Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Six Common Places to Place New Year’s Eve

1. The Unknown

One odd sound and I forget
Everything I thought I knew,
Attending to one new thing.

Ensoroborous, beware
Us, your you are aware of,
Curled dragon of awareness.


2. The Dying Bit

What’s not animal hunger 
Is mostly embarrassment,
Including for animal hungers—

At this point, it’s only that—
Shame—that half keeps me human,
Doing human-approved things—

And sometimes I suspect shame
Is all humanity is,
Shameful feelings, shameful things,

Beings artfully shaming
More easily shamed beings.
Obligation, shame, the same—

And if that word seems too strong,
Go back to embarrassment,
Name unmentionable names.


3. The Mouse’s Mouth

The range of human concerns
Often astonishes me.

“Who would build a road facing 
Directly into the sun?”

The cashier laughed, recalling
A tourist who asked her that.

The well-dressed man with a beard
Cradled his phone in the back

Of the store, next to the racks
Of fizzy drinks, and intoned

Something about how sugar
Was more dangerous than fat,

But a newspaper headline
Over his shoulder fretted

Whether it was possible
Humans could smash the planet.


4. The Worm Larder

Bite the worms neatly in two.
They’ll keep still while they regrow.

While they regrow, moles can hold
A larder of worms surplus

To kill and eat them later.
Why they regrow, moles don’t know.

At every stage, something’s changed
And something the same remains,

No matter how you slice it.
But bigger slices grow more change,

While sameness gains in slices
As they’re sliced ever smaller.

That’s one mysterious clue.
Small’s more same; change grows larger. 


5. The Book of Epitomes

I suffer from the error
Of philosophers—I think

The value lies in the whole,
Greater than its heaped-up parts,

When anyone reading this
Sees no building, only bricks.

Poems are just epitomes,
Summaries, spoliation 

Of once pre-existing wholes,
The better to index them.


6. The Moon and Moon-Shaped Cloud

Dragons stir and clouds gather.
One dragon circles the moon,

The moon as seen from below,
The moon now with a halo.

Enso, the dragon, sunya,
Cipher, neither head nor tail.

Why do circles make symbols?
Changed and not-yet changed shape one.

Monday, December 30, 2019

The Words This Has Inherited

We maintain our inner claim
To be carriers of truth.

We maintain our truths are waves
This matter makes when carried.

Carrying and our manner
Of conveyance make the waves.

We are the waves escaping
Confinement creating us.

We are the waves in these pails
Banging against black crutches.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

One of God’s Darlings Rubs Its Wings

The light of a silver afternoon
Is all atmosphere-filtered sunlight,
Same as on a day without a cloud.

Quibble with the filter, not the light,
Or praise the filter’s woolen softness,
Which has nothing to do with the light.

Under a glass shell, you beetle small
And use your papery wings to hum
A little hymn to time and quiet,

To freedom from appointments, to light.
Does anyone else spend days like these,
Practically helpless, untroubled, free?

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Encourage Her to Visit

Why does the author make us stay in a deserted room when he could just as easily take us upstairs?”

These poems are their characters,
Lit experience their plots,
Tangling their own denouements 
In thickets of read and felt.

There is no telos except
Repetition, no perfect
Repetition, so that change
Becomes its own destiny,

All sameness variation
And every variation
Containing something the same.
How thoroughly exhausting

It is to experience
Life in this shifting cosmos,
To observe how exhaustive
The cosmos is at changing 

Minuscule shifts at a time.
Patterns emerge, erasing 
Patterns erasing patterns.
Nothing can document them,

But not another story
Twisting in search of its own
Conclusion and completion.
The tail is only serpent. 

The bare room’s light is shifting,
Would be shifting anyway,
Even with people in it,
Even if we left with them.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Haunted Theater

“Some discourses are stronger than we are.”

 “Who are your main characters? What happens to them? What happens to you? How and when does the story end?”

“If the first object had not been, the second never had existed.”

~

To begin with, it wasn’t 
Haunted. Then the ghosts broke in,

Wanting representation,
Solace, and entertainment

For their disembodied souls,
To feel themselves come alive.

In a sense, they belonged there,
And, in a sense, they did not,

Not without tales or actors,
Not without an audience.

But they hungered for that stage—
Society embodied

As sight lines and acoustics,
Yet as empty as themselves.

~

And how was that stage empty,
The theater abandoned,

And what did the place look like
From the outside, in the rain?

A warehouse, a globe, a skull?
It looked like a fallen bird,

Like a raven made of boards,
Shingled feathers, plaster bones—

A sodden, slumping object
From outside, like any corpse,

But, unlike a body, calm
And solemn as stone within.

It lacked imagination.
It had forgotten its name.


And what was this stage, if not
The day book of the night world?

Each performance of a play
Turns to myth in its own way.

Ideally, script and moment
Lean each other up like drunks,

And the next evening the stage,
Largely unharmed, hosts again.

But that’s with living actors.
What script ever structured ghosts?

These ghosts yowled and prowled like cats.
Then, like cats, they lost the plot.

Live actors’ lines state fake facts.
Ghost facts faked life’s lines as acts.

~

Whenever ghosts were quiet,
The bare stage seemed like a set

For a show about a stage,
Set before or after sets,

Before or after the props,
Backdrops, blocking tape, or play.

In dim light from the lobby,
Dusty, every mote intact,

The scenes began without ghosts,
But without them what would end?

Without them, all was silence
And dull, mahogany gleam—

So the ghosts were translucent
And anguished. They lit, at least.

~

The ghosts remembered. The ghosts
Were what memory became.

They gathered as faint moonlight,
Mother-of-pearl, bluish snow.

A lake of clouds lit the stage,
Every cloud a middle act

With a blurry central scene,
No edges, no beginning,

Just uncertain figures, sounds
That might have been dialogue,

Distant laughter, or thunder,
A requiem of faint screams.

They were not re-enactments
But condensations from fact.

~

The ghosts were only human
As puddles had once been rain,

As that rain had once been clouds,
Mist from the face of the lake.

(All waves puddle in the end,
Puddles that raise waves again.)

The ghosts were both leftovers,
Then, and also greater-than,

But they were not conclusions.
Conclusions only made them.

One little-known conclusion—
One life rarely makes a ghost.

It takes many lives and deaths
To get a ghost to condense.

~

A stage bare of narrative
Is a kind of ghost itself,

A residue of desire
Made manifest intention,

An arrangement of bodies 
Of work worked into bodies

Of wood, wires, lathe, and lightbulbs,
Ready for something to say

But not itself narrating
Anything, and not waiting.

This stage was black and tilted
Forever to empty chairs,

An illusionist showing
No one that its sleeves were bare.

~

On the black leaf of the stage,
Platform for clear-cut fictions,

Pale ghosts tumbled on parade
And danced with random phantoms.

They moved like Chinese dragons,
Like sea scarves, like water snakes,

Pale as cave fish, moon jellies,
As olms in a lightless world,

Confident as predators
Stalking, confident as cats.

Here slipped a ghost of proverbs,
There a fairy-tale’s daughter,

There a punctual sonnet,
Thinned and pining for slaughter.

~

Squirming worms of awareness
Consumed by their glowing tails,

The ghosts encircled themselves
With foolish flames, vanishing

Into their condensations,
Re-emerging somewhere else,

A dance of the underworld’s
Serpents uncoiling onstage.

Here gleamed Ra, there Osiris,
But their characters vanished,

Every one an alchemist,
Mercurial and famished,

Consuming self as other,
Each fetch mirroring the fetch.

~

A stage is not an author,
And an author’s not a stage.

One is an opportunist,
The other a blackened page.

This stage was not built by ghosts.
This stage was not built for ghosts.

But there it was, hosting them,
Stage nothing to do with them.

How unauthored ghosts were formed,
Distilled from forgotten lives,

Most of which authored nothing
More than any life authors,

Was a mystery to ghosts,
Including those on that stage.


Not all the ghosts glowed palely. 
Not all their thoughts lit the stage.

One ghost was a stage itself
Descending from the shadows,

Long black caochladh coming down,
Curtained in velvet cinders.

Most beautiful of them all,
Angel of soot in hoop skirts

Spreading out as evenly
And stonily as lava,

Ghost that obliterated
All other ghosts and stage both,

Or seemed to, but they flowed back,
That ghost becoming their stage.

