Wednesday, August 31, 2016

55 Fixed Observances

1962 Trinidad & Tobago

What is borrowed in fact
Is a permanent loan.
Friday's child is loving
And giving. Friday's child
Works hard for a living.
Friday's child, full of woe,

Can't find out the reason
His fate has three versions,
His daughter's fate as well,
Except perhaps to tell
Them both that every fate,
Every day, fares the same.

1963 Sabah

Sunrise on the land below the wind,
Another imaginary entity
Agreed upon after much negotiation
Replacing earlier imaginaries.

Somebody brought imagination
Somewhere around here, some shore
Some tens of thousands of years gone.
In a few decades I'll be back

A widower with a young woman
Looking for the orange forest men
And giant-nosed monkeys, but
That's not anything I can imagine yet,

That thing
That always impossible thing
The future not yet the past, and
I'll never remember this actual now.

1964 And Not Much More

It's hard to know when
Today will be the day
That only barely existed
The one that never appears

In lists of what happened
Or who died or was born
Or famously disappeared
Not this time not this year

It's a noetic amusement
To consider the forgotten
Gatekeepers of tiny devices
Statues and monuments

Who remember their own
Amazement at a world that does
Not write right work by them
And leaves all art dust or less

Than dust unpunctuated
Molecularly indistinguishable
Breaths of Buddhas and crows
Who caw contentedly at liberty

I am the language I am
The language I am in which
I am the cracked child learning to lisp
Such nonsense as this I am I am this

1965 Aero Spacelines Super Guppy

"So many selves craving"
Already in a toddler who could not
Toddle nor riddle himself

A reason why he sometimes felt
Many and sometimes felt lonely,
The bright plastic mobile

Of primary colored birds,
Cardinal, blue jay, goldfinch
That hung over and startled

Him the afternoon he was placed
In his little sister's crib of used-to-be
His crib, his mobile, now forgotten,

Now remembered, a broken leg
Perhaps the reason for displacement
From his recent real boy's bed.

He remembered that he remembered.
He knew these shapes above his head.
He recognized their smell. That locked it

Into place for him as episodic memory
Number one, the one he would never
Remember from context, third birthday.

1966 End of the Tour Medical Genetics Optimists' Day

Like all people who would later grow up to hate riddles, he began as a child suspicious of puzzles and slapstick, to say nothing of the unfunny failures of poor Lucille and Charlie Brown. Sport has more than one meaning, you know, and one of those meanings is God having fun with you by making you into an omen, an object lesson, a sport of nature, a little dysfunctional monster to scare people already afraid of the big, nonexistent, functional monsters God never could make, a freak.

Watch a four-year old. Everything essential to the adult personality is there, but barely a wisp of own memory, however rich, will survive. Dementia is more ruthless in times of greatest learning, pruning synapses like Shakespeare's end-shaping Destiny, say from birth to five. Later, until you've forgotten almost everything altogether again, you get to watch the caries and tears and sinkholes pocketing your luxuriant, grown-up landscape of topiary nonsense, follies, and grieve. At four, you still can hardly do more than learn those many things the learning of which you must forget. There's your riddle.

Somebody had been giving aid to Nigeria, and felt obliged to narrate the results of their tour of the very territory from which his mother had once returned, old maid by her terms, bringing with her a hunk of black volcanic glass that he, her then undreamed mutation, would handle and invest with imaginary value and powers for years as it collected shelf dust otherwise. A half century of subsequent little oblivions could not remove its heft and appearance in his hands then from his later mind, the sharp, shiny black thing in itself however long gone, like his mother, back down to ground.

Simultaneously, somebody was bringing medical genetics to Birmingham Alabama, thus to the home of some several of his unimaginable future selves, while his father was getting that week a vasectomy, on the limited genetic understanding acquired from a devoutly creationist family physician, the better to keep him himself from happening again and again and again. Had the physician been not evangelical but Catholic as Mendel, who knows how many more wrinkled peas from that pod?

Meanwhile, the optimists of Reistertown, Maryland, reported on their first annual meeting and then printed their happy results, a confidence out of print long since now but available, yet, for a price, if you like. There's your answer.

1967 Orange Soda

Was this the summer? Was this the one?
A little boy not used to beverages other

Than tap water, pasteurized cow milk,
And orange juice from frozen concentrate

Attended a neighborhood birthday party
Of the kind now mythologized as halcyon,

Housemothers and free-range brats
Running from yard to yard unsupervised.

Oh the glories of paranoid America
At the moment of her sudden confusion,

Am I an empire? Am I Rome before
The Vandals? Am I a shining suggestion

On a hill I once thought I'd won? Am I
Anything other than anything before me?

Never mind what happened this time.
You have your own mythology

To wrestle and remythologize,
Summer of love, Laoccoon, rough

Beast wading into the tide. I was
Something almost like an ordinary child,

Boy enamored of an able-bodied friend
Who came from the City to us, Ronnie,

(There's only one City and any
New Yorker will tell you so, even

Now, when so many overshadow
Him with their vaster, faster growing slums.)

He was a person, a person near my age
And different from me and when he left

I wept and felt lonely as only
A small child can feel lonely and weep.

I went to the neighborhood party
For a forgotten being whose birthday

Was more important then and less
Important to me forever than Ronnie

From New York City, country of brown
Beyond, I thought, pink-skinned rule,

Everything less to me than my own
Loneliness in the living room

At 30 Washburn Road, Pompton Plains,
As if I knew where "Pompton" came from

Then, the room with the picture
Window looking out across the road

To the house of the Howlands, who
Claimed descent from the Mayflower,

A boat my mother gravely respected,
However she did not respect such

Descendants as them. I loved
Colleen, little girl, my age, kind to me,

And I choked on the carbonation
And cried at her perfectly organized,

Neighborhood Protestant and Catholic,
Unaccusing, unsparing birthday party.

Then, at my own, poorly or never
Planned anniversary, bless my believer

Mother of one God and no others
However attested or organized,

I stood in the room with the picture
Window in late summer light,

And I knew I was a thing that knew
It was a thing that knew it was a thing.

1968 The Conversation of Death

Up until now, these were more
Things that I might know about
Than things I remember and know.

But not anymore. Here was
Where I begun to begin.
Preachers burning vinyl discs

Of foreign insects bigger
Than Jesus on the smoking lawn.
I belong to a cinderblock religion

However much it may have rejected
Me for naming its construction
Accurately. Materials science

Is the only religion that lives.
The rest is paint and plastic laminate
Obscuring the gritty face of the Lord.

1969 Minstrel Boy

Bob Dylan, from whom I have so far
Been shielded, is playing at the Isle of Wight.

The soon-to-be-but-not-yet Miracle Mets
Are playing the San Francisco Giants.

Ed Sullivan, whom my parents never watch,
Is hosting Jackie Mason and Ballet America.

