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.