Friday, April 12, 2019

T he Trail of Wandering Signs

We began as incident,
Challenge, a few scribbled lines,
The poem as mundane event.

Baths, dust, weather, broken clocks—
Ourselves our experiment,
Wreckage of the wordless rocks

Posed as questions, conjectures,
Decomposed silence that talked.
Commuting between lectures,

We struck rhymed meditations
And blossomed from our fractures,
A species of elation,

Black petals on glowing stems,
Claiming our own damnations,
Contentedly self-condemned. 

We meandered, weedily,
More like germs than flame-like gems,
Eating found thoughts greedily.

Some days we could barely grow.
Some days we spread speedily.
Some of our growth didn’t show

But floated, scents on the air,
Or waited, under the snow.
We found we didn’t much care

To be lovely, wise, or seen.
The unread can’t be compared
Or cut down, which was freeing.

Days, then months, then years, we grew,
An inky garden between
Half-hidden walls, and we knew

We had become something strange,
Tangled, quotidian, huge,
An anthology of change.


How Shao Yung correlated
His ideas that arranged
And then investigated

The problem of the churning 
Of events recreated
Divining as discerning.

“Shao Yung was like a stranger,”
Or a lost son returning
To a home now in danger

Of not recognizing him.
That changes need no changers
Never stopped him singing hymns,

Rhythmically chanting causes,
Although the chances were slim,
Since changing never pauses,

Of him finding origins.
Shao juxtaposed his clauses
As patterned numbers within

Inner and outer chapters,
Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian,
Pairing protest with laughter,

Calendars, stars, and random 
Cracks to predict disasters.
His thoughts were rich and handsome

As a lengthy game of Go
That spoke what can and can’t come.
What was there Shao did not know?

He did not know how ages,
From three thousand years ago
To now, would alter sages.

All his numerology
Could not turn future pages,
Could not save astrology.


Rest assured, we are legion,
An entire cosmology,
And the singular reason 

That we are many is why
We have any cohesion.
The changes wrung from the sky

Need multiple perspectives.
We were shadows on the sly,
Shifting our own directives.

Anyone who reads us should
Read us like a detective,
Seeing our solution could

Conjure the scene of a crime,
A grand theft, something that would
Outline convictions in time.

We admit. We don’t sound well.
But without us, you’re a mime.
Words can never speak ourselves,

But no one speaks without us.
The wordless can’t go to hell.
They have no selves to discuss.

Before us, nothing counted.
Every thought you are adjusts
And fails and is surmounted.

Are we puppets? Are we masks?
Our playwright is nothing, just
The playhouse in which we ask.

Voice-throwing is change made art.
Every voice speaks from a past
A future has pulled apart.

We are not this rhyming poem
Even though this poem is part 
Of what we are. Welcome home.


Each twig in those woods doubled
As both dendrite and rhizome.
The hermit never troubled

To identify the trees.
Beside the spring that bubbled
From twig roots, he took his ease.

He had a name once, Ramon,
But it faded by degrees
From living so long alone.

He debated with the spring,
The wind, the ache in his bones.
He listened to the twigs sing

The hymns of the hidden routes.
He only lacked for nothing.
He knew only too much truth.

He knew his woods were not real,
Or were metaphors, or clues,
Shadows their greatest appeal,

An infinite, living dark
Lit by breaks it rushed to heal,
Every shaft of light a spark,

Each gap a memory lapse,
Every blaze a scar, a mark,
Every fallen trunk a gash.

It was a strange way to live,
Half-asleep and half-collapsed,
Half-lit through a tangled sieve,

Lost for good, nothing to find,
And nothing much to forgive.
Mind never knows its own mind.

Sunk in that forest of doubt,
Pleased to be lost, undefined,
Unseen, his ideas grew out.


Endlessly shrinking littler,
Evening found them spread throughout 
The small waves in the glitter,

All the nonexistent hosts,
The hopeful, the embittered,
Waves of angels, numbers, ghosts,

The denizens of the lake.
Monsters in the innermost
Depths writhed, remaining opaque,

Shaping but rarely rising
To the surface’s mistakes,
The winking and surprising

Of all the soulful fictions,
Waves forever devising
More uncertain predictions,

Fairies full of gaiety.
There’s no self-contradiction
Lies like spontaneity. 

