Thursday, October 10, 2019

The Wayside Discourses

An incomplete perfection
Completes an imperfection.
Stay the course and lose your way.

Every word is a ghost plant
Blossoming without sunlight.
You’d be surprised how many

Thrive in the wayside shadows,
Epiparasites of mind,
Borrowing the life of you,

But never giving it back,
Except as shapely petals,
White in the understory,

Violet in the purple—
Gentians, orchids, fleurs du mal.
Self speaks the language of spores,

But endlessly threading thoughts
Surrender to these flowers
Blooming from baskets woven

Of roots that tap thoughts for food.
Courses, paths, and roads may have
Destinations, at least nodes,

But waysides are not crossroads,
Do not lead to anywhere,
Are not on or off the path,

Are not wild explorations,
Are not stirring narratives.
These weedy opportunists,

These seeds the sower scattered
Assuming they’d never root,
Thrive in broken happenstance,

Untended, unintended.
It’s impossible to tell
What does or doesn’t belong.

There is honor among thieves,
The code of wayside bandits.
They lurk and steal what they can,

From others and each other,
But they have no other plans.
Their world eats your accidents.


I once spent a year as Silenus,
Possibly three or four years, or ten.
It’s difficult to remember them.

Hollow as a cornucopia,
Once I was broken, my guts disgorged
A box of rudely carved deities,

This menagerie of small angels,
This collection of dragons and ghosts.
Statues like me were common enough

Once, found in half the shops of Athens,
But not one surviving example
As described by Plato has been found.

Maybe the statues were made of wood,
As one scholar suggested, and burned
Or rotted. I suspect pottery,

Cheap clay, made to be broken, like me,
More piƱatas than matryoshka dolls,
Smashed at drinking parties by silenes

Like Brits twisting their Christmas crackers.
Mud they were baked; to mud they returned,
Art as Socratic party favors.


Past and future traffic on the way,
And when they meet they trade,
Comparing colorful notes, worthless

In each other’s countries, exchanging
Estimated coins and currencies
Issued by their rival treasuries.

Wait by the side of the road and watch.
You’ll see some peculiar deals get made.
Hop on the edge of one tree’s shadow,

Tracking it closely as its gnomon
Points in the direction of exchange.
Listen for the rumbling of unseen

Motors bringing tourists to the trade.
Their futures are bags of yesterdays,
Photographed, sacked, and salted away,

Their pasts they present their most recent
Experiences, clinking, rustling
Trunks of fears for the futures they meet.

Everyone’s nervous, if not afraid,
And as pasts and futures strike bargains,
They stick to the middle of the road,

They look straight into each other’s eyes,
With occasional furtive glances,
Side to side to shade, then on their way.


You can be lost or you can get lost.
Just off the unmarked edge of the path,
That passage in the middle of things,

Neither a direction nor a loop,
Neither branching nor intersecting,
You may find creatures who know nothing

Other than others passing them by.
This is the foolishness of the wise.
This is how wayside trees live their lives.

There’s a trailhead not too far from this,
From which you may enter deeper woods
Whose trees spread the wisdom of the fool.

Either on or off the way, you’ll think
You chose, but still you’ll get lost or you’ll
Be lost, soon or further down the way.


By the way, even the ghosts have ghosts.
Once upon a time there was sighing
From aquatic mammals in a poem

About a large, bad picture, published
Back in April, 1946,
At or just past the end of the world,

Which is forever around the bend.
Poor sighing animals. Poor picture.
Someone hunting poems killed the sighing,

One supposes erroneously.
The ghost of the sighing was sizhine,
A wayside word if ever there were.

Passers by did not fail to gather
That pallid, haunting blossom, sizhine,
Lightless ghost of a word never seen.

An artist painted a periscope
To peer at the breath of the sizhine.
A journal published a faint review.

One botanizer explicated,
“Sizhine, loosely rhyming with crying,”
When sizhine rhymes exactly with mean.


Clever persons who seem ill-informed
Often accuse the better-informed
Of caring more for information

Than for actual experience,
That odor and crunch of sensation
About which the informed have only

Some ill-formed and bookish opinions
Spoiling all the joy in sensation,
To hear the ill-informed explain it.

I doubt the facts of this position.
Astronomers enjoy their visions.
Philologists much prefer fresh fruit.

The beast who recognizes a scent
On the wind as insignificant
Inhales no less deeply, sensing this.

There is no safest place in an age
Of superstition and suspicions.
A wayside has concerns of its own.

A quiet and idle existence
Of few events is not without care.
If not a complete philosophy,

Then a considerable fragment
Persists in this dusty lonesomeness,
An eroded milestone’s broken plinth

On which the plainly stated numbers
Still mark a relative position,
A pine copse tangled in climbing vines

Whose leaves are only hungry for sun,
Like all leaves, but whose cursive cordage
Contributes a kind of wayside script.