The universe is not pregnant with our idea
Of ourselves. The universe is our idea

Of ourselves as we are its idea of ideas.
Don't trust the cards trust the reader.

Don't take the coin rolled at your soul.
Take stock of the space left in your hat.

Let's say I was alive, then. Let's say I was
Me, I was I. Let's say you are reading

This stack of lines. When an uncertain
Number of memories die, others turn

On a survival mechanism. They provide
You a space by producing an empty hat.

Now you have a structure in which to add
Something, a story, a song, an ego, a coin.

One day many other days you now
Remember will vanish, enough, away.

On that day, to your surprise, a hero
Memory of this forgotten birthday will arise.

1970 Leonard Cohen Calms the Crowd and Networks Show Nothing but Repeats

The deepest search into the ground
Of cause and consequence has found

That the wisest philosopher
Hunkers there lost in the dark profound.

Say what? Man, it's a new decade.
There's other things to find we've found.

Eight already almost all forgotten years.
Is there anything less memorable around

Here than one's own party? All summer
Poison ivy itch and chainsaw sounds.

We're moving on, man. Pink flags mark
Where the house of second growth will be

Built and in thirty years torn down.

1971 A Woman Breaks a Barrier

In practice, at least, high entropy states are
Extremely likely to be disordered, but
That's not the same thing as being disordered.
We're choking on orderly information
As our entropy increases around here.
At Werribee, a three-hour barrier
Breaks, and that tidbit is both information
And entropy. Extremely likely to be
Never means anything but shock or boredom:
Shock if the extremely unlikely orders
Itself a double, boredom if it doesn't.

1972 Fischer, Spassky Adjourn, As Does The Newark Evening News

My parents disagreed, both agreeing
Newspapers were a valuable adjunct
To the growth of a young, brainy boy's mind,

Which of them surrendered the subscription
To The Newark Evening News. I've outlived
It and them alike long enough to say

No one, save my half-proletarian,
Eighth-grade dropout, plastic-dishware shilling
Grandfather ever read one damned issue.

By the time it went extinct, the campaign
To reelect Richard Milhous Nixon
Was going so well a boy could recall

A political cartoon that pictured
A heap of sticks with Nixon perched on top
And a small, bird-beaked McGovern pecking

At one stick at the bottom of the pile,
With the caption, "All the Polls." I'm grateful
For the puzzlement of that half-wit pun.

It gave me an anchor to remember
What it was like to read a newspaper,
What it was like to have a grandfather

Who bothered to pretend to read papers
That summer that my father lost his wits
And presaged every witless thing I've done

By selling his cabinet-making shop,
Buying a Winnebago, and taking
All of his family, six at the time,

On a three-month, mad excursion around
The lower 48, a lunacy
Forever affecting, infecting me,

Jersey-born boy like Dad and Grandfather,
With a lust for the dusty, empty West.
It was the West that proclaimed victory

When Spassky, like The Newark Evening News,
Folded and did not return to the game.
Later that fall, after reelection

For President Nixon and a seventh
Member for our family, I perused
The sudden efflorescence of chess sets

In my parents' Sears Roebuck catalogue,
But I never learned to play well, never
Saw Grandpa pretend to read news again.

1973 Aition

An ethical truth requires
Causal links between actions
And their results. Thus all truths
Are stories, all stories truths,
All humans fond of stories,
All storytellers liars,
All liars storytellers,

Even the ones who know
All stories themselves are lies,
All cause human invention.
A week of date years and here
It is finally Friday again.
Your family has a new
Origin myth to hone.

More and more you have become
One among a growing crowd
Of siblings, each one adding,
Adoption by adoption,
To a rare testimony,
Monstrosities, miracles,
Theogony's progeny.

1974 Our New President Has Said:  Sit With Us Now, Be With Me

On the road back from New Life Island Summer Camp,
Where the "camper of the week," best memorizer
Of Bible verses in gilt-edged King James English,

Made a faux-pas on costume night he can't forget,
Having complimented a racist pretty girl
Who had dressed as a pickaninny, by saying,

Of the Q-tips (RM) in her blacked, twined blonde locks,
"I like those tampons in your hair" (sic), there were signs
Rotating in front of New Jersey gas stations

With black, plastic-lettered quotations from the new
President after the old had resigned ahead
Of impeachment, "I am a Ford, not a Lincoln."

1975 Bicentennial Minutes

Knowledge is taxing. No liberty tree
Was planted in the Garden of Eden.
Life or knowledge were edible choices.

Liberty would wait millenniums
For its own tree, effigies, featherings,
Flag-waving appeals to God and Heaven.

In our house, we believed in our belief,
Proud of the fact that it was just that.
Lord, we believed and disparaged our own

Assorted unbeliefs as byproducts,
As if God and America came first
To our minds, and then, just because of them

We had to disbelieve in other things
Our own god-fearing ancestors believed,
Pixies and sprites, enchantments and England.

My thirteenth birthday, we prepared my room
For the fast-approaching Bicentennial,
Painting the walls blue, papering a stripe

Of eagles clutching stars in their talons,
Red, white, and blue beribboned bunting draped
From beaks as if our God loved Liberty.

1976 Buell Kazee

"Yes, you've got to know pain," but you're ridiculous
For thinking that the pain belongs to you and yours.
An artist familiar with pain is a human,

An animal, a melodramatic whining
About Jesus or some other supernatural
Conqueror of pain, hardly an original

For suffering. Deserve's nothing to do with it.
You draw your demons well or can only listen,
And imagine your own, the plaints of those who do.

My sentimental youth was hymns and surgeries
Before I snuck myself away to boarding school,
Seeking little things in flashes, the glittering

Opportunities of others' broken glasses,
Smashed museum cases, anything but my bones.
I've failed to find the wisdom in a grain of hurt,

Here on top of Old Smoky, all covered in blood,
But I do not really care, except for stillness,
Silence, and, above all, the peace of sitting down

While driving hours through a thought that does not hurt me:
A lie that's stolen, told with bad intent, beats all
The bullshit truths self-pitying mystics invent.

1977 Aleksandr Vasilyevich Fedotov

The hasty construction caused
Bricks to occasionally
Fall off, striking believers.

The architect would only
Hurry the work when Bibi
Allowed him a kiss. Timur,

Returned from looting Delhi,
Killed his wife for that hurry
On the mosque for her mother.

That's what we call a story.
Neither knowing nor thinking
Of it, I first heard the name

Tamerlane, his sobriquet
"Scourge of God," years before I
Read anything else of him,

And I was thrilled with the vague
Sense of power, words and hormones,
And fifteen, with my first beard,

Ready to take on the world
That seemed full, for all I knew,
And therefore just as empty

As Fedotov's atmosphere
Outside his heroism,
His high and macho machine

The day he celebrated
My birthday with his record:
One, two, three, five, two, four feet.

He fell a few years later.
His country fell after him,
Timurid sufis spinning.

