivid lines
Need to clunk over a curb

Every so often to be
In tune with the harmony
Of the squares, of the clumsy
Gods of everyday events
That do not unscroll smoothly
For long before something tears
To let me know I'm still here.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Keep to Yourself

Too many words, too many
Adjectives, too many notes.
In theory, I understand

Why critics praise a clean style.
Simpler is better. But, but
Simplicity and genius
Only appear together

When admirable restraint
In one dimension supports
Baroque indulgence somewhere.

Elmore Leonard went swimming
In rollers of violence.
Even Oscar Wilde favored
Ornate rooms of white on white.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Every Working Heart Is Dark

"Oh, how could anyone not want to tear it all apart?"

They got in their cages a long time ago.
They do well enough, except when they panic.
They have no control of anything at all.

Outside, the brutal competition kills them
Without them ever knowing the reason why.
They convulse themselves. They keep the beast alive.

Their cages contract and collapse around them.
They sometimes drum long after all hope is gone.
They aren't to blame. No monster's without a heart.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Softer than Diamonds

Sunlight is simplest
At the canyon's deepest.
It comes. It goes. It comes. It goes.
Just like that. No secrets.

Our light is slightly more complex,
Crossing the mesa west.
It's hard and bright. It lingers.
It wanders, unimpressed.

It presses our world flat,
A copper sheet ironed, a dress.
Then it leaves us, just like that,
After all, nothing left.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Thunder Nap

Are we still pinching ourselves?
The parked car reminded me
Of a time when to be here
Seemed so wildly fortunate
That the ravens in the pines
Sang. Sang froid sets in quickly,
Almost daily after youth,

And it's tempting to forget
That defiance of advice
And all probability
Dreams both the road to ruin
With crack-ups to see, and then
Again, now, the secret source
Of joy in these trees of life.

Sunday, September 1, 2013


Life is a labyrinth  that looks
Like a maze. Every helpful thought
Annoys us first. These and other
Unsupported aphorisms
Dot the wash in which people build
Dream houses of brown adobe,
Where rains are rare, rockslides rarer,
And thoughts occupy forever.