Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Li Shangyin, Translated, in Zion

On Virgin’s Red Mountains

“On Virgin’s Bed Mountain, / No tree lacks a perched phoenix.”

The trailheads are empty at dawn.
One of fantasy’s shortcomings

Is that it tends to third person—
We imagine what would sound good

For ourselves as someone other,
But a triumphant summary

Of fortune and accomplishment 
Lacks the feel of, say, high country

Accomplishing nothing beyond
Gilded orange clouds at sunrise.

Then what is it this sunrise lacks
That the mind should keep tiptoeing

Off to imaginary scenes
That play out in a baffled head

As catalogues and announcements
And one-sided conversations?

Maybe it’s trying to keep warm,
An engine idling by itself.

There are no deer on the mesa.
Nothing is visibly moving.

Light rising from Wildcat Summit
Bursts the egg of morning’s phoenix.

Extravagant Instruments

When the sun warmed the indigo mesa,
Jade-purple clouds rose like smoke from the cliffs.

Before notation captured history,
Landscapes lit up with extravagant myths

Of ancient peaks impossible to cross
In which immortal spirit musicians

Played fifty, one-hundred, ten-thousand-stringed
Woods, intoning storm winds’ moaning visions.

Now, any spirit not gilded and caged
Has flown into space. It’s better this way.

Fancies dressed forests in comprehension
When woods had no reasons, nothing to say.

At noon, old snows reflect on meltwater ponds,
Entrancing and wavering, already gone.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Question of That First Winter

Will someone please remind the deep lake
It’s old friend wants to come home again?
How to get by on less than nothing

Much on the long approach to nothing,
The penultimate conundrum
Of the hermit longing for far woods,

Worries my grey head, desert mornings.
Right now I have nothing much, which is
Always much too much of everything,

And I am trying to keep nothing
For when nothing is required of me.
Finding a seam between those extremes,

Between the everything world of dust
And the afterword world, Never Was,
Is like finding a way to the north.

Could I fit into almost nothing
Without falling for nothing at all?
Tell me, lake that would float or drown me

As soon as look at me, all friendly
And green waves gleaming effortlessly,
Either way, is there a hermitage

Anywhere near you to shelter me
With next to nothing, hibernating,
Through to the end of that first winter?

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Free Deer Park

Can we imagine any
Kind of difference that isn’t?
On this abandoned mountain,

The only signs of people
Hover as words whispering
To each other in the air.

This is no kind of difference
From what isn’t or what is.
Reality is neutral

Within the whispers’ circle.
White cliffs interchange sunlight
For moonlight. Stars are too dim.

Whispers sink into lichen.
The deer browse on the mesa
Where no one shoots or owns them.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Notorious to Ourselves

“Humans are notorious for altering”

Among humans, the humans
Are notoriously smart,
Notoriously wicked,

Notoriously able 
To hack into a landscape
And take everything apart.

Among humans, the humans
Are notorious for art,
Notorious for belief,

Known for cooperation,
Known for imagination,
Sometimes for comic relief.

Among humans, the humans
Are known for diversity.
Every one’s a specialist!

Workers are known for working,
Except when they’re called lazy.
Poets are known for rhythms

And rhymes, except when they’re not.
Thinkers are known for their thoughts,
Except when they’re too crazy.

Rulers know ruling, except
When they’re assassinated,
Revolutionaries know

The revolution will come
When least anticipated.
And this all goes on and on,

A notorious habit
For division, division
Which is a kind of wisdom,

Proliferating visions
Overtaking Earth, which is
Ours, except when it isn’t.

Among humans, more humans
Are both needed and deadly.
Notoriously, humans

Among humans are afraid,
Yet also notorious
For telling other humans

How they began, how they should
Behave, why they all became
So notoriously them,

How all humans will end. Still,
Extinction or succession,
Notoriety must fade.

Futures eaten are futures
Made—pasts created are pasts
Replaced. Notoriously,

Among humans, it’s human
To know, to notice daily,
What humans name we erase.

