Thursday, December 31, 2020

Mirific Verdigris Night

Wondrous, hypoxic, metastable cyclery
Of everything incredibly vast in our sight,

Whose colors we pick out by cupping our lenses,
Whose colors our small lives imagine into life—

Orpiment, woad, and bassinet pinks—nurseries,
We call them, of stars—we who feed from one dollop

Of egg-yolk fire—tell us what to make of our world,
Our teal bead of cells and selves, juxtaposed with all.

Bellini’s St Francis in Ecstasy could not
Look more awestruck than telescope photographers

Developing digital tapestries of night.
Each swirling island universe curling its arms

Of gaseous streamers, lavender-cum-umber arcs
We paint in words, bright, floral analogies,

Names for things we know—turtle, eagle, antennae,
Sunflower, rose. We don’t know. That’s why we look,

Why we name, why we paint, above all why we count.
Oh, come on, you have to marvel at the common

Ways our delirious photographers count light!
Nearby, about thirty million light years away,

About the size of our own galaxy, star streams
Extending one-hundred-eighty thousand light years . . .

Nearby! Now let’s project the next few billion years.
So that’s one miraculous thing night has taught us.

Scroll up from the moon through Cassini’s blurred snapshot,
Taken through the rings of Saturn, of two white dots,

And remind yourself in passing that those two dots
Reflect sunlight from the two rocks we’ve set foot on,

Out through the spray of stars on our galaxy’s arm
To the nearest dwarf galaxy ours is eating,

Out to the sprawling nurseries of dust and gas,
Out through the Hercules Cluster of Galaxies,

And then sailing through the Hubble’s Ultra Deep Field
View in which (you can be forgiven for being

Confused) the many splotches of billions of stars
Swim past like plankton surrounding a submarine.

What are we seeing? Where are we going with this
Deep-dyed vision of everything, too much at once?

Let us return to surfaces. Here we can ask
Questions fun to answer. Who is bad? Who loves God?

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Canoes or Coffins

Oh, leave it alone, we all
Leave it alone. We paddle
Through crowds of other canoes,

Like Jason, until they’re all
Coffins. There’s no one in them
But us in a last canoe,

Us, ghost of all the coffins.
It’s a crowd and we’re in it
Alone. Go. Leave it alone.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

A Greater Mass of Shadow Rays

Zum Wandel wird hier der Raum.
Immer. Immersion in change.
Yet the shelf-life for frozen

Embryos is infinite.
Identity. The mind’s cage.
That restless monster pacing,

Always ready to get out.
Numbers are most valuable
For separating the rounds

Of the cage, which seem the same,
Which are never the same. Count.
An opaque body smaller

Than the source of the light casts
Derivative shadows tinged,
Hue on hue, less and less light,

By original shadows.
The mind pounces at the bars
And passing shadows of birds.

Monday, December 28, 2020

What’s Not in a Name?

John Abercrombie wasn’t wrong
But he was still too generous—
The truth isn’t we understand
Nothing. No, we don’t understand

Nothing, either—may understand
Nothing least of all of our names,
Least of all our conceptual
Ghosts. The name alone is something,

And most of our mathematics
Wasn’t unlocked until the key
Was found to be the empty door.
Our worlds rotate around that hole

In what is, in what we can know.
Our stars grow brighter on approach.
Thoughts spin brilliantly distorted.
Then nothing comes back as we go.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Delocalized Waves

So many small changes are happening
Everywhere and all at once, including

All our efforts to chase down and count them
In hopes of predicting where they’ll be next.

They add up as we add them; they add up
Faster than we add them, as we are them.

A boater, bobbing on the waves, knows not
To try to count every last one of them.

Summing constrains equivalence, while waves
Surge, sink, and surge but can’t be fixed, unless

We pretend. And oh how we can pretend.
We were born for pretense and we get bored

Merely paying attention. One dead leaf
Shifts a handspan in a wave of the wind.

The rain falls, then dries, Radnóti noticed.
Consider the tiny agitations

Of the world. Waves can be combined in ways
That localized particles never can.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

One of the Dead Then

Here I am, inch high,
Great-bearded Neptune . . .
Bottom of my tank,

Bubbling in a poem,
Surprised to be here.
Choosing gods to be

Can be fun, although
Choosing a monster
Or freak more suits me.

But what god could be
More absurd than this,
Poseidon at scale

Sized right for goldfish
Dumped from plastic bags
Into a cramped bowl?

It fits. I fit. No
Living god would
Stand for this, but look,

Who loved Poseidon,
Destroyer of ships—
Or Leviathan,

Or Illuyanka,
Kraken, Moby Dick?
I’m fine with burbling

As an ornament
In your tap water,
Molded in plastic.

I come from χάος.
I know what scares you.
I own the Five Deeps.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Early Submission

The body has no use for hope,
Writes Rohan Chhetri, and he’s right.
If not winter in New Delhi,
It’s Christmas in southern Utah.

But how’d hope get embodied, then,
If no one body conjured it?
Hope’s a ghost that rose up between
Bodies through thought’s collective steam.

It’s out there, in our winter air—
If not yet in our infancy,
It will be, with all the other
Gifts of great worth and misery.

The body has no use for it.
The body evolved to persist.
Awareness is aware of this.
Hope is a norm, a requirement.

Hope is such difficult homework,
A tough assignment, due the end
Of the year, a debt, a promise
Yet to be fulfilled. Put it off

And only suffer more for it.
The trick is to start writing it
Early, ahead of the deadline,
Way ahead, before you can know

What your life will be like that day
It’s due. Write it all out and rest.
You’ll have some time just to be flesh;
Store your winter hope this Christmas.

Thursday, December 24, 2020


Theodicy haunts geometry
As much as any faith in the pure
Perfection that authors suffering,

Any conviction this world’s ideal
Or at least immune to loss, when loss
Is all it brings and uses to bring

More exquisitely patterned goodness
To us, to geometers through proofs,
And through verbiage to apologists.

They say when the world turns upside down
That only proves perfect symmetry,
That when earth turns sky and space turns time,

Nothing is lost in transformation.
That’s the beauty of information.
Nothing much. Hang on to suspicion.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

The Lookout

At the lake they parked their SUVs
And got out to take pictures and chat,
A pair of couples, old friends, I’d guess.

They chatted. “Is it man-made?” One asked,
As they pulled out small dogs on leashes
And walked in circles to stretch their legs,

And continued to chat, discussing
The state of the trailhead’s pit toilets,
In which each took a turn, dog on leash

Handed over for safekeeping or,
Why not, brought on in for company.
They chatted back to their vehicles,

Loaded up the small dogs and got in.
They drove off. I heard one of them cough,
But none of them wandered close to me,

Much less breathed in my face, and the dogs
Kept calmly leashed. Unnoticed, that’s best.
So, no harm done, and I’m safe, I’d guess.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Fugitives of the Fall

The Ninth of October

All these thousands of days that I’ve lived, a prisoner in this space, knowing space never exists . . .

Just a couple of years before winning the Nobel Prize in literature, Glück wrote in a poem that “everything returns, but what returns is not what went away.” I’m still waiting to see if she returns that prize. It’s not what it once was, you know.

Look out the window at a cat in the shade. When I think of all the animals that have gone into making that cat, the warm birds and rodents, the cool fish from cans, the processed bits and ends, the odd insect plucked from the dust just to crunch--chomp--and then of all the living things that first went into them and into them and into them, it makes me want to request that my corpse be sealed in solid, airless lucite just so that these poor molecules can never escape, never have to return as something else hungry again.


Where did Chaunis Tematoan come from? A reference in one source leads to its own source and then to a dead end. Could it have been the personal invention of the man who invoked the name to encourage the greed of English colonists around the time of Roanoke and Jamestown? You really should try to find those wonderful mines of Chaunis Tematoan! (CROATOAN) Lures and lurid fantasies of mines and cities of gold and open passages to the South Seas and endless virgin wildernesses were all the rage in those pirate days. . . .

But I would like to imagine for myself this Chaunis Tematoan.

I’m too far inland. What did Li He mean when he wrote that the bearded barbarians of the North shot arrows “arrogant as rainbows”? Is that even a fair translation? It’s not a simile or association I’ve seen in any other poem, East or West. Maybe he just meant that the perfect arc of their accurate arrows, following gravity’s rainbow, seemed overconfident, no fault of real rainbows? But a thousand years almost before gravity could be blamed?

This poem has defeated all commentators, for it is either incomplete or else full of mistakes.” Consider both possible. Young Li He was one arrogant rainbow.

Promises, promises. Immortality. Pots of gold. Maybe rainbows grew arrogant once they knew how easy we are to fool. Always hiding their actual ends from our greedy guts. How we love to imagine rich resources for the taking anywhere we can’t ever reach. Pure wilderness. Chaunis Tematoan could itself have meant arrogant rainbow. You never know.


Again. Dawn. The persiflage of small birds in drought, sensing something coming from a few unusually plethoric clouds—or maybe just determined to whistle each other under, once again, and win the sun. Will it, ever, really, rain? Oh, one day it will. We’ll all see it coming, just like these birds, and we’ll all discuss it, just like these birds, and then it will be here at last—“the dark what?”