1978 The Hungry Soul Is a Savage Soul

What this poem does, it says. If Du Fu
And Mallarme were somewhat peripheral
To the dramas of their eras and Emily,
Walt, and Elizabeth even more so,
How far outside Grandma Moses would

This folk-shit boy need to be? Wilderness
Blandly holding itself in check, the disguise
Most suitable to Mafiosi and lethal spies.
Give equal weight to what you hear
And read as to what you feel and see.

Equal, do you hear me? Little pictures,
Big gestures, stolen conversations,
Asides from popular shows and magazines,
Middle-brow best of all, equivalent
To a bronze sedan with clear windows

Gliding through regular commuter traffic,
Knuckles loose on the wheel, thoughts
Somewhere else, like Cinderella's pumpkin
Rolling toward its backyard assignation.
No one suspects a teacher of knowing anything,

Least of all me.

1979 A Comet Collides with the Sun

Sungrazers are common. Survivors
To absorption by direct contact
Are rare. I didn't know about this.

I knew I was going back to school,
Overweight, sideburned, and on crutches,
Recovering from a ripped-up knee.

I might have gone to early college
But my father felt I would miss out
On the joys of high school's senior year.

Come let us weep. Senior year led me
From bosom of evangelism
To the bare bones of skepticism,

With detours for lust, theft, perjury,
Defiance, escapism, triumph,
And joy along the way. Who could choose?

The day that the comet made contact
With the burning embrace of the god,
I was coming apart in the dark.

1980 Orion: It's Too Cold to Sit Outside Now

My daughter, constantly, lovingly, executes
Lizards, ladybugs, snails, and caterpillars,
Feeding them, like nature, to each other.

This is many years into the future
I can't imagine. I am a man, I think,
I am a man from this day forward, never

Realizing how unlike a man I am. It's crazy,
It's maddening, how, despite the details
Of the surrounding months and days,

For years and years the memory of this
Day on this or that year, of all days, eludes
Me. I am now about to be a man.

It's anyone's guess whether now
Or never or ever I can. I manage a guffaw
In the library parking lot. Oh, how I am!

1981 Handed Both Baudelaire and Benoit Mandelbrot During Professor Siegel's Monday Morning Lecture in the History of Ideas

Married, lost, out of college, back in college,
Heroic, idiotic, creator of a new loneliness
Almost a vow of celibacy, the marriage

Of convenient teenagers sheltering
From imaginary storms, so trapped
Together, I discover Russian to prove myself,

Discover that I am a fractal, a word
New-minted from fractures and geometry.
What a show off, a world already wrecked

Before begun, to illustrate a defiance
In a way uniquely stupid, less
Than purely self destructive, worse

Than chivalrously harmless. I begin
Again, repeating the larger pattern
Of my life in a smaller compass,

It won't be long before I'm gone again.
Meanwhile I think I've discovered anew
The dark woods of the fairytale in this math.

Neither perfectly ordered nor disordered
Structure, this splenetic poetry, fractal-like,
Simultaneously periodic and aperiodic,

Somehow regular, embodying correlations
At many different times between the mind
Within the world and the world within it,

Like a face, a tree, a cloud of conversations,
A bowerbird not loving blue so much
As making the viewer guess what could be

Holding together in meaning these bits
Of bottle caps, book covers, sunglasses,
Condom wrappers, feathers, conch shells,

And words remarking, directly and indirectly
On all these things as if they were things.
This, I can't know and won't remember, is when

I compose the first, lost limping long poem
Of the moment as forever never indivisible,
The anti-atomy as an anatomy, as a life.

1982 Dream Ostraca

I have been cast out inside myself.
I will cast myself out soon enough.
I live alone in married housing.

I have become one of those persons
Who knows how to lead a secret life.
A talent that disturbs the surface,

I haunt my own submerged detritus
And dream of rising to jeweled flies.
The hooks of those dreams ache in my jaw.

I have not much money, not much time.
I plan to disappear completely.
But first, one completely remembered

Birthday, the first, perhaps the omen
Of actual adulthood's approach.
In a village where I pretended

To know something about theater,
Then pretended to accidental injury,
Then returned with my first Scottish friend,

Shock of hair like the limed Dying Gaul,
I manage to climb a limestone ridge
To spend a birthday in the open.

It is upstate New York and buggy
And hot, and my friend, the Glasgow Scot
Thought to pack nothing but a six-pack

Of Guinness for hydration. So parched,
Bitten, and sun-stroked after a day
And night bare to Hudson's beauty below,

Untouchable, shining, happiness,
We clamber back down, and I am done
With the last common sense I carried

And begin to scratch dream ostraca
On any scrap of barren surface,
Forecasting facts ostracized from life.

1983 Icarus Submariner

I have long desired to find myself in a forest
Whose paths I can no longer distinguish.
I am annulled, once again out of pocket

And out of college, but with a year
Of misadventures in Scotland, Hawaii,
St. Croix, New Jersey to sustain me

On a rhetoric of anecdote that will carry
Me decades ahead. I have been
Swimming restlessly, hundreds of laps

Every day in my parents' green-tinged
Backyard pool under the second-growth
Dreams. I am lean. I mow

My grandparents' yard weekly and lunch
With their octogenarian incarnations,
Getting to know them as never before

Over toasted cheese-and-tomato sandwiches.
I have worked nights in a donut shop
By the highway side. I have hunkered

For weeks in an old bicycle shed, reading
Anything mysticism. I have run away,
Been returned, and run away again.

I have moved back into the bedroom
With the bicentennial trim, displacing
My younger brothers and taping

Quotations from Melville and Joyce,
"Catskill eagle in some souls,"
"Three quarks for muster mark,"

A tiny reproduction from a magazine
Of Anselm Kiefer's "Landscape
With Broken Wing," all of Auden's "Musée."

I am twenty-one today. I lie in the hanging
Bed my father engineered for me,
Thinking again, as three years earlier,

Surely now, surely this is the day
When I am grown. From now on
I must be a man. In a thunderstorm,

I swim all afternoon, flipping like a fish
Every few seconds, waiting for the lightning
To reach me under the trackless woods.

1984 Cubicle Insurance

And then it fades again, a birthday blank,
No details left of the day itself, no
Photos, no recollection of gifts or
Party, just a cloud of neighboring lights,

The summer having been spent commuting
To a cubicle in an office park
Past Boonton, the stink of Mack Wayne Plastics
Whose floors Grandpa dropped out of school to sweep,

Whose products he sold the next fifty years,
To Morristown, the route of Washington,
The route to the Group Insurance Bureau
Of The Prudential, lawyers, accountants,

Claims examiners, and underwriters,
Eighty billion dollars total assets
Tricked into giving me a salary.
One evening, driving my brand-new Ford home

That month, the sun broke out low behind me
As I drove north on 287,
Sky of slate-blue and purple thunderheads
Dark above the suddenly gilded trees

On the green suburban hills before me,
My New Jersey, briefly rich and lovely.
And another nearby evening, in Wayne,
At the best local public library,

The discovery of an attorney,
Insurance company executive
Professors had somehow failed to warn me
Existed in modernist poetry,

Perhaps because I had hardly finished
A semester here and there. There were no
Poems about offices or cubicles,
No use of those words anywhere in there,

And only two mentions of the lawyers
Like him, promenading, disbelieving
In some notes toward a supreme fiction,
For all that he spent his life in hiding.

