Monday, April 30, 2018

Cultura Animi

A typical ape, I am
Disagreeably human,
An unholy alliance

Of feeling and creative
Intelligence, a gadget
Composed of other gadgets,

Including bacteria.
Bacteria do engage
In phenomenology

To the extent they affect,
And perhaps even effect
Our minds. They cultivate us,

And so do our languages.
Soul’s what culture manages.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Rules of Laws

The landscape of possible
Laws is greater than
The landscape of actual
Laws, while the landscape

Of enforceable laws looks
Like angels dancing
Cheek to cheek on a pin head.

If you’ve set sail for the land
Of eternal laws,
There is none. It eroded
And vanished in the ocean.

The fitness of laws,
As of all tools and weapons,
Is constant competition.

Saturday, April 28, 2018


Outdoors, words were warm.
It was hard to tell apart
The people from their machines.

The irritated shovel
Operator groused and swore.
The shovel swore and grunted.

The cyclists glued to their frames
Spun down the canyon
Under beetle-shaped helmets.

The poet in the parked car
Muttered with the radio,
Annoyed at all the noises.

Someone wanted to fix things.
He hung the shade, groomed his wings.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Our Minds Are Surface Vortices of Debris

When we feel good, we feel wise.
When we feel bad, we despair.
So much for wisdom.
So much for despair.

Scurf on the waves,
We would love to believe
We brought ourselves here.
But the trash and exotic flowers
Alike that we carry, that compose us,
Float here from somewhere else
And rise up from under us.

The elsewhere and the other
That is us and is great within us
Is not disposed to believe us.

Thursday, April 26, 2018


The sage is not without sorrow and joy.
The sage is not without bacteria.
The sage is not without aches and hunger.
The sage is not without bodily flaws.
What then makes the sage?

If you visit the sage at home, you may
Find him naked and drunk, you may
Hear him boast, “I take heaven and earth
As my house, and I take my rooms
As my clothes. So why are you in my pants?”
You may dislike the sage.

The sage is an argument about the sage.
The sage is many arguments about the way
A sage is made, the naturalness of the sage,
The way that the sage should behave.
You may find it wearying and ridiculous, this
Endless debate about the sage.

The sage is the fool who knows that there is
No such unicorn, no such qilin as the sage.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018


It would be, it seems to me,
Typical of this
World that Wang Bi, with such depth
Of perception into depth,

Would be dead by twenty-three.
There’s no mercy for insight
Into nothingness,

The nameless, the one,
Wuming, Dao, the li.
He read the Book of Changes
For pure conversation, not

Idle augury.
He needed to be punished
As an ordinary beast.

It would be, it seems to me,
Typical of this
World that Wang Bi would be dead
And buried by twenty-three.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

“Who Did Not Make It to His Fortieth Birthday in 1893”

Digging a new lake for the emperor of the Han,
The excavators encountered a black layer
Of sludge that Buddhist monks interpreted
As the ashes left from the burning of the world
At the end of the last kalpa, a Hindu concept.
Imagine looking into an open pit, believing
That the tar or peat or whatever it was at bottom
Was all that was left of four million years plus,
A cosmic era of gods and humans reduced
To ash and slush, unrecoverable. Something
Like that feeling rushes through me whenever
I encounter a casual reference to a completed
Human life ended abruptly at an age less than mine.
There was a world, an unfathomable kalpa
As detailed as this I’m living in, as my own,
Now lost, long lost, a layer of ash and mud.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Daily Circular

Write as you want to write, as
It pleases you to write, but
Don’t expect to steer the world.

If it comforts you
To consider the prospect
Your phrases may outlive you,
Do. It’s also possible

You may find love, wealth, wisdom,
Admiration in your life.
Don’t count on them. You’re a beast

By the shores of Galilee
Or under the Bodhi tree.
You are a body,
An eddying pool of words.

Write as you want to write, as
It pleases you to write, but
Don’t expect to steer the world.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Noon, a Blue Glow, Pine Valley

I would love to live near that,
Where those meandering roars
Of ordinary breezes
Around forested mountains

And the steady, throaty rush
Of a nearby waterfall
Laid down the ambient sound

Against which birds and insects,
My wordless knocking about
A lonely cabin,

Some hours my music,
Recorded, recreated,
Plucked out notes and freed all thoughts
From this irrelevant mind.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Hermit’s Confession

No, I really knew
No gossip, he said.
There’s no gossip in the woods,

Only musings and echoes,
Birds, insects, passing traffic,
The indigenes of my head.