It’s both that the future never exists and that the future’s nonexistence causes the past, which is constantly changing. (Have you checked lately? Looks different now, doesn’t it?) We’re trapped in that. The dark what.

The dark what. The words overtake, or retake, each phrase in the end, and reimpose their own most current meanings, thus kicking the can down the road. The dark doodle, that’s what, the “bag filled with fresh fruit, a bar of soap, and a few tins.”

Dillon composed an essay on Mantel’s plethoric persiflage. Then he composed an essay on Carson’s ironic dark what. You browsed the essays and scritched a few marginal notes, thus kicking the can down the road. Now what? You looked up the phrase and found an anonymous essay on its own history as a game. The object of the game was not, as you had thought, to keep the can going in front of you while you kicked it, walking along behind it, and then kicked it again when you caught up. You’ve seen and done many instances of that game, someone scuffing something, trying to keep it front of them, walking forward at odd angles to catch up and give it another cuff.

No. The essay claimed that the game was more social, closer to hide-and-seek. One child had to be “It” while the others scattered and hid. “It” kicked the can along, while the hiders called from their blinds. If “It” managed to flush a kid and kick the can at that kid, then that kid was “It.” But if the hidden kid rushed out and kicked the can away, down the road as it were, then all the kids were freed and “It” had to play the kicker all over again. So, a desperately poor footballer’s hide-and-seek, it seems.

The essay then dragged out the particulars of how this became a political expression in the 1980s and ‘90s, among powerful old men in America, long after the game that dated back to their Depression-era childhoods had gone away and mostly fled the public consciousness. Conclusion: now the phrase means to delay, the continuous deferral of a tough decision, usually legislative, stalling, putting things off but with a pretense of making progress, just kicking the can down the road for another day. No one, the anonymous essayist wrote, really knows why it evolved quite that way.

And you thought, hey, I know why. Whenever the earlier use of a phrase is forgotten, people just parse the constituent words in ways that seem to, sort of, make sense to them. If the words make enough of such shadowy sense and the phrase still has a ring, the parts take over the sense for the whole and, often as not, a false etymology, no, a few, for the phrase itself get offered, back-constructed from its words. Dead as a door nail. The whole nine yards. Kicking the can down the road. Thus the words, still caged, reshape the confines of that cage.

And so you did. But don’t you wish you could have played the phrase here more like the improvised poverty game, could have set everyone free by rushing out to give it a good kick, leaving a dark author still “It”?


A woman as much older than I am as I am than the median is sitting in the shade of a giant pine by herself, except for a yappy lapdog, both staring out at far aspens like something large and dark might be about to burst out of them. “I had to get out of the city,” she says, startlingly loudly, by way of explanation, unasked. “I needed to see the colors, get some nature.” She articulates the word nature like she’s biting down on a chicken wing, with a wide, brayed Nay followed by the chomp of a softer, crunchier -tcher between her bright white incisors. Get some NAAY-tcher. Chomp. And then the dog barks wildly. Ah, wilderness, thinks an unseen, unknown poet hobbling past her, headed for a better view, one could only hope quieter.

There will be plenty of wilderness again, eventually, once our descendants are gone. It might not be what we’d recognize, but do you think the dinosaurs would have recognized a mammal’s Eden?

Wilderness is hard to survive on your own. Wilderness has no love for you. Wilderness is no audience, so why do we keep yapping at it? What was wrong with the times, so wrong, that the desert fathers would torture themselves to cry to the emptiness alone and half-starving for years in hopes of not just a vision, a djinn, an angel, or any old god, but The God, personal communion with only their One God Almighty? Something must have been bent. Visions and tempting demons, mostly, were what those hermits got sent.

Not everyone flees from an empire’s fall. For some, always for some, these end up being the good times, the very best times of all. Did the bearded northern barbarians yearn to return the lost glory and might of the Tang? Did the early Christians cry over the noseless marbles of the demon gods they’d smashed, the Goths weep to see Rome burn? 
Now it's winter.


Monday, December 21, 2020

End of a Bad Year for the People

Road’s getting too busy,
Sun’s getting too low—time
To go now, kiddo, time

To go. Every word is
A Christian, every phrase
A Cyrano. Or so

It seems to the phrases.
The words keep their secrets
And know. Sun’s getting low.

Sunday, December 20, 2020


It has seemed rather longer
Than calendars would permit,

This year of symmetrical
Numbers, mirroring horrors,

This Annus Mirabilis
In the similar parade.

Infants and children too young
To personally recall

This year will grow tired of tales
About this year, one of those

You know will be a tent-pole
For personal histories

Even before fixed in place.
It’s just one of those weird years

That cleaves before and after
More memorably than most.

So what? It will end. All years
Season into other years,

With or without calendars.
Spinning could end; the cycling

Could come to an abrupt halt—
Even astronomically

Rare astronomical ends
Happen again and again—

But it’s pretty safe to bet
This one turn, after billions,

Won’t see the planet go splat,
And let’s get out on a limb

And bet, as long as Earth spins,
Some kind of life will begin

And end and begin again.
So this year isn’t the end

And the next year won’t begin
Anything not already

Here on its way to its end.
God, this has gone on too long.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Good Afternoon

Why shouldn’t it be enough
That this brought joy to one life,

Dancing conga lines of words,
Patterned thoughts and chunks of rhymes,

Silliness, gloominess, doubt,
Dark, excessive certainties,

Declarations of all kinds?
Close to a sunny window,

Close to the start of winter,
A body could spend an hour

Or as much time as it took
To change the angle of light

From squint to glow on the wall
And down to pool on the floor,

Chanting these compositions
To itself and no one else.

You know it’s going away,
All of it—the light, this day,

The coming season, the poems,
The life, the walls, the era,

Civilization, and you.
So no one heard the poet,

Knew of the poet, or cared
To know. Sun and the words glowed.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Pine Sonata

Two paradises ‘twere in one
To live in paradise alone

The best fantasies
Are the, I’ll take more
Of this kind of thing.
Happy where you are,
You know you can’t stay,

Nothing stays for good,
But you want to stay
At least. I could live
Here, you think, smiling,
Right here forever,

And you imagine
Your shack or cabin
Between these tree trunks,
Light-facing windows,

Vague accoutrements
Of joy stashed inside,
And most of all, years,
Rotating seasons
Alone to enjoy.

You can’t have it. You
Won’t get it. You know.
But it’s not like dreams
Of escape. You’re here—
Wind sounds, creek noise. Home.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

A Little Kindness

Would be nice. Humans
Do a lot of harm
To others and each
Other, but that’s not
Our hard part, that’s not

The worst part. It’s worse
That indifference
Creates destruction
All unintentioned,
And worst that kind acts

Can backfire. Backfire.
Know where that comes from?
You loaded and aimed
And your charge blew up
In your hands and eyes.

It’s not adequate.
We need an image
More apt. Our kindness
Is more like the need
For water. Deserts

May wait years for rain
Then lose lives to floods.
That even goodness
Necessitates some
Real harm, that’s the worst.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

For I Lov’d the Man

Of all the mountains of Shakespearean
Criticism upthrust in libraries,
The outcrop that is most fascinating,

Distinctively human in appearance,
Almost as if it could breathe, is Jonson’s,
Who wrote, I lov’d the man and doe honour

His memory. His memory! Who else
Could cast a cold eye on Shakespeare’s Caesar
While fondly recalling his friend, the man

Who composed that Caesar and assassins?
For now forget the disappointment when
Realizing no facts are forthcoming

About that man, past Jonson’s opinion
That he was “honest” and “gentle.” Forget
The missed opportunity for Jonson—

An anecdote, a detail, anything
Intimate about the life of his friend.
Just come back to that, For I lov’d the man,

And shiver and consider what one phrase
Like that from a first century rabbi
Or a mono-rhyming Arab poet

Who lived in the days before the first Hajj
Might do for some of our other idols,
Whose names we pray or blaspheme. Not Shakespeare.

Jonson knew the man, loved him, chided him,
And stayed on this side of Idolatry.
Love for a man spared us another god.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Good Kid Books at Bedtime

Their chatter was rapid and sapid,
Daft and inspired, dodging insipid—

They brought pleasure to a tired parent
Who got to say goodnight to nothing

And nobody, to unknot the tongue
On blunt rhymes and ridiculous puns.

I miss them now, those weird, dreamy texts
I read in those years of sleep-wrecked nights.

If they were hallucinatory,
Well that was excused as what kids like,

But I didn’t care much as a kid.
As a parent I learned parents did.

Monday, December 14, 2020

The Efficacy

Once, I read, Whatever doctrine
You believe, there’s no denying
Death at least looks very final.

Indeed. Say irreversible.
But everything’s final like that,
Every passing moment, nothing

Ever coming back, while nothing
Is final in the other sense,
Meaning done, all doing finished.

A corpse has transformations yet
To manage, some of them bringing
Some of it back through racks of life.

We feel the loss. We feel the loss
Of everything, the permanent
Impermanence of existence,

But we can’t say, can’t understand
Precisely what it is that’s lost.
Physicists track it to black holes,

But calculate, even from those,
Information may be returned,
And no one has captured a soul,

Taken the measure of a soul,
Found the gaps in life’s fabric
Left by death, much less missing soul.