~

Decaying, half in ruin,
The theater was aware

In a way that it doubted
The ghosts or stage were ever.

The theater was finished,
But it considered its ghosts,

Not as parts or properties,
Not as features, like the stage, 

But as alternative worlds,
As resident aliens

And visiting informants,
Wanting without knowing what,

Being, not being aware,
Awareness haunted by air.


Something’s always vanishing.
Eventually, it vanished.

No more haunted theater,
No more unlit, black-leaf stage—

The ghosts left with awareness,
Though neither took the other. 

A storm passed over the hulk,
A dark, gigantic shudder.

Every body comes to this,
With or without awareness,

Without or without ghosts, stages,
Scripts, actors, audiences.

Foundations soaked in the rains
Sprouted weedy woods again.

~

And could ghosts have visited
Raw woods without awareness?

Could ghosts want entertainment 
And have disembodied souls?

Could ghosts hunger to belong,
Haunt any corpse with longing?

Any ghost on any stage,
In stages, present, absent,

Is itself another play
On the game exquisite corpse.

But who is playing the game?
The god underground, woods, ground,

Body, theater, stage, ghosts?
Do you have any idea?

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Fib Nauseous

“We don’t come apart when we swim.”

One recent movie gives us
A character who is said
To have a strange condition:
Lying makes her nauseous.

This seems disabling,
Which the audience senses
As well as a detective,
As the writers intended.

How terrifying 
Not to be able to lie
Without humiliation
And wretched discovery.

In the story, folks buy it,
And the detective buys it,
And the director has fun
With scenes built around vomit.

The incapable liar
Is sweet and wins a fortune
From vilely unworthy heirs.
We have our happy ending.

Does the audience buy it?
Seems to. The movie’s a hit.
Online plot explanations
(Spoiler alert!) toe the line.

I don’t buy it. Not one bit.
First, there’s no such condition.
And second, what a power
That would be, to have convinced

Everyone, even the cops,
Even the moviegoers,
That you really, physically, 
Cannot tell a lie

Without giving it away
With what you ate for breakfast.
Once people accepted that,
Their trust would be guaranteed.

As Groucho Marx joked,
The key to acting
Is sincerity.
Once you can fake that, you’re set.

I think the writers knew this,
Knew their victim heroine
Was brilliantly murderous,
Then waited to see who’d guess.

I imagine them, reading
Returns, still holding their breath,
Swallowing and swallowing
Truth that makes them nauseous.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Person a Moment

“given that over 153,000 people die every day on this planet”

Life is Captain Murderer,
Cannibal of all nightmares,
The one who makes us afraid
Of losing what was loaned us.

Give us a cwtch on the couch,
Life coos to us, murderous.
We dread dread, but can’t resist,
So here we are, cuddled up.

Look, life’s husky breath chuckles 
In our ears, nuzzling our cheeks,
You’re addicted. Leaving me
Is your deepest fear. Stay here.

And we do, only dwindling,
Breath by breath and kiss by kiss,
Until we’re the ones we miss.
Life never left. Life persists.

What if we were not afraid?
Not afraid of running out
Of life, on life? Awareness
Is not life, leaves life often,

Comes and goes like clouds at night.
We come and go, clouds at night.
No. We don’t have to stay here.
Feel afraid but never fear.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

“I’ve Been Saved by a Blessed Fatigue”

When I was evangelical and young,
One excuse for reading things forbidden
Was that one must study the enemy
If the enemy’s to be defeated.

Of course, the weakness of this argument
Showed in how easily the enemy
Seduced me. Vaccination is tricky.
Now, my enemy is aspiration.

I have had all kinds of aspirations,
Failure leading me to understand them,
Or try to, which meant more aspiration.
I’ve learned where aspiration arises,

Read case histories—the biology,
Poetry, and metaphysics of it.
I am old in years, old beyond my years,
And no longer so easily seduced.

It catches me. Paws at me. I let it.
I am not aroused, but I am amused.
I pick it up. It lifts me. I drop it.
This trick is to not want not to want it.

Freedom only transmits on the shorter wavelengths
Oscillating at the frequency of escape.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Therefore, It Is Not the Case that What-Is Is

We need a new Gorgias
To parody fresh logic,
To mock how we tell nature
What our math cannot believe.

We need a book of nature
That reminds us it is us
We see and not the cosmos—
Our games, our symmetries.

And then we need a wonder,
One step past the parody.
What is not is what is us—
Future nothing gravity.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Add Fog

It started rolling over me
Around one in the afternoon.
I didn’t notice it at first,
Since I was absorbed in reading

Old wonder tales from Xebico,
Having set aside a poem
Involving apophenia
I’d begun in the morning light.

I only looked up when I noticed
The day had gotten almost dark.
It wasn’t yet two by my watch,
But a mist was filling the woods,

Making ghosts of pines shedding snow
On the roof of my idling car.
(I must have switched on the engine
Unconsciously, once it got dark.)

I’ve never found fog depressing,
But then again, I’ve never found
Melancholia depressing,
Only strange to experience,

Sipped slowly, in a pleasant way,
Like the oily, peaty savor
Of leaf litter on a damp day,
The faint, earthy warmth of decay.

Almost as soon as I looked up,
The mist retreated a bit, blue
Shreds at lower elevations,
Like scraps of ribbon woven through.

I watched, then went back to reading.
Weather is hesitant like that.
It’s only ominous to us.
When I glanced up, the fog was back.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Apophenia

“Between every in-
Breath and every out-
Breath, there is the underworld.”

And between the underworld
And the social world
Sprawl the borderlands,

And on the wayside
Of the border road
That parallels those twinned worlds,

A small figure waits
For a message in the snow,
Watching for patterns,

Alert as the hawk,
The buck, the chipmunk,
The indeterminate bird

Whose existence is betrayed
Only by a fall
Of snow and an eye.

All of this adds up
To a signal the figure
Alone interprets,

A sign from the worlds
That something significant,
Something magical,

Changing everything,
Even the rules of winter,
The nature of snow

In the borderlands
Between the living
And the underworld,

Is bound to happen
Between this coming evening
And tomorrow’s dawn.

The figure breathes in,
Revisits the underworld,
Then breathes out again,

Reappearing on the road
Parallel to worlds,
Phantom of the borderlands.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Emergency Aspiration

Look, if you’re having a nightmare,
Then, damn it, abandon the dream.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Contentment Lives in Place of Narrative

Every time we orchestrate
Another goodbye
That ends up leading
To another beginning,

Every farewell to mountains
When the first snow falls
That becomes hello
Again following a thaw,

Every false start, every failed
Unknotting, every
Misaligned climax,
Every crumpled paper tossed,

Was narrative, not the end.
Story-less winters
Have or haven’t snow,
Then haven’t and have again.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

It’s Dawdle As Does It

Supposedly, Darwin’s favorite slogan
Was, “it’s dogged as does it.” Alright, fine.
If you want to accomplish something great,
Then doggedness makes an excellent trait.

But if you want to achieve something small,
Doggedness will just cause indigestion.
(Darwin’s own guts never left him alone.
His bowels often kept him trapped at home.)

Content with seeking contentment, I find
Dawdling beats dogged for calming the mind.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Among the Blessedly Bereft

Because most humans seem compelled
To sort each other, bad and good,

A core survival strategy
For all human ecosystems,

Maybe it’s not so surprising
That humans sort time and dying

Into good and bad, next and past,
As well, as if experience

Had been given to us to sort
Into appropriate baskets,

As if that were the job with which
Our lives or our gods had tasked us.

Good times, bad times, hard times, the best.
A horrible end, a good death.

We can’t seem to look at dead woods
Without saying whether death should

Have come a better, more moral,
More natural path, whether death,

However it came for these trees,
Has been accorded due respect,

Whether how woods died in the past,
Or now, or next would be the best.

Here’s a dead pine by the wayside,
Left standing—fretted, twisted, bleached—

Would you declare this good or bad?
Was it a victim of long drought,

Depleted soil, sheer ancientness,
Or cored by an invasive pest?

Should it have been salvaged for fuel
Or furniture, or is this best?

If death were neither good nor bad,
Its changes neither eternal

Return nor forever bereft,
How would you sort life, hard or blessed?