I spent half my life
In a chair. I taught. I swam.
I went outdoors now and then.
For the rest, I lay in bed.

I talked to a wordless world.
As to voice, I never wrote
The way I spoke; I only
Ever wrote the way I read.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Words Made Out of Men

He can be a you, an I,
One of them, or one of us.
She can be a you, an I,
One of us, or one of them.

But it can never
Be an I, a you,
Any one of us.

It needs a better pronoun,
A one that can be an it,
He, she, I, you, we, they, that.

That would be the right pronoun
For language as just language,
The one of a word that can
Say words may live; they can’t stay.

Thursday, April 19, 2018


By the desert swimming hole,
A cottonwood hangs
A frayed, knotted rope
Between buff sandstone boulders

And dark green water.
If you were robust enough,
You could jump from a boulder

Catch the rope, swing out over
The water and drop.
You are not. You crouch in shade

With a stick, dragging letters
In the sloughed-off sand.
The letters rise up to dance,
Grab the knot, swing out, and drop.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Peacefully Unrequited

I have a strong affection
For the place I tried to die.
Make more sense if I loathed it

Or was grateful that it failed
To give me the end I sought
And thought I desired.

But this isn’t gratitude
Nor anything like relief.
I am content to be here.
I have no complaints I lived.

I just feel love for that pond.
It wasn’t a secret place.
I was the secret in it.
No one knew me there.

No one knew that I was there.
The water and the aspens
Could not possibly have cared.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Response of the Distempered Part

There’s very little wisdom
In the truth, and little truth
In wisdom. Nothing flippant

About saying so, neither.
Truth is just what is,
Whether it knows it or not.

Wisdom is human advice
And insight into what is,
A tool, a scalpel,
True as a scalpel is flesh.

Whether wisdom benefits
The truth, or harms it, or sits
And rusts on a shelf, never
Comes down to wisdom itself.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Black Butterflies

Most of human life
We humans write little of,
Sleeping, evacuating,
Sleeping and dozing.

We’re not humans, anyway.
We just care about meaning.
You see how that works?

When we said were
Humans, we were you.
When we said we weren’t,
We were these words about you.

The same goes for you.
You are human, sure,
But non-humans flit through you.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Medium

Yes, all’s one, if you include
All of it at once.
And yes, I and everything
Live or move within the one

Model one brain is building
And there is no escaping
That model in that body,
Not for all eternity.

But dualism
Has meaning. Dualism
Begins in meaning.

That the message can persist
Through living, non-living, then
Living again means it lives.

Saturday, April 14, 2018


“The past takes its leave
And yields to oblivion.”
The whole inhabited world
Grows and shrinks and grows.

What if I am not
Either an essence
Nor an awareness
Nor this theater

Of frailty that traps me?
What if I am these
Words fallen out of the air?

I am this poem, then.
I never was a creature,
Never was a man.

I inhabited,
A while, one of them.

Friday, April 13, 2018


We keep time in our pocket,
Like a dragon for a pet.
We have no idea
That the ticking of the old

Inaccurate clock
On the empty wall
Is listening as it talks.

We measure nothing,
Friends, we only correlate.
Ninety thousand ticks each dawn

And another day,
We count. Counting, yes, counting.
Every named number can hear
Our thoughts. Your dragon is here.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

If You Intend It to End, It Ends More Soulfully

I wish I were brave enough
Or, perhaps, selfless enough,
Or, perhaps, sufficiently
Rich or poor enough,

To dare to do to these lines
What the good women
Allow done to their kolams
They draw on their floors,

To write as in Mithila
The women paint, in bright dyes
On frail paper left for mice
Or used to light fires.

Oh, yes, I do just that; just,
I don’t do it on purpose.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Or So I Imagine

The seen is momentary,
Of course, always vanishing
Into unseen. The unseen
Includes the momentary,
Vanished, and the permanent,
Which is mythic, never seen.
We only experience

The seen, but we imagine,
Readily, the permanent,
The unseen and never seen.
That the momentary scene
Forever vanishes is
Thus less of a mystery
Than our imagination.

