Thursday, June 30, 2016

Give Me a Little More Time, OK?

It's my daughter I'm begging
When she interrupts me repeatedly
At intervals that seem well-timed
To yank me out of my work exactly
The moment when I begin
To pick up speed again. Concentration

Is a heap of leaves I rake together
And then she scatters everywhere.
But I don't want time from her, not her.
She is what all that time I've had before
Was for, if time can be for
Anything it's always against. I want speed,

Focus, fast swooping creation,
I want to trace a full, impossible
Ellipse in which I dive so low
The world spins startled over me,
Then soar so high I can't breathe. I
Want to startle time, to give her it for free.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Leash

It loosens, time to time,
Passages when flying
Feels a fait accompli,

When one unwinds the slack
As if there were no hold
At all, more like floating

Than running or falling.
I stood, once, on a bridge
Over Clark Fork River

That I would cross again
At least a hundred times
Under all conditions

Of inner and outer
Weather, whether smoke-fouled
By Bitterroot wildfires,

Shellacked with dark brown ice,
Or sweet with renewed spring.
That first time, I was new

And I had left the world
As I'd understood it,
Having warned nobody

And arrived, bleary-eyed
From the East, with my cash,
All I had, in my boot,

An acceptance letter
In my pocket, nothing
Else except a backpack,

And it was June and warm
With a hint of a breeze
On which I floated free.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The End of the Brain as a Cultural Storage Organ

Time was, only you knew what you knew.
Maybe a little gesturing helped,
Maybe a manageable handful
Of symbols, chips in cliffs, stains in caves,

But mostly, it was still up to you.
Somewhere along the line, prosody,
Song, percussive accompaniment
Expanded your skulled capacity.

Some lazy, sneaky bastards found out,
(Slowly, of course, in generations,
Given laziness and efficiency
Motivate each other lazily),

You could make a kind of metacode
Of the symbols used to remember,
Some agreement, ominous events,
This or that failure, what someone said.

Chisel those, then. Paint them. Press them in
Patty-cake palmfuls of clay you bake
And store away to consult later:
More you can and need not remember.

By now, you've been organizing this
Material and compacting it
With narrative tricks for centuries
Of centuries. Write the stories, too.

Good. Less to remember remembered.
Accumulate enough, watching out
For armies, fires, new divinities,
All the usual rot of the truth.

Someday, maybe, you compact it all,
In scrolls on shelves and then codices.
How convenient, if you can reach it,
Read it, copy it, use it. Better,

Concoct a machine for printing it
And reprint it with diminishing
Expense or regard for the effort
That went into it (more laziness,

Efficiency, generations). Now,
Libraries duplicate libraries,
But some are still harder to get to
Than others. Some of us are better.

At this point you'll have to put your heads
Together. You don't have half the brains
Anymore to improve on your own.
Cheaper, better, more books on paper.

Steam presses. Broadcast technology.
Digital technology. The cloud.
My god, you've put gods back in a cloud!
Now rest. You know nothing. Who needs it.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Unwatching You

The Princeton class of 1984
Flocked to campus, August 1980,
With a bit more than the usual sense

In such a group of their own importance.
They chuckled at their grim significance,
Wore black and orange buttons proclaiming

"1984 IS HERE," and in truth,
Spooked themselves, here and there, now and again,
Convening in the auditorium

Or gathering around legal beer kegs,
Given the drinking age back then, smoking
Clove cigs and discussing Ronald Reagan.

They had been given a number by which
The world would be totalitarian,
And the human lust for apocalypse

As a challenge had overtaken them.
Then, date after date, they overtook it.
1984 itself came and went.

So did a few of the freshmen. Then more.
1999 became the focus, came and went.
Around the world, so did quite a few more.

A calendar can't stop itself. It quits
Only when everyone stops using it.
And then it has no meaning. Never did.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Ethnographically Speaking, This Is Inaccurate

"But enough of phenomenology: it is nothing more than the solitary, endless monologue of consciousness, a hardcore autism that no real cat would ever importune."