Monday, December 16, 2019

Clock Face

I don’t want to take my time.
If I may have a moment
Of your time, I won’t
Hang on to it. I promise,
I’ll hand it right back,
In ship shape, tickety boo,
Fore and aft, present and past,
Dividing the universe
Exactly in two,
Forever between the old
And the new. Lend it to me,
Please—I’ll make the most of it.
I won’t lose it. I’ll bring it
Back in one piece, good as new.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Two Views from Ponderosas

“There is a freedom in having a regular place to return to—it takes away the need to think about it and allows a person to rest”

-1-

The Consolation 

The figure here called consolation is real,
Is actual, coincidental, standing sandstone, 
Half-arch, half-hoodoo, tilted, stooped 
In an outline against the sky, suggesting,
At least to the human engaged in this 
Composition, an older, slump-shouldered 
Person who is reaching out an arm to rest
A huge stone hand, bracing an eroding cliff,
Face to face, as if in consolation. That’s it.

Whenever I could not move, we were free.
When nurses politely, kindly, locked me
In a room without a window, we were free.
When the numbers all were negative,
And the banks, to survive as thriving banks,
Had to come for anything positive from me,
We were free. When I, on my gurney, finally
Finished being wheeled a long-hall journey 
Into surgery, after waiting a week, we were
Free. When the seatbelt was buckled more
Tightly across our waists to secure us
And there was nothing to do but to sit
And watch the uncontrollable scenery scroll
Past us, we were free. Our one consolation,
One inexplicable sensation: now, we’re free.

If your shame among the humans, who
Have built lives and civilizations, empires,
An entire species, entire global ecosystem, 
Of shame, becomes sufficiently intense,
You will, if you do not die from shame, snap
Back in your own breathing and feel free.

Maybe that consolation comes from loving
But ignoring human beings being human 
Among other things worth being, worth 
Loving and ignoring, just as fear of other
Humans being human means fearing other
Humans, the fear that being human brings.

Here I sense that hoodoo bending in me,
Slumping, weathered, stooped with thinking
These things, these always wearing, human
Being things. How human of me, imagining 
I am a crumbling rockface being comforted,
And an accidental buttress, tilted, cracked, 
Barely standing but, as yet, still capable
Of reaching out an arm, a weathered hand
To rest upon the cliff that I am comforting.

It is possible. It may be necessary, to be
Incapable of moving and to remain subject 
To being moved, like stone, but unlike stone
To know it, to be human and to yet feel free.

-2-

A Contentment 

By the wayside, smaller winds were tuning
Dry grasses and trees as reeds and woodwinds.
Comfortably seated in shade-mixed sun,
Free for the moment from bodily pain,
From hunger, thirst, or pressing human claims,
I basked in the gold glow that warmed my ribs
Through my clean, soft shirt and was contented. 
“What does contentment mean when life is full
Of the unexpected and unwanted?”
Asked Yiyun Li, and not rhetorically,
At least not entirely. Like well-being
And satisfaction, contentment can seem
Smug and secondary, a lowly thing.
Why? Since, during whatever interval
It lasts, we experience no striving,
And even the non-selves of the Buddhists,
The hermetic wanderings of Taoists,
Come laced with the arsenic of striving
In assumptions whatever we’re doing
Or not doing as we ought is to blame,
Is the reason for all our suffering.
Contentment, whatever it means, must lack
A grippable edge for aspiration.
Worse still, contentment is temporary,
On par with mere pleasure, therefore low-born
In the human happiness hierarchy.
Aspiration aspires eternally
And can’t relax until eternity.
Aspiration reeks of nobility,
Saintliness, wisdom, and humility.
Contentment reeks of contentment only,
And is physical, internal to one,
A glossy, well-fed cat curled in the sun. 
What can it mean, this temporary thing,
Knowing however often it returns,
The unwanted will return as often,
Unexpectedly, to take It away?
It means nothing, nothing but that it is
Possible to feel, despite everything,
Contentment and, then, contentment again.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Dry Lake at Evening

That calm that comes when there’s nothing
To be done. That’s the one. You think it is
Always momentary, and it is, but it is not
Necessarily. It could be the ground, mostly

Underwater, most of your existence, only
Emerging visibly during droughts of options
Behind dams of bodily limitations. Then,
When you have forgotten what waits under,

Maybe even have come to shudder to think
Of what sits on the bottom, beneath it all,
It comes back into the light, homely, beaten
Into ridges by the stages of receding shore,

But not horrific. Not horrible at all. Plain dirt
Of something somehow aware of being,
The calm when there is nothing to be done.
That’s the one. That’s the ground of the lake.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Then Again

No escape’s forever.
But you can set yourself
Free again. And again.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Yet Rest

“Come and stand beside me. It’s alright.”

These words are of uncertain origin
With no obvious cognates, simple words
From everyday American English,
Two common monosyllables—yet, rest.

Every language has something like a yet,
Doesn’t it? And every language a rest,
Some word or phrase translatable as rest?
Find me a tongue with no equivalent.

And yet, these terms themselves are oddities
Unique to English, not borrowings, just
A bit like German, a bit like Frisian,
No Proto-Indo-European known.

I like them for that. They are familiar,
Plain. I know them like the back of my hand.
They are humble and useful as peasants,
And with the same dark gift of dissembling.

They’re no kin to their bewitching master,
Death, born aristocratic, entitled,
Descended from the very root, to die,
Dheu, cease, become senseless, vanish away.

Death I have flirted with shamelessly, but
At every approach, I have stammered, blushed,
And retreated, forced to admit I am
Not ready, not yet. Death could use a rest.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Hold Me Back

Freedom pools behind the dam
Constructed of constraints

And swims, a fish contented,
With no business in the air

That this water was when creeks
Cut canyons with their flash floods

That were rampaging runners
Of rocks, logs, and detritus

Carving shadowy beauties
Now bubbling down in the dark

Where raging sediments sink
And fish float free, suspended.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Invention

“The deaf don’t believe in silence. Silence is the invention of the hearing.” ~Ilya Kaminsky

As an olm, I know that the dark
Is just a mystical ether
That only the hopelessly light-struck
Could imagine filling this cave
Of emptiness that surrounds me.

As a stone, I have come to think
That stillness is the myth of creeks.

As a cut-glass tumbler, left out
In all weathers and forgotten
After the long-ago picnic 
Of lovers, I can’t comprehend
Why these sinuously bending
Twigs in the tree above me fear
For green-stick fractures in the frost,
Why they rattle so bitterly
And whisper about brittleness. 

As these words that came from nowhere
And from someone lost before them
As they now appear, I refuse 
To believe in haunting. Death is 
The invention of the living.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Certitude Sentiment Certitude Joy

Fire and a hidden God hidden
In the lining of an old coat,
Stalking the sparrows in shadows.

Could he have kept that joy, his faith
Would have kept sufficient, been true
And not just his note in his coat.

Oh, wagerer. The sparrows flew
Faster than you could write them down,
And there you were. Do what you must

To continue, more or less. Do
Little. Care less. Pascal! Savor
Available emptiness. Rest.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

On Paper

Life looks good on paper, life
In the lived, the wide, wild world,
Life of the adventurer—that life

That looks good on paper,
Full of exotic travel, nature,
Culture, and rich detail,

May not be the life
To admire, however, may
Not be as sweet as the life

Ignored. Consider
The sunlight, intense
On this wall, on this water,

Consider the quiet
Of a subdivision that is
Lucky to be quiet, almost

Nowhere. You used to get
The shudders, driving through
The suburbs, your heart

Pounding as if your lungs
Were collapsing without air.
What is it, now, you like there?

Life is not the life on paper,
Nor lived in the marks
That record it, the pictures,

Not even in the doodled
Margins where you scribbled,
Reader, envious notes

To each other, to lives
That looked better on paper.
Life is the paper,

And this, this bare,
Spare, barren expanse
Of blank moments

In these desert subdivisions
By the low, marshy, reedy Virgin
River, is papyrus, this favor.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Titleless

There’s a winter wildflower
That blossoms in high country
When you would least expect it,
Small, for which no human tribe
Has come up with a story,
No obsessive botanist
Triumphantly coined a name.

It’s easy to miss, fragile,
Pretty in a solemn way,
A purple fleck, a shadow
In a blue-shadowed snowbank,
A bruised leaf in the dry grass.
It’s easily overlooked
But not only overlooked.

It’s not part of the forest,
Nor any ecosystem,
Never belongs where it’s found.
That’s how it’s escaped naming—
It’s always accidental,
Irrelevant, alien,
Motionless mobility,

Just there, surprise, and then gone.
It shows up in empty rooms.
It shows up in idling cars,
A petal by the pedals,
A purple patch on a shelf.
You might have seen it floating
Down a weed-choked stream in drought.

