Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Man without a Body

The spirit breathed deep in Niagara Falls
Where Model-T grandparents honeymooned,
In the reek of Coney Island hot dogs,
Never imagining that Coney once

Meant rabbit, not processed pork sausages,
In the hot suntan lotion wind over
The Grand Canyon's South Rim, one traveler,
Vague and lost among the globe-girdling hordes,

In the steaming cold of the Yellowstone
Caldera, alone with a life long gone,
Reduced to ashes, who was delighted
That morning to be in America,

The spirit of the thing encompassing
All the conquered beauty of betrayal,
The madness that is patriotism,
The simple longing for belonging here

Where no one can belong, new arrivals
Every day, here at the end of a year
Marked by the arbitrary calendars
That designate dates imaginary

As having a being, having body,
Having schemes and choices, having a home,
Having a country to gnaw on, a bone.
The sun sets on all that. It really sets.

Earth never revolved around it. Spirit
Never managed to become one with breath
No how matter how deeply drawn in, how sharp
And heady, how sharp and painful the quest.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

"I May Sound Shallow, But I Feel Like My Job in Life Is to Be Happy"

The server flirts with the cripple
Who radiates that confidence
That comes with embracing the worst

As if it were a long-lost cousin
To whom one bears a resemblance
But no more than to some strangers.

She would never call him that word,
In her uniform of black slacks, blue
Blouse, androgynous black necktie,

And carefully cultivated
Professional mannerisms,
Just as he would never mistake

Her flirtation for genuine.
Simplest exchanges are contracts,
As the two matrons sipping red

Wine in frail, enormous glasses
At the neighboring table prove.
They joke and praise each other well,

Raise their bell-like glasses gently
And toast each other leaning in
Like judokas for an arm bar.

We have to disagree to agree
On how to disagree, the price
We pay for peace and deception

About ourselves and our others
Appearing no more than a word
Of kindness, tension in our thighs.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Barely a Ghost in Her Own Song

Even though you're almost dead
Don't ever lose your sense of wonder,
The clothesline of prayer flags
In the windy dark under high desert

Night backboned cliffs sheer as sliced
By a knife. The stars, the stars,
The incorrigibly meaningless stars
Sprawled out in feline nonchalance,

Midnight's chanteuse of light,
One voice combs out of many
The little hints that something had to be
Out there that used to be in here.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Spherical Dice

Probability doesn't have edges,
At least not when it comes to perspective
Or personal good or bad fortune.
It's not like a storm front we use it
To describe. Once the wind starts
Blowing one way, good or ill, we can't
Expect more of the same, not at any
Given bend of the day that began
Well for us, or for us quite badly.
Fortune isn't for us. It doesn't alter
Likelihood during our hot or cold streaks,
And yet we have to endure it
Because, however unlikely, probability
Rules. Uncertainty is our certainty.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

"A Man in the Midst of Dissolving"

The fact that you were born someplace
Doesn't make it belong to you.
It may make you belong to it.
Take a slab of sidewalk. A home

At driveway's end is a found poem.
Lost poems are more interesting,
Especially those you know were lost.
Don't expect to find the others,

The people and pets in that home
That you never knew existed.
The bones under the stained carport
May not have mattered to someone,

May have been the ribs of a deer
Brought down by a bitter winter
By a stone-tipped arrow, by wolves,
By bullets, by wasting disease.

Or they could have been just like yours,
Unique in the error they made
Rendering you brittle as twigs,
Blown glass, imitation Delftware,

But glowing under the black loam
With the magic of belonging,
Finally, to a place and not
To your haunted flesh dissolving.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Muskrats, Possums, and Bird-Eating Spiders

"I preferred books of poetry, since they allowed more breaks for spying. . . . A spy who, once again, didn't know what he wanted to find." ~ Alejandro Zambra

"In an infinite universe, anything is possible but that doesn't make it probable." ~ Nick Lane

"His failures went unnoticed, his successes earned him no praise." ~ Salman Rushdie

"It is disturbingly like watching . . . slow possession by a demon." ~ Helen MacDonald

"Happy as you go in, sad when you leave!" ~ Hans Dudeldee

Too many quotations will spoil the broth.
We sneeze, inhaling these little black flecks,
Hurting our ribs, and our souls fly from us.