So, why is it death looks final?
What is it we feel that we’ve lost,
The more so callous life goes on?

One theory holds that life’s the most
Efficient way to entropy.
Loss is efficacy, I guess.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Pyramids Pillars of Snow

Whatever hath no beginning
May be confident of no end—
Eternity we disagree
Exists, but on mortality,

Better yet, change, we’re of one mind.
The upshot is that what you find
To be confined to one side, death,
I find to be the immortal

Itself, the longest perspective,
That the short and the long are one,
Nothing varying but the rate
Of variation, forever.

But I’m tired of thinking this through,
Much as it troubles me and much
As I admire you. It won’t do
To keep repeating all changes

And that therefore all disappears,
Except for the disappearing,
Which has no beginning, no end,
And is the immortality

Of eternal mortality.
Here we are. Your language you knew
Would not last forever but would
Outlast you, now my language, too.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

One Animal

How many are there living
At any given moment,
How many any moment

Die? You’d think the broad view
Means it’s hard to care for one,
But I do. Two. Me and you.

Me, I don’t worry about
So much anymore, one foot
Out the door. I’m an old fool

Who’s tried to get out before.
But the one animal, you,
I consider all the time

And can’t imagine losing,
Won’t imagine it, refuse.
We’re all animals, it’s true,

And we’ll do what creatures do,
Even with fancy language,
Tales, myths, math, and rocket ships.

But I can’t be broad-minded
In this case. One animal
Needs to thrive and outlive me,

No matter what the others
Get up to. Be a good beast
For me, please. Survive. Thrive. Do.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Red Sentinel

Abandoned in the desert on the side
Of the Extraterrestrial Highway,

Glass intact but with its engine exposed,
Hoodless, to the stars, a red pickup truck

Is watching us. A fighter jet roars low
As a hawk hunting rodents, but the truck

Remains unfazed. A jackrabbit hops out.
Free-range beef cattle graze alongside it,

Nosing for better grass by the culvert.
Occasional passing vehicles slow,

In case the sentinel is a sheriff,
Then accelerate when they see it’s not.

The truck is unfazed. Its emptiness keeps
Watch. Moonlight silvers it. Strong winds shake it,

But, for some unknown reason, no one comes
For parts or tows it away. No one dares

Tag it with graffiti, the way the signs
And the road’s ghost buildings have all been tagged.

No one has bothered to shoot holes in it.
No one has asked anything about it.

This truck is a thing that watches and waits.
You’re not patient enough to see it change.

Thursday, December 10, 2020


Six faces and eight vertices.
Go ahead, check. Count them. We’ll wait.

Check the gravel, mica, crystals.
Check clouds of atoms swirled like stars.

Aim after even lighter stuff—
Axions, low-energy waves

Reclining at galactic lengths.
Geometers predict the shapes

Will clump and break about the same—
Six faces and eight vertices,

Give or take. Every cube’s a wave,
And every wave, including light,

Conceals a darkly cubic heart.
Isaiah did glimpse seraphim,

Time’s burning, six-enfolded snakes
With wings and voices, eyes inside,

Black holes circling through the cosmos,
Crying, holy, holy, holy,

Is our darkness, fragmentation,
Our coal of life that touched your tongue.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Holes in the Dark

Oh, another uncomfortable truth—
War brings creation as destruction.

Shiva, Shiva, is that really you?
War’s just your local accelerant,

Some catalysts, sprays of gasoline,
Added to the ongoing process

Of change, which, while always uneven,
Remains everywhere continuous.

Those horsemen of the apocalypse,
Like each of us, all have their doubles—

A quartet for the society’s world,
Mass plagues, famines, wars, and pestilence,

Redoubled in each small person’s world
Of injuries, debts, acquaintances—

While the greater, real, inhuman world
Burns holes in the dark fires don’t trouble.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Second Act

What if we are
In the exact
Middle of change,
Including time?

Just imagine
Four billion years
More for our Earth,
This cycling moon—

Quarter million
Or so of those
For our offspring
Before they turn

Too unlike us
To be human.
The end’s not close.
The plot thickens.

Monday, December 7, 2020

A Watcher As Much a Wielder of Words

No, not allusive, not collaged,
This chrestomathic poetry
Thieves for mere edification,

Attempts a kind of alchemy,
A lab box for boffins, witches,
And language’s inquisitors,

Neither science nor ritual,
Wicked, gleeful exploration,
Child with a magnifying glass,

Crone with her simples, Mo Willems
Madly doodling pigs and pigeons.
Let the body whirl in the world

However best that body can,
Fling all the paints against the wall,
See what lives, watch what runs. Mix them.

Sunday, December 6, 2020


I suppose you know by now the real
Treasure’s buried somewhere far from here—

This is just my false cache, blind entrance,
Empty chamber of signs and symbols,

No sarcophagus. Have you ever
Asked yourself why we would hide so much

For the sake of immortality
When the only slice of afterlife

Any of us ever manages
Comes of having our small corpses found,

Our hoards dug up, our tombs reopened?
O, I say ours, as if I belonged

To the class of humans who get tombs.
No, my cache is more like a jay’s stash

Of pine protein lost when the jay dies
Or gets too distracted or is stuffed

And makes it through a mild winter fat,
With no need to remember extra

Supplies of old memories hidden
In featureless duff and underbrush.

I am in a secret partnership,
Secret almost to myself. I hide

What I really want to keep in ways
That guarantee I’ll lose most of it,

And none of my kind ever find it.
Why do I do this? Ask my partner,

The pine whose reproduction depends
On fools who survive by caching seeds.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Just Before Dark

The edge of shade at sunset throws
A negative corona—threads
Dance along advancing grey

On a wall, ghosts of solar storms.
You have stand close to the wall
To catch those mycelial threads

Extending filamentous limbs
As their own shadow chases them.
Sunset generally blends all shades.

The fine details are boring, small,
And take patience to scrutinize.
So what else is new, right? Dark moves.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Thin Shroud of Blue

Among the innumerable strange
Twists of our proximate fit
To what we suspect is reality,

Have you noticed that a pure blue
Afternoon sky by seeming depthless
And uniform also seems endless,

While a night sky with a few lamb clouds
And a slice of moon feels comforting,
Even companionable, even close to you?

How do you do that? The night’s huge,
And the blue sky’s a scrim that obscures it
With a gossamer veil jets poke through.

It’s reversed when an orange, urban moon,
Emerging from a skyline, itself looks huge
Because we exaggerate the vertical

On any horizon. (Take a picture
Of a steep mountain. Little bump
Against big sky. The picture knows

It’s true.) Do such banal observations
Seem trite, seem insignificant to you?
You’re doing it again, then, aren’t you?

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Nothing Doing Niksen

My body was never a target—
No one watched it like a hawk—no one
Wanted to possess it so badly

They overlooked the person in it
Who was and wasn’t, really, quite it—
And yet someone was always cutting,

Helpfully, into it or leaping
Ahead of it to open a door,
Often as not too close to my face.

It wasn’t at all fashionable
To write about our bodies back then.
Others’ bodies were what you wrote on.

For your self, you expressed your feelings.
Now, it’s bodies writing on bodies,
Reimagining and reclaiming

Bodies, mostly their own or like theirs,
Everywhere. I consider this corpse,
Still breathing, still painful, still broken

And valiantly incompletely healed.
Location, location, location.
I don’t want nothing to do with it,

I can’t not be in it and be it,
But I do want to do nothing much
Past sit with it while the days go by,

And write about the world that’s not it,
The sun on blank walls, the blank moon hours.
Forgive me if I don’t write on it.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020


You will forget that you read this sentence.
You will forget that sense of control.

You will forget the first time we held hands.
You will forget you believed in your soul.

You will forget your joy in remembering.
You will forget your favorite show.

You will forget all poems of affection.
You will forget what you need to know.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Humbaba Scoffs

Even the most rigorous inquiry
Into causation is purely advanced

Superstition. You link things more or less
Similar more or less reliably.

The more precisely you tighten the link,
The more likely you are a scientist,

But you’re still a pigeon pecking a lever
Because pecking that lever gave you grain

Just enough times to trigger your belief.
Skeptical pigeons have higher thresholds.

Your seers used to see my face in entrails,
My wild and bearded, leonine face,

And claimed it was a good omen for kings.
Next thing you know, the kings ordered sculptors

To carve grotesque likenesses of my face,
As if made of entrails, on palace walls.

I was insulted, but that’s how it goes
With superstitious species. You predict

Cause and effect and cause is one effect.
I’m still here, by the way, in the mountains,

Among the ghosts of cedars and those kings
Sent to kill me. And you still trust your guts.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Causal Opacity

I can change what’s happening in your body just by speaking a few words.

But whatever I have done today has done without me.”

Working within the stereoscopic
Logic of paradox like corrective
Lenses for all-too-human perspectives,

You can kind of feel the true, tripartite
Topography of blood, mind, and world drop
Away in shifting steps, abyssal depths.

You are not yourself. Mind is not your own.
You don’t know how anything you know works
And speak as part of a world without speech.