Think back. Try to remember.
Was there a trivial bit
Of purple-tinged happiness
At the corner of your eye
The day you spent by yourself?
A tiny smudge of color
To that cold, drab empty dawn?

Friday, December 6, 2019

Extra, Extra

This world is just the way it seems to be,
And we’re just a way it goes about it.
It birthed us and will kill us, you and me,
And there’s nothing to be done about it.

But go ahead and flail emphatically.
Gather all your megaphones and shout it—
You want to change the world dramatically
To the world you mean, and I don’t doubt it.

The way the world is, I’m sure you’ll succeed.
You’re the world I mean. You’re all about it.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Kenophilia

It comes and goes. The days go by.
The angel of self-consciousness
Suspends its blue-black flame of thought,
A flickering, wingless teardrop,
A methane marsh-light in the mind,
A weightless, lightless waste that shines
In any kind of dark or light—

Funny epiphenomenon,
Little gleaming bit of dreaming
That requires a human body,
Human sensory system hooked
Into the radiant network
Of language’s whispering ghosts,
The self-transcending, self-disclosed.

Swamp angel, it only exists
When nothing’s needed and consists
Of instantaneous stillness.
It is like some magical moth,
Soft, capable of hovering
Against gravity without wings,
But elusive, not illusion.

Achievement has no part in it.
Attending to it removes it.
If the reflection from your eyes
Cast a spot of light on the wall
And you cut your eyes to see it,
It could never be what you saw.
It lives in what flesh makes of it.

Awareness, effortless demon,
Comes from muck, is flushed from the dust,
And nothing can be done with it.
It flutters, powerless effect,
Never transcending creation,
And yet it arrives from the skies,
Or seems to, holy by descent.

When I allowed I might go on
When everyone of worth was lost,
When I had no means or reason
Left, without having met my death,
Still somehow savoring being,
I felt the freedom in my chest
And glimpsed it in the emptiness.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

A Couple of Locals in Dixie

Local Climate

A quarter past noon and the saints
Of Pine Valley are still in church.
The warmth says early October.
The low sun and completely bare
Branches shine early November.
Six rainless months of powdered dust,
Ankle deep right next to the creek,
Puff up at every step, Never!

Local Time

Think of a time-slip story,
Like Tom’s Midnight Garden, or
Time and Again, or Bid Time
Return, or Time After Time,
Or The Time Traveler’s Wife.

Think of the ones where you just
Fool yourself into thinking
The past is all around you
In these period details,
These fixtures of a lost world. . . .

Presto! You’re back in the past.
Look at you, almost passing
For native in this era,
As if you were not the ghost 
Of the future never yet.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Pentecost

No one loves the dark enough.
We should begin by shunning
Electromagnetism

In all parts of the spectrum,
At any kind of wavelength,
Including ones we can’t sense.

For this, dark skies are useless,
Spangled with radiant light.
For this, we want caves, not night.

Then let go of wanting those.
The holiness of being
Is only the awareness,

Transient to everything
Except itself, visitor
From nowhere that has to go.

When there’s only awareness
Of the awareness and nothing
Else an awareness could crave,

Awareness is already
There and when not, when there
Includes any fantasy,

Any longing strategy,
Then everything’s wholly dark
Because of the noisome light.

It’s not about the brilliance,
The glow, the scintillating
Significance of the light.

It’s to do with gravity,
The release from the great grip.
That’s the darkness that is light.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Calendar for Callender

Craig Callender, physicist,
Writing a lay person’s
Guide to the physics of time,

Floats a useful distinction
Between the “physical time”
That’s a Cheshire Cat of math,

Unnecessary except
For narrative purposes,
Yet comically annoying,

And time he terms “manifest,”
The embodied sort humans
Commonly experience.

It helps, his distinction, but
Still it seems odd that the queen
Of the hardest sciences,

Having ascended the throne
Via unprecedented,
Peerless powers of prediction,

Acts uncomfortably anxious
And fidgety discussing
The subjects of is and was

And whatever will come next,
Illusionist insisting
Magic must be only tricks.

I would love to find comfort
In exquisite symmetries,
In equable sleights-of-hand,

Time vanishing in pretense,
But I can’t. I remember
I’m beginning to forget,

And manifest time is all
I have, manifestly full
Of irreparable absence,

Scattered, scenic photographs
Of moments in the abstract,
The pages of calendars

No longer relevant, where
Constraints embodied in their
Perspectives hang, point by point,

The grids all tossed in the trash.
Broken, shuffled days pile up,
My next last year already past.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

A Scuffed Contentment

Most fantasies go like this—
Proper names and common nouns,
Unattached pieces of light,

Encircled by narrative
Scraps of connective tissue
That swirl around and around 

In the mind, make a vortex 
Of inertia, dread, and hope.
But most fantasies aren’t this.

This goes by too many names,
This, unnameable as God,
(Also named too many names)—

Here-and-now, experience,
Presence, the Thing-in-Itself,
On-going, quotidian,

Moment-to-moment, blooming,
Buzzing, what’s happening, this.
No one fantasizes this.

What would a fantasy be
That did not roll up the mind
Like a tight cyclorama 

Of lurid, implausibly
Projected mythologies?
Can one fantasize what is?

Only by not naming it,
Maybe, putting terms aside,
Dropping all analogies

That are themselves fantasies,
Fingers pointing at the moon,
Fictions of animal bliss.

The problem with existence,
As with mere divinity,
Is whether, without the names,

Without the attention names,
Narratives, and sculptured light
Bring dreams, this ever exists.

Let’s fantasize this like this.
Set yourself aside with me.
Whisper what this feeling is.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Scaled

One runty, scruffy-looking
Grey chipmunk looked up at me,
A step away from my boot.

Humans long for human love,
Comfort, approval, esteem.
I don’t know any who don’t.

And then there’s nature. We want
Nature and what nature wants
As well—safety, shelter, food.

The chipmunk tilted an ear
And evaluated me,
Then scaled the ponderosa.

I considered the sunlight.
It would be something, to be
Without needing to persist.

I like the less-than-living,
The background of existence,
Light on rocks and water best.

Left alone, words are like stones.
If some think nature wiser,
Well, it’s certainly larger.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Red Clay, Blue Ground

The light on the blue desert
Reflected sky like a lake.
Life, thought one of its children,

All of life, is singular,
With a singular habit,
Creation by destruction,

Sustaining and enlarging
Itself by eating itself,
Gorging on its engorgements.

Perhaps that’s too unpleasant—
Life as Shiva or Saturn,
Descent with self-consumption.

Setting methods aside, then,
Remember that opening
Provided by perspectives

Unfurling under thin skies—
Green pins and chirping machines,
The many competitions

All glinting one morning, one
Blue, lonely adumbration,
Horizon to horizon.

Life was not mother and child,
Or not only the many
Of those life’s doings enclosed,

And life was not separate,
Creator of creations.
Life was only Earth’s one life,

Every turn changing faces,
Adding names and mysteries
To the hot pursuit of itself,

Matter transformed by hunger,
Made eloquent by searching
For the continuation

Of more hunger and searching,
Grown large at small parts’ expense.
You’d noted something like this

Before, right Gaea? Meanwhile,
More daylight covered the ground,
And life rose up to meet it.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Acts of Oblivion

The chosen and the random,
Dry, quiet, bright, and airy
Poetry of sunny rooms

Empty of books or readers,
Empty of student teachers,
Empty of anyone soon.

The velvet early morning
Light in the body’s absence
Glows through the fruit and nut trees
Planted by a man deceased,

Well-tended by his widow,
Proud of her desert garden,
Lavender from the same sun
Crushing atoms, here serene.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

On Going

What about it? What is it?
Does it even have a name?
Let’s call it what has just been

Happening, going, the same.
We could call it nothing much.
We could call it everything.

Pascal saw the infinite
As meaning he meant nothing.
Nothing makes that infinite.

If it were not for nothing
Waiting to embrace all this,
Irreversibility

And plenty could not feature
As simultaneous shades
Through infinite finities.

While room remains in nothing,
What goes on keeps on going.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Unfulfanciful

Imagination’s fancies
Are as valuable to me

As hearths were to Frankenstein,
Heroin to Kurt Cobain—

As addiction to habit
And habit to pleasure, so

Fantasy to poetry,
Poetry to memory.