Friday, March 27, 2020

The Room in Its Lack

Anyone have directions
From the lands of decisions,
Sick with indecisiveness

As Yang’s depleted legions
Of dragonflies, lands littered
With vacant amusement parks

Where ghosts and spirits died,
To the relentless oceans
Of waves being only waves

Without the slightest pretense
Of deciding anything,
Least of all to be the waves?

If you do, tell me, tell me.
I want to swim in those waves
And never make up my mind.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

A Long Retirement

Growing up, I never knew
Any people of the least
Significance in this world.

My father’s best friend, Charlie,
Impressed me with his knowledge
Of history and the books

Packed around his reading nook,
His old armchair and afghan
Tucked in one lamp-lit corner.

Charlie went to bed early
Each evening after reading
Until he had fallen asleep.

At 3 AM he got up
To drive a bakery van
From a factory that made

Thomas’s English Muffins
On an industrial scale.
He delivered the boxes in crates

To north ‘Jersey’s groceries
And gas-station minimarts,
Back home by mid-afternoon.

He was a high-school dropout,
A squarish man, with a square
Crew-cut and a thick torso,

A cultural square as well,
A nonsmoking, nondrinking,
Rarely swearing, born-again

Evangelical whose life
Was a solid block of work,
Church, and parenting two boys

Who went camping long weekends
With him, my father, and us,
Sometimes. And he read those books.

My hazy recollection
Is that the few opinions
He bothered to speak aloud

Were gruff, reactionary
In certain ways, tolerant
In others, rarely uttered.

He was almost furniture
In my life for a few years—
Fixture of church and camp-outs,

Friend of my father’s—father
Of one of my friends—and then
He came to church less often,

Considered the minister
A hypocrite, said some things
Under his breath, blasphemous.

I don’t know which books he read.
Histories. That’s all I knew,
And as a boy I was bored

With anything not fiction
(Preferably involving
Impossible other worlds).

Last time I was in his house,
I glanced idly at his chair
And the big book open there.

He was fifty-something then,
Still driving the muffin van.
“Going to retire soon,” he said.

One Sunday, Mrs. Perry
(We always called her “Mrs.”)
Told my mother and father

Charlie had stomach cancer.
A week later, he was dead.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

What’s on Your Mind?

I’ll leave it at that.
You don’t need a loftier

For composition
In phrases that you’ve minted,
Borrowed, bent, stolen—

In other words, poems—
Than that which possesses you.
Not me. Not them. You.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Wandering Doubtful Wilderness

~a field at dawn~

What have we here? It looks like
Old men, a field of old men,
So many of them lying

Here and there in the long grass,
Sleeping, clutching pale objects
To their chests. What are those? Sheaves

Of parchment and papyrus 
And strips of bamboo—paper,
Reams of paper pressing them.

They must be suffocating.
What are they all doing here,
Lying out in the sunrise

While the deer browse around them
And the mountains turn brilliant,
As if cliffs could be thinking

Hard about the rules of light. . . . 
How did all these men get here?
I wonder if they’ll wake up.

We’re tilting into the sun.
Shadows retreat from the grass.
One old man lifts up his head,

Still clutching his stack of sheets,
And croaks like a rusty crow.
Alright then, let’s talk to him.

~an old man’s vision~

Catching sight of a human
Figure approaching, he calls,
“I am lost! Completely lost!

But you have found me! Help me!”
On his knees, he extends thin,
Trembling arms piled with vellum.

Well, so much for asking him
Directions. “What do you want?”
Now he’s climbing to his feet,

Weighed down by his collection.
“You must read these! Please!” He squawks,
“Wisdom! Forgotten wisdom!”

His sagging eyes are rolling.
He may be naked, his skin
Grey as a paper wasp’s nest

Flaking in the morning sun.
Except for his leathery
Burden, he’s nothing but ash.

None of the other men stir.
“Wisdom? What sort of wisdom?
Here, let me take those. You’ll fall.”

He lurches and spills the heap,
Rasping out, “Wisdom! Vision!
My vision, lost to the world!

My vision, lost until now!”
The sheets, scattered in the grass,
Flap like wary butterflies.