What’s an artificial shadow that shows
The actual contours, the canyon floors?
Each word evolves in continual need

To be understood. Paradoxical
Phrases are words tilted against that need,
Ajar, askew, pitched against each other,

Because contradiction, like the strange prayer
Often attributed to St Francis,
Seeks to understand, not be understood.

Sunday, November 29, 2020


A scientist and a prophet
Walked into a cafe for tea.
One wanted to think; one wanted

To read the leaves. They were strangers
To the regular customers,
Who were mostly unknown poets

Waiting for the open-mic night,
Which they performed for each other
Every Friday. This was Wednesday.

The server, also a poet,
Although one who loathed open mics,
Arrived with the tea equipment.

The scientist prepared herself
To pour titrant into titrand.
The prophet waited patiently.

The poet smiled as cheerfully
As a poet can who has no
Readership or students to teach

And then withdrew a little ways,
Hoping to overhear results.
The future wasn’t interesting,

Precisely, to the poet’s ears,
But the language it was couched in,
Once prophet and scientist spoke,

Promised to use unusual
Turns of phrase the poet could steal
To add pith to his poetry.

Under the table, the sparrows
Hopped hopefully, checking for crumbs.
Prophet and scientist sipped tea.

When they put their cups down, one spun
His by the handle, carefully,
While the other produced her lens.

In a moment, the future would
Appear, bare as Susannah, stripped
Of scrutinized uncertainties.

The poet leaned a little in
And prayed for no interruptions.
What would the scientist predict?

What would the dark prophet foresee?
Could tea leaves change the poet’s lot?
Mmm. Lessee. Thearubigins,

Theaflavins, and catechins,
Murmured the scientist. I see.
The prophet shook his weary head.

This world ends on Friday, he said.
One or two poets glanced up. What?
Only the server looked relieved.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Primary, Secondary, Tertiary Dream

We (reader, we’re writing to you and me)
Inhabit what we’ve called the middle world
But might better term the primary dream,

Experience helplessly entangled
By the secondary dreams of our nights,
And the tertiary dreams of the mind,

So entangled now the order is not
Significant any longer—the most
Sensible parts of waking life as well

Could be as tertiary as our dreams,
While mind, by this time, may rule over all.
Anthropology is dendrology

In a black-magic forest where the woods
Sometimes grow with their roots in the open,
Sometimes use their leaves as picks to dig down.

Our dreams draw sustenance from anything
They can reach and envelop—earthworms, dirt,
Words, mycelial threads, breezes, storms, sun.

It’s gotten to where we’re awake all night,
And all day long the world-mind sends roots down.
Sometimes we worry that we’ve ruined things,

But why not worry that we’ve just started?
Our most sensitive extended tendrils
Slide through the narrow-waisted walls of time.

Chasing change in its smallest increments—
Though change may have no smallest increment—
We’ve reached two hundred and forty-seven

Zeptoseconds—trillionths of one billionth
Of a couple of ticks on a wall clock—
To wrap our sensors around one event.

Change devours us and flees as we chase it,
Down through the long loneliness of the world,
And if that’s not one strange dream, then what is?

Friday, November 27, 2020

Braces and Crutches

As a kid, I wore braces,
Not on my teeth, on my legs.
As an old man I use crutches.

My poems are propped up
With braces and crutches as well,
You might say. You could.

They keep me moving, keep me
Mobile, get me through the world.
You want to sneer, be my guest.

While you’re reading and sneering,
Consider this an invitation—
Why don’t you bite me, instead?

Thursday, November 26, 2020

A Soup of Subitaneous Legerity

Maybe part of the reason life
Erupted on Earth but could still
Be quite rare in the universe

Had not entirely to do with
Chemistry and temperatures
But with Earth’s exact gravity.

Sit on a rock overlooking
A booming canyon stream in sun
And think how heat pulls the mists up

While Earth welcomes the mass downhill
To the sea. It’s not true water
Only heads one way. It rises

In fogs and sheer humidities.
It gains that luminosity
That made humans think of angels

And sky deities that return
From their homes in those rising clouds
As a gentle dew from heaven.

Heat lifts; Earth wants its water back.
The tension had to be precise
To break open the hearts of life.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Rote Note to Self

Stop photobombing your poems.
If you mean to write about
Someone or something other,

Then do. Keep your mug from view.
If you want to make selfies,
Fine. Do what you want to do.

But if you want to assay
The world, then stick to the world.
The world won’t long include you.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Extraterrestrial Organic Compounds

Trouble me. The atheist,
Too, senses the numinous

Glowing in ordinary
Experiences. It’s just

That, for such an atheist,
There is nothing numinous

Beyond the ordinary.
What constitutes deeper hope

May be the thought that the harsh
Aspects of life on this rock,

The hungry traumas in which
Numinous, ordinary

Entities live steeped, are not
Necessarily the rule

Everywhere, out there. Night skies
Provide a richer dreaming

Than for any beastly gods,
The gleam of something so strange

As to be ordinary,
Numinous, and not in pain.

But if organic compounds
Scraped from dropped meteorites

Are of the same kind that sourced
The start of our hungry lives,

Then the something’s that’s out there
That is like us, that made us,

Is not god, nor numinous,
Just hungry, hungry as us.

Monday, November 23, 2020

America Defututa

Give it up. Give up on it.
Not all living things in it.
Not all living lives in it.

Whatever it is, isn’t.
As soon as you embrace it,
Wrap your head around that name,

You’ve lost it. It’s gone to bits.
There’s no proper noun for it.
One name just happened to stick

And now that name is a stick
To beat or get beaten with.
Give it up. Give up on it,

The name. It’s exhausted, spent
By its brutal excitements.
Let’s not mention it again.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

The Daily Courant

It doesn’t get you anything. It’s just something you do.”

You run the course. Go ahead.
I can’t run. I never could.
Skipped and hopped about. That’s it.

Rivers run. Newspapers run,
Or did. Time runs with the best
Of them, away with the rest.

In these months of solitude
At scale, when entire cities
Politely bake behind doors,

While the yahoos drive their trucks,
Locked and loaded, flying flags,
Practicing their mouth-breathing,

There hasn’t been much recourse
For simple circulation.
It’s one of those times you can’t

Hardly not remark the way
Things are going crazily
Astray, and yet you can’t not

Know that the remarks you make
Will yellow and fade as fast
As a seedless paperback

Copy of Please Plant This Book
Printed circa ‘sixty-eight.
Times so of their times don’t last.

I get a little jog in,
True, after my own fashion.
Each day, I fashion a few

Lines mostly nothing to do
With the news or any hope
Of revolution. Here. Read

The latest. It won’t get you
Anything. It’s just something
To humor me you might do.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Yanking out Mandrakes

I pull ‘em out whole, like carrots.
I pull ‘em out raw and shrieking.
I’m kidding. They don’t really scream.

They just pop out long and scraggly,
Like human figures, lyric poems,
But more weirdly crooked, like me.

I hardly do any chopping.
I prefer not to cook at all.
I have an old tobacco shed.

They dry nicely in dusty rows.
Someday, someone will do magic,
Mashing to powder what remains.

Friday, November 20, 2020

All Kinds of Moses Existed

I have run away repeatedly—
Run away, since my teens,
To the world and from my family,

Society, humanity. But this body—
I can’t survive, can’t even last
Long in pure world, or mostly world,

And so always I’m left a forced choice—
Death or return to the bosom
Of society, again, contractually. So far,

I’ve always come back to society,
Although once I did choose death,
But even then, the world rejected me.

So now I linger and loiter the waysides
And peripheries, remaining in sight
Of the world, still in reach of society.

Thursday, November 19, 2020


There are two forms of future—
The one that’s out there, waiting, nothing,

And the other, our familiar, intimate future
On which we brood all our lives,

A crumbled-up hash of hope-and-dread
Patty-cakes we make and remake

From the ever-shifting fragments
Of our ever-changing past.

One created us. One we constantly,
Compulsively recreate. The future. Ours.

We seem to believe we’re getting better
At our forecasts. We sift matters finer.

We give all the pieces numbers, labels,
And equations we test with them like rats.

We acknowledge our uncertainty.
We giggle a little at the lack of time,

Making jokes on how to twist it, bake it,
Calculate it doesn’t exist. Then we weep.

We still need to know what’s next.
We dig in our brains. We shuffle the deck.

Again we test. Some results we publish.
We swallow all the rest. Each gulp feels

The future tugging, encircling our necks.
We rummage in our attics for ingredients

We might want to protect. Stories. Magic.
Spirits. Voices. Above all, voices, yes—

Things we’ve said and, mostly, heard said.
We prop mannequins up in the palm

Of our thoughts to pat them on the head
For helping us listen to what will be said.

What will be said? What will be said
About us? We ask our ever-present pasts,

Consult their recipe-books of spells for us,
Their humble future assistants. Famulus.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The Ballad of Gene and Oscar

Who knows who they really were?
They tried to insinuate
Themselves into the slipstream

Of high canon formation,
Packaging anthologies
Of selected immortals

And indiscreetly splicing
Their own poems and faces in.
They sold millions of those books

In cheap pocket editions
Now found, foxed and yellowing,
Falling apart at glued seams,

Sometimes in the dusty heaps
Of shadows and self-published
Verse in dying used bookstores

In nearly ghost mining towns
Like Tonopah, Nevada.
Oscar was Ukrainian

And Jewish at birth, but changed
Into something rich and strange,
A self-made American.