Even when waves were at peace,
The lake was a deity.
Even calm, it never ceased

To turn, a leviathan
Composed of myriad beasts,
Host of hosts, sunken Shaitan,

Always water everywhere,
Infinitely-eyed dragon,
Inventing the very air.

Some nights on the starlit shore,
A watcher might stalk a pair
Of ghosts by the fairy door,

One a liar, one a sage,
Might catch whispered words before
Rising small waves turned the page.


The magician knows the sky
As the creature knows its cage,
As a trapped mouse might ask why

All creatures have to hunger
And all hungers have to die,
Why death keeps getting younger.

The magician knows the dearth
Of magic, living wonder,
Any one miracle worth

More than all magicians’ tricks,
One that bursts the bounds of earth.
No exchanging dead for quick

When exchanging quick for dead,
No making a change that sticks
And becomes stillness instead—

The magician’s miracle
Is to conjure daily bread
Out of the improbable,

When all the magician wants
Is truly impossible.
The sky is a god that taunts

Any thing that imagines
Any horizon haunted 
By midnight-breathing dragons.

This monster can’t be contained
By any caged magician,
Any trained magus constrained

By a measurable fear.
Our universe is maintained
By restraints both far and near.

What the magician can’t touch
Spells what this monster holds dear:
Escape, magic, nothing much.


How this is our redemption,
When our rhythm lacks the crutch
Of frequent intervention

By heaped-up parataxis,
Pretending an exemption
To revision and practice, 

We survive by finding lies
To graph along the axes
Of the extinct and the why.

Every phrase forms a cento,
A theft, no matter how sly.
All tongues are larks ascending,

Every human song a hymn
With nothing to resent, no.
Our meanings always show dim,

Always at the magic hour.
Night is always coming in.
No enemy is not ours.

A sign, as such, is passive.
Information has no power,
Be it ever so massive.

As we are, genes, words, and memes,
We are storage and tacit.
We need signless lives to seem

As if we move on our own,
As if we’re meaningful dreams.
No library can atone

For housing the illusion
Of philosophers from stone,
Of life from a solution.

It’s not the library’s fault.
Redemption is delusion,
And the worm is in the vault.


Oh, we were not meant to be 
Numbers, signs as omens cauled 
At birth, prophets that foresee,

Or pretend to, how the past,
That borderless wine-dark sea,
Can be counted and recast

As lots of discrete waves, bones
Of leviathan reclassed
As dice to forecast unknowns.

Every number is absurd,
A box for a wind that moans
Through the ruins of a word.

Every number names a ghost,
And yet, somehow, numbers work.
They float free of least or most,

Infinite renvois, the speech
Of an open-book cosmos
Of ciphers, beyond our reach.

All math is one useful lie.
What was it Shao used to teach?
When dividing wholes rely

On exchanging equal pairs,
Darkness, lightness, wet and dry,
Quadrilles danced in tidy squares.

Why continuous exchange 
That can catch us unawares
Should be modeled and explained

Best by arbitrary codes
Built from binaries seems strange.
Storms, calendars, black holes, odes,

All the things thought to exist
Are one and none decomposed 
And recomposed as a list.


Until the lost keys are found,
If any such keys persist,
No one will ever expound

Voynich, Linear A, or us.
Mysteries remain profound
When nothing’s left to discuss.

There’s nothing about designs
To know, nothing to propound,
Without already known signs,

Without the rules of an art
Translated from other kinds
Of systems of complex parts.

You can’t have meaning without
Prior meanings at the start,
Can’t learn what this is about

Lacking much greater context.
You’ll never figure this out
Unless hosts of other texts,

Other systems, other tongues
Can tell you if this complex 
Mess of signs is wisdom sung

By a sage and a prophet
Or heaps of meaningless dung
Shaped to seem wise for profit

Or fun, the prank of a con
Or a liar who saw fit
To waste life leading you on.