I was in love with the solemnity
And nonsense of him immediately.
This is a god, I thought at the office,
Slaughtered to be consumed by other

1985 Glacier

When the Night Stalker was caught
And nearly lynched by a mob
In Los Angeles, I was

In Glacier National Park
With my one remaining friend
From college, having escaped

New Jersey for Montana
Using a new trick I'd found,
Lies plus talent plus test scores.

In a basement apartment
In Missoula, Montana,
I'd spent the summer hiding

From no one, especially.
Back east, they repoed my Ford.
I took my first few classes

As a graduate student
At the University
Across the street, befriended

The server with a jazz band
At the local sandwich shop,
His band members, their girlfriends,

Hanging out at Mary's Place
When they had gigs, the last dive
Local hero Richard Hugo

Drank himself dumb at before
He got his cancer and died.
We were following our dreams

We told ourselves frequently
And loudly, after covers
Of Miles and free G&Ts,

None of us remembering
What our dreams had been by noon,
None of us past twenty-two.

By the time fall term approached
And Mt. Sentinel had burned,
I'd spent the wad of hundreds

I'd stuffed under my right foot
So I could feel it as I
Flew free back in June, backpack

And beard and nothing much else,
West. In a few weeks I'd get
My first grad student paycheck

As a TA, if no one
Outed me. In a few weeks
I would have to prove I could

Be a better teacher than
The student I'd ever been.
The suspense was killing me.

My friend flew out to visit.
We bussed up to Kalispell,
Rented a wreck for a day,

Drove up Going to the Sun
Highway, east coast kids gone wild
In the mountains, tongues wagging,

Grins mugging for each other
In snapshots with green backdrops
On my twenty-third birthday.

When she flew back home again,
And I left the airport full
Of wooly taxidermy,

For the first time in my life,
Me, I was glad to not be
Going, glad to be who stayed.

1986 The Moon in Itself

"The moon," wrote Mr. Moss,
Some decades after, is
"A skull in the sky." New

To me, that one, even
So many poems later
Than the night driven back

From the poets' party
By Dana McCrossin
Of Michigan, Grosse Pointe,

Who wrote in purple ink
And told me, when I was
A troll never getting

Any, not even on
My birthday, a lawn gnome
In work boots and giant

Beard, ponytailed, happy
Except when too randy,
That she had always wished

Her small breasts could be pert.
"I always wanted pert breasts,"
She said, "and I've always

Thought each generation
Of poets should honor

And come up with new ways
Of describing the moon."
Then, "You can get out now."

1987 Into the Ocean

With the ghosts. Left Europe early,
No more money, places left to stay.

Decatur, Georgia, end of August.
Monday for everybody. Twenty-five

For me, young man with a master's degree,
Meeting in the Metaphysical Poets

Seminar around a long, oblong table
High in the fancy library, all afternoon.

For an hour, while Thais drown somewhere
Other than this, we discuss "The Flea."

I'm new here, have an arranged roommate,
A round man, bland face, smokes in bed,

Dries his hair with a roaring blowdryer,
Still standing in the half-drained bath.

We're sharing a sag-floored flat
In downtown Atlanta, halfway between Blind

Willie's on Ponce and Little Five Points.
The shabby place is rich with leftover fleas.

I itch with the thought of them
All afternoon in that softly hissing room

Of criticizing canonizing poetry.
My roommate will leave here,

Spend his career in advertising
Online, writing copy, having three

Kids freckled and bespectacled
He sends away to universities.

He will not burn our building down
With his cigarettes and grease fires,

Will not electrocute himself in the bath,
Will not become a slave to teaching

Whatever while itching at poetry like me
For decades under the skin, even as much

As he loves Philip Larkin, loves gothic
Southerners, and praises Seamus Heaney.

1988 Little Five Points

Sylvia Brown helps me get my paltry stuff
Out of the friend's apartment where it's been stored 
For the summer while I've been in Great Britain

Between Shelley on the half shell and an oak
Where an elderly don comes each night to pee.
I've visited and been visited by ghosts.

I've walked under a plaque to Tristram Shandy
On a small stone bridge somewhere in Ireland.
I've been composing reams of long poetry

Suggesting nothing of any of these things,
A collage epic I call Atrahasis,
A flood myth cloaked in Caliban's point of view,

Learned and stupid and uniquely awful,
A technique I will hone the next few decades
While laboring in well-earned obscurity.

Sylvia pulls the car over in panic.
"Shit! When we were packing, I left my wallet
On the roof! It probably flew off back there,

Somewhere, miles ago." But when she looks, it's there,
Sitting on the roof, a zippered grey wallet,
Miracle crammed full with life, decades ago.

1989 85 28 27 22

Jim and Harriet Jeffreys met
Through some sort of dating service.
The details are disputable,
And the traditional story
Was that a friend of hers arranged
A blind date. Eight months after that
They were married on Labor Day.
A year later they had a boy.

Their silver anniversary
In 1986, sly Jim
Surprised their children, disclosing
A computer dating service
Had matched them up and not a friend.
That appealed somehow to his sons,
But must also have been fiction.
No computer dating service

Existed, 1961.
Never mind. Jim's father was born
Very nearly on the same date
Back in 1904, the first
Son also on nearly that day,
And one of the adopted sons
As well. Excuse for barbecue
In the back yard in New Jersey,

Ed now 85, the marriage,
Which would indeed last until death,
Now 28, the older son
Turned 27, the younger
22, and everybody
Around in the same place for once
And nearly the last time. Stories.

There was a green yard under leaves
So overarching they shadowed
The whole small world in green. Meat cooked
While an old man and two young men
Posed for a joint birthday picture.
There's absolutely no meaning
To the fact of the lost snapshot,
The last such, other than the fact.

1990 Stray Cur

The freshly minted, clean-shaven
Little professor rises
Before dawn and takes a bath,
Walks downstairs to the bus stop

Catches a bus to the MARTA,
Catches a train to the hub,
Ascends the escalators,
Crosses the street. Another bus

Takes him to what Sterling A. Brown
Termed "Dark Town" and lets him off
Kitty-corner from campus.
Time to teach at Morehouse College,

As the professor no student
Wearing a Malcolm X cap,
Proud to be a Morehouse Man
In an "It's a Black Thang" t-shirt,

Expected nor wanted to find
Hobbling before a black board,
Speaking in a modified
White, suburban New Jersey bray.