They were never ours anyway. The names
That the conscientious attach to them,
That the sly hide away, never owned them.

Souls are. Spiced languages invented them.
They're our ghosts, after all, the great spirit
We inhale piously and then explode

Like the spores of a fungus, exploding
Pollen carried on the wind, on the back
Of a bat, the wings of a bumblebee.

The bat doesn't own the pollen, the spores
Disinterested in even the wind.
Bumblebees didn't invent the triggers

Of orchids and other dependent things.
Humans, as such, as bodies here and there,
Never planned to bear the seeds of monsters

Any more than the genes of the microbes
We also carry, dancing Totentanz
To the tune of endless Armageddon

In an infinite universe of myth,
Provocations, impossibilities
(Something impossible must be

Impossible still in infinity
For infinity to include the thought
Of an impossibility), and lies.

There are no single spies, only whole hosts
Of spies like bright beetles, armies of poems,
Fortresses of fairy tales surrounded

By blooming, buzzing forests primeval,
All ranged against the lust of likelihood.
The secret ingredient is not there

But in the silent, hunting predator,
Feathered in hunger, rock, water, and bone,
Saturn fond of anonymous children.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Fate Tectonics

We know the Word was African
But won't somebody tell me just
What is the soul of a man? Gone
Irrelevance of continents

That couldn't exist before maps,
What can your ocean-licked borders
Tell us about our migrant selves?
We were like any other lives

Increasingly reproducing
Ourselves in the teeth of hunger,
But we got caught up in a new
Competition to succeed us.

Who shall we crown victorious?
Which invention won over us?
We know the word was earth and clay,
But we'll never know why the Word.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Lively One Is Lying

I like my silent self so
Much better than my social
Self croaking over dinner
Among other social selves

Late at night when I'm lonely
And Blind Willie Johnson growls
In his tenor false bass doomed
To die too young in my skull.

Well who dies too old? Who lives
In Beulah land forever?
I can almost be content
When I put prison that way,

Pascal's death sentence: all souls
Shuffle through the prison yard
Before their personal turn
To discover nothing was

Ever and never will be.
When I am silent, watching
The night stirring its haunches
To hunt the world, I am free.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Parlay Parley

"Loving and liking are the solace of life,"
Wrote Dorothy Wordsworth, addicted sister.
Nature always betrays the mind that loves her.

If one could parlay the dire gifts of words
Into the transubstantiation of flesh
So that one could leave with the gifts, nothing left,

But the gifts run off and into other minds
Or sit stupidly, inky bits and pieces.
The world continues to do what it pleases,

And it pleases the raw world to deceive us.
We love, we like, we find solace in the air.
We believe that we existed. We weren't there.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Can't Cant

When I was young, I wanted those
Whose insights I had found profound
To have lived admirable,
Profound lives. I just chucked aside

The ideas of those who failed me,
The drunks, junkies, and suicides,
The hateful in personal life,
Syphilitic misogynists.

Poverty I could forgive, but
Not extravagant bankruptcies.
What a fool I am. If insight
Had to equal ability

All the best teachers and coaches
Would have proved the greatest scholars
And performers. Each poor person
Caught between worlds must disappoint

Us somehow. Whatever it is
That is not free as the ideas
Nor as ancient as desires,
The semi-real being who's stuck

Being created by body
And culture, but can never leave
The former and never evade
The latter, deserves forgiveness.