A boy I remember read Zen
And the Art of Motorcycle
Maintenance with wonder, some years

Before he encountered any
Actual metaphysical texts.
A fundamentalist Christian

Kid without sense enough to see
That in the fight between Plato
And Aristotle, encountered

In that paperback the first time,
He should have rooted for Plato,
Not thrilled to the moment they both

Were swept aside by the author
In favor of Presocratics.
A certain vulnerability

To mysticism and gnomic
Metaphors infected him then
Without him realizing it.

He rarely returned to longer
Philosophical arguments
After that, although he studied

What he felt he needed
To prove himself intelligent
And at various times came round

To Aristotle and Hegel
For a little while each. (Never
To Plato and never to Kant.)

Hume he genuinely admired,
Sensing as he did personal
Preference, more than reasoning,

Determined one's choice in these things.
Phenomenology, briefly,
Felt true in a general way,

But god, the writing was awful
And taught him there's nothing to learn
From brooding over any truth

In hope of vivisecting it.
Right or wrong, the truth is simple.
It can be pummeled, smeared, spread thin,

But it won't surrender further
Conclusions past what's evident
From bald statements in which it lies.

It's petrol. It's not the pistons
Thundering long, withdrawing roars
Of obnoxious facts down blue roads.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Although I Taste the Famous Blood

I'm not gone to moss quite yet. As I've always, I daydream
Robust and miraculous escapes in which I attack
The hand that dared to feed me. This morning, the sky was wide
And confident before me, and I remembered every
Morning when I felt absurd and absurdly triumphant
Altogether. I'm in this for the long haul, the long fall,
For a song from a lark, descending, remarkably toothed.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Plagues and Famines

For generations, my ancestors
Have called themselves Americans,
But the great bulk of them,

With few exceptions, descended
From Europeans. What it means
Is that I can be fairly certain that,

In addition to passing unscathed
Through 20th-century war generations
And Civil War generations and colonial

Desperations, my ancestry
Includes survivors of the Black Death,
The Great Famine, the Roman Caesars,

And assorted other disasters, living
Conveniently without ever failing
To reproduce in the form

Of further survivors like them.
This goes back a long time.
It's hard to find a place in the books

That was never subject to terrible
Destructions, diseases, and depredations.
Yet here I am, one among billions

Waiting on the next round of selection
To tell whatever descendants we've left
Who among us was worthy of tormenting.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Noverint Universi

This is true. The world remains
Stranger than the words that name
The fact that the world remains.

This, too, is true. Words estrange
Themselves from worlds by meaning,
One strangeness of the world.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Everything We Do Wrong

The anthropic tautology,
In which we profess amazement
That we could only exist if
The world were the way that it is,

Has a more interesting side,
Which is that we can imagine
Myriad ways we could vanish
If physics were tweaked just a bit.

Those acts of imagination
Are what make the tautology
Possible. The impossible
Versions create the anthropic

Gimmick. Call it the creative
Principle. I still say it's weak.
I prefer the strong creative
Principle: imagine the world

Didn't have to have rules at all,
That instead of infinity
Of finities, divisible
By infinitely fine constraints,

Everything falling every way
Through thermodynamic cascades,
Infinity was infinite,
Allowing diverse forevers,

Escapes from probabilities,
Expansions without collapses,
Growth without consumption, and birth
Without death. You know we do this,

Although we do everything wrong,
Although we fail at the details,
Fail to create vivid heaven,
Fail to make it feel really real.

This implies imagination,
Merely by emerging from us,
Belongs to the possible world,
Which thus can be nothing but false.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Timur i Lang

Crippled iron, blue palace.
Nothing too exotic there,
Eh? When the compositor

Was a young man, home from school
On vacation, he read Marlowe
And discovered Tamburlaine,

A new and terrible sort
Of hero for a boy used
To not walking well at all.

The lame warrior, "Scourge of God"!
What a thought to conjure with.
It was the sword scene that got him.