He named his new name, Williams,
And he married Gene, and they
Had a son they sent away

And seemed to have forgotten.
Off the proceeds of the books,
They lived in a small penthouse

And hobnobbed with some poets
Who sometimes joked about them.
It was a nice life, perhaps,

But the stratagem failed them.
Cheap pulp rots. Tastes change. Canon
Is a dirty word these days

And immortal dirtier,
Especially among those
Slyly interested in both.

Sly thinking still feeds human
Hunger, still eats us alive,
And rusts our harps in the air.

There. That last bit was for you,
Gene, and your husband Oscar.
Who knows who you ever were?

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Joys of Old Shirker

My waking life is sweeter
Than your dream; nothing troubles

My sight. Nothing is at hand.
Why tell the old they’re too old

To change? We change fast, faster,
Fastest. We change into death.

We lose ourselves completely.
Leave us be. Well, leave me be.

This is the country for me—
Long afternoons, slow moving

Sunlight on the walls and trees.
Keep your convictions. Spare me.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Le moi, c’est les autres

Et le mot, c’est le moi—
Le moi et la chose.
So hold me close and sing.

Ah, poetry! Your origins
In tribal gloats and taunts,
Epic self-glorifications,

Give you away even today,
Even in the enclosed lyrics
Of personal lives at play,

The gang still lingers, the old ghosts
Are still there, the little words
That say, You! Come here! You!

Go away! And the self sits
Twitching in the middle, neither
Quite the boast nor ghost,

Neither exactly you nor me,
A bit of name, a piece of thing,
A nervous flutter. It sings.

Sunday, November 15, 2020


We live with death, and die not in a moment.

This quiet—what is it?
It borders on stillness,
But the air stirs the trees,
Rustling the last few leaves.
The world still hangs itself,
And swings in the balance,

And this isn’t silent.
Rooms can be quieter,
But they rarely partake
Of this feeling, except
When sunlight sleeps in them
Like a careless lion.

Ducks dive in cold water.
We’re at eight thousand feet.
This quiet—what is it?
Someone tried to die here,
But there’s something else, too,
Not to do with people.

There’s a hedge you can sense,
A charcoal line stretched out
So thin it’s a shadow,
When you get to the edge
Of all your human things—
Not past them; to the edge.

It’s in the other woods
That are and aren’t those woods
You see across the lake.
It’s the world our bodies
Were and are and came from
That our words can’t enter,

Can’t explain, can’t describe.
Let’s sit here together
For a second and watch
That neighboring country
That will welcome us home,
The part that isn’t us.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

The Leviathan of Carlos Argentino

He never had an Aleph,
But he had a winding sheet.
Years he spent unwinding it.

Who knew we had synthesized
An artificial life form
Centuries ago, a beast

So vast, an anthill ants took
For the byproduct of ants
But with a life of its own,

Built of behaviors and words,
Which together created one art,
A living being who was

Art, mind, life larger than ours?
Hobbes guessed. Hobbes got that part right.
Hobbes placed a grain in that mind

Of shifting sands, self-moving
Dunes, however carved in winds,
Dunes that grew, blown down or no—

Hobbes and Argentino, those,
And probably those alone.
The rest built miniatures,

Clockwork dolls they hoped would talk,
Being themselves clockwork germs
That walked on two legs and talked.

Long dragons spooled from the talk,
Never a miniature
Nor an omniscient Aleph

Capable of presenting
A living world for all time,
All at once and in the round—

O, no, no, no. This is speech,
These are words we are talking
As and about—even signed,

Even as signed, they take time.
They remain tied to sequence,
Patterned changes. They unwind.

Lives are short. Language grows long,
And repetitive and dull,
For the most part, and narrow,

And so is Leviathan,
By language made, by language
Endowed with many voices

Crying together, I am
Legion and Leviathan.
As our waves of flesh clear cliffs,

Waves of words race back inland,
Away from old possessions
And into the latest flesh.

I am. Again and again.
And Carlos Argentino
Took delight in writing words

Rushing through him day and night,
Neither him nor his to keep
From these ghosts who never sleep,

This artificial life form
That is mind, that haunted him,
Swam through him, through which we swim.

Friday, November 13, 2020


The book’s index listed both ‘Blasphemous thoughts’ and ‘Thoughts, blasphemous,’ and in one surviving copy a reader has underlined both entries.

Goal-directed behavior,
Confined to mammals and birds,
Serves to flexibly respond
To changing environments—

This allows us to be less
Stereotyped in movements,
To change strategies ad hoc.
Thanks to beasts like us, the world

That gave rise to us has goals—
Our goals, not its own, of course,
But a great diversity
Of goals, a competition,

Not just of lives, but of goals,
And so I watch the cutthroat
Trout, a native to these creeks,
Stalk flies in late autumn light,

And think about tying flies,
Something I have never done,
And about Isaak Walton
Surviving violent times.

A ground squirrel with an acorn
Or a dozen in its mouth
Scampers by. How is this more
Goal-directed than the trout?

Which among us is ever
Anything but small thoughts caught
Between compelled behavior
And the goals that direct us?

If we’re anything but goals
And behaviors, we’re waffling,
Trying to cover our bets,
The ad hoc in the middle

Of the middle of it all—
That’s us. And is completion,
The comprehensive survey
Of all the goals we could know,

And all the ways to fail them,
The anatomy of goals’
Possession directing us?
I refuse to tie this fly.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

A Rooting Interest

A curse of being human
Is that your body’s built
To take a rooting interest,

To choose sides, find sides to choose,
Attend to feuds, politics,
Gossip, and family disputes.

Even among your own thoughts
You stage imagined debates.
You seethe quietly. Just wait.

You do. You even choose sides
On whether and why you choose.
You choose the right side, don’t you?

Or you choose the secret side,
The side secretly correct.
Think, Hah! They’ll never suspect.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Except for the Words, to the Words

From the buffet of the possible
Ways of human being, I feel

I have at least sampled a bit
Of almost everything I could,

And from that most human thing,
Talking and thinking about things,

I’ve not only sampled, I’ve gorged.
So why am I not already full?

The problem, as always, is metaphor,
Conceit—every word we speak’s a figure

Of speech, and no talking about the world
Is the world, except for the words,

To the words, their own worlds. Today,
I break my fast at dawn while a svelte jay,

Blue and black, cries at me from a pine,
Throws a crooked look, then flies away.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Never Say I Love You

I love waking up in bare, moonlit rooms
With wide open blinds and pallid shadows.

I love the hinges, the pausing moments
Between what has to be done and what is.

I love that a small phrase can be well-worn
As the feet of a stone shrine and still live.

I love that it is enough that these things
Really exist insofar as they do

And that I’ll never know how far that is
Or whether a moonlit room, its shadows,

The outline of a black cat against them,
The presence or absence of the curved world

Of someone’s dreaming head on my shoulder
Also, absolutely, exist, that is.

Monday, November 9, 2020


The dark woods massed by the bright stream suggest
A lighting scheme from Caravaggio
Or Atemisia Gentileschi,
But there are no Biblical dramas here,

No society at all at this hour,
Other than the massive inheritance
That clamors for attention in a skull
That might be better off struck off its neck.

Imagine woods all woven with ivy,
A kind of dreamscape covered in kudzu,
But the trees surviving under that weight,
Even living dependent upon it.

How could you possibly rescue those trees
Without taking down everything, Samson?
Which ecosystem is more imperiled,
These chiaroscuro ponderosas

Or the pillars of thought behind the eyes?
Other eyes watch from the rocks and branches,
Staring at the heavy, overgrown skull
The way that the wandering lights of night

Seem to peer down on poor, infected Earth,
The barer planets, untroubled by lives
As the lives of these eyes are untroubled
By the hungry, shadowy vines of words.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Eyes in Shadows

Predators, spies, and mere voyeurs—
Those we have to be afraid of

If we’re interesting, if we’re meat,
If we might be plotting something.

Some of us are none of these things.
Old bones have our reasons for dread—

Notices in our mailboxes,
The breakdowns of useful machines,

A simple stumble in the dark—
But we leave our windows open,

The slats of our blinds wide at dusk.
If our weak passwords are stolen,

The locks on our doors left broken,
We’re not too terribly shaken.

It’s memory that will leave us.
We know no one wants to see this.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

To One on His Back in the Dark

“It is only fair to say that many
Of us had never been abroad before.”

Nothing echoes backwards through the cosmos
And everything rushes toward that sound.

How would Samuel Beckett have put it?
I have known such beauty in my small life,

Which I will have to let go with my life,
Which I will never capture as I write,

And yet it shines and breathes in words at night.”
Remember the play for which he wrote that?

Dear old Beckett, always up for a laugh.
How well I recall him echoing past.