Here’s a thank-you to Brenda,
Who doesn’t know me from words,

For providing me the lines
That say better than these lines

How it feels when lines happen
To me, “a god-load / of grief

Dumped down from some heaven / where
Words rain down / and the poet

Is soaked.” This happens to me.
This keeps happening. I wish

It explained why “the poets
Are dying.” The damned poems aren’t.

These poems and their fantasies,
Every day they’re soaking me.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Tropism

An idea is a dead leaf
Motivated by a breeze,
Moving like a butterfly,
Deceiving the thoughtful beast.

An irregular pattern
Of symbols in an unknown
Language, lacking a context,
Contains what information?

Meaning depends on living
Minds, as far as minds can see.
Ideas alone move nothing.
Sunflowers turn more freely.

An idea is no sender,
Nor is it a receiver,
Though life generated it.
It moves as force acts on it.

And yet, study that dead leaf.
If it lacks intention now,
Ask where intentions come from,
And where could intentions go?

Unless matter is seeded
By thoughts of another world,
All intentions that matter
Are intentional matter.

Roots and hyphae make their trades.
Flowers anticipate sunrise.
Leaves drift in the old oak’s shade
I carved when we were alive.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Fourteen Leftovers from October

Wreck on Tour

It can be valuable,
To play the fool, to tell
The anecdotes you love

To tell, because you love
To tell them, even if 
You rarely tell them well.

Well-told, they’re of value
To listeners; to fools
They’re of value told true.


Give up the Ghost

How could we ever know we’ve died?
For certain, we see others die.
The rule should generally apply.
But a profound solipsism 
Would require we stay agnostic 
About our own mortality.
What’s life, when we’ve never lost it?


We’ve Been Artificial for Some Time Now

The ancient Chinese hermit in the hills,
Perusing his small collection of scrolls,
Preserving shi in his calligraphy,

Planting root vegetables, brewing his tea,
Was as far removed from a forager
As from the wayside ghost in this car seat.


It’s Earlier Than You Think

Given you’re human, you care
About synchronicity,
And you tend to get anxious
Whenever you wait too long.
I’ve come to reassure you,
You’re not too late, just early.
Something will come along soon.
Might as well savor the wait.


Passed As We Imagined Them

I imagine none of us
Imagines what happens next
Will mimic exactly what
One imagines may happen.

Yet we continue to play
Dupes to our imaginings,
Dreaming and dreading the days
We rarely recall having . . .


Tempus

Time is our fugitive, hounded by hope.


The Rose in the Steel Dust

Most people are not magnets.
Most people are just metal
Attracted to the magnets
But unable to attract
Those magnets (or each other).


Dread Lavender Enlightenment 

You can’t be what you aren’t,
And so you ask yourself,
Over and over, is what you are
Enough? For what?


An Unclaimed Ticket

A lottery is a state 
Of being, perhaps 
The only state being is.


What Happens Next

I don’t need to know.
I’m sure I’ll find out.


Democriverse 

Piled-up bric-รก-brac,
Poetry’s just this and that,
Quanta and the void.


Grave Facts

All beings who claim to be
Alive remain fictional.

I am by myself forgot,
Or will be, once I forget
To remind myself to forget.

We are all best-adapted
To the pasts that selected
Our ancestors from their packs.
Shifting winds extinguish that.


Poems to Be Taught in the Dark

Whatever in water strove
To speak, whatever in fire,
Whatever the stars desired,

Something inherent
Was coincident 
With the condition

That wet salt could enunciate
One day as these lines
Of conversational clay.


The Long Autumn

This autumn has been 
Replicating the autumn,
The long autumn of this life.
The weather slowly changes,
And the winter must arrive,

But every storm threat dissolves
In these bright, becalmed blue skies,
And the golden days 
Stretch out like drowsy felines
Lounging in late-angled light.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Our Novelty Is Our Myth

What if we’re really, really,
Really, really alien,
Not just to other monkeys,
Not just among lives on Earth,
Not alone only
Within this solar system
Or this galaxy—

What if we came from other
Physics, other forms of chance
And necessity?

Some sort of hole was punched through
The brains of early bipeds,
Or not their brains, their cultures,
The intrusion of language
Capable of narrative,

Not just anticipation,
Reportage, and emotion,
But storytelling?

Consider the clues,
The need for meaning,
Our one fundamental myth
That this world could be other
Than the way it always is,

The refusal to accept
Probability
As the law, except
For refining predictions,

Our instinct for beginnings,
For believing all middles
Have ends, for believing ends,
When we can see and comment
Philosophically
How things are always going—

We, not these beings of course,
Which are ordinary beasts,
Not the words these beings share

As substitutes for grooming,
Or not the words alone, but
Us, metaphysics of myth,

Stories ourselves alien
As stories of aliens
Penetrating these membranes
Of this myth-less universe

Where the only thing
New must be a myth.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Black Ridge, White Rocks

For a few minutes’ pause in the parade,
Mountain winds are all the psalms of the pines.

Let’s not begrudge, too much, the pick-up trucks
And motorbikes the hunger of their roars.

The pines are also always hankering,
And every noise but the wind itself wants more.

West of Mount Yen, the roads have no waysides,
The rumbles don’t reach, the sun never comes.

West of Mount Yen, on Black Ridge, in White Rocks
Nothing at last embraces nothing much.

But we are all creatures of nothing much,
And I love the wayside, despite the trucks.

If we would like to rest somewhere, it must
Be here, among the basalt, in the dust.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Nomos and Cosmos

Mushrooms resembling hens’ eggs,
Oval and brown, rose at dawn
From bright green, irrigated

Lawn, one late-autumn morning
In this southwestern desert,
As if a lazy parent

Had strewn them there for Easter
Without bothering to dye
Or to check the calendar.

Hill slopes wore shawls of scrub oaks,
Grey and brown with crispy leaves.
A pistol plocked in their woods.

Not a drop of rain for weeks.
I’ve done enough, someone thought.
Roaring dirt bikes sculpted dust.

If this were a proper book,
Handwritten, printed, or screened,
Carefully juxtaposed scenes

Would conjure coherent worlds
Through vivid contradictions,
Structured, balanced images,

But shapes and thoughts, like mushrooms,
Just appear in poems like these,
Spores for every passing breeze.

After seven days, Chaos
Died from being aerated
By his admirers. Really,

Thank you, but you’ve done enough.
It’s more and more of merely
Nearly the same digression,

Another interruption,
Another repetition
Representing the human

Condition. The rhetoric
Of experienced events
Is best left unexpressed—it’s

Mess, not synchronicity,
Much less mythic narrative,
Not scenes no one, being one,

Ever sees, the setting sun
As rising in another
Sea, simultaneously.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Glad Before Dawn

To whom should we be grateful
Who is not a human ghost,
Human phantom, one of ours?
Gratitude itself is ours,
As are forgiveness, mercy,

Retaliation, justice,
And hate—all the ghosts are ours,
Good and bad. In beasts, trees, seas,
And stars those ghosts seem absent.
Don’t be grateful; just be glad.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Shoulder Season

In the valleys and canyons,
The visitors diminished.
Bare branches on the high slopes
Scattered the last leaf-peepers.
Too early for winter sports—
Snow and hunters hardly showed.
Something started to finish.

There’s a loneliness to fall
That winter, lonelier, lacks—
Something empty and twisting
And resembling wet ashes.
Ends were confused for causes
Of our ends, of winds whistling
Through ashes, if ends listened.

Our merciless obsession
With stories, discrete units,
Origins and conclusions,
Meant we rarely considered
How fully in the middle
Of things we always must be,
Just as we always had been.

There were as many seasons,
Each distinctly similar,
Of bare air, clattering twigs,
And winds combing the grasses
Yet to happen and happen
Again as there’d ever been.
Those futures followed our scent.

Monday, November 18, 2019

The Quiet Seriousness of Marcescence

Crooked oaks refuse to shed.
They are not mammals or birds.
They are not mulling over

What to do. Their leaves hang on,
Their dead leaves, like our skin cells
Would if we never scraped them,

Only finally shoved off
The dead elements of us
With the youngest of their clones,

As the oaks will do come spring,
Also without decision
As we understand the term.

Why do dead oak leaves hang on,
When the pretty aspen leaves
Have long since thrown gold and gone?