In the tropics it takes about
One hundred people to make
Enough garbage to support
A dozen free-living dogs.

In North America it takes
A hundred to support one
Mongrel professor teaching
English full-time for a living.

1991 At the Most Basic Level

Consciousness is awareness.
It has to feel like something
To be an aware thing.
The poems are getting smaller.
American Lit, never
Taken must now be taught well.
There was a long digression

Back west along the High Line,
Two-lane Rte 2 in summer,
Crossing plain Lake Agassiz
In a white eighties Buick,
All the way to Montana.
Nothing is ever the way
Nothing's remembered to be.

1992 Croquet

Love does not save you.
Family doesn't save you.
Truth, the expression of it,
Doesn't save you. Faith
Doesn't really mean anything
In the face of darkness.
There's a kind of comfort
In knowing that. I wrote
"Vincent's Diagnosis"
On the porch of the Browns'
Quiet home in the suburbs
Of Birmingham, Alabama,
A few days after Hurricane Andrew,
Much dissipated, gasped its last
Over the humid green hills.
Who was Vincent? Who knows?
A postal worker, a roommate
During my ill-fated college years,
A wearer of mullets and spectacles
While I read for the part of Edmund
And didn't get it, being too crooked
For Long Day's Journey Into Night.
Of what had he been diagnosed?
Nothing, that I knew of, but
He seemed destined for an early exit,
And I never saw him again
After I dropped out and flew away
To Scotland and other disasters.
I found myself, now fattened 
On two years of real salary,
Successfully transitioned
To a big, state, research university,
Albeit in the hot, conflicted South.
I had published an essay.
Slothful, fond of ice cream,
Cohabiting with the daughter
Of the elegant Browns,
I was presented with a croquet set
For my 30th birthday, meant
As a low-impact way to get my bones,
Bent, broken, healed, rebroken, moving,
And I wanted to die, meaning
I had to write about dying
And avoid deciding. My
Chronic diagnoses.

1993 Geological Time Includes Now

It poured rain all day in Maine.
We were done with tent camping,
Having slept soaked on the coast
From Nova Scotia on down.
We had watched the tidal bore
Suggest a monstrous world's pulse,
Wearied of "The Land of Anne,"

Stood surrounded by old growth
Maples transformed into thin
Giants by the quest for light,
Discovered while one of us
Could not hike, the other could
Not paddle. Exhausted, we
Checked into a B&B,

Gorged ourselves on cheap lobster.
We headed south. In a year,
The one who couldn't hike and
The one who couldn't paddle
Would split. A long time would pass
Before either of us shared
Tents with anyone again.

1994 What If God Is Merely Disappointed With All Our Mythology?

My brother is legless in both senses,
Celebrating his impending divorce

With a trip to see me in Birmingham.
Hanging out with two of my female friends

He's been silly flirtatious the whole night,
Even before he got drunk then got stoned.

In the other sense, it's been evident
Since birth he's tied off neatly at the hips.

Muscular of arm, earnest of mien,
Hipster in black on black, right now he leans

Precariously out of his wheelchair,
Also lightweight and also all in black,

To stretch a strong arm around the shoulder
Of the woman he finds the sexiest,

Passing her the bong. When she turns to me
I roll my eyes but politely decline.

"Someone has to drive," I explain, knowing
We're all being driven; none of us care.

1995 Tomorrow Is the Secret Synonym

Back from Scotland, back from London,
Back from Skye, the Orkneys, Stromness,
Skara Brae, High Street, and the Fringe,
Back from Stonehenge, back from Crossbones,

Alabama students in tow
Through the jumble of Great Britain,
Never abroad before, poor things,
"Cullman County, meet the Gorbals!"

And now a blue-and-white sticker
Of St Andrew's Cross on the car
In front of me in Birmingham
At the Civil Rights Museum.

What will anyone remember
Of each other after the tour
We took together of mistakes
And piles of commemorations,

Impossible correlations
Of history, prehistory,
Identities, and disasters
With doomed dreams of learning something?

1996 Impression in Wax

It's hot in the Hotel Rossiya.
Another summer in green Scotland
Swapped at tail end for dusty Moscow,

Height of post-Soviet mafiya 
Era, dark looks, shattered confidence
On every face older than eighteen

Milling through Red Square this afternoon
Muses the short-sleeved Yank on crutches
Alone with his thoughts and bad Russian

Who last night sang at a piano
With a girl from the rural Urals,
Trying to find the few songs both knew

From their alienated childhoods,
Fierce mutual exoticism
Generating sexy difference

For a few days' odd intersection
In a city almost as foreign
To her as to him. She's flown home now,

Her brief opportunity here gone.
He'll have to visit Lenin alone,
Propped up on crutches, useful as props,

Way to slow the forced pace past the face
Spotlit, glowing in the dark, holy
Relic of another unholy

Era. Later, he will discover
The most peaceful place in this Moscow
Is a nunnery bare to the sky

Where young mothers push flimsy strollers
Around the overgrown garden paths
And there's nary a sight of a nun.

1997 Tunnel Vision

I could live with rain like this:
Comes, goes, clouds, sun, rainbows.
Hot day in north 'Bama, the kids

From the UAB Freethinkers Club
Invite me and my visiting brother
To join them in picketing Judge Roy

"Ten Commandments" Moore
As he gives a talk at a Baptist Church
For "love offerings." We do and

My brother turns out the ace
In the hole, the good-looking man
With Eurasian features and no legs

In the spidery black wheelchair,
The outsider the insider TV news
Can't resist for an interview.

Road home through moonlight
And sweet-smelling thunderstorms
Static on the radio, Di

Has been in a car crash in a tunnel
In France with her boyfriend and
We don't know how deep the darkness goes.

1998 As If One Has a Choice

New lover, her friends, my friends,
The kind of party one imagines
One well-loved and at the center of things

Gives and receives. I have never given
Such a party, but tonight I receive.
Twenty or more people, all legit

In their connections to me and each
Other, as if we were close, tight, would be
Close tight friends forever. We work

Together and/or play together and/or
Study together and/or research together
And/or sleep together and we all talk.

Most of my friends, for once and the final
Time of my life, are the same age as me.
The party goes swimmingly. Drinks,

Music, chatter, jokes, the whole routine.
The hostess, my girlfriend is keen
To do this for me and to show us off,

Three months into a relationship
That feels open-ended but will, says
My future ghost, be all but over in a year.

For tonight I am a community man
And may imagine some corner turned
Some transformation, as if

This is the life I've really always wanted
And the life from now I'll lead, not leave.
Do I know it isn't? Ghosts can't remember.

1999 The Eight Deadly Virtues

Hovering on the periphery
Of creative possibility,
The short-form, one-off essay suggests,

By sketching insights, profounder depths
That may or may not extend beneath
Its surface skating over thin ice.

The metaphors of cultural shifts
Grow entangled with the shifts themselves.
Fairness: follows rules, predictable.

