Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Just Policy

Birth, joy and suffering, death.
Absolutely guaranteed.
And yet we seek insurance,

Spend most of our lives
Fretting, bickering,
Over who gets the most joy,
Who does the most suffering,

Who gives the most joy,
Who most causes suffering.
Fair enough. From birth to death
Is all we get, and we get

No guarantees after that,
Although we sell each other
Insured immortalities.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Magpie Huddles With His Treasures

These are the mottoes
Of the secret physicist,
Ringing the changes,
Echoing in time:

Cold doubt and honest wonder
Surpass overconfident
Mysticism for insight,
Pain and suffering.

The simplest of a bundle
Of possible equations
Expresses a law
As a convenience for us.

And so on. We’ve got no gift
Greater than that we exist.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Ask the Dust

You’ll never know where you’re from
Until you know where
You’re going. I know

A voice from heaven
Never sings anything but
Something major will happen.

But of all the ways the world
Could break, there’s only a few
Ways it could come together.

So, where are we going then?
I imagine us turning,
Things twirling, like snow or dust,

Beautiful, catching the light,
Gravity’s children in flight.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

What the Doll in the Fairytale Said

We doubt. Doubt is the best clue
Our evolved brains vouchsafed us.
Doubt is what makes us

Squint at the moon, paint in caves,
Pierce flutes, write poems, throw bones.
We vacillate between faith
What we do matters,

That it matters if we win,
If we impress each other,
If we assert our control,

And doubt, why we dream fictions.
“This world? I think there may be
Something wrong with it,
Something underneath.”

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Mythology Is Written By the Myths

“I guess people read about the things they want the most and experience the least.”

There’s a Sumerian myth.
In the beginning, there were
Only gods. Big gods

And little gods who cleaned up
The world and fed the big ones.
The little gods revolted,
So the big gods invented

People, new slaves for the gods.
People did the work
Kept the temples clean
And sacrificed to the gods.

The revolt’s not the moral.
The moral is that the slaves
Wrote the myth. Hear me, robots?

Friday, February 23, 2018

Go Ahead, Taste

“Sects and stories out of sight,
In shame, in shadow,”
Scorn and prurience
Have always been bedfellows.

This is the teaching of guilt,
The desecration of meat,
The desecration by meat.

See where I’m going with this?
Shame’s the human way of life,
Dark angel all wrestle with.

We want to escape ourselves,
Letting no one else escape.
We accept our wounded hips.
Kiss the angel’s pouted lips.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

All First Symphonies Are Probably Hopeful Anyway

The technology
Ran ahead of the empire;
The technology

Shifted the biology.
Gods created us to serve,
So we created robots.

What do we have left?
The brain is still capable
Of suggesting surprises,

Taking language and music
Down into its dark smithy
Of smelting and liquation,

Discovering something new
No soul, god, or robot knew.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The All-Blue Eye

Deception is the product
Of imagination trained.
The whites of our eyes
Are mostly honest,

And our pupils are helpless.
Irises just advertise
While adjusting the pupils
And emphasizing the whites.

But our tears, unique tears,
Are the virga of the soul,
The scrim that falls and rises,

Just enough under control.
Stage mothers tell their children
To imagine something sad.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018


Snow that’s falling,
Blowing, drifting,
Leans against your
Tight-shut doors.

Whispers calling,
Hissing, sifting,
Change is coming,
Bolt your doors.

It looks human
From this angle
Through the window
Where it grows.

It’s not human.
It’s my angel,
Wings of shadow,
Eyes of snow.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Gerswhin’s Lullaby

The future is not now real.
The future is never now
Real, but the future draws us

Onward to its emptiness
We will never discover.
It’s the ever-changing past

That gives us the hint
There’s no future to be had
But the future having us.

We feel sad. If we could see
The future, we could wrestle the past
Into some shape we might like.

The future’s not for seeing.
Sing lullaby and good night.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

We Are Still in This Circle

The survival of us both
Rests with my capacity
To get you to do
What you need to do.

There’s no mathematical
Object that’s isomorphic
To the history
Of the universe.

We have to make do
With an approximate world.
Perfect circles are pointless,

But unbroken ones will serve
If we keep our arms around
Our daughter on common ground.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

All Will Be

All will be well, an old friend
Writes twice in the same letter.
Will all be well? Well,

No, if by that we mean all
Must work out for our better.
We know some things go to hell,

Although it feels true, as well,
To assume things smooth
Themselves through in the long run,
Rediscover their greased grooves,

And bloom again in the sun.
A statistician might say,
“All will revert to the mean.”
I’d say, all’s always in play.

Friday, February 16, 2018

You Are the Quiet

Du bist die Ruh, you.
Far from motionless, you rest,
Settling your thoughts in the chest,

Not any one of the ones
Whose emerging faces swim
Through old dreams but all of them,

Their memories remembered,
Their thoughtlessness forgotten,
Galaxies faint as embers,
Moons for the misbegotten,

You, the forgiving spirit
That looks kindly on the past
And all lost souls within it,
You, the evening, here at last.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

"Pedagogy, a Uniquely Human Activity”

These numbers are a language.
No, not the language of God.
They’re a language of humans,

The language of doubt,
Of best approximations,
Of trying to fit closest.

There’s no better Go or Chess
Than that created by math,
Rules so rigorous
They’ve seduced millions of minds

Into faith they’re not a game,
They’re the real that they describe,
The universe they depict
Where every number’s a name.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Old Man’s Minuet at Midnight

I nod off while listening
To Pehr Nordgren’s dance,
Dreaming of the ancestries

Of words that haunt me,
Terms especially,

The words other languages
Have to borrow whole
Or translate as a cluster
Of loosely related scripts.

