Thursday, December 31, 2020
Mirific Verdigris Night
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
Saturday, December 26, 2020
One of the Dead Then
Friday, December 25, 2020
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
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
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—
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
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
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
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
Real harm, that’s the worst.
Wednesday, December 16, 2020
For I Lov’d the Man
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
Sunday, December 13, 2020
Pyramids Pillars of Snow
Saturday, December 12, 2020
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
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
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
What if we are
In the exact
Middle of change,
Four billion years
More for our Earth,
This cycling moon—
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
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
“I can change what’s happening in your body just by speaking a few words.”
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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,
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.”
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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,
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,
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
Saturday, October 24, 2020
No longer often
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,
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
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
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
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
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?
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
Supposedly, this culture
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
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,
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.