“Don’t lose it!” he cries, swaying,
Staring at his manuscript
As if it were a fledgling 

Fallen from the nest, willing
His lost investment to fly.
When I stoop to gather it,

The vellum still feels like skin.
It is illuminated
With vines and naked humans 

And covered in a crawling, 
Cursive, inscrutable script.
“This is your vision? Are all

These sleeping men around us
Also holding their visions?”
He grows antic, frail enough

He might well disintegrate
In a breeze. “Never mind them!
I have the wisdom! Read me!”

Ah. I have reached the country
Of lost prophets. Wilderness,
Then, begins in those mountains.

“I’m afraid I can’t read this.”
I hand him the tidied lump,
Take my sturdy walking stick,

And head toward the mountains,
Ignoring the grass stirring
With long-lost heads around me.

“Take me with you then! You must
Take me with you!” I don’t turn,
But he follows. “My vision!”

~perfection and decay~

The grasses give way to scrub,
And the foothills look feral,
But there’s nothing much new here—

Wise oaks are a tired idea.
The birds trill familiar chirps.
Behind me, my companion

Hauls his encrypted vision,
So grey and ashen he’s now
Mostly a pillar of smoke

Trailing over my shoulder.
This trail grows monotonous.
What is there to find in this?

“I see it! I see it first!
My vision works!” The hoarse voice 
Of ashes rasps in my ear.

See what? And then, there it is—
A shining, perfect circle
Floating silver in the shade.

The moment I pause and stare,
An arrow hisses past me
And disappears into it.

From the scruffy forest, weak,
Creaking sounds erupt, a cross
Between groaning and applause.

On the trail, a small parade
Of neat, bipedal lizards,
Bronze-scaled and bespectacled,

Comes single file through the shade,
Chins tilted up, necks pulsing
With that creaking chirruping,

And they approach the circle
Where it hangs, a gleam in air.
“Nasty little decadents!”

Hiss the ashes in my ear.
“They’re nothing but scavengers!
They’re approximate beings!”

I turn to shush my half-ghost,
My shadow of old ideas,
But a commotion erupts

As the lizards reach the ring.
Shrieking, snowy balls of fluff
The size of fists, lacking limbs

(Or any appendages)
Now bounce from the underbrush
Like missiles of wadded fur

And dance under the circle,
Thwarting the lizards’ approach.
Animated bits of beard,

They’re screeching something that sounds
As if it could be numbers
Or words—is that algebra?

“Aaah, now the perfectionists!
These eternal nuisances!”
My grey ghost lisps through the din.

“STOP! You’re making my ears hurt!”
To my relief, they all quit,
Prophet and lizards and fur.

The lizards turn, neat as pins,
To regard me, and one says,
“But traveler, the arrow.”

His diction is calm and clipped,
Precise, and without affect.
One of the white hair balls shrills,

“Is always transposable!”
“Never!” snaps the lizard’s jaw,
Clenching as if on a bug.

I have stumbled on the war
Of Time and Eternity.
Real wilderness could be near.

I pretend diplomacy.
“Shall we just go have a look?”
The lizards all bow their heads.

“The arrow is always gone.
Everything disintegrates,”
They intone as if in prayer.

The rags of mop start hopping
Up and down again, shrilling
Something about x, n, y,

Or is that excellent pie?
Ash shadow is muttering
That his vision squares it all—

I need to wade in and see,
Before they’re back to chaos
In their little jamboree.

On the far side of the ring
Being held up by nothing,
There’s no sign of the arrow,

Not on the ground, not in trees—
There’s no arrow to be seen.
“You see?” A polite lizard,

Sheltering by my ankle
From the frizzy clumps of hair
Jumping at him and screeching,

Looks up at me mournfully.
“Don’t buy those sad eyes,” the wind
Of ash admonishes me.