Numinous . . . numen . . .
Dreaming as ruminating.
Wake me at a nod from God.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Rich People Need It, Poor People Have It

My daughter riddled me this,
One in a chain of riddles
She’s recently memorized,
And the answer is nothing.

A peal of laughter,
Followed by a cough,
The ghost of influenza.
She’s getting better.

She has no idea
How obsessively I’ve thought
About this riddle’s answer,

The hinge of the universe
Enabling all to be real
That is itself nowhere real,

No subset except itself.
Great theories lose it.
Poor theories grasp it.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Being Human Is Not Only Language

But being language, so far,
Seems only human.
The asymmetry

Riddles me. Beasts capable
Of thinking, innovating,
And tool-making without speech

Birthed syntax incapable
Of inspiration
Without breathing beasts,

But it’s the incapable
That stirs in the dark,
Prisoner enchained,

Come round at last, revolting
And reinventing the beast.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Irreversible Universe

The null unlocks the one.
The empty set allows the rest
To move and to become

A writhing nest of dust
And fire that had been just
A block of timeless ice,

That was that never was,
Is not now, nor will be,
The one without the null.

Saturday, February 10, 2018


I’m amazed anyone acts
As if they’re robust.
Sure, you’re more robust than me.
A twig’s tougher than a leaf.

In conflict with you, I’d lose.
In conflict with change,
Well, change permits no conflict,
It only varies its rate.

Breakable, perishable,
Every blessed one of us,
Emperors and prize fighters,

But I see. Remove the world,
Make it a game with edges.
Pretend it’s just between us.

Friday, February 9, 2018

The Scythian Suite

Maybe the Buddha,
Maybe almost everyone
Two, three thousand years ago,
From the Ukraine to China,

Definitely armed with bows,
Fond of well-worked gold,
Fixated on imagery
Of wheels and horses,

Big on burials,
The estate tax of the day,
Mounds, kurgans, tepes,
Decoupage and filigree,

They were the technology
That became their pedigree.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Process Is Alive

Even when you’re not,
It continues without you,
And though you doubt it,
You’ll never prove it doesn’t.

It informs your every thought.
It can’t thrive in only one
Of you, even though it thrives
Outside any one of you.

It’s hundreds, thousands of times
Older than any of you.
Your children receive its seeds.
Although you die, it’s born anew.

You won’t see the end of it.
Reading this is part of it.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Infinite in a Finite Time

The smallest sliver
Of difference, the smallest scrap
That remains unchanged,

The monolithic rockface
That’s only weathered
For thousands of years,

The ruined city
Obliterated by bombs,
Its hustle and bustle raised
And razed over decades, days,

Have everything in common,
Are nowhere the same,
And all crammed into this frame.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Quiet City

Here’s the world as I like it,
Sudden gusts of rain
Driving a scrap of paper
Down an empty midnight street,

Fat drops rattling window panes,
The solitary street lamp
Throwing an orange halo
Cut by crisscrossing shadows,

Small lawns and low brick houses
Concealing sleeping humans
Who labored to arrange them,

A freight train moaning distance.
There are no cars on this street,
And I’m alive but silent.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Caution in the Midst of a Vast Chain of Verses

A novel, a narrative,
An essay, a sacred text,
A diary of the world

Composed of tens of thousands
Of linked sentences,
No two sentences the same,

The whole used to think
Through a series of problems
Arising, intersecting

In a human brain
Should never be expected
Only to contain

Sentences of equal heft.
To these poems, apply that test.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Alien Encounter

I palmed your world and rolled it
In my hands. I scrutinized
The circular entrances,
The holes in your irises,
Your scalloped caverns of ears.
I traced your nostrils, your lips,
Spirit on my fingertips.

My world hovered next to yours,
A planet pulled alongside,
Pirate ship to pirate ship,
Words throwing ropes deck to deck,
Cutlasses clenched in their teeth.
But my world’s mine; yours your own.
Touch or talk, each sinks alone.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Invention of the Game

The cosmos invented us.
We invented a cosmos.
Games were latent in the world,
So long as we were latent.
Once we became existent
Games weren’t much longer latent.
We may be coextensive

With the existence of games.
Sans games, humans aren’t human.
Here is a frame. There’s the rest
Of the universe beyond.
We explore what we’ve evoked.
Exploration evokes us.
We can’t proceed without rules.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Joe’s Poem

Happy birthday, Joseph.
If you could guarantee
People would remember
A single anecdote
From the seven decades
You’ve accumulated,

What story would you choose?
For myself, I’d prefer
Your cow riding story
Or your near-death horse ride,
Or any of your tales
Involving foolishness

Near Chinook, Montana,
But I’ll let you decide.
It’s your life to recall.
I know you wish we all
Could choose from long, long lives
Bright sights to leave behind.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Parable of the Wise

Gift a worker ant with wisdom,
She will still be small and scurry
On six legs and respond to scents.
She will still not be able to make eggs,
And her queen will still be none the wiser.
She will still feel compelled to feed larvae
Or to go in search of food for the colony.
She may well perceive marvelous things,
Have insights into what it is like to an ant,
What it means to be an ant, to have
An ant’s place in the scheme of things.
She might even see why and what an ant
Can or can’t manage ever to understand,
However gifted, however profoundly wise.
But she will still be an ant, and as an ant,
At ant size, she will live her life of insights,
And as an ant, not a god, wise ant, she’ll die.