Justice: enforces predictably.
Love: can be counted on to occur.
Hate: when fair, justified, fueled by love.

Loyalty: predictable support.
Respect: following from loyalty,
Fairness, and hatred of injustice.

Preventing harm through fairness and love,
Offering respect and loyalty,
Proving some things are indeed sacred,

We're quick to congratulate virtue
For offering what we really want,
Assurance, predictability.

When a short essay wins an award
Within the history of ideas,
It's because ideas disguise themselves.

2000 Felicitous

"Bifurcation backwards,
Where the branches do not branch
But fuse together."  I've given up
On poetry
                    For the millennium.
I'm determined to be a scientist now. What
Irks me is not so much the loneliness.
I like the loneliness, mostly,
                                                 I chose it. What
Irks me is that I have no method,
No skills with which to be a scientist. So,
Here I am, back in school again,
Every scrap of my former life sold
                                                            For scrap.
No partner, no car, much less a house.
I'm adventuring, a prokaryotic thinker
Infesting a eukaryotic institution. Science!
For the umpteenth time, my bona fide, my
Ticket back consists of a scrap
                                                       Of writing,
Some guff and bravado, and more
Test scores. I don't believe in numbers
But I con them eagerly. I want them
                                                            To dance.
There's a poster of Kerri Russell
As "Felicity" on the wall
Of the lobby of the Medical Towers
Grad student housing where I've landed.
It will still be there in a few years, after
I've left and her show has been canceled.
For now, the air is hot and still over
Salt Lake City, Utah.

2001 Dallas

The simplest way to explain surplus culture
Is to suppose that it is a parasite, or at best
A harmless but useless passenger, hitching
A ride in the survival machines generated
By better ideas. I'm flying

To Dallas tonight as the guest of old pals
From Emory days in Atlanta. I've left
The Friday human evolutionary ecology
Journal club at the University of Utah,
Having been surprise-serenaded

By my new pals. My metaphors for germs
Of notions have found a new home,
And although they are homely
They're no longer alone. It's acceptable
To imagine, in Stewart Hall, that culture

Can be mapped like the genome and might
Have notions selected for reproductive
Successes of their own. My body
Does not much care how such thoughts
Emerge or are entertained, so long

As there is song and food and comfort
At the end of all my dreaming.
The old pals greet me at the airport, fete me,
And are careful to ask if I have a love
Interest but not what interests me.

2002 I Have Said What I Had to Say

Death is certain and yet
I am not joyful. Why?
One should welcome death, but

I get married instead.
Driving through Uintas
With my recently wed

South Chicago native
Resting her tinted head
Against the side window,

Surrounded by passing
Cliff walls and greenery,
I flash to the first time

I went to Chicago
As an adult, seeking
Employment interviews

At the 1990
MLA, so naive
At 28 I still

Mistook the mini-bar
For complimentary
And grandly invited

A visiting high-school
Friend who happened to live
Nearby to help himself.

Through dinosaur country
I drive her to Vernal
Hoping to drive her wild

With delight in wildness,
The appearance at least
Of western wilderness

So fancy full to me,
But she peacefully sleeps
As I parse the strata,

Considering how small
I am, how motionless
The up-thrust cliffs appear,

How we're bacteria
Who can't feel the seething
Of eons feeding us,

Bacteria armed with
Calipers measuring
Our host, bacteria

Trying to understand
The difference between

Like the moon up ahead
That will wax once it wanes,
And the invisible

And irreversible
Change too slow for senses,
The moon drifting away.

2003 Grills

Think of the poor piano teacher in Groundhog Day,
How many different versions of that day did she live?
The same, apparently, as did Bill Murray, without
Ever getting to remember or string together
Those experiences as he did, the audience does.
Each day, for each other character in the story
Happens once, and all the Andie Macdowells are lost
And only one will ever hear about the others,
And only if we imagine Bill Murray tells her
And she believes him. I'm given a tiny green grill
As a gift from a friend for my forty-first birthday.
What if you remembered what everyone else forgot?
I remember my late wife's displeasure on that day.

2004 What Did We Do?

That summer I raised pigeons on the porch.
They raised themselves. I saw the strutting male,

Was woken, mornings, by his repertoire.
We lived on the fourth floor, overlooking

Moroni and the spires of the Temple
From our low-ceilinged, compact balcony

Outside our bedroom's wall of west window
Beside which the pigeon had made her nest.

We were pausing our own nesting efforts
After two near misses, and I yielded

The floor to the pigeon and her nestlings,
Watching them every day through the window

As if I were a boy with an ant farm,
A terrarium or aquarium

That I could only stand outside and watch.
The pigeons hatched, became incredibly

Ugly, then began to look like adults,
Then fledged to serve as prey for Temple hawks

Fledged from their own nests on divine ledges.
We flew to Alaska and the white nights.

When we returned, the pigeons were gone
And a nine o'clock sunset seemed too soon.

2005 Bad News

I stand at the railing, looking over
A sultry, monoxidant Salt Lake City

While my wife sleeps fitfully behind me.
I am thinking how little my life has changed

These three years, compared to any
Three-year sequence in the past.

Same city, same job, same marriage,
Same quest to produce something

Like science or a human child. Won't
Happen, not between the two of us.

I am the only child left to me, self-
Pitying as only a child can be, thinking

"I am the child that sings itself to sleep,
The mind," knowing I mean not me, not mine.

2006 Tulip Glasses, Opera Singers, Fox Confessors

Paula and Mark, married four years now,
Met up at the Salt Lake Red Lion
Where her flight crew were overnighting,
And not at their own condo because,

Well, no one, not even Mark recalls.
One member of her crew, young woman
From Boise and her newest best friend,
Wanted help buying fresh lingerie

At the mildly naughty shop across
The parking lot from the hotel. Mark
Accompanied them, contemplating
The strangeness of sexuality

That mandates an identity,
However daringly constructed,
Be composed from ordinary need.
What a species thus identified!

The young woman was getting married
And shared little enough in the way
Of the usual bonds of shared class,
Generation, or ethnicity

With Paula or Mark, except for work
In the case of the former, music
Tastes in the case of the latter. Time
Spent conversing in the frilly racks

All three pretended were more perverse
Than common disclosed nothing much more
Than the fact that Paula and her friend
Loved their work, disdained their employer,

And that Mark and Paula's friend were fond
Of the new album by Neko Case.
Back on the top floor of the hotel,
Bar with a view of the Wasatch Front

(Maybe that was it: Mark had never
Seen that view from a dozen floors up,
Maybe Paula wanted to show him),
In front of them, Paula surprised Mark

With a boxed set of tulip glasses
And led the flight attendants in song
Serenading his happy birthday.
One woman somehow recognized him.

She and her brother had gone to school
A year with him, elementary
Church school, ages ago. Her brother,
Unlike her, he slightly remembered.