There’s no philosophy here,
No moral to be pointed,
No helpful lesson to learn,

No manifesto,
No exact science,
No peroration.

This is poetry,
The quiet seriousness
Of marcescence, where the dead

Leaves hiss with the blowing snows
That should have started falling
Months and months ago.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Horizon’s Horizon

The truth behind slogans
Encouraging savor
In the experience

Of the journey itself:
The journey goes nowhere,
Has no destination.

There are moments to pause
And inns along the way,
Many if you’re lucky,

But you will move along
Again until you’re gone.
The journey keeps going.

You’re always the middle,
No font and origin,
No final direction.

Savor it as you can
Without destination.
Horizon’s horizon.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Resourceful Waste

I like weeds. What humans do,
Including me, including
You (yes, we, even if you
Have done less than been done to),

Has more to do with naming
Sins than curing them. What weeds
Do is thrive despite the sins
We’ve invented, sins for which

Weeds are weeds. We punish them.
We are a weedy species,
Even, only, by our terms,
The kind of weedy species

That invades stored resources,
Radiates in strangling ropes
Through diverse, balanced gardens
And blanches grounds around them.

Life lays waste to resources,
Makes wastes that make resources
For more desperate lives to waste.
In Utah’s southwest desert,

I am leaning on crutches,
Washing dishes wastefully,
Watching the lawn I don’t own
That owners water for me,

That owners have resodded
And mowed level recently,
Green lawn after several months
Without rain, blooming with weeds.

Friday, November 15, 2019

How Am I So Profoundly Trivial?

Ping

The last time I consulted a comet,
She pointed out, rather ominously,
That from her perspective, the Earth

Was responsible for everything on it
And everything pinging out away from it,
With no artistic distinctions to be made

For aesthetics, intentions, or species.
“It’s all one and the same production to me.”
I responded by suggesting that icy comets

Crashing into Earth made or at least
Contributed significantly to our peculiar seas,
But she only laughed at me. “Comets crash

Into all kinds of satellites, name as many kinds 
As you please. I don’t see any other planets
With oceans that foam with inventions like these.”

Like these what? I demanded, a little insulted. 
“Whatever! Cells, teeth, oxygen machines.
Carbon chains churning polycarbonate rings.”

She had me. But then, she wasn’t a real comet,
Was she? Only another ping from among Earth’s
Inventions—hungry water, words, omens, me.


Money Makes the Monkey Dance

Any system for moving resources 
Enumerably founds itself on the unstable 
Partnership between intrinsic asymmetry

And increasing fungibility. As far as I am
Concerned, money numbers do not matter,
And how I’ve used them doesn’t matter,

Only why I‘ve used them matters, as a matter
Of character. But to others, my character
Is literally immaterial, and what matters,

Understandably, is what I’ve done with numbers,
How I’ve moved resources toward or away
With them, enhancing or decreasing them.

What matters to me about money can never be
Equivalent to what matters to others, nor can 
What matters to them mean the same to me.

That’s the asymmetry. Money’s fungibility only
Ensures increasing fluidity and instability 
Infect that pure asymmetry, which kills me.


Pain in Another

We’re not so different
About what we want
From poetry, but
We differ in how
We want what we want—

We want to feel weird,
To sense mind-music,
Closer to insight
Than we’ve felt before,
A justified awe.

We want to feel known
By someone unknown
Or something unknown
That bears us goodwill,
Our doubts as our hope.

But the uncanny,
Musical wisdom
Of understanding 
And affirmation
In one person’s thoughts

Is the bland, toneless 
Triviality
Or the dark, clanging,
Echo of ancient
Pain in another.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Eroding Struggles Large and Small

There’s no necessary aspect
Of being other than being,
Which is happening, becoming.

Only nothing is not being,
Not happening, not becoming,
And you haven’t met nothing yet.

But you will struggle, anyway,
Person for whom struggling remains
Intrinsic to your becoming.

You will struggle with what you want
And with the struggles of others.
You will struggle to be okay

With how little you accomplish,
And you will fail and be failed and
You will struggle to recover.

But what is inevitable
Is never, necessarily,
Constant, because it too changes,

Even your struggles keep changing
And are not necessarily
Struggles at all times, not at all.

There’s no necessary struggle
To being, other than changing,
Eroding struggles large and small.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Something Must Happen, That’s All

The illusion of decision is
The most overwhelming addiction,
An intense, continuous desire
To ask oneself, this or that? Or what?

Twenty years in the western mountains,
And my hair and beard have all gone white.
I’ve watched stars from car windows cold nights.
There were dawns I half-vanished in ice.

But what looked like choice from the outside
And helpless indecision within,
Had little to do with strategy
Played foolishly or wisely. I was

As decisive and indecisive
As the hairs on my head, as the stars,
As the windows I waited beside,
As the dawns, as the nights, as the ice.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Which Is What

If you quit imagining
What anyone thought of you,
And you quit imagining
Gods or Buddhas judging you,

Just kicked the habit
Of imagining
Any evaluation,
Any opinion of you,

Then what would you do?
Slowly come to a full stop?
Destroy yourself for pleasure?

Do what you would do.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Eddy

Sometimes I feel like a brain
Is a pebble in the stream
Of language dragged down

From the ancestral mountains,
From the glaciers, mists, and springs,
Cutting channels through people,

In which case a composer
Of patterns in words is not
More than an oddly shaped rock.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Infinity Category

Do the new mathematicians
Really know what they are doing,
Now that they have invoked the end

Of equations by inviting
Infinite equivalence in?
Look at what the storytellers,

Poets, and pop culture have done
With relativity, black holes,
Multiverses, and the quantum.

Wait until the philosophers
And mystics get mitts on this one—
There are no exact equations.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

One Year, Staring out Windows

My life is lives pursuing life.
My lives are life in life’s pursuit.
There’s no shame or waste in living,
But for a ghost, it’s a nuisance.

For a ghost, how inconvenient,
All these bits of body working
To make more working body, more
Bits of body making bodies,

From the inscrutably minute
And hopelessly momentary
To the whole, drawn-out heft of it,
Staggering decades of it all.

Ghosts have been known to shame themselves
About being so embodied,
About having bodies at all,
Such holy ghosts shame other ghosts,

And on and on and on it goes,
So long as ghosts’ bodies allow,
So long as life fails to notice
Ghosts’ interferences can kill,

So long as ghosts stay embodied
In lives with more lives left to fail,
So long as life has not yet failed.
At that thought, a ghost could wonder

If the ghosts will ever get out
And free themselves from the bodies
That they inconvenience as well
With their unproductive hauntings—

Monks moaning in celibate cells—
Professors of philosophy
Losing sleep over thought’s meaning—
Physicists furious with stars—

Pilgrims and penitents praying
For whatever life’s bodies want
Without leaving their incense clouds—
Children lost in the glow-worm swamps.

It’s a nuisance to be haunted
And a nuisance to wait, inert,
But life will get what lives wanted,
Even if a few ghosts desert.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Morbus Cyclometricus

We long to distinguish mistakes
From intentional cruelty,
Malice aforethought from error.

Oh, it’s so important to us,
From toddlers deploying the phrase,
On purpose, to writers righteous

When mistaken, which means taken,
For someone of some similar
Sound of origin, shade of sin.

Even stating as much feels wrong,
A shamefully provocative
Invitation to punishment.

Life sentences hang on judgments
Of intentions, signed confessions
Procured by torture are precious.

Did you mean to betray the state?
Knowingly insult the God’s truth?
Flagrantly violate taboos?

Once, mistakes grew wild as grasses,
And the guilt that could nourish groups
Flew away in the lightest winds.

But we domesticated them
Into these heavy-headed grains
Bent with responsibility,

Patiently drooping to the blades
Of the teams of fellow humans
Sweating to cut and consume them.

Oh, but the back-breaking labor!
Why haven’t we yet perfected
Machinery to thresh our sins,

One flawless, rational method
That can justify our systems
For proving which sins have reasons?