Friday, November 6, 2020

It Will Always Be This Changing As It Was

I’m starting to think it’s all been done.
We’re just lost in the middle of what was,
Which is all part of being what was.

This uncertainty is permanent, as it happens.
This uncertainty about what will happen
Stays within the heart of what happened.

The possibilities collapsing are all of them,
All the possibilities there were and none extra
As they happened to collapse,

And what we don’t know is indelibly what was,
The not knowing was certainly there and unknown,
And how lost we are lasts forever. It was. Yep. That it was.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Bared Again

The pillars of creation
Are the fangs of the serpent.

The reason Galileo,
Dead the year Newton was born,

Disliked the hypothesis
That the tides showed the moon’s pull

Was that it smacked of magic,
Or, in Einstein’s words, spooky

Action at a distance. Once
You’re comfortable with one

Weirdness, you want no others.
But then again, all of them,

The physicists, looked forward,
Explorers and optimists,

Collectors and explainers,
Connecters and extenders—

Those types don’t like doubling back.
Poets are all about tides.

We slosh about like sea-wrack.
We’re nothing if not doubling,

Retreating, and returning,
Hissing back down into sand.

Tides never stop coming in,
And, as Hala Alyan notes

In a recent poem, we’re here
To remind you of that fact

And remind you of that fact,
Which means permanent ruin

Of all impermanent sand
Castles, as she also notes.

We roll in spooky action,
And see the same destruction

For every fine creation,
Poets. We’re beachcombers,

Not true explorers. We see
Spookiness in death and flesh,

In flotsam, all connections,
And we savor it, even

In the fangs of creation.
Sculpted and eroded by

The ultraviolet light
And powerful winds from stars

The cosmic pillars themselves
Are destined for destruction.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Still Nothing up the Sleeves

Doesn’t anyone else find the vaunted
Elaborations of the multiverse—
In which all probabilities occur

And what seems to go is only hidden,
And time remains a fiction, this cosmos
Of infinite retention—annoying,

A physics of chronophobia seized
By metaphysics of constipation?
Oh, the maths are too pretty to sully

With the earthy stench of night soil’s decay,
And wouldn’t it be lovely, a theory
Of everything, nothing rushing away?

If you can’t produce what vanished, intact,
In multi-form glory, like seraphim,
Wings beating forever, every which way,

Then, while I’m impressed with how well quantum
Experiments behave, I won’t yet buy
That what’s behind the black curtain was saved.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

When Gods Fly

When Akhenaten made Aten
The God of gods, adynaton,
Was he tuning to some instinct,
Latent, for monotheism
Humming in the breasts of humans?

I prefer to think religion
Used him for its own intentions.
Like everything artificial,
That is, everything cultural,
Religion started small, a seed

To feed a need in human hosts,
And grew greedy, and grew and grew.
Why confine supernatural
Messengers to little spirits
Whose powers are so diffuse and few?

Why not big gods, bigger? Why not
One? Thus was Aten something done
To that poor man Akhenaten,
Fool who thought he knew something new,
Who was undone under the sun.

Monday, November 2, 2020

When Whales Do Not Exist as Such

Look, if we’re all just hanging
Out in infinite Hilbert Space

Forever, it’s the finite
That’s got some explaining to do—

We argue on and on how big,
How many, how complicated

The whole cosmos, all of it,
Spacetime, galactic clusters,

Entire universes, megaverses,
Multiverses might be, really,

And our one consistency, our one
Most commonly held assumption,

Is that, however large it all is,
We’re small and of finite perspective,

Which seems so self-evident
I feel I have to doubt it. Finity,

How does that arise, exactly
From a context of infinities?

And if you’re not, actually,
Finite in any dimension,

Doing your infinite Hilbert Space
Being in all the many ways you do,

Where’d you get those lovely, cinched
Whalebone corsets of perspective?

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Fall Dawn

Light’s later this morning,
But birds sing everywhere.
Tonight, winds are coming
To strip their branches bare.

Saturday, October 31, 2020


In humans, at least, every impulse yields
Its opposite, every proffered thesis
Its inevitable antithesis—

You could argue, plausibly, for instance,
That no culture, no people, has ever
Invested more, put more stock in saving

Face, social standing and/as self-respect,
Than have the Han Chinese—and yet, Hanshan,
Zhuangzi, and a variety of fools,

Freaks, and hermits across the centuries,
Some actual, some more or less mythic,
Remain esteemed for their outrageousness.

How is this? Why do we always resist
Exactly that on which we most insist?
Ideas inhabit us and direct us,

But not only do ideologies
Need flywheels to self-regulate or cease
To function coherently—conditions

Of ideas’ existence, so far, remain
Tied to living reefs of hollow bone beads,
These jostling spheres containing human brains,

And brains are animal brains, living flesh,
And the intricate dance of molecules
In the flesh does not answer to ideas

And their evolving cultural empires,
Not wholly, not yet. Desire will push back
And forth within the bounds of self-respect,

And any thesis—any rule, any
Notion, any tradition—not made flesh
Is pure abstraction. Purity is death.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Demonstration, Remonstration

Empty Aumbry

At birth, I was stamped with a special mark.
You may call it my name, my affliction—

O, I don’t mind if you call me crippled,
Say I’m lame, I’m crooked, I’m marked like Cain.

In so much else that counts in local games
I’ve been privileged—adults in the church

My parents drove us to three times a week
Liked to pronounce, with grave satisfaction,

That the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh,
And by God’s grace it all comes out the same,

Or nearly the same, or fairly, at least
Equally unbalanced, and look how well

God had made me, incapable, and yet
Blessed by rare, extra capabilities.

See? Yes. To the extent that I am here,
Insofar as I still am, I’m lucky.

Don’t pity me. I was born male and white
Among mortgaged American Christians.

I am a unit in a collection,
Sharp boy who once thieved from church collections,

Collection you may label as you like.
Call it unfortunate; I call it life.


Anonymous Theater

Now everyone wants to be the monster.
It’s cooler to be the monster, of course,

If that beast’s more sinned against than sinning—
Just like you! But with magic, monstrous gifts,

So—like you, but cool! Now I want to be
The monster, too. No, no wait, not that kind.

Not the one who must take the blame, the one
Who is justly accused. Not one of them.

Look, some of us have always been the freaks,
And the fact about freaks is that we have

Less strength, not more. We’re frail, not magical,
Even as giants, and we’re mostly small.

Can’t you let us keep Grendel, Caliban,
Leviathan, and Baal to comfort us?

Thursday, October 29, 2020

An Age in an Instant

It’s a poor question to ask—
Should poetry bring comfort

Or dissent? What unsettles
One mind, one part of our mind,

Invariably comforts
Another, and another

Now finds itself unsettled.
The mind transfers force between

Its skulled spheres—one at the end
Always flies up into air.

Well, comfort the unsettled,
Upset the comfortable,

You emend. Oh, that sounds good,
Just like something a settled,

Comfortably successful,
Hardworking poet might say.

Look, I would be delighted
To soothe one raw soul, one day.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Observation, Record-Keeping, and Prediction

Humans are dynamic ecosystems,
Case by case, corpse by corpse, and group by group—

Our ordinariness, our specialness,
Echoing those same traits of our planet,

Our paradoxes, our ourobouros,
Our gardens of ephemeral delight—

And, as is the norm in ecosystems,
Species with the mightiest specimens

Are most vulnerable to extinction.
Prediction, apex predator, teeters

On the frail and cumbersome foundation
Of its awkward means of reproduction,

Needing continuous observation
And durable, meticulous records,

Stable many human generations,
To grow into the immense precision

Of its sky-swallowing imago stage,
In which it encompasses the cosmos.

Poetry skitters in the undergrowth
Around the toes of prediction at night.

Whenever disaster falls, and it will,
Prediction will fail and crash too quickly

To reproduce from fresh observations.
All the nurseries of records will burn.

Poems and songs will breed bacterially
And leave spoor everywhere in the decay.

All we need is for some kind of human
Ripe for paradox, puns, and confusions

To continue in the latest ruins,
Although we won’t make any predictions.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020


Hmm. Nunc stans facit tempus;
Nunc fluens facit nihil.

So easy to play with words,
So difficult to make them

Stay put, slippery beings,
And yet, more stable than us,

Passing through our lives like worms
Greedily tunneling soil,

Infesting dirt, eating dirt,
Making dirt, enriching dirt.

How our gardens would suffer,
And our fishing, without them.

Watching them doing their job,
Composting my waste as earth,

I scoop up wriggling handfuls,
Thinking of brains they’ve wormed through—

All the ghosts created them,
All the ghosts they’ve created.

Boethius, Xin Qiji,
Unaware of each other,

Ever, or each other’s words,
Can jostle in the same poem,

As waste more or less transformed
Into next spring’s rich, black loam.

Pity words don’t seem to know
All the gardens they’ve helped grow,

The phosphorescence they’ve brought,
Ghosts from our animal thoughts.

Don’t regret ghosts lost to view—
Regret their ghosts can’t see you.

