Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Catastrophe I Was for the Past . . .

An old friend wrote to welcome
Me back from the dead,
Back from “the catastrophe

That you were for the past year,”
And I wondered when
That catastrophe began,

How catastrophes begin.
Sorrow, joy, and failure all
Have a way of showing up
At once to ring the doorbell,

But kindness and wickedness
Issued the invitations
Long since, and answer the door.
Who else has been invited?

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Joy Is Infectious

I can’t shed the parasites,
But I have bugs, they have bugs,
And I am someone else’s

Bug. Here’s what I think:
Every form of life
Is a parasite
On the chemistry of earth.

We are all the same,
From the virus in my throat
To the emperor at court,

From the binary
Code to God’s philosophy.
We all devour each other.
Let’s love ourselves just the same.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Holiday in Imagination

Sunlight in the room
With the Christmas tree,
No snow outside yet this year,

And the refrigerator
Hums, I would say happily
If the facts allowed.

I am the only
Emotion in this setting,
House full of house plants,

No one else, at the moment,
But me in my afterlife,
Listening to trucks outside,

Ghost who craved this benison,
Haunting bare reality.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Rehab Two

Some people are good
And sturdy. Others can leave
Really easily.

I just manage to break things
And rehabilitate them
A bit, again and again.

My brain finally accepts
It’s kin to my skeleton,
As twisted and scarred,

And that a moral x-ray
Would show badly healed fractures
Ignored, improperly set.

I won’t pretend that’s okay.
But I’m not leaving today.

Rehab One

Let’s say you had a setback.
Let’s say you had to face facts.
You’ll never get back

To where you were yesterday,
To what used to be okay
And nothing more, just okay.

There’s a crimped trajectory
To crawl, called recovery,
You can’t track by reverie.

You can gasp and creep along,
Refuse to accept all’s wrong,
Find what’s left that’s strong,

Or you can sink down thinking
It’s all down from here. Don’t think.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Status Quo Ante

I’m done with the previous
State of affairs, and in turn
The previous has finished

With me. It’s always the case.
There never was a moment
Reset another moment,

But change is cumulative,
Then swiftly overwhelming,
And after abrupt ruptures
One still tastes the great before.

The future is created
By recreating lost pasts.
Survivals save the journey
To forever more new pasts.

Friday, November 24, 2017


The world holds its breath.
Grandpa Joe takes Sequoia
And Papa to the movies,

An animated fable
About the Day of the Dead.
What’s that memory again?

Sequoia asks her father
In the misty air after
If there really is a land
Of the dead, then assures him

That, even if there isn’t,
She’ll always remember him.
The world holds its breath.
What’s that memory again?

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Painted Owl Bedroom

An eerie mildness has reigned
In North America’s west
All autumn, freakishly warm,
Arizona to BC,

The end of the Holocene,
As I live and breathe,
Man lucky enough to be

House guest in a guest bedroom,
Man lucky enough to be
Fed and sheltered penniless,
Man lucky enough to be

Breathing and walking around
With a hundred healed fractures,
Man lucky enough to be

Breathing mild November breeze,
Staring at a painted owl
Staring back at me, that’s me,
Man lucky enough to be.

The end is always coming,
Never remaining the end
By the time it reaches me.

Life and transfiguration,
The painted owl that can’t see
Sees beyond any of these.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Sleeping Sequoia

She asked me to sing
And then hum Brahms’ Lullaby.
She slipped into dreams
Almost immediately.

I hummed a while more
Anyway, soothing myself,
Remembering the long nights

Nearly comatose
Beside her crib, singing hours,
Afraid to stop or she’d wake,

The dark rooms, the rented homes
In remote desert valleys,
The mortgaged home in Zion,
The thousands of lives of life.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

In the Casita, After the War

You could see the stars outside,
Shining fixed and eternal,
Eternally deceitful,
If you unwound my window.

Just a dozen weeks ago,
A cosmic collision came
And bent our world’s gravity

Just enough to make us look
In the correct direction
And see how uneternal
Celestial spheres can be.

Time shudders with vanquished light.
It only takes a second
To unwind eternity.

His Actual Candle

Was the sunlight emerging
Around his hospital bed
As if morning were climbing
Out of the blankets themselves,

Which, in a reflective sense,
It was, the long fallen light
Not absorbed by the bedclothes
Welling up under eyelids,

His thoughts measuring the waves
As soft, strong, stronger,
And then the whole room glowing,
A backwater excitement,

Daylight in this remote world
That was his, this only life
He would ever be or know,
His candle and stage, this show.

And Nothing Will Ever Be That Hasn't Been

This is all the life there is.
There are no comparisons.
There never was another,
Never will be another.

The sunlight on lined paper
Illuminates the spider
Of a handwritten idea.

There's only this life or else
Nothing, and all that I know
Of nothing is forgetting,
Surgery, and nightly sleep.

Life's the sum total of life
And there's no trading it in.
I am just what I have been.

Group Therapy

James tells the story of how
A man picked him up hitching
And became his friend,

A man with a farm,
A tree-removal business,
Peacocks, a bearded dragon,

Horses, and a wood chipper
In central New Mexico.
James worked for that man a month.