Monday, December 21, 2015


Every poem is a liar, a fake accompli,
None more so than the beautifully brave.
Verse dissembles power by resembling truth,
But only the righteous creator
And the self-righteous proclaimer
Of the righteousness of the creator's verse
Are ever really deceived. Power is not
Deceived. Power gets it straight, a gardener
Understanding that the beauty of the invasive
Is a weed in the plot of righteousness, whether
Power's a nativist trying to restore an Eden
Of timelessly indigenous botany
Or an artificialist hedging end-shaped
Oases of bonsai potted paradise. Power is
Not amused. The creator remains
Bemused, but that's because again nothing
Got created, ever, least of all by such creative
Types. We're none of us poetry, all typists.
Every atom's clinamen annoys us, swerving
Flies inside our eyes. Clever
Universe to invent an inventive system
That exploits each honest liar for a host,
Heavenly hosts of undead angels arguing
Over whose deadly parasite's the best,
Most moving, most important, best dressed,
While God and no-God time rejoices
In rust and moldy gusts of infectious laughter.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

When I Swim in the Pond That Is Language

I think about which team I think
I'm on, which team hates my entrails

Enough to eat them with gusto,
Locavore gumbo, true foodies.

I think about Ken Gordon, boy,
Secular Jew, Republican

Rhapsodizing at the zoo
In New Orleans, twenty years gone,

About various fish dinners
He'd had, made, basted, or tasted.

I think about Pat Smith, old man
In the farthest back, restroom row

Of the bus jet planes have become,
Telling me that he was Baha'i,

Laughing at the silly Mormons,
Bragging about his kids, showing

Yours truly selfies he'd taken
With gorillas in the Congo,

Fretting about retirement, son
Of a man who migrated north

After a lynching, ex-husband
Of a woman who thought he wasn't

Black enough to deserve friendship
With his friend, Stokely Carmichael.

I think about how he whispered
To me as the plane nearly broke

Into pieces in a shuddering
Storm over the Windy City

That he suffered motion sickness,
That nothing in America changed,

That there are angels well-disguised
As people who land in our paths

And block our way, diabolus,
"It all happens for a reason,"

And "we're all on the same team here."
But we're not. We're a league of teams.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

I Am a Violin Played by a Hair Dryer

I didn't write one word of this. I planned
And, once I had planned it, it existed.
Goldsmith generated the actual
Text you will likely never be reading

When he was giving a talk at Princeton
That went viral on social media
After a celebrity mimicked him
And another thousand immigrants drowned

Somewhere between the razor-wired borders
Of monorhymed jihadist verse, comic
Haiku contests describing weird Utahns,
And the heartfelt graffiti of the young.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Incredibly Old Woman

She seems quite grandmotherly, but
She has no descendants unless
You count her own flesh the substance
Of her indefinite descent.

She's the queen of growing in place,
Carrying the princess in her.
She's cloned her cells so many times
They can't recognize each other.

Every cancer, every virus
She converts to her duration.
She is whatever's left of her,
Whether dexterous or sinister.

She's her own long lost twin sister,
Her own father and mother, her
Trickster self hovering over
The cloud of selves that cover her.

She's not the Earth, not the mother
Of us, but us, our departure
At the heart of her arrival.
She's not old. She's not a woman.

She is the author of her own
Allegories and metaphors.
She doesn't have nasty habits.
Whatever fierce or feral is,

Whatever wilderness might be,
Whatever civilizations
Were, could be, she is not and is.
That's how she got so old. She eats.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Tasmanian Ghostwriter

"I like poetry because there are no miracles in it." ~Natalie Eilbert

Only a silent howl of freedom at his death.
Everything's inevitable once it occurs,
And we experience nothing hasn't occurred

At least that once to us already. There's no end
To what we've already experienced, to fate,
To the destiny of the done until it's done.

One person hates her body enough to harm it
Because it let her down so often being harmed
By other persons' bodies who hate their bodies

For wanting to do harm to bodies. Never mind
Ever able to unwind itself from the flesh
It consumes and by which it is consumed, the life

Producing the necessary precondition
For every suffering, suffering-inflicting
Self destined to know itself destined to not be

Anything to itself but destiny to selves
Craving the conversion of real flesh to fictions
Hidden by lost names as the lost Tasmanians.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Chansons d'Instapoet

There's no term, no measure of impotence
For the powerlessness of witnessing,
Beginning with the fact that the witness,
Though the soul of honesty, is crippled

By the deviousness of memory
And the deviltry of good intention.
Past the last bend of memory, what's left?
This is why greeting card verse works the best.