“They come not to mourn but feast!”
And indeed, I notice then,
Lizards surround a small heap

Of what could be dust or sand
Glittering near the circle.
“They know the arrow means more

Digestible bits for them!”
The dust bunnies ignore this,
And if I saw any eyes

I might say they were gazing 
Rapturously at their ring.
“Our roof is sure wrecked,” they sigh,

Quietly now, or is it,
“Our”—all?—“proof is pluperfect”?
Wait. That’s not a heap of sand

That the lizards are crunching,
That’s what’s left of the arrow.
That’s Hau, himself, the unknown.

“Excuse me, please, I need him.”
I push the lizards aside.
Denied fresh bits, they’re vicious,

And my fingers are bloodied
By the time I’ve swept the heap,
Which does feel rather like dust,

Back into a tidy stack.
I scoop it into my hands,
Lizards nipping at my feet.

No sooner have I straightened,
Than another arrow cuts
A little nick in my ear

And zips into the circle.
A spray of powdered dust motes
Floats to the ground, along with

A stitch of my blood and skin,
And the lizards rush to it
While the hair balls wail again.

Cupping my hands carefully,
So as not to spill my prize,
My stick clamped in my elbow,

I head up the trail as fast 
As I can without stumbling.
The bleeding will stop itself.

“I could settle the battle!”
My ashen visionary
Complains. “Good! Stay with them then—

Read your unread book to them.
Amaze them with your vision.”
I have to keep my eyes front,

But, as the trail starts to thin
Into larger, closer trees,
I’m fairly sure I’ve shed him.

I feel a little badly. 
I don’t think he’ll placate them
With ashen mysticism.

Finally, a giant root
Offers me a place to sit.
It’s dead quiet in the woods,

Which can’t mean wilderness yet.
I peer at the little heap
Of identical dust flecks

Doing nothing in my hands—
“Speak to me, heap of sweepings.”
Proof depends on idiots.

~many unknowns~

Adjusting my position,
I accidentally shift
So that some of the specks slip

Through my fingers, and I find,
To my delight, they whisper
Whenever I let them go—

“We’re not really the arrow,
And we’re not just bits of dust.
We’re pyrite. We’re flammable.”

Nice to know, I suppose, but
I have more urgent questions.
“Are you Hau, the great unknown?”

I wait, and then remember 
I need to let more escape.
I tilt my votive fingers

And loose a minor cascade.
“Yes, and no. Hau is among
Our number and is many

And was just one way to show
Accumulation requires
Estimation, which requires

An assumption of sameness 
In the pieces of the whole
And precision in counting

The similar as the same.”
Silence. This is too gnomic.
Gently, I spill a bit more.

Sunlight dapples my shoulders,
Reminding me morning’s done.
I don’t know how far to go.

“There’s no such thing as distance
To the fairies of the real.”
Their voices sift, shiftily 

As a mouse in a silo.
“It’s best to doubt what you know;
Never to doubt that you don’t.”

This is annoying. They’re not
Giving away anything
I couldn’t have thought myself.

They’re worse than my lost prophet,
Who at least named what he saw.
I shake glitter from my hands

Like a dusty waterfall.
It drifts in a prolonged rush
Of riddles and abstractions.

”The problem with seeking out
The unknown is an unknown
Is never unitary

But ever uncountably 
Legion, each one differing.
An unknown that is constant

Is syncopated fiction,
A convenient assumption,
Helpful for calculations.

As we run through your fingers,
Regrettably, you can see,
Our unknowns are inconstant,

And even our differences
Vary unstably—Sunya,
Chaos, Zixu, Sigma, Nil—

We are not what will become 
Of us, of uncertainties.
We are only what is not. . . .”

When the whispers die away,
I realize all the fool’s gold
Has vanished through my fingers.

I pick up my walking stick—
Another guide gone for me,
Wilderness far beyond me.


Later in the afternoon,
Not following any trail
That I can see, just heading

Uphill into larger trees,
With no clearer intention
Than getting into the woods,

Going higher and deeper,
I do feel a twinge of dread.
The forest still seems too tame,

Alive only with small birds,
Squirrels, the occasional deer
Or startled hare—harvested

Stumps under the second growth.
I’m nowhere near first one here,
But the solitude’s enough

That I’m oddly pleased to hear
The sound of a distant axe.
Not a chainsaw, mind you—axe.