Now he's homeless, but he hopes.
If he can just make it through,
He can get back to that ranch.

Ed tells the story of how,
One time down in the coal mine,
He had just finished his lunch

And had stood up from the bench
To walk across the mine floor
When the chamber behind him

Collapsed and the wave of air
Alone knocked him flat.
He's unemployed, but he hopes

That when he gets out of here
He can go back to being
A mine-safety inspector.

Kris tells the story of how
She fell in love with playing
Native American flute

And eventually taught it
As a spiritual subject
At the extension college.

Now she deals with macular
Degeneration and fears
Blindness will end her teaching.

But she hopes, when she gets out,
She'll still find a way to play.
The social worker thanks her,

And we, the society
Of those who survived trying
To die, nod encouragement.


Patrick is a black Latino man.
He came to us from LA and the gangs.
He has a tracheotomy to breathe.
He has a sense of humor about the wheeze.

He says he has a hard time seeing eye to eye.
These Utah Mormons make him feel shy.
They're all so white and cheerful and polite.
He wears blue scrubs now like the rest of us.

Blue is the dominant color for all our crew:
Lori from the rez not far from Chinle,
Isolde from the tiny St. George club scene,
Montana in his permanent stoner smoke screen

Even without a smoke. Blue haze,
Blue days, blue nurses in their own scrubs,
Navy, blue techs in their paler scrubs like sky,
Patrick breathing through his bright blue tube.

We play a game for recreational therapy
Led by Mary, who does not wear blue.
When the clue is "popular," Montana chooses my card, "squid."
I raise blue arms in triumph. Patrick grins and nods his head.

We're Good for Tomorrow

"The end of the world always the day after tomorrow." ~Albert Belisle Davis

The windows with the most light
On the psych ward floor
Happen to be in the room

I share with young Mike,
A skinny LDS man
In his twenties, so polite,

Clean-shaven, with a young wife
Who's also thin and pretty
Who visits him each evening.

He keeps a copy,
Softcover, new and blue, of
The Book of Mormon

On the desk beside his bed
With his toothbrush and wellness
Workbook. I haven't seen him

Read it yet, and I wonder
What comfort there is in it
For a young man on psych meds.

Joseph Smith could have lived now,
I suppose, and been cared for,
And not spawned new religion.

Those years I taught "Memories
Of West Street and Lepke" now
Make me wish for Lowell's gift

Of the prosodically rich,
Visually exact detail,
"Yammering Abramowitz,

So vegetarian he
Wore rope sandals and preferred
Fallen fruit." Now I've fallen,

Here among the others wrong
Enough to fail at the world,
Lucky enough to survive

To this point, conscientious
Objectors in our own way,
Our haze of lost connections.

Turns out Mike's an X-Ray tech.
He might have x-rayed me once.
His dad died five years ago.

His dad didn't want to go.
But the cancer made him go.
Mike says, "It's wrong I'm healthy

And I feel this way." He saw
A car roll on the freeway
A couple of years ago.

He ran down the embankment.
A woman had been thrown out
And trapped under the wreckage.

She died before she was free.
Mike still looks dazed telling me,
But maybe it's the Prozac.

"I can't sleep. I've seen a lot.
If there's no one to talk to
I feel like my chest's burning."

Over in the common room
Women are talking movies.
"Ever seen Pretty Woman?"

"Guy fixes up the hooker?"
"A lot more rich guys should do that.
You could save a life that way."

Two men are talking Bible,
How Jesus drove the spirits
Into the pigs, how pigs share,

Since then, human DNA.
Mike asked me what I told myself
To try to keep contented.

I told him I'd been thinking
The comparison shouldn't
Be between this existence

And another, better
Life, earlier or future.
I told him it's this, as is,

Versus never anything,
And then I'm okay with this.
He nodded. "Good for today."

My Wellness Tools

Begin by making a list.
If you're a poet,
Avoid epic catalogues.
You might bore yourself to death.

These will be your wellness tools.
You will use these tools.
You will feel the way you want
To feel each day of your life.

You may discover new tools,
Things that you might want to try.
Add them to the list.
Keep the list handy.

What do you feel like
When you're feeling well?
What things do you need to do
Each day to stay well?

Things that you might need to do
Today include: eat, breathe, write
This poem, keep this world.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Kindly Police at Your Bedroom Door

A suicidal poet.
Now there’s a cliche.
You shall know the truth,

And the truth shall make you want
To cease to be me.
The fantasy of being

Able to take your own life’s
The last comfort of control
In case of complete collapse.

The failure to take your life
Is the forfeiture
Of that final fantasy.

Suicide’s not surrender,
The last defiance
Of the overwhelming world.

It’s now you must surrender,
Bit of flesh who failed to go.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Small Hours Alone

Crescent moon over desert.
The human sits, shivering,
Feeling sorry for himself,

Guilty for everyone else,
And incapable
Of reconciling

That canoe-shaped moon
In perfectly wave-like clouds
With his emotions.
The world does not correspond.