We're always falling in love with ourselves
And paving the road to personal hells
With reassurances that are no help
Except as we hang prayer flags from the shelf

Of all the advice we've ever received
And denied as irrelevant to thieves.
The most ancient of us won't outlive these
Most instantaneous of media

We once collected, bagged, tagged, and posted,
The culmination of denial, hope,
The disbelief in causation that poems
Stoke, the conflagration of all poets.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Asympatric Speciation

Faith, kindness, genius, reward:
Purely human metaphors
As all our metaphors are,
As we are all metaphors.
What odors are to others
Word theaters are to us,
The code that keeps us apart.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Cows of Professor Valley

We're a digital ape in an analogue universe,
The night of dreams spent talking to celebrities
While the dragonfly glowed blood-red in the window,

The tying of one impossible-to-separate event
To another impossible-to-separate event,
Breaking the bone of the world into pieces

And then reassembling them again, scarring
Them not in the least, only our own experience,
The child crying out "Nightmare!" to begin the day.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Or Dreamful Ease

To catch the organism as a whole
In the process of getting older, no,
You can't do that. You can't catch a process

And even when you think you see movement
You've just noticed how many inbetweens
You must be missing for change to seem smooth.

Smooth. Restful. Not quite dead. Not quite extinct
But quietly capable of watching
The awareness of what awareness missed.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

"The Quiet Urgency of Common Daylight"

How many days within a day!
Today was a black high country sky
Cold with stars and a dark courtyard.

The next today was a long glow
And a daughter playing fairies
While her mother slept on the couch.

Today was also a sunstruck room
Bare and urgent to caresses,
Or it was plein air on the lawn,

Painters and easels and children
Playing under the cottonwood
Hours as the last leaves blew away.

And today was ten other days.
So many days within a day
But a week is always a week.

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Knight of the Knives

No apocalypse looms for him
On his way out of the system
There is nothing there is nothing
He repeats to himself breathing

He could pretend he is too sick
How is it despite disaster
After disaster he's still here
This can't go on too much longer

Now that I know I could have walked
Like a unicorn through the walls
And not die like the tapestry
Of myth captured in the Cloisters

I saw before being captured
By my own love of myth myself
He said he said he said he said
And then the wheel wound down and wept

I recall as a boy a book
Sat in my church's library
A cautionary paperback
For missionaries and our ilk

About the Mau Mau uprising
Of the Kikuyu in Kenya
As a machete massacre
Almost a martyrdom of white

Missionaries and families
With the lurid title The Night
Of the Long Knives it would be years
Before I knew of Hitler's purge

Of that name 1934
Decades before I discovered
The old German connotation
Of that phrase as general vengeance

Or heard that South African whites
Deployed it to express their fears
Of what would happen on the day
Or night Nelson Mandela died

But I knew the term was magic
Darkness and nightmare attending
The pure excitement of the end
He said he said he said he said

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Life Under the Saffron Sign

In the direction of Zion
Here are the mountains of the moon.
Everything sings a sad love song,
Sad because songs produce no love

Only more sad and lonely songs
Of endlessly feeling sorry
For the singer. Her throat's a torch.
We were born into a contract

That guaranteed a debt no god
Nor benefactor could repay.
What are we saving our selves for?
The end of the world's drawing near,

Monster always getting closer,
Oh now, oh now, oh never here.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Steven! Steven! Allow Me to Finish! Please! Hear Me!

I'm hoarse from shouting at fools
Silent inside my own head
And from listening to fools
Probably outside my head.

Everyone wants to be heard
And acknowledged in the right,
Most of all the silent types.
Their voices barely whisper

From all their shouting inside.
And what is the good of this?
The man shouting at Steven.
Steven shouting at the man

Hosting international
Radio hour of shouting.
Are voices substitute for
Or more incitement to war?