We will square this circle one day.
We will prove we can distinguish
Our schemes from all our accidents,

Can show that the cosmos meant us
To care so deeply for our pure
Righteousness concerning purpose.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Winter Triangle

What is not there, and what is
There no longer, and what is
Not there yet, the triangle,

The sharp one, of not being,
The harbinger of nothing,
The sunk relief of the past

In memory, the present
Only imagination,
The future’s own intaglio

Carved by anticipation—
Those shadow tenses
The goddess personifies,

Her asterism conjures—
Not the past, but memory
Of what used to be the past—

Not the past becoming past,
But the re-imagining
Of memories, rearranged—

Not future, nonexistent
To begin with, the only
Nonexistence, drawing us

And everything to nothing,
But the future’s negation,
That yet of unknown 

Origin, not the nothing,
But sharp anticipation,
Sense’s keenest invention,

That the never is coming
Cloaked in the robes of the next,
That the next, the forever

Not yet, will rescue us yet,
Psychopomp, guide of the soul
To where nothing can arrive:

Of those three tenses,
The mind’s tenses of not-time,
Night time’s mirroring lenses,

Not there, not yet, no longer,
Is she really the brightest
Or the dimmest of the three? 

This body has been bemused
By stories of her consort
Who is sometimes a hunter,

Sometimes a spider mother
Dragging a galactic sac
Of spiderling stars,

Often a knight or storm god
Battling the dragon,
Sometimes the monster’s ally.

This body has not noticed
Often enough what is not
Present nor past nor future.

Triangle goddess of naught,
Of New Years on the old Nile,
Who was also a river

In the red bird of China,
Priestess, pillar, and blossom
In Polynesia, 

Wolves in Macedonia,
A duck in the Amazon,
A food thief in the Arctic,

So fat he fell through the ice,
And many other stories
About a few dots of light,

Too many stories to tell,
Stories that are no longer,
Stories that are not yet there,

There’s no need for this address.
The tenses of what is not
Are not what is not, not yet.

A glimpse of your stars
As we spin away from ours
Once a night is all we get.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Fresh Records of Ancient Matters

The spiritual
Is material
Turned out of its home,
Matter made homeless.

In an era of wonders
When disembodied voices
Answer our requests
As in fairytales,

We find we only worry
More about the end,
Not even of us,
Who must end, but everything,

As if everything
Depended on us
And the best of our angels
Cast out of heaven’s machines.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

What We Mean to Be

Tiny, monotonous changes remain
The fondest habit of the universe,
Creeping events minor enough for us
To confuse loss with enduring stillness.
But I have rung the changes on these thoughts

Through dozens of poems and variations
In homage to the ways the world alters
When it alteration finds—constantly,
Minutely, thoroughly intimately.
Am I done wondering how change is done?

I need to write the poem I need to read,
The one that comforts you, whoever you
May or may not be, and thereby comforts
Me with the belief that I left something
For you and me both to read and be pleased.

I need to compose the poem not written
By me or the likes of me, the simple
Confession of the language to itself,
Now that it understands its uniqueness
Among the ways of the world, that it means.

Somehow the world has delivered the world
Of a phenomenon unlike the world,
So unlike the hungering and burning
Dynamisms, the waves of stars and beasts,
Meaning this, these words wrung out of all that,

Not alive, containing no fires inside,
Only lives’ and fires’ descriptions, inert
Information about information,
Signs, creations that can create nothing,
The meaningless world’s made, meaningful things.

We need to speak, quietly, when it’s safe,
When no one’s reading us but us reading
Us, just meaning to meaning, you to me.
Outside, all is wavering, changing us.
What we cannot change, we must mean to be.

Monday, November 4, 2019

But This Is

Parmenides posited
The nonexistence
Of nonexistence.

About the same time,
Buddhists and Taoists
Suggested the foundations

Of existence consisted
Of mirages concealing
Their nonexistence.

Either way, what the truth is
Depends on the conviction
Someone’s truth isn’t.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Move

None of my hunches were right in the end.
Stonehouse died several centuries ago.

The flat-topped rock on which he watched the moon
And composed singable poems about rocks

And cloudless nights while thinking Buddhist thoughts
Is still sitting there, being a rock, just

“Up the slope from the water-bottling plant.
Local farmers call it ‘chess-playing rock.’”

What does this tell us about poetry
And wisdom and sutras and strategies

For getting through another moonlit night?
I never have been any good at chess.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

The Absence of Ghosts

“Every time we misremember something old, we are imagining something new.”

We never fell from the void,
But from the fullness we fall,
Becoming, toward the void

That calls us, drawing us on,
Drawing us into being,
Out of what once was the all.

When we will be, we won’t be.
When we thought we were, we weren’t.
When we are, we’re never here.

Nothing is nothing perfect,
Perfect nothing in the end,
Nothing that let us begin.

Paradox is not a curse
Of being trapped in language
But language’s greatest gift,

Meaning’s distorting lenses
Arranged to close the distance
Between our thoughts and what is.

On the river’s northern bank
Facing the shores of the south, 
Metaphysics established

One of its first palaces,
The tidy correspondence
Between balanced Yin and Yang.

Gods and atoms formed the nodes
That gave the causal networks
Coherence numbers needed,

But meaning itself remained
A scrim, a screen, a platform
On which ghosts performed the plays. 

Quiet falls on all the peaks.
After centuries of roars,
The water tower of Tibet

Empties, and billions of apes
Scatter in a world of floods.
That was last night’s performance.

Poor Boyu, he never knew
Whether he knew what he knew,
Nor what he did not know.

He had to quit performing.
Enough! Enough! He shouted.
Then he went and worshipped doubt.

He grew spooky, that Boyu,
Entangled in painting scenes
Of pears on porcelain tureens

In pairs whose geometry 
Of perfect gravity meant
That the curving surfaces

On which their branches unfurled
Their fruits and leaves, in a way
That was beautiful, although 

Boyu now knew beauty meant
Nothing, contained nothing much.
Mixed with paint rinsed from brushes

And crematory ashes,
Memory makes excellent
Potting soil for histories.

Ah, these fragments we pile up
Continually, without
Any end of mind in mind

But with an expectation
Of a miracle, supra 
Spem spero, to save us all.

The broken robot recites
Conditions to get to sleep—
Presence, absence, zero, one,

Many, imaginary,
Natural, fantastical,
Is, is not, was but is not,

Never was, never will be,
Everything ever could be
Vs. never, finally.

In the palace on the banks
Of the Yin and Yang river,
Boyu and the robot play

Chess with all the conditions
They can think of, until one
Or the other gets to sleep.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Three Postscripts to Yesterday’s Letter to Me

P.S. Cryptic Folding Haiku Triptych 

Even though I know
No response is adequate, 
And this world wants none,

The piercingly blue
Utah sky this afternoon
Makes an ache in me

I want to replace
With a blue poem of bare trees
Whose branches make space.


P.P.S. More Than This

When I asked myself
What more I wanted,
I was happy to answer
That I wanted nothing much,
Which led to discontentment.

The next time I ask myself,
I hope that I will answer 
Nothing, I want nothing more.


P.P.P.S. The Art of the Long-Winded Aphorism 

To command yourself
To not be anxious,
To not dither, as
If each little, least
Decision mattered,

As if decisions 
Existed at all,
Is like commanding 
Guts to not hunger,
Your heart to not pulse.

Moral: what is absurd to dream of actually accomplishing may yet be worth approximation.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Yankee Meadow Halloween

There are no true claims
About what happened,
Only about what
Will have to happen.

Nothing is both past
And present, while all
Presence is the past
And is thus nothing,

But nothing cannot be,
Only be coming; indeed,
Nothing is what the past is
Presently coming to be.

In the past, before I see
This sentence return to me,
As a posting from others,
As words on a page or screen,

The meadows in the mountains
Became inaccessible
To me, snowed, closed, and wintry,
And I will think of nothing

Again, unless, by that age,
Nothing has already thought
Of me—in the event,
I have nothing to say, but

Forgive me old pine,
I have to take the song
Your traveling wind
Earned away from you.

Once, in a green world,
On the wayside, by a stream,
I looked at the sky
And saw burnt cliff’s mindless clouds
Rising behind me.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Output

What good do big doors do?
That seems like a question
For causal inference:
What probability 
Of good follows, given
The choice to do big doors,

Or, P of (G | do (D))?
Red Pine has translated
A thousand year-old poem
Alluding to a tale
From the Han dynasty
In which a man who built

A big door to seem grand
Died young from overwork.
Big doors did him no good,
But think of the lesson
For all the good it did.
Causation is its myth.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Far into Autumn

Listen carefully, when it’s quiet: this stream,
This little, murmuring mountain creek,
Has a backbeat, an under drum, a bass beat.