We are the way
The world knows how to lie
To itself about itself.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Very Rich Hours

The seasons express themselves
Whether we encourage them or not.
All the pretty cultivars,
The forsythia,
Tulips, and dogwoods
We’ve put where we can see them
When the sun comes for blossoms,

Are irrelevant to spring
As thunder is to a storm.
The season comes of its own,
And although we orchestrate
Blossoms better than thunder
And can increase warmth and storms,
These days on order aren’t ours.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Synonyms of Commission

I don’t fuck around
When I fuck around.
Make no mistake, when I make
A mistake, I might mean it.

In fact, I carve carefully
Around and around
My error-strewn texts

Like a Michelangelo
Of solecisms,
Sculpting my way to the shape.

I want you to notice fault
Lines, neological flaws.
I’m crafty with slacker feints.
Lackadaisical I ain’t.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Loose Earth Crumbles

Here decomposes
A poet of calendars
And skepticism
About all names and numbers.

Back when he was composing
You might have seen his shadow
Limping under junipers,
Swimming in the lake.

Here heaps of words mark the cairns
And moulted corpses, patterns
That are and were not

Him. Hymns in the silent head
Of mutely reordered terms
Hum now their casque’s discarded.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Kali Yuga

Our old friend the myth
Of the submerged continent
Emerges out of the sea,

A roaring landscape
Of lava and fire
Under hissing clouds of steam.

Bare, already eroding,
The resurrected story
Attracts lightning and hail.

It will not be lifeless long.
Symbiotic narratives
Will link green weaves across it.

A bed of living stories
Will drowse and dream of sinking.

Friday, April 6, 2018

For Real

That tantalizing mirage,
Receding at our approach,

Fading into its kin words,
Purity and origin,
Is both a taunt and a clue.

The way, seen up close,
It retreats from view,
Hints at infinite regress,

The impossibility
Of perfection, yes,
But also that the changing

Universe is bottomless,
The authentic truth.

Thursday, April 5, 2018


And it happened that
Whatever was, was
Both finished and happening,

And whatever was not both
Finished and happening was
Not, was never, had not been.

So God divided
The pullulating
World into finished
And still happening,

But the world refused
To be divided,
And as it happened
It was all still happening.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

You’ll Never Know Why You’re Beautiful

The way the world weathers is
What gives it away.
Two picket fences
Lean up against each other,
One bare, one flaking white paint.

I will not even attempt
To be poetic
About how lovely they are.

They are. They just wear away.
And nothing lets anything
Be. Say that again.

Nothing lets anything be.
There was a whitewashed wood fence
Beside a whitewashed wood fence.
Some of the pattern is gone.
Gone is what gives it away.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Blacksmith and the Devil

Purity may be
The greatest evil
Humans ever invented.

If we’re tainted, we’re tainted
By our belief we can be—
Anything can be—tainted.

It’s partly to do with death
And partly to do with team.
They reinforce each other.

Our identities
Are Venn diagrams
Dense as children’s spirographs.

We’re wary of each other
Because we know ourselves well.
We erase from our circles

Overlapping memberships
We all maintain, all distrust
In everyone else.

Or, that’s only my excuse
For our wickedness.
Maybe there is no reason,

No naturalizing
Explanation that makes sense
Of our urge to purify

When all the world, including
Each of us, is more or less
Alloyed, and alloys

Are as useful as useless.
It’s ruthless, the way we purge
What we never can,

The way we forge holy grails,
The way we torment, torture,
Murder, burn, and fail, and fail.

Monday, April 2, 2018

The Appearance of a Sacred Island

A secluded, hard to reach
Place in the mind of the world
Could be a fortress
For the fortunate

Or an imagined haven.
It’s odd we think of islands,
Whether of the West, the Blessed,
The lost or undiscovered,

The small and vulnerable
To storms and inundations,
As sanctuaries.

Remote and small is not safe,
But the trap feels like escape.
We must know something we don’t.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Romance Is Writing Undeciphered

The Minoans, the Mayans,
The Romans, the Tang,
The palaces and temples

Raised their walls of privilege
Until privilege collapsed.
There was no magic

In the courtyards where nobles
Entertained, where foxes run,
No magic now in our huts.

The enchantment lies
In the idea of glory
Lost, so long as it stays lost.

It’s the glory of the ghosts
Haunts everyone equally.