"Nothing but fear and fatal
Steel, my lord." "Your fearful minds
Are thick and misty, then. For

There sits Death, imperious
Death, keeping his circuit by
The slicing edge. But I am

Pleased." And so he was, at that,
Although he wasn't sure why.
Was it the life of Marlowe,

Apostate, atheist, dead
Young by homicidal means?
Was it the great poetry

In the cumbersome drama?
The possibility God
Stooped to lamed and damned scourges

To say what He had to say,
Lamentable I Am who
Struggled to communicate?

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Wind

My old adversary from when
I was a spindly crippled boy,
Son of a severely crippled 
Father and a devout mother

Who frowned upon the very term
Crippled, preferring handicapped,
Odd gambling term for born-again
Fundamentalists such as them,

The wind is in a rush today,
The wind is in a rush again,
And I know what it has to say
As it buffets me in my den

Of ghastly voiced conversations
With the long-lost souls it's blown in:
Nothing. Oh very clever, boy,
You've been prattling about nothing

As if it were something since, when?
About the time you started this
Deranged skein of solipsistic 
Tergiversations you call poems?

What is nothing to you or you
To them, now nothing's bosom friends
Are the people you remember
A bit but barely, now and then?

Nothing. Inhale it and you win.
Exhale it and begin again.
There is no nothing, just the wind
Spinning beginnings wet with ends.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

This Made Me

Also anxious to leave
Some monument of me
Behind, so I'd not be
The only one exempt
From lying's liberty,

I began composing
Untruths more honestly
Than those who wrote their truths
Garlanded gaudily
With earnest fripperies,

Adorning histories
With dueling perjuries,
Pretended mysteries,
Filmy transparencies
And all the rest of it,

The bric-a-brac of pasts
Ground out of powdered facts.
I, Lucian, empire-
Descended common man,
Syrian writing Greek

To Roman countrymen,
Declare myself lunar,
A visitor to strange
Realms that science factions'
Armies contest by night,

The future that I failed
To guess anywhere near
To right: I sit inside
A bubble of machine
Composing poems from ghosts,

Not knowing what they mean
Myself, hybrid being,
As ruled lines of clouds stream
From the thundering wings
Of airborne human things.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Incunabula Wikipedia

The earliest works composed
Online using search engines
Were hardly different

From the various print,
Graphic, and performance
Forms preceding them,

But were distinguishable
By habits of crude structure
And contorted exhibitions

Of the kinds of erudition
The new media permitted
The weak minded. Being

One of the weak minded
Myself, constructed of such
Bits of air and fluff

As swaddling dreams
Were made of, long ago,
I made myself at home

In this crib that will empty
Me into the abyss
Of knowing everything.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Bou Bou Redoux

My old friends, Pancho and Panurge,
Fond of full guts, afraid of storms,
I wish I could split a wine skin
Laughing with the false two of you

Fictions from men whose bodies failed,
Who fought their way to some success
By the time they were near my age
And equally near to their deaths.

You proverb-belching paragons,
Verbose quintessences of greed,
Could, all cowardly, console me
As I consider what scares need:

The best of those who've resisted
Has been to distill and distill
The actual, recalled, until
Almost nothing left counts as real.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

A Zodiac Casino

A real place spins the wheels and takes the bets
Of those inclined to put their future selves
At risk for the sake of imagining

Their future selves as authentic beings
That might ever belong to them. People
Born under other stars build the places

That house the wheels and remove the fleeces
Made of myriad threads of homespun gold
Here, where real hopes rotate real eclipses.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The History of Now

Who but the dead could know
What it is to die alone?
Who but the living could care?

Who but the sleeping could guess
Where it is the sleeper goes
Of which the awake are unaware?

Who but the present
Company excluded could
Understand the depths of the wood?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Two or Three Payslips Away from a Brick Wall

As though the world were such a place
As to forgive intransigence
In the face of reality,

He lived well, above and beyond
Whatever means transported him.
He pushed his frame into frames

Of reference--clouds, waterfalls,
Cliffs, canyons, deserts, and jungles--
Distorted by his distorted

Perspective, which was that as if
Had no meaning unless one lived
As if something untrue were true

And knew it, never forgot it,
Wile E. Coyote suspended
Still as his eyes fixed on the ground.