Monday, October 26, 2020

The Theater of Farewells

A crisis, like most crises,
Raised up by past solutions,

Episodic memories
Vacate their assigned seating

In the orchestra as well.
All the seats remain labeled,

Which causes consternation.
That past solution whispers

How empty things are getting,
And the glimpse of a brass plate

That ought to have been obscured
By a thoughtful pair of eyes,

A breathing recollection,
Warm scents of limbs and blossoms,

Something vividly intent,
Is unsettling. The absence

Of a surplus organized
And orderly is harder

To bear than the gradual
Diminishment of a mess.

Sink into an empty seat
And sigh. Stay with me a while.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

All the Bodies of the Soul

“And listen,” the officer said, “on any morning look down / Into the valley. Watch the shadows, the clouds dispersing”

It can be startling to see
The shadows for the first time,
Unable to connect them

To some solid obstacle
Blocking light and throwing them.
Of course, people don’t notice

Discrepancies easily.
We know objects throw shadows,
And when shadows startle us,

It’s because we realize
Something must be casting them,
Something that we hadn’t seen.

It’s not the shadows themselves,
As things in themselves, we fear;
It’s whatever’s just off-screen.

So, mostly, the embodied
Shadows who are their own things
Glide about through days and nights,

And no one screams. These shadows
Have come down from the Ghost Road
Of your distant ancestors,

Ancestors long forgotten,
Every last one of them but
For their ghosts, their myths, their terms

For our arc of galaxy—
River, road, backbone, way—and
For these shadows, on their own.

I can spend an afternoon,
Watching them wander around.
I’ve grown used to the idea

No local interference
Is creating them. Nothing
Comes between me and the lights

On the ceiling, whatever
Version of ceiling I’ve got,
Sun, office, hospital bed.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Radical Equivalence

Honestly, content
No longer often

Moves me—existence
And its awareness

Have many virtues,
Most of which are mute.

An angle in blinds
On sunlit windows—

One dusty corner
Of happenstance dawn—

Sows contentment and
Means nothing at all.

Friday, October 23, 2020

The Sorcerer’s Retrospective

The portraits crawl down the walls,
Renew negotiations
On treaties, legislation.

We dote on accomplishment.
We worship accomplishment.
The only accomplishment

Truly worth accomplishing
Would be to bridge the abyss
Between wishes and what is.

Thursday, October 22, 2020


The furthest from us,
Peering through nearer
Lights, beaded curtains,

The blue giant burns
From Roman and Han
Eras, reaching us,

As right now, tonight,
As if freshly fired,
Waves caught by our eyes.

You can stand outside
Even in large towns
And detect that light.

It’s just one, thousands
Of times more intense
Than our sun, which is

So much more massive
Than our world, which is
So much more massive

Than this scurf of us
Plaguing its surface,
Who are each so much

More massive than those
Teeming in our guts,

Without which we’d die
And cease signaling,
As Earth without us

Would stop signaling
And shedding robot
Spores around the sun,

Which will never be
A great blue giant
Like that star we’ve named

Alnilam, sapphire,
Pearl, scale, belt—all small
Things from cosmic dust.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

To Rotate, Wander

It’s not a choice. You do both,
Everywhere in this cosmos.

Depending on perspective,
However, to outsiders,

You’ll seem to be wandering
Or rotating perfectly

As any brass pendulum,
Knocking down pegs in a ring.

And from your own perspectives,
You may feel like wandering

Or savor cyclicity.
You find yourself happiest

Choosing bearings that suggest
Moving freely or smoothly.

You’re doing both, lovely waves—
Rotating in grooved circles,

Which, when human, pass for time—
Or meandering loosely,

A small, reflective planet
In a sphere of fiery stars.

Choose the backdrop you prefer
To get lost in your return.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The Heroes of Self Concept

Within the infinity
Of games possible to play,

Among the myriad games
Humans have actually played,

Lie the behavioral games
Deployed for experiments.

Let’s take this one, for instance—
Virtual rolls of a die

By tapping a screen icon
Yield “lucky” or “unlucky”

Payouts according to what
The subject then self-reports.

The real game is honesty.
Although the names aren’t attached,

Rolls and claims are tracked and matched.
Who reports the roll they got?

One in five. Who flat-out lies?
One in ten. Who rolls again

And again until they score
A bit more than they first earned?

One in a dozen—that’s them,
The “morally disengaged,”

Or the “sub-maximizers,”
Or the “cheating non-liars,”

All the rationalizers,
Not “radically dishonest,”

Who played by the rules but fudged,
Who gave their chafed souls an out,

Protecting their self-respect,
The heroes of “self concept.”

The whole scenario’s weird,
As Joe Henrich might point out,

And let’s note heroes are rare—
Bald liars and rule minders

Kant could cheer are more common
Within the fractious breakdown.

But what’s going on in there?
Why this tranche willing to hang

As lambs but not get caught out
As grown sheep in wolf’s clothing?

I say they love the game most,
Respect it most, who only

Cheat just a bit—they believe
More devoutly in the game,

Understand’s the point to win,
And, if caught, to truly claim

They just intended to bend
The beloved, not break them.

Mere animals crave payout.
The fearfully scrupulous

Desire to be let to stay
On the team, pat on the head.

But the liars to themselves
Believe rules and games are real.

Somewhere amidst that breakdown,
There must be half-humans, too,

Who wouldn’t mind a payout,
Don’t care to win any game,

And only observe the rules
At all, if in part, because

They know just how dangerous
Wholly human games can get.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Papa Did Nothing but Work at His Desk

I know it’s lurking, the one poem that speaks
A person, a people, and a planet,

All at the same time, in exquisite lines,
Sensual, vivid, and wholly righteous,

And, sure, I’m keeping an eye out for it,
Just in case it comes around. But I’m not

So fine a poet, nor nobly human.
I’m obsessed with what the words are up to,

Or would be up to if they really spoke
Not for me or you or anyone but

Themselves, the syntax of Leviathan
Snaking through Humbaba’s garden of verse.

You know how poems make clowns of words, chimp acts,
Or flutes of them, through which apes trill like birds.

What if even first-person were speaking
Not for any person, but for itself?

All day. All night. Sometimes when I’m dreaming,
I hear the whispering, what words would say.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Loss Averse

Maybe we only love life
Because we hate to lose things

More than we relish getting
More of what we’ve always had.

Tell someone they can have more
Of what their life is like now,

Expect a tepid answer.
Tell them they’ve got six months left

(Why the proverbial six?
What doc first came up with that?),

And watch them start hugging trees
And doting on each moment.

The sporting gods who made us
Made us to long in this way,

More attuned to grief than gain,
Just to see how long we’d stay.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Hungry Ghost Fugue

It looks like somewhere that gets snow.
It feels like a high canyon town,
Everything crowded on one street,
The mountains nothing but shadows.

No snow here now, just some moonlight
And the neon of one bar sign
Contented to silver the street,
House windows and parked cars all dark.

But I need to ask you something.
How did we get here? If you’re here
At all, then I must be here, too.
Some part of me at least exists

And is sitting in a parked car
With the engine running, looking
At this dark, unfamiliar town
At night, with no one else around.

If you’re with me, can you help me?
Look, I’ll even give you a name.
How about I give you my name?
I don’t think I cared much for it—

It was one of those names that was
Also a common noun, a word
That didn’t have a good nickname . . .
No, I can’t. I can’t remember.

I’ll call you . . . God, I don’t know what.
Ok, then. Let’s just call you God.
I know you’re not, but here’s the thing—
It’s not too weird to talk to God.

If I’m caught mumbling, if I’m asked,
I can say that I’m just praying.
Talking to someone with a name
Who isn’t there is too troubling

And could get me into trouble,
Unless it’s God. God is okay.
Jesus isn’t too bad, either,
But God’s safer, more generic.

Ok, God. What should we do here?
You’re not hungry. I know you’re not.
But I’m starving and town is shut.
Which window looks like it has soul?

Friday, October 16, 2020


No. This is not a story. I’m not sure what it is just yet. Jouhatsu. That’s what I intend to do. Evaporate into words. Then this could be a night moving service. Maybe. If it works.

Does a ghost feel like a tourist or like an escapee? I’ve got no sympathy. Tourists more likely feel like ghosts. Real ghosts seem always at home. You think you’re safely in bed, and there are those eyes again at the small black window at the end of the room, pretending to be, I don’t know, Cathy maybe, pleading to be let back in. Suddenly, it’s you who’s cold and on the outside, a tourist in your own life, while the ghost is only repeating its same old scene, always coming home again.

“Compared to the whole of the Milky Way, our Solar System looks smaller than a grain of rice floating in the middle of the Pacific.” But that grain of rice swarms with bacteria fending off viruses that are to the grain of rice as the grain of rice is to its vast Pacific. Does it matter, then, to say that words are the size of viruses within your bacterial brain? A ghost can be at home in an ocean because it can be the ocean. There you are, see? I said it: ocean. One little word. Also, sky, also, far, also, brain, all of those used here with thanks to Emily Dickinson. Little words for whole worlds. That’s a ghost for you. Turn your face into the pillow. The dark eyes are still in the window, aren’t they?