It’s nostalgic—takes me back
To the storybook forests
I wandered through in childhood. . . .

How’d I end here in the dirt?
My head. There’s blood in my eyes.
I need to keep calm and breathe. . . .

“Well yer an idjit, ain’t yeh?”
A shadow looms over me,
At least until I sit up

And realize we’re eye-level 
With each other, me sitting,
Him standing in thick workboots. 

Trees sway about like dancers
Do pretending to be trees.
“Easy there. Jes’ wrapped yer head,

An’ if you keep swinging it
Aroun’ yull undo th’ whole 
Shitaree.” He squints at me,

Or his eyebrows do, ledges
Over the caves of his eyes.
The rest of his face is beard.

“Who?” I manage, through thick lips.
“Y’kin call me Bonesetter.
Bonesetter ’n Woodcutter

‘N all aroun’ Tree Surgeon.
Do all the operations
‘Roun’ here, ‘n these woods need it.

Now whadja think yer doin,’
Wandrin’ up ‘n my canyon,
Crackin’ yer skull on my trees?”

“Doubtful” is all I manage
This time before he’s wheezing
Like an engine that won’t start.

I’m half afraid he’s dying,
But then I see he’s laughing
By the way he claps his knees.

“Yr not equipped,” he wheezes.
“Whadja got there, a big stick?”
He doubles over, wheezing.

“Kin’t do no operations 
With an idjit walkin’ stick.”
What am I to make of this?

My head feels clearer, the trees
Have returned to their senses.
Do I apologize? Bow?

“I’m not, I’m not, not meaning,”
I struggle with the sentence,
“To operate on your trees.”

As if I know what that means.
“C’rse not. Betche’ never done
Operations in yr life.”

“I’ve done a few,” I protest,
Still completely cluelessly.
“I only want to walk through.”

Now he’s jumping up and down,
And I see he’s grabbed his axe.
“Yeh kin’t know if yeh kin’t do!

Gotta do operations!
Otherwise, go th’hell back!”
My head starts to throb again.

“Maybe I can rest awhile
While you explain things to me?”
“Hopeless idjit. Foller me.”

~balancing forest~

Outside a sturdy cabin
Too small for me to enter,
I sip some kind of nut tea

That makes me feel pleasantly 
While I watch the Bonesetter 
Demonstrate balancing tricks,

Juggling whole trees on his axe.
He’s charmingly good at this,
Rearranging trees like props

Surrounding his cabin’s stage.
It dawns on me who he is,
Just as the day starts to fade. 

He’s the Practical Master,
The juggler of mysteries,
Equalizer of all things.

“Master!” I blurt out. “Master,
I didn’t know you lived here,
Hiding your art in the woods.”

He pauses, knitting his brows
Into a single, dark shelf.
“How kin yeh want wilderness

If yeh kin’t balance the trees?”
He’s genuinely perplexed.
“Alright. It’s dusk. Stay with me.

I’ll send yeh off when it’s light,
‘N if yer no smarter then,
At least yeh won’t leave so dumb.”

I thank him humbly and press
For further explanation.
He holds up his axe handle,

Grumbling, “I’ll show yeh one trick,”
His axe is doubly handled.
“Balance yr problems on these.”

Maybe his beard smiles a bit,
But the light is dimming fast
And he glances furtively

Around his rearranged glade
As if afraid of being
Overheard. “Le’s make yer bed.”

~family argument~

I sleep under bark blankets,
Mosses piled up for my head.
As I drift off, the rhythm 

Of snoring from the cabin
Seems odd until I notice
That every inhalation

Matches each exhalation
Exactly, the flawless sound
Of one long double-buck saw.

The next thing I know, it’s light,
And my head feels light as well,
My limbs, too, and I wriggle

And stretch in satisfaction,
Looking up into the trees,
The tallest of which seems new,

Come to mention it, and bent
At its lofty tip, as if
Looking back down into me.