Doesn't matter. No one is
Capable of listening
To anyone anyway.
Please finish off my hearsay.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015


Everyone wants to channel fire
Come here flare up over there there
No there no stop leave us alone

Do not leave me to die of cold
Do not burn the skins off of me
Do not persuade me of the fact

That you are me unlike only
Perhaps in that you cannot be
Persuaded while I cannot be

Monday, December 7, 2015

Of My Life Nothing

Of him remains, of my Greek
Master, of the free, the dwarf
Of impossibility

Of Primo Levi himself,
Endless enchained melodies
And fresh special editions,

Of the decision to end
Decisions, speculations
Why middle-aged, middle class

White evangelical men
In middle America
Would choose in droves to join him

In the storyteller's quest
To end the endless mess in
Immaculate conclusion

Sunday, December 6, 2015

As Fit for the Fire as Any Little Clockmaker

Our words become our monuments
Even as we disown the building of them,
Even as we borrow the stones.

For example, when the illustriously
Lustreless speaker completed a degree
And flew free to the Black Forest

And the old grounds of wars ancient
And recent, there stood an entertainment
Complex reconstructing Colonium,

Although the original fort stones
Had long since gone to walled huts
And cathedrals, the cathedrals

Bombed by the allies to the ground,
Under which hid more well-dressed stones
Of the original, colonial Cologne.

How to explain the urge to inscribe
With a pencil on a napkin a dictum,
A prayer tucked between the stones there?

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Stanley Moss Argues with His God

Well it must be his. Whose else is like?
Ralph Stanley's Death and Rabelais's
Franciscans bear it some resemblance,

But I feel it belongs to Stanley,
Reading to a recording device
Digitizing his ninety-year old

Voice repeating, "so help us or don't
Help us," into the ear of the ghost,
The ghost great within us we still birth.

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Indestructible Oleander

However pleasant or not, the world
Remains reliably unpredictable,
Mysterious heat under a bathroom tile
As if someone had installed

A heated floor. Then a flood.
Surely nothing more than a burst pipe,
A headache, a damage, a claim,
An expense of cash and a waste

Of same. But what if the monster
Under the ground really lives,
The breathing dragon, the tongue
Of fire that licked the stones' children?

A great disturbance is pooling
In this countryside of pooled cubes
Of black lava. It will warm us
Before it bursts and ruptures

The world that forgot that magic,
Even the poisonous oleander used
To invading and surviving, no matter
What tried to take it down. Destruction.

Thursday, December 3, 2015


Probably related to weird,
Akin to bend and wind,
What is the long prehistory
Of a common word worth?

The crickets are pulsing more slowly.
Halloween has long gone behind.
The feasts of the dark of the hemisphere
Are looming with their fires.

Before anyone lived in a town.
Before anyone plowed a line.
Someone heaped up a giant
Cross in a square of mimetic desire.

We are the copying ape.
Copying made copies of us,
Of our dog-wolves and our cattle.
But the copies are alive now

Themselves, coursing
Through and under us
Like ghosts rushing under
A bridge, and we're worthless.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Ghost Ethnographer

"A lifetime isn't enough
To know how a person will
Behave." Only death would know

What a ghost would consider
Appropriate behavior.
Death's the ghosts' ethnographer.

Thick description, notation,
Careful quantification,
And, of course, random sampling

All suggest that people are
Transformed by death. They do not
Laugh or carp. They are calmer.

Most of them are small children
And infants who lived rural
Lives for a few years or hours.

There are more males than females,
More soldiers than generals,
And not a lot in their prime.

The whole society lacks
Industrious middle age
And, because they are dead, do

Little to improve themselves.
It's a myth justice matters
To ghosts. They have no motives,

They have no motion, they are
Indifferent to existence,
However detailed their lives

And different from each other.
I invited them to be
My informants. They declined.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

In Narrative He Had Little Interest In

I have the voice I want but
Not the voice I know that
Other people outside of me

Can hear. I have the voice
I earned through years of not
Being my self self-consciously.

There are only so many lives
The billions of living lives
Could stand to sit and listen

To attentively. None of those are
Me. "She's a sweety," says the old
And well-coiffed Saint George

Matron at the table next to me.
So much evaluation, so little
Time. Apparently.