It floats along, us in it.
It’s a terrible mistake
To ask mercy of the world
Instead of people.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

White Mountains, Blue Vista, Black Hole

"Black holes are not, as it turns out, places where time ends once and for all; they are objects that exist for some period of time before they eventually disappear."

Always dynamic,
Always finite, everything
Observed, observing,

Long as you don't look, there's hope.
A man living in his car
Hobbles through the coffee shop
And buys a short chai latte

With a fistful of loose change
Scrounged from under his car seats
Then squeezes in a corner,

Opens a laptop,
Logs on to the free WiFi,
And begins to type.

What the hell is he typing?
What could he have left to say?
He hasn't looked yet.

He's holding out hope.
Something is radiating
From his poorly defined form.

He's typing these words
As if he'd never composed
Three thousand earlier poems,
As if he'd never

Stop composing them.
He is still changing.
He'll keep changing still.
So will you. Death, too.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Intersection of Bluebird and Hardscrabble, Arizona

I put words in the mouths of gods
While they put ashes in mine.
I am a terrible human being

But was a passable alien
For a long, long time. Remember
We are all ashes where we come from
And all ashes where we return,

But I'll grant you the story is all
In the middle between the storyless
Dust that started us and the storyless

Dust that we, however just
Or injust our story, must be.

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Wisdom of the Moment on the Cliff

The world was wise, wordless and wreckage,
Back when I began this nonsense.
The world is wreckage, wise and wordless still.
But so far I remain, unkind, deceptive, and foolish,
Trying to be wise while mired in words and guilt.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Queen of the Night

The heart is a buried place,
A place buried in a pulse,
A pulse that's hiding, singing
Words I can't quite hear--

I sang as a gift
To a faceless audience.
I sang to defy the fates.
I sang to be a villain,

A low-born rustic
Determined to elevate
My fears and desires.

I am not magic enough
To defy myself.
If I could, I would.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Last Poem to No One

If I could have afforded
The honesty and the time,
I would have summed life
By writing The Book of Lies.

The world needs some truth-telling
About our untruths,
And who better to tell it
Than a pathological

Liar? It's too bad
I won't live to tell the truth
About why and how I lied,

The truth of all lies,
Sitting idly in the moonlight
Just before dawn in the lake.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Don’t Sweat the Resurrection

People imagine
What fun to come back to life.
Listen, I’ve tried it.

I’ve gone to the point of death
And returned to find
Myself eyed suspiciously

By those who'd been depleted
By my continuity.
And what if I’d stayed away?
Well, I couldn’t say,

Except to say I, myself,
Wouldn’t have mourned me
Nor blamed any one of these
Horrified to see me breathe.

Monday, November 6, 2017

After the Fict

It’s already done.
I’m already dead.
So is the student

Practicing pressing wedges
Into clay to neatly tell
The story of Gilgamesh,
Centuries old even then.

It’s already done
But I don’t know the wonder
Of it yet. I doubt

I ever will. The window
I’ve left open to the night
Will be closed by someone else.
I’ll be too rich when I’m gone.

Sunday, November 5, 2017


I can’t find you. Can I swim
To you? If I can’t
I’m doomed to a slower end,
Not a better one.

That’s what it means to be saved,
What it means to save a life
In this world. You’ve postponed death.

The boy who survived Auschwitz
Killed by burglars at ninety.
True story. The couple left
The scene of the spree killing

Alive who died in a crash
Two weeks later. True story.
The attempted suicide

Who leapt from the bridge
And woke in the hospital,
Becoming a crusader
For suicide prevention,

Obit says died of cancer.
I know I sound like the beast
Who knows the end of life’s near,

Who’s resisting the knowledge
As much as the death.
I wish I could swim to you.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Refutation of Bayesian Supernaturalism

For two thousand years and more,
Aristotle’s assertion
Has circulated

That when it comes to stories,
Make sure the consequences
Of your miracles

Follow plausibly,
Given the impossible.
One impossible event
Could falsify that dogma

And everything else.
If the sun paused in the sky
One time, wouldn’t we all die
In consequence? Then none died.

Friday, November 3, 2017


All Death’s birthdays passed me by
And now it’s just November.
Lie down carefully

If you don’t want to get up
Again and again.
The sun on your face feels fine
But what can you do with it?

Time is not a quantity,
No more or less left of it,
But the change creating it

Nibbles off your fingertips.
There’s no good way out of it.
Keats did not cease at midnight
Without pain. But he got there.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

This Is Not the Hand

Not the hand that fed me, or
Not the winning hand?
If the former, I will not
Bite it if I win.

If the latter, I will bite
The dust soon enough.
From the overlook
Behind a desert strip mall

In the USA,
One can peer out like Moses
Over promised shopping lands,

Those box stores and parking lots
And know, even resisting,
This was not the hand.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Man Behind the Event Horizon

I only reasoned
About unreasonable
Things, and saved my unreason
For the obvious.

I always preferred
The unconvincing

To the plausibly
Impossible. So I lost.
So I had to lie a lot,
Plausibly, to keep playing

Without being truly lost,
Only hiding, lost
To me, lost to you.