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Compositor's Apology

I lied. I pretended to make discoveries.
Almost all discoveries are recoveries
Of phenomena other persons had found first,
And the rare, great original discoveries
Are original only to human beings
Uncovering phenomena unknown to them.
At least, that's how I justified my pretenses.
For a long time, I couldn't bring myself to call
Myself the compositor, even in pretense,
Despite all my pretending. But it's true. I'm not
A discoverer, nor am I an inventor,
My pretense being no more imaginative

Than conventional gothic flower arrangements.
If I seemed to have created an argument,
I borrowed all the parts. If I seemed to have milled
The parts, they were buffed, borrowed, and stolen phrases.
If I seemed to have invented a turn of phrase,
I had inherited the terms and the language.
If I seemed to have forged a new word, I foraged
The phonemes and spare letters among the block types.
If I seemed to have concocted new forms of gods,
Time, awareness, or other existential things,
I built them out of broken idols, scraps of hymns.
I'm stolen. I'm sorry. I'll decompose myself.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Work on a Remote Island

It's rare to afford a good place to stay.
Ask any lost camper, any migrant,
Any shipwrecked sailor, human or not.
To wedge into a spot safe and secure
With necessary resources at hand,
To have the resource-holding potential
To be at rest without being dislodged
By the next bit of wrack floating ashore
And looking for a meal, a slave, a place
To plant a flag and dig in as you did,
This is the only momentary peace
In this world. For the rest, we are restless
And rootless, even tethered to our graves.
We scan the rollers and write on the waves.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

A Terrier Can Define a Rat

As easily as a justice
Can define a glimpse of hardcore
Pornography. I know it when
I see it, and this is not it.

The compositor digs through dirt
And type and compost heaps to find
The wriggling rat of fleeing verse
That has to be killed to set free.

Friday, June 10, 2016


Perfection and simplicity are signs
Of a particular kind of liar
For whom persuasion is secondary
And verisimilitude hardly a thought.

He works his way backward from abstractions
Of assumptions, placing them on the face
Of this infinitely complicated
Carrying-on we consider the world--

Seven circular, equatorial
Islands of superabundance and ease
Where there's sweetness even in salty seas,
For instance, float like coins on choppy waves.

The inhabitants are tall and beautiful.
Plants and animals are all edible.
Even serpent's flesh is delectable.
Relationships are wholly communal.

Death comes after a long and peaceful life.
At one hundred and fifty one chooses
To find the comfortably sacred bed
Of a certain plant, lies on it and sleeps.

These heavens and utopias are not
Acts of pure imagination so much
As acts of pure defiance in the face
Of imagination's mnemonic lust.

The idea is to assert that a world
Can be conjured refusing confusion,
A world bare but for the flimsiest gauze
Of mimesis wrapping its marble thighs.

The mind that is great, with or without us,
Collectively made by and making us,
Has these willful moments when it wishes
To anoint the unreal ideal, to laugh.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Sleight of Sight

Schlagfertig fellow, old sly boots
Lying on his back looking up
At the clear sky from the meadow.
What is up there that I can't see?

Nothing. Watch out. There's the lightning,
No doubt chasing boats on the lake.
It's already summer and gone.
He's strike-ready, that one. He is.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin at Piltdown

The teleological tooth I hold
Must belong with the rest of our remains.
Who was that muttering behind me,
Yesterday, about the mysteries
Of the compositor? I know who
The Compositor is. I think
I know what He was doing.
Anyway, place this clue with the rest.
We are nearing the dawn of meaning.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

This Day in Mystery

The compositor has certain
Kabbalistic tendencies,
Among them a fondness
For lining up coincidences
Numerically as mysteries.
In a long sequence of texts,
Say essays or a diary,
He frequently looks for links
Between the texts and their number
In the chain or between the number
Of links and significant years
Or directly from text to date.