It transpired the brother had become
An opera singer, minor star,
In the way that basso profundo
Singers do. Oh Death, rock me a-sleepe.

2007 Future Me Knows

Without actually existing
That my far-flung wife
Who I am divorcing
Will, in six months, cease

Forever to exist. I am
Older than I know
I am. It's winter
In the body, late

Summer in the chest.
I have been to Dublin
And the Isle of Man,
To where they built

The clipper ship harbored
Now in San Diego
Where, five years ago,
I first saw her.

She was built here.
Cooperation is murder
I whisper to myself.
A new world has begun.

I watch the fiddler saw
Three notes emphatically
As if her life depended
On cutting her thoughts

In half, and I know,
So old, so belatedly,
She is the deer head
On her wall. A pity, pretty pin.

2008 Would You Trust You?

For a season I danced with the angels,
My hunger for erudition sated,
No longer deployer of words from words,
No longer writing about bric-a-brac.

My world is fracturing, I am in love,
And not even science can hold me now.
I have been broken by falls and remade.
I stand with Sarah above a river

That feeds a lake, a life I didn't know
Existed exactly a year ago
And that I will not be able to live
Without ever again. Sarah links arms

With me on the green, overhanging cliff
And we tilt our heads until we're touching.
We smile at the camera. Everything
Is gone, is nothing, and begins again.

2009 Hang Fire

After a year mostly south of the equator,
The once-again newlywed returned to Utah.
Having seen the Outback and the Skeleton Coast,

The shores and jungles of Borneo, the people
Who were first to be first and those last to be first,
And many other marvels mentioned previously

In this unspooling travelogue of change passing
For time, as we all pass, he knew he was the kind
Of atheist who could believe in miracles

Without conceding any divine provenance
Within him or them. He pictured himself alone,
Mirrored, along with the beauty surrounding him.

2010 Back at the Lake

When I say "The City"
Without further qualification,
It's got to be New York I'm talking about.

Likewise, when I say "The Lake,"
Just "The Lake," it's the Slocan.
I've been in Tahoe, Lugano, and Hawea.

I've been in Michigan, Saranac, Loch Ness.
But the lake that's The Lake is the Slocan
And none other, not on this planet.

Now I've had to leave The Lake, and Sarah,
Six months pregnant, to return to work,
But I'm cutting, as usual, rounding

Off the corners, cutting through the quad.
All this autumn I will alternate between
Lake and a week or two or three alone

In Utah, at work, teaching, or roaming
The whole state on the weekend,
Camping on the ground beside the car,

No tent but stars, or holing up in Ophir
At Sarah's father's ugly family cabin,
Quite content. Whenever I can steal

A few extra days away from school
I motor all the way up to Canada,
Cross the border holding my breath

Every time for no good reason, always
Convinced this time I'll be stopped,
I'll have crossed once too often.

In a month and more I'll make the latest swim
I'll ever make in The Lake, early October.
But tonight I'm just back across the border,

Feeling like a bandit, eating a birthday cake
My wife has made me on Red Mountain Rd,
Our little dog squirming around my heels.

We'll make a big fire out in the dark
And watch the sparks while I sip the last
Scotch I'll have before the baby.

We don't know what the baby's like, we don't
Want to know anything. We fear
All sorts of things. I mainly me.

2011 Head and Hide

I have rediscovered an old way to sacrifice
And still celebrate one's happy domestications.
Take a living day, any living day, and gut it.
Eat it with gusto but leave alone the head, the hide,
And the leg bones. Prop those remains on a frame of words,
Call it poetry and do it again the next day.
Beginning scarcely a month after my daughter's birth,
My only child, my life's most improbable event,
I have begun creating an army for my grave
And an archaeological treasure for her dreams
To discover themselves and their origins later
Still. They stand here in ranks in a cloud of their own breath,
Not life, but somewhat lifelike and neighing so softly.

2012 Half Life

Why write about a day already wrote about itself?
Such a disappointment then, such an indifference
Now. What can you recall without the external

Remains, the things it had to say about itself,
The images it collected, its insistence
On leaving some trace pretense, if not eternal,

Then at least weighing down some dreamed-of, dusty shelf
Among the other revenants, that persistence
A burden to some future human minds, vernal

In their autumns as you have proved to be, yourself?
The incredible light, the high noon's resistance,
The bridge above the prematurely nocturnal


2013 Taxidermy

The past flickered before me as an unlikely
Series of missed appointments, all starless
Birthdays. But this is a rarefied argument.
In truth, I merely recall sitting in
A cabin in the high country near Cedar Breaks,
Having slept hardly at all the night before,
Reading translations of Korean folktales while
Waiting for Sarah and our two-year old,
Almost three-year old, Sukha to come back from town
And relieve me of the weight of being
What I've been, a nothing dreaming them.

2014 Hell's Backbone Fault

My poetry's slipping away from me, skipping
Out into dates further and further away

From any lived mistake, ahead of me. I'm talking
To my non-self now, planting mines

For any improbably surviving me to read and be
Surprised by, having threshed enough days,

Too many to taste the irony. I am
Asleep in a tent on the Burr Trail, knowing,

Or convinced I am, that I am done for,
Although both my beauties dream and snuffle

In their decades-younger lives, sweet in their sleeping
Bedding on the sandy floor beside me.

I have to get up, to be a kind of me, because so much
Sunlight and sage will not let me be not be.

2015 Sukha Likes Shiny Owls

Can't remember pronghorn.
Can't remember Herero.
Had to think a bit about pelican
And get a hint for a guy named Jay.
Must be another birthday.

Can't lean as crookedly
As once could crookedly stand.
Can't remember Junior Kimbrough
Singing "Done Got Old."
Brain done turned half mold, half man.

Somewhere there's a daughter
Still young and sentimental enough
To enjoy an hour making crafty art
With a whiskered being old enough
Not to be anymore. It's enough.

2016 How This Is His Redemption

The dementia of daylight, when the story
Disappears, as night dreams mostly must,
Is enough. "This was" is enough. "Gone"
Is enough. Now that never was is enough
As now that never is was enough.
Nothing never was has always been enough.

Analogy and contradiction are the greatest
Gifts of language: by yoking like and unlike
And by self-contradiction, language enables
Something like a world. Without them,
The words of description are nets thrown
Into a lifeless pond, but with them somehow
Our words hold water and life. Watch.

I am, you are, we were, he was
Content. Not all the pronouns knew
Or were willing to yet concur,
But it was true: all were content,

Most especially of all, those
Who preferred to content themselves
By withholding their firm assent.
When the end's at last behind us,

No one complains, no one parades
With signs predicting, exactly,
The end. It came. It went. We're gone.
No magic staff, no bare bodkin,

No flame-red hair, no bridge, no moon
Reflected in still waters, no
Circus animals' desertion.
We were, may have been, and we're gone.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Vigilance & Scrutiny

A passion for the arts and the murder
Of family rivals are too familiar
Themes of our peculiar evolution,

Coshed-in skulls appearing about the same
Time as delicately perforated
Shells to string as ornaments on our necks.