Even the individual  blooms,
The moonflowers and strange invasives,
Have something to say for thinking back

On how all this came from all of that.
Every wayside has its mirror side,
Every empty edge its empty fetch.

No one can live on both sides at once.
Your imbalance brings balance to this.
Nonetheless, you can’t help scrutinize

The blossoms, the numbers, and the script,
Wishing that you could exist through them
And return when no one, least of all

Any part of you not awareness,
Was on the road, to learn what persists,
To be the way with no one in it.


Along the roadside, basalt cobbles
Remind earth’s cognoscenti of fire,
The ignorant of stones in the way.

Nothing began as an obstacle.
Everything is turning to something
Turning into something else again.

Best to wait in a bend of the way,
A stray dog, Diogenes, social,
In being close to the common course,

Antisocial, in standing aside,
Stand-offish, cowardly cur growling
Discursively sarcastic curses,

Preferring the road when it’s empty,
But preferring not to leave the way,
Piling hearths for the end of the day.


A wayside hides the oneness of things.
A wayside shows the oneness of things,
As well as the twoness, and so on.

When you’re done cutting your way through things,
Out of the way things still surround you.
Maybe they seem part of the way, the scene,

Maybe making your way creates them,
Arranges them, brings them into view,
The oneness of the ten thousand things,

The ten thousand onenesses of things.
A wayside is no place to begin
The never-ending counting of things.


Another year, I spent a season
In the guise of forest guardian,
Wordy hermit of the deepest woods,

Matted hair with a crossbow to bear,
Firing lightning bolts of prophecy
Into the mountain air, a gargoyle

On a mission to anticipate
Nothing in everything threatening.
Anticipation is a burden,

Like any self-defending weapon.
I didn’t have a name then, nothing
At least I could locate by reading.

I had a little bit of monster,
A little bit of madman in me,
But none of the monster names fit me.

I grew weary of my weaponry,
Tired of solitary prophecy.
Why defend against what happens next?

These woods of memories don’t need me.
Guardians care for pure and impure,
How to stop invasions of the woods.

I sat by the road, crossbow for chair.
Nothing’s worth more than a wayside lull
Because no lull can ever endure.


Demons of prediction haunt the way.
It’s impossible not to wonder
What’s beyond either one of these bends,

Who or what might come down the road next,
And if who, what will they think of you?
And what has already spotted you

Through the trees screening them from your view?
So much passes the quietist spots.
So much is expected that does not.

Rows of ghost blooms are singing to me,
“We used to consider many things.
Now we merely consider them all.”

From this, as from that mile-marker plinth,
I take the hint that someone has spent
Considerable hours considering

This way before me. Someone haunted
The grass and left notes for the fungus,
Perhaps even camped out for the night.

Sleep, in the excitements of silence,
Is nothing much beyond staggering
In and out of elaborate dreams.

Once day is definite and traffic
At any moment more probable,
The dreamer in the trees at road’s edge

Concludes there’s nothing left to be gained
By keeping one’s eyes shut in hiding.
Rise and shine and consider the world.


A wayside’s all about the absence
Of now in the presence of what’s next.
What if you hid all the charming clues,

Knowing no one would ever seek them?
I made myself a secret codex,
Composed in an invented language

Known to no one beyond Eanna.
Then I waited in my hierarchy
Of irrelevant expectations.

Kephalonomancy can cost you
Your head. Once a future passed me by
And once she had passed, I overheard

Her note with satisfaction, “I met
An angel on the side of the road.
I’ve never been religious,” she said

To whatever past she bargained with,
“But I know what I saw.” An angel,
Believe me, is easy to believe,

But it’s postdiction and prediction
Mark the weakest joints of religion.
If that future had any idea

Of the treasures this wayside angel
Had creatively hidden from her
In hopes she would ask, she would have asked.


A scatter of small, talkative birds
Passing through amounts to an event
By the wayside, as does a dump truck.

If you could accurately predict
The traffic, you could do as you pleased,
As far as you were able, you could

Call yourself priest, call yourself magic.
Your futures would shape a kind of past,
If your pasts predicted your futures.

What a roadside wonder you would be.
What a wayside legend you’d become,
Angel, dragon, god, trickster, monster,

Seen only when you wanted to be,
So rarely you’d be hard to believe.
Look around this quiet wayside now.

The wonder may already be here,
May have always been here watching you,
Dragon with nothing better to do.


Every supernatural
Being is a name, a ghost,
A mycoheterotroph.

You can find them blooming here
Where wayside shadows rotate
Over half-rotted debates

About the road of two ways,
The discourse of the logos,
The moderns and the sages.

Go ahead. Examine them.
I can wait for what you find
Hidden just outside these lines.

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