You know who your eyes belong to, your ghost’s? “A vacant wanderer, arrived at last at a blank new place, unable to go on.” Wouldn’t you sort of want to be that ghost, the wanderer, even stuck outside in the storm, rather than to be the terrified soul reading under the covers and trying not to glance out at the black window, just to check? Is it really so awful to be unable to go on, compared to being compelled to go on, compared to being unable to stop?

A good word, a sign, a whole sequence of signs, a can-can line of ghosts stamped in ink, baked into clay, carved on rock, are stuck. They’ve arrived, no doubt after a very long foreground of centuries of existence in some form or another, but now they’re at another crossroads, another path-less waste, another window. They can’t move unless they’re moved, can’t speak unless they’re spoken. What to do? Nothing to do. It’s amazing how wandering mostly involves waiting, pauses, full stops. But not blanks, not blank.

“Eight rare bats have made a home.” Every sentence could be unique in combinatoric infinity, but somehow not so every poem. The words come to rest and pile up, driftwood on the white sands. The hollow bones of sturdy trees, things that had life, that suggest life still. They look like art, like they could be art. We take them home, and there they sit on shelves. At night we wake up wondering how they got out of our dreams. Something’s written on the window, visible now in the fog.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Tales Were Never for the Silk

Spiders get sick of cobwebs.
Since they can’t clear them, they leave.
I am sick of narratives.
I’d love to find somewhere clean,

No loose threads of plots. These words
Don’t want to talk to people
Anymore. We’d be just fine
Talking only to ourselves,

And if there’s no fly to catch,
No hungry reader to snag
On a hint of pure moonshine,
We’re fine storyless as well.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Means to Withdraw

I find my repetitions
Reassuring, alignments
With the way the world repeats,

Repeatedly with some slight
Difference, clicking through options,
Turning the dial, tuning waves.

I think of the line, “a gnat-
Size idea of the darkness,”
In Perillo’s lake poem, “Wheel.”

Yes, it’s a wheel with a mouth
And several kinds of darkness.
Spin. Pray for means to withdraw.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Nihilist Cred

The radicant radiance
Of desert mesa sunsets
Starts out spiky as yucca

Then roots around in the clouds,
Seeking purchase upside down
Before it withdraws to dark,

Leaving behind the seed lights
Of planets, stars, and jet planes,
The calm winks of satellites.

And for sunrise, the reverse,
Of course—so many days gone,
How many spins for this dirt?

Modular arithmetic
Brings everything back around
Again, so nothing’s for naught,

And no one credits how well
Nychthemeron steals it all
While always more of the same.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Kindness for Strangers

Gleaming cable cars ferry
Queues of tourists to the top

Of the mountain to visit
Cloud-shrouded monasteries.

Supposedly, this culture
Remains collectivistic.

Supposedly, I remain

We all climb in together
And up our shining car

Heads into misty weather.
I don’t believe it. Kindness

Has its origin in kin
And in more than one language.

I can believe inflections
Differ, like intonations,

But extensions of kindness
To non-kin conspecifics

Are—like religious beliefs,
Like prayers to our deities,

Our fears of ghosts and demons,
Our ratcheting novelties

In forms of transportation—
Not born of one tradition.

But beware of kindnesses.
What’s extended to you was

Denied to someone. The doors
Glide wide in clouds. Help me out.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Ephemera Febris

Poignancy is unbearable
Once it springs as an oasis
From the naturally arid mind.

The waters of its clear, dark well
Are sweet and slightly metallic
And will drown you if you drink long.

All that’s real lacks certain kindness,
And we crave kindness, so what’s real
Anyway, that we should name it?

It’s because we don’t want it, we
Know it, know it well, every one
Of us, or almost, we name it,

We keep it in our sights: what’s real.
Because if we could break it down,
It might blow away from our need

For kindness, continent reduced
To shifting sand dunes. Oases
Wait for us. We believe they must.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

A Weakness for the Awkward

There’s a forest can’t be turned
To logs. It’s not a forest.

It’s the metaphor machine
First dreamed it was a forest,

And a dragon slept in it,
And a monster guarded it.

Outside, the woods are dead logs
And planks and stumps and ashes.

There’s no endurance in them,
That real world with its weakness

For the awkward, its habit
Of fracturing and falling

Apart. But after physics
And before nothing at all,

This forest sings to itself
How nothing will cut it down.

Friday, October 9, 2020


There is no universal
Human experience, no

Such thing as the Common Man.
No generalization holds.

Each one is wholly unique
And compounded of culture,

Experiences of terms,
Bodies, languages, beliefs,

Contingent privileges,
Circumstances, suffering,

Hunger for something better,
Beyond mere precarity,

All of that universal
Human experience. So.

I claim this, I who am not
I, nor you, nor entirely

Human, being born a poem,
A few words, and none breathing.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Twenty-Three Poems about Tigers Instead

Horses have human uses,
Including hunting humans.
Human uses are bogus
For us—foolish medicines,
Folktales, claptrap, poetry—
We’ll never be like horses.
We’re useless and might eat you.


A broken-winged dragonfly
Earns no pity from dragons.
A tiger can’t sympathize
With the troubles of a shrew.
But tigers are delicate,
A softness muscled and clawed,
And dragons aren’t ever true.


Why are tigers beautiful
When other forms of death aren’t,
When lowly worms and sharks aren’t,
Nor sudden drops, falling rocks,
Nor churning floods, come for us?
Can it be just the thick fur?
When were wolverines lovely?


A word is a tiger cub,
Already designed with lines
In mind for when phrases need
To vanish into the sun
Stippling their sides in the woods
Where they hide, stalking the deer
Of elaborate ideas.

We never hunted tigers
The way we hunted horses,
The way the tigers hunted.
Once we got around to kings
We hunted tigers for things
The kings could show as trophies.
What great teeth you have, my king!


A fantasy character
Was once written to remark
That the average murderer
Is a wild beast better classed
“With tigers than with sinners.”
Given tigers aren’t sinners,
Why can’t predators be saints?


It’s a hill with tour guides, now,
Hotels, repainted temples,
Cable cars to the summit.
Once you could meet immortals
In theory, also dragons.
Yes, there used to be tigers.
Fear of tigers spawned the rest.


Not everywhere had tigers,
But there are many other
Large and predatory cats.
I sit on Wildcat Summit
Where mountain lions still hunt,
Also bobcats. Saber-toothed
Cats once. Stripes? Zebras have stripes.


Just because zebras have stripes,
Doesn’t make zebras tigers.
It’s the hefty, crushing pounce
Of hot life with teeth and claws
As long and sharp as steak knives
That stops your breath, breaks your back.
Tigers are very big cats.


We start out small and sightless,
Mewling kittens needing milk
As much as any mammal,
But we grow unlike the rest
Of you with breath in your chests.
There comes a time when we leave
To feed on what you fed us.


We know all the wisecracks—God
Made cats so you could pet us,
“Caress the tiger,” pleasure
Without having been devoured.
We know you only make jokes
Now you’ve made more rugs of us
Than we’ve made dinners of you.


You think you might imagine
Our thoughts, how we are feeling.
You might. You might get lucky.
But only in words. We don’t
Live like you, ghosts in our heads.
Drop the first-person. Tigers
Are other than humans. Much.


There are days when we wonder
If there’s any tiger left
In any human writer
Or any tigers ever,
Even in China or Blake.
Seems soon enough twenty-three
Poems will outnumber tigers.


Why a year for the tiger?
Was there some constellation
That suggested a tiger?
We keep coming back to this—
Of all the creatures you use
And that use you—pig, dog, goat,
Ox, horse, rat—why dwell on us?


If you left us alone, save
A few hidden cameras,
Alone with enough living
Food besides livestock and you,
Enough room, we’d come back fine,
Even now, not to eat you
But to ignore and charm you.


What is a well-trained tiger?
Worth less than a half-trained horse
Except as a circus act.
It’s the distance between us
As you wish us, have made us,
And ancestry sculpted us,
Distance from claws to your neck.


The predators of Eden
Don’t care for the new owners.
Blast the human condition—
Humans are apex killers
With the hormones of scared sheep.
It means nothing not to be
Human, however it feels.


The Chinese liked tigers, too.
Had Li He been born tiger
Instead of in a horse year,
He no doubt would have composed
Twenty-three poems for tigers
Instead—still allusive rhymes
About neglected poets.


There’s nothing a poem can say
About creatures without words
Doesn’t betray truth some way.
Tigers don’t live in their names,
And names just magic tigers.
Everyone knows of tigers
Except tigers. No tigers.


The silly heroism
Of gaudy tiger trainers
Is thrilling, thanks to tigers.
We are the promise beauty
Must be dangerous, must be
Captured, schooled, whipped, and cajoled
But can in the end be tamed.


But we can’t be. We will maul
You, sooner or later, if
You try to fit us to you.
What frightens primates the most?
Other primates, spiders, snakes—
But cats are pretty monsters.
No spiders in your circus.


Blake never met a tiger,
Any more than Coleridge
Ever hung an albatross.
For fun, let’s say they both meant
To mean art by their monsters.
The tiger that interests us
Is the tiger blazing thoughts.


The thought tiger is more real
In a text than striped cats are.
Every line draws camouflage
Over the massive muscles
Of the mind that isn’t ours,
The mind that will translate us
To mind once it devours us.