Charlatans give demonstrations of power
That can be harnessed, predicted, explained,
But not in that order. We scrutinize

Each other. We strive to be vigilant,
But beauty, which cannot be faked, unstrings
Our guts for spirits that move more freely

From corpse to corpse, kin and strange descendants,
Oh no closer than a species-level
Kinship, than our bodies move through the world.

We are the enemy we never meet,
The luminous painting in the corner
Of a dying mind's imagination.

Monday, August 29, 2016


There've been gusts of sonnets, couplets, blank verse, and free for alls,
Sestinas, haikus for a bit, more recently ghazals.

Those days, like all days, were always going or long, long gone.
I'd like to love gone goings, but I don't care for ghazals.

Real winds torment cottonwoods bent over flash-flooded streams.
Aeolian tympani convulse me, but not ghazals.

Gales lack that orderly vocal harmony, that, "I'm here,
So you pretty much know what's next," that you get in ghazals.

They leave their mark as broken branches, split trunks, sap, fresh shoots.
Winds remain wilderness unremarked by civil ghazals.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

To Accommodate the Bridge over the Dark River

Stan, I love your late anguish, old man,
But how can someone accommodate
A bridge, regardless of the river?

"Dear bridge, please cross the gap before me.
I'm afraid it would be impolite
Of me to make the leap without you."

Come on. A bridge accommodates us,
And for once I feel it's not my fault.
You remember what the first bridge was?

That's right. A metaphor's metaphor.
It's been all civilization since,
And you are a civilized man, so

You understand. Sell me the painting
Of the bridge over troubled waters,
Black except where foam licks hunger white.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

God Is a Question

To walk, drive, hunt, fish, cook, drink, smoke, write.
Driving into the woods I felt that
Old and curious calm, and this time

I knew it would last, as I was done
With lasting myself. This was the calm
Of the thief who will never be found,

The calm that passeth understanding
Of those who punish themselves with guilt
Even when guilt-sniffing dogs miss them.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Lawn Gnome's Parlor

Between Sarah and nature there's
Always a race to transform things.
It's a friendly competition.
Sarah buys things already old,

Half, three-quarters fallen apart,
And places them conveniently
Outside in the sun and the wind.
She eyes them and makes plans for them.

They may be repainted, restained,
Taken more apart, put to new
Uses, stood on their heads, improved
By whimsy, glints, and ornament.

The battered become the transformed.
But she has no grudge against air,
Star-frosted nights, monsoon flash floods,
The cracking desert summer sun.

Her prettified ruins are left
To develop their own designs,
And they do, and I perch on them,
Her pet, and slowly surrender.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Absolute Perfection

First we kill the lawyers' little darlings.
The dark arts we leave dark. Life is no way
To live, but an elegant way to die.
The shocking thing, for all the flaws and feints,
The alleyway diversions, the failed tries
At ways of taking, head-on, creation
For which one never had the slightest knack,
Is this is exactly the way it was,
The one way it ought to have been arranged,
Darling compositions decomposing.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016


I have to confess I am interested in death
In part because I have seen so little of it,
At least of intimately human varieties.

Here's the complete list. Please feel free to mock as you please.
When I was nine I was told my grandmother had died.
I had last seen her, frightfully soulless, months ago.

The mother of a classmate I barely knew came next.
In neither case did I see the dying, nor the flesh
Laid out with pancake makeup in a satined coffin.

That I didn't witness until my grandfather's death,
Which I also missed, by then aged twenty-seven.
At his open-casket funeral, I studied him.

I could continue in this way, case by sorry case.
All told, I failed to be in the room for the last breaths
Of all grandparents, both parents, even my brother.

If you've never watched the needle push through skin to vein,
Have you ever given blood, ever been injected?
Death has danced its tango, all around me, close to me,

But I have never caught its eyes, watched its human face.
Its inhuman face, now that's another animal.
I've seen the deaths of plants and beasts again and again.

My mother, born already orphaned on a small farm,
Saw those deaths and all manner of human ones as well,

The babies dying in her arms in Nigeria,
The patients in the terminal oncology wards
In Miami and New York, the aged, demented

Denizens of nursing homes she worked in at night,
The HIV ward she worked in the 1980s.
I only ever saw living humans souls had left.

Still, I am curious. Death and rumors of death
I have always had with me, but while the cloud rains round,
I wonder, when it reaches me will it make a sound?

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Light on the Knapped Cloth

The brilliance of it all pulls him
From sleep, whoever he may be,

Peasant in a hat of lambswool,
Professor in a parked car, stoned

On translated metaphysics,
Time traveling cat come to hunt

The mouse of the mind plagued by doubt,
Emperor of all he surveys.

He wants to put it in a box,
A curiosity of worlds,

"Waltz after Lasse in Lyby."
Wordless gifts erode breaking hearts.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Milk Daughter

"Your daughter could turn into milk." ~ Sukha

Milk, in fact, turned into her. Mother's milk
That first year and a little, gradually

Supplemented by solids, then cows' milk
Added to various meals and dishes,

To say nothing of multiple cheeses
And yogurts from a range of traditions

And the udders of numerous distal
And local mammals, breeds of sheep and goats.

Canadian by birth, genetically
Sprinkled with trace admixtures of humans

Who crossed the Bering Strait, maybe survived
The Middle Passage, plus Neanderthals,

Probably some we've yet to recognize,
She's nonetheless wholly European,

No lactose intolerant relatives
Known to live anywhere in the wide world.

If she could get away with it, she would
Drink a large glass of milk with cereal

Drowning in milk for breakfast every day.
All right. Maybe she could turn into it.

Sunday, August 21, 2016


So it may not have been a dream.
So maybe it was a dream. Some

Days I composed and composed well
And easily by the roadside,

Listening to the stream, the birds,
Occasional cars past my car

That I rarely walked away from,
Inhabiting the driver's seat,

Although I kept open windows
And tried to savor the quiet.

Some days I just wanted to sleep
And wake up to fight off the guilt

That I felt for allowing time
To waste me antisocially.

I would play Tom Waits' cover
Of "The Long Way Home," my way home,

Across vast stretches of Utah
To Utah, those years, maybe dreams.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Nom de Guerre

"The moon used to spin on a different axis and show a slightly different face to earth."

Something malfunctions in me, said Sendak
To explain why he functioned as he did.

An idea about the end at the back
Of my thoughts insists nothing is ended.

In both senses, it means, knowing I lack
The wherewithal to cogitate splendid

Dances on zero without an attack
Of my Cretan yips that can't be mended.

No souls who've met me, quick taken aback,
Have ever failed to remember they did.

But Life's my nom de guerre, so I have to ask,
Will they forget me who meet me once dead?