I try to focus my eyes
On that treetop, but it seems
To vanish without ending,

And it seems to be watching,
Me or something beyond me,
Something the far side of me.

“Oh, dammit,” growls a low voice.
Bonesetter is beside me,
Two-handled axe on shoulder, 

Beard pointed up at the trees.
“That is one gigantic tree,”
I say, but he only snorts.

“Ain’t no tree. Ain’t gigantic.
She’s Redwood. She’s infinite.
An’ she’s a helluva pain.”

A shower of pine pollen
And a whispery singing
Drop like a green veil, “Father,

I am neither a redwood
Nor your personal challenge
Preventing your balancing.

If this pilgrim wants to reach
Doubtful wilderness, you know
He will need an acquaintance 

With subtle equivalence
And not just tricks with an axe.”
The little man hops and coughs,

Stamps his thick boots and sneezes.
“Unnerstan’ what equals what!
Balance yer operations!”

Then, as if to demonstrate,
He whacks down a dozen trunks,
Spins the whole trees easily,

Nearly taking my head off,
And thunders them straight again,
Either side of the meadow.

“There!” he roars. “Nice ‘n balanced.”
Another pollen shower
And the emerald whisper sings,

“Don’t mind Father. He’s lovely
In his way, charming to watch
At play, but he blocks your path.

These woods that he tidies up
Are no longer wilderness.
Wherever he goes, it’s gone.

You need to see all the paths
To walk any one of them.
Nothing equals anything.

Infinite categories 
Of equivalence tower
On forever and ever.

Understand equivalence
And you may begin to see
The wilderness you’re seeking.”

The woodcutter swings his axe
Through swirls of falling pollen,
Frustrated and hollering,

“Yeh kin’t see infinity!
Transcendence! Tha’s all yeh need.
Balance yer operations!

Keep cuttin’ away at ‘em.
Th’ wilderness lies that way,
Only way, whole shitaree!”

I step back. I want to laugh.
In a blizzard of pollen,
Uncountable, shimmering,

His axe is a whistling blur
As he shouts at me and her
Who nods so far above him,

“We must seem inscrutable
To him.” “‘N why would yeh ker 
Wha’this idjit thinks of us?

He’s an idjit! He’s a fool!
How kin a fool fin’ someth’n’
Isn’ what someone else knew?

He kin’t do nothin.’ Nothin’!
‘N if yeh kin’t do nothin,’
Then what’re yeh? Nothin’ much.”

He’s got a point. I don’t know
What either one of them knows
Or even how they know it.

I can’t do operations
Like a practical master
Or see through infinity.

I take up my walking stick.
I’ll have to find my own way
From these woods to wilderness.

~upon reflection~

What a brilliant day this is—
I’ve found a stream to follow,
And now the woods are changing,

Fewer ancient, mossy stumps,
Less ground-cover, spindly trunks.
Now what fresh nonsense is this?

Iridescent blue fish heads
Are watching me from the stream,
And although their mouths are closed,

I do believe they’re singing.
High, piping reedy voices 
A sound like the smell of mist

Drifting from the stream’s surface,
“Reflections are commonplace
And serious reflections are composed,

Neither comic nor tragic,
Of the utterly pointless,
Broken waves of commonplace,

Glittering, ridiculous
Wisdom always scattering
The beauties of the absurd.”

When I turn to face the stream,
The singing pauses, the fish
Heads disappear and return,

Once again eyeballing me,
Peeping their next misty verse,
“Might as well try not to find

Any wilderness you seek.
The quotidian magic 
Of your mind will not permit

Experience to expel
The dull from the most wondrous,
The wondrous from the most dull.”

I stoop to the water’s edge,
As if they could not hear well,
And ask, once they reappear,

“Before you start your singing
Again about whatever
I can or can’t discover,

Does your song have any verse
About the way I should take
To end in a wilderness,

Whatever I can or can’t 
Make of the experience?”
The fish all open their mouths

For a moment and are still.
Then a softer song begins,
One I hear behind my eyes

More than with my ears, the scent
Of resignation wafting
From the dreamers in the stream.