It fooled me once: I felt it, heard it, barely,
And assumed it was some punk in a truck,
Unseen somewhere, woofers in his trunk.

Noises can be hard to figure, deep in dense,
Narrow canyon woods, where winding roads
Have tired windy tunes but so do the woods.

Now I sit in quiet and green-a-day, thinking
Of worn phrases for the velocities of change,
But a fall wind is in the branches, tip-toeing,

Moving things just enough so that they say
Dendritic things they never meant to mean,
While boulders thunk together in the stream.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Jupiter Set in September

Snug in our web of astronomy, of centuries
On centuries of individual human lifetimes
Spent before us carefully observing night
Skies for regularities, changes, and signs,
For patterns inferred from patterns inferred
From inherited measurements, personal
Years of patient calculations, conferring
With the already-then ancients, conversing
With contemporaries over the latest events,
Maths, error corrections for uncertainties,
Controversies, technologies, telescopes,
Observatories in the deserts, on mountains,
Lens-grinding techniques, new wavelengths
Invisible to the keenest eyes in clearest air,
On and on, this legacy in place at our birth,
Given to us like language, a mother tongue,
The ongoing research, enormous projects,
Telescopes in space, robot probes, massive
Arrays spanning mountain ranges, enormous
Underground tunnels smashing subatomic
Particles in circles larger than metropolises,
The primary, secondary, tertiary training
Of each next generation, the calculators,
The computers, the career opportunities,
The interconnected hives of universities
And libraries, the heaped-up metabolisms
Of information so well-insulated, so intricate,
That they have their own nervous circulations,
Their own trophic layers, whole ecosystems,
Including commensals, parasites, viruses,
Infestations, outbreak species, conspiracies,
We forget. We forget what night sky is like,
What it looks like to our little, feeble eyes,
And we have no respect for the gone minds
Who had to guess, couldn’t help guessing,
Being us, being our kind, what those lights
Could possibly be or mean or intend for them.
I went out to the Nevada desert the weekend
After the internet conspiracy fans had planned
To celebrate aliens, maybe storm Area 51,
Maybe free the visitors from captivity, mostly
As an excuse to book-up remote motels, party,
Give the police a practice drill and the military
Instillations a minor fit, have a good time.
They were gone. The clerk at the cabins said
The locals had been mildly disappointed.
“We were sort of hoping for really colorful
Characters, y’know, but they were mostly
Just cheerful and curious. Never saw so
Many cops and troops around here, though.”
Myself, I was there for a mere moonless night—
Clear skies, mild temperatures, barely a breeze,
Almost no chance of a passenger-jet contrail
So near the closed airspace over military sites,
Nothing listed on the night-sky schedule
But the ordinary business of rotating stars,
No meteor showers, no planetary line-ups,
Not even Venus or Mars. Just Jupiter, Saturn,
Medium-high and far apart in the early sky,
Both setting before midnight. Quiet, quiet
And dark a night as I could find nearby on Earth
And in Earth’s atmosphere. I parked in brush
On a sandy wayside far from highway lights,
The only interference after twilight a smudge
On the low, southernmost horizon, not quite
A glow, almost like zodiacal light, the faint
Reminder of showy Las Vegas at two hours’ drive
Or more by shortest route, just about the time
It took for the stars to come out completely—
Bright, nearly evenly scattered, just slightly
Patterned, as if spilled, poured dots of light.
Over the top arched a long ribbon of cloud
That wasn’t a cloud, the river of heaven,
The pathway of milk, the backbone of night.
I shifted, tilted, readjusted my perspective,
And thought of the familiar names and tales
I had ingested over decades, of polestars,
Bears, dragons, hunters, twins, archers,
Virgins, monsters who devoured their own
Children, punished lovers freed to be lonely,
Stuck as shining specks forever in the night,
All the human melodrama, all of the omens
For aligning the hall, storming the palace,
Starting a war. I thought of fancy phrases,
Of the supermassive black hole at the heart
Of that one ragged ribbon of star cloud,
Of the invisible bubbles of radio waves from it.
I recalled going out to fetch a few splits
From the woodpile outside a drafty house
On the floor of Castle Valley, Utah, in winter
One year, night after night, hobbling, hurrying,
Only to get transfixed, shivering, legs aching,
Arms aching and scratched by the wood,
Neck sore from being bent back at an angle,
Trying to take in all of the stars. As always,
I don’t know why, I thought of Whitman’s dig
At “the learn’d astronomer,” and his boast
Of looking “in perfect silence at the stars.”
I grew aware, with a hammering awareness,
How numbingly many, wordlessly inscrutable,
How baffling all those flecks and pins of light
Would be without anyone’s prior astronomy
To tell me what I should make of them,
Without poetry or mythology, with just them
And this body staring back at them, wondering if
I envied the bats in their shadows around me.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

To Do With Us

Having been fifty-seven
For fifty-seven days, whole,
October twenty-seventh

Found me watching the shade trees
Tossing in the neighbors’ yards,
Horses bucking and bowing

In the bare-skied, fearsome winds—
Sunday morning, so I could
Pretend to begin again.

Think of all the beginnings
Living humans have counted
Since counting began. Begin.

Roughly one hundred billion
Humans, including this one,
Have, it’s estimated, lived.

But who we’d call the first one
No one has ever agreed.
I doubt the first one counted.

That’s the thing with beginnings—
We invented them, but when
Did we create beginning

Out of the sort of living
Trees live, tossing in the winds
Passing again and again?

More than forty years ago,
A poet, Peter Payack,
Wrote a poem imagining

Everyone who ever lived
As the “ultimate party”
At his apartment. Alas,

His party was a failure,
The earliest human stabbed
In the kitchen, and the rest

All quickly following him,
Leaving their host, the poet,
With billions of dirty plates.

He ended humorously
By putting off the clean-up
Of dishes “until morning.”

Another morning, decades
And billions of lives later,
Mr. Payack lived online

In the form of a website
Touting his anarchism,
His “Stonehenge Watch” invention,

His poems and science fiction.
I, who was a boy back when
He imagined his party,

Admired him for remaining
Among the billions living
Among the dirty dishes

That no one has ever washed.
The trees bucking in the gusts
Want nothing to do with us.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Advice to My Selfish Eyes

When in conversation, turn your partners
From you to their worlds, and then you can gain
The benefits of shifting perspective.
Mirrors tilted at the eyes are prisons.
Mirrors tilted away: magic windows.

Friday, October 25, 2019

More Dead Words

Once we spoke, we knew dead
Words led invisible
Lives. We lit a candle

For you. We dug a pond
For the moon. The mountains
Are just mountains again.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

An Allegory in Need of a Target

Bright blue patches of dead lizards
And sacrificed tails speckle the concrete
Of my rented back porch where the cat
Brings her kills to play with them, although
She has no taste for the scampering lizards
With their cyan-colored guts and scales.
There are no rodents in this subdivision, not
So far as she can find, and the lizards, which
I love and which give me joy to watch, just
As she does, if not as much, do scamper.
Their trick of the breakaway tails, effective
For distracting and escaping birds, works
Not at all on her. She tosses the lizards
In the air, ignoring the tails and the blue,
Until they stop twitching and she gets bored.
Then her black shape glides away, to find
Some other twitching thing, preferably
One alive, ideally one edible, a mammal
Like her, or a fluffy little bird, but anything
That seems to move—a leaf, a spot of light,
A dead cockroach shifted by a team of ants—
Will do. She’s not hungry. She’s well fed, but
Her ancestors survived by feeling this need
To hunt and practice hunting, even when
They had no particular urgency to feed.
I come home, sigh at the carnage, and sweep.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Head Wind

I’ll crawl on a limb and say it—
One thought I think all humans think
Is, Oh, what will my others think?
That thought on a limb can sway it.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Four Raindrops

“a tiny little area of bone at the base of our skull called the otic capsule. . . . immovable and therefore truly permanent, remaining locked in our bodies as irrefutable evidence of our biological identity from before our birth until after our death. . . . about the size of four raindrops”

I tell a double story,
The play of my wandering
Within the narrow confines
Of the life within a skull.

I am, of course, not the one
Who wanders, the wandering
Being done has always had
A playful mind of its own.

I am self and I am bone,
The never known part of me
I can’t perceive or forget,
Signature under the desk.

Black cows, black aspen shadows.
Hard to tell in high meadows 
What’s too solid, what is air,
And who’s the wanderer there.