Text 1964 might have 1+9+6+4
Or twenty lines, say, meaning
Nothing, really. Or it might contain
References to Barry Goldwater
Or to the birth of the compositor's sister
Or to an event on that day of this month.
It might encode any number
Of clues to silly things, to nothing.

Monday, June 6, 2016

The End of All Our Picture Books

The deep, dark woods exist in books
Pressed out of the flesh of the woods.
Pictures after pictures, artists
After artists, stories after

Stories they invoke them again:
The mysterious, dangerous
Magical lives of the darkness.
How could children not know they're home?

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Little Hungers

Curl within the communities
Of living, cooperating
Bodies. Food, yes, especially
Fats and salts and sugars and flesh,

Also thirst, sometimes for the worst
Slowly inveigling toxic drinks.
Desires to touch, press, and sniff skin
We deny when we say I am.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Goodnight Nobody

We both exist, as far as I'm concerned,
As we were, as we remain in my head.
But I know that neither one of us is
What either one of us was when I read

The same famous rhyming verse naming things
In a room where a rabbit went to bed
Over and over again, every night
One summer in a cabin in the woods

On the edge of a cliff while the rains fell
And your mother drove out into the mists
In search of twilight shadows for photos.
Whatever we are now is what we were

And not what we were. Therefore what we were
Isn't, any longer, and what isn't never was.
Like so many charmed parental readers
I was seduced by that nobody page.

Friday, June 3, 2016

I Wonder if the Magician Is Still Playing

He had more than forty stringed instruments
And dozens of flutes from around the world
Arranged on the stage of the old, whitewashed
Mormon ward of the Rockville pioneers.
His concert fell somewhere between music
And a dog-and-pony demonstration
Of his facility with the exotic
Shapes, sounds, and names of his strange orchestra,
His awkward, dervish manipulation
Of sampling and looping technology

As he leapt and scurried around the stage,
Tapping pedals, picking up this and that,
Fingers flying, adding chirps and drumbeats,
Interrupting his songs with his patter,
Feat of dexterity and endurance
And pretty much pretty to hear, except
When he recited his lengthy, bad poem.
When I drove past the ward the next morning
With my daughter, she asked me, "I wonder
If the magician is still playing?" No,

Then again, yes. Who knows long it goes,
The bravura display of our diverse
Similarity, skill from drilled practice,
Creativity from repetition.
Magicians are like that. They distract us
From their limitations as we distract
Ourselves from our own. The pipa, dombra,
Tabla, pan pipes, mandolin and zither
Could be seen--not so the cable-yoked ghosts
That murmured, do this, again and again.

Thursday, June 2, 2016


Sympathy must have provoked the first myth
Concerning the vertebrate without limbs,
Someone wondering what it would be like
To writhe on the ground without legs or arms.

That, combined with the deadly potential
To create suffering out of venom,
Made the elaborations of dragons,
Winged serpents, coiled monsters, and talking snakes

Irresistible. For myself, I meant
Only to paint the truth about knowledge.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

How a Cosmos That Doesn't Play Games Birthed a Strategy of Playing Games

"The answer to the question in this book's title is both paradoxical and horrible. . . . In the end the only thing that matters is the grim logic of the game of death."

Something provisionally set apart
By the gift of a boundary, within which
More or less arbitrary rules apply
That distinguish the behaviors of things
Within the boundary from things outside
Where those inside rules no longer apply:
This defines the arena of a game.
Death can occur as result of a game
Or death can occur within a game, but
Death is not a game. That much should be clear.

The naming of things is a game. This poem
Is either a game or a single move
In a long game the poet did not start
And will not live long enough to finish.
Necessities are immune to rulers
Whose rules work within those necessities.
A game is wiggle room made metaphor
To play within necessity's limits.
It's possible, for instance, games became
Possible because there was wiggle room

Necessarily built into the world,
And in a universe with wiggle room
Perhaps a strategy exploiting it
Would inevitably be discovered.
I am more interested in the clues
Games provide us, by being possible,
That possibilities are limited
But nonetheless legitimate. Our rules
Are toys in a cosmos that permits play
And play must therefore be necessity.