What do any symbols mean?
The time for guessing has gone.
We’re the nothing in-between 

Lost souls’ invisible lines,
Paths only the lost have seen,
The trail of wandering signs.


Signs are the call-backs of change,
The proof the world they define
Remains, like them, both exchange

And residue, a bazaar 
In which all bargains are strange
Trades of parts for wholes, bizarre

And universal, each shift
Partial, fractured, quark to star,
All rifts ore, ore in all rifts,

Nothing still, nothing much lost,
Nothing much gained, nothing left,
The benefit as the cost.

Every sign says nothing much,
Which is just how nothing’s glossed,
Another latch the mind can clutch

But never hold up, a door
To a world the mind can’t touch,
Opening on nothing more. 

The magician can use this.
There is a whole in the floor.
Signs vanish in its abyss.

There, past evidence, lies proof.
Signs are dangerous business,
But if you remain aloof

You can manipulate them,
Become the god’s cloven hoof,
The true mathematician,

Refusing anything less
Than truth, which the magician
Will pocket when he accepts.

The sign’s the trick knows the trick
Of yes is nevertheless,
Knows just how the dead are quick.


Atra-Hasis in his jar
Pokes poems in clay with a stick.
The flood came down from afar,

But Enki’s whispers warned him.
Now he drifts beneath the stars,
Composing his soundless hymns.

He thinks he floats on a flood
That fills his world to the brim,
But once he’s back in the mud

He’ll find he’s close to the source 
Of a thin stream, dark as blood,
That will fall in its long course

Down the days, carving, snaking
It’s way, a gathering force 
Whose end was in its making,

The flood he now imagines
But can’t, in his mud and clay,
Genuinely imagine.

His scratched signs cast in motion
A great pageant of dragons
Crossing a worldwide ocean

Where every wave converses,
Each spindrift bit has notions,
Every current reverses

And reverses, and crushes
The lives in its sway. Verses
He’s scritched in mud with rushes

Will burn through the air and writhe
Like the lightning that brushes 
His bent head with fire tonight.

Those little dents in the clay,
All those little marks he writes,
Start the end they start to say.


Nothing, the good liar boasts,
Is something that I can’t claim.
If you want to shoo the ghosts

Of the musaeum clausum
From your desires, diagnose
Why you lied ad nauseum.

Accept that you’re a liar
Like the rest, type specimen
Of the genus. Good liars

Are those honest with themselves,
Who stay silent when the choir
Sings of saints escaping Hell.

Good liars, like Athena,
Are gods with a brimstone smell.
The rest are mere hyenas,

Chortling to themselves. They can’t
Grasp why lions attack them.
They snarl and shriek, drool and pant,

But lack the capacity
To hear and to understand
Their own starved rapacity

As a tool they could improve.
Hunger breeds mendacity,
But an honest liar proves

That lies live in the language,
In every sign ever used,
Not in the hungry anguish

Of lives that lead to more lies.
If you can acknowledge this,
The liar adds, with a smile,

You can escape what we are,
Savor your hunger a while.
But that smile won’t get him far.


Doubt’s the rowboat of the sage
And foolishness its lodestar.
Wisdom’s best left on the stage

Declaiming in monologues.
A well-written role’s a cage
Constraining a howling dog

Of inconsolable insights.
The sage continues to slog
Without scripts, past the footlights,

Back and forth on his commute,
Ferryman from day to night,
Trailhead to trailhead, a mute.

The sage will never be found
Near any absolute truth.
The sage is never profound,

Never haunts the narrow road
Can never be run to ground.
He sits in his boat and rows,

Never getting anywhere,
Although going’s all he knows.
Weirdly, he does not despair.

He’s a kind of idiot,
Circling like he doesn’t care.
Fate’s nothing to do with it.

It’s the only way to stay
Off the trail, to avoid it:
Never get out, never say

You know where this is going.
There’s no role you have to play,
No wisdom for the knowing.

Wisdom’s foolishness you’ll find
Following wandering signs.

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