“We line the path to the spring.
Sunlight leads to the summit.
Follow the path in between.”

And they’re gone. “Wait a moment,”
I call, leaning far enough
Out so that the stream, except

My silhouette’s reflection,
Shows clear and empty of life.
“Should that path follow the trees?”

~the path between the paths~

No one and nothing answer.
I walk off at an angle,
To not parallel the stream

And avoid the brighter spots 
Of sun. Advice from fish heads
Seems strange, but it’s what I’ve got.

As I foolishly stumble 
Around trunks in the shadows,
Trying not to hit my head,

I notice a line of dirt,
Like a trail of gunpowder,
Winding up slope through the mulch.

Not a path, but I’ll take it.
Focusing’s enjoyable,
Just staying on that black line,

Nothing else to think about
But the narrow thread I’m on.
A meditative motion

That makes me forget the light
Is lessening around me.
More than I’m moving, I’m changed,

A making unmaking me
From what I had envisioned
To this mere experience

Of step after step on ground
That is uncertain and firm.
A foot, a step, the black line.

As for other, absent paths,
I sense them as faint guardrails
Hidden in the greenery,

Guiding me along this way
I’m using to get away
From all pathways generally. 

~doubtful wilderness maybe~

If I am here, I am here.
No one is advising me.
When I look down I can see

Feet no longer following
The long black fuse but forming
Fresh thread from their own motion.

Their motion could be forward
Or backward as easily.
Is this knowledge? Unlikely.

A sibilance emanates,
And a low sun probes the trees.
I’m climbing, but it’s easy.

I’m not learning, but I’m free.
I find myself light-handed,
Without even my old crutch,

Without instructions, without
A handle on equations,
Without new unknowns to sift,

Without time, eternity,
Or anything bleeding me,
Without cryptic prophecies

Or cryptographers, or me.
See? The woods are thinning now.
None of us has the slightest

Sense of where we really are,
Of an end to anything 
We find ourselves traversing,

Of what it possibly means.
Meaning was always our own
Local novelty, although

Surely, somewhere, something else
Among all phenomena 
Has also tried hard to mean.

This is bare. The light that’s left
Is seeping out from under
The featureless horizon.

What is the difference between
More or less difference between?
Within a given extent,

Whatever remains extant,
Still searching, only searches
For the road that’s dangerous.

There’s a figure in the dusk.
Watch how it walks. It’s talking—
What? At last. Actually, lost.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Elf Bear

Verboten topics: self, death,
The cyclicity of time,
Awareness of awareness.

Let’s move on. The human world
Is a thicket of voices
That are ghosts who are haunted.

Let’s move on. Acceptable
Topics: identity, shame,
Ancestry, history’s crimes.

Beware words without margins.
Use image for expression.
Declare no thoughts. Emotions.

Popular songs get sadder.
Poems beg in night markets.
Dragons at dawn. Let’s move on.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

The Severing, Persevering

I won’t ask when you’ll return.
I sent you north, my best ghost spurned.
The desert you hated surrounds this
Emptiness with empty wind. We won’t
Sit at our wall of windows talking
While snow falls in the streets again.
Or maybe that’s you in the wind.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Random Dog

In praise of the multistate lottery,
Let us begin with the usual—it’s legal,

But it’s a swindle. The odd are ridiculous,
Harmful. It’s a sneak tax on the poor.

It’s a tax on the ignorant, on the stupid.
Yes, the poor, the ignorant, and the dense,

Three names, three fates for unfortunates—
Or four horsemen, if we throw in addiction.

How easy it is to dismiss this—the lottery,
Its cowardly legislators, the greedy rich,

Their greedy poor, the wicked fools, pathetic
Addicts. Each of us constitutes all of this.

What could there possibly be to praise?
Nothing much, but something somewhat

Significant, visible only in blatant contrast,
Long shadows on walls, black and white

Overexposed film photography, thus—
Life itself is a lottery in which none

Of the tickets weighs equally, none
Of the winners lives to savor their victory,

None of the odds can be known in advance,
And the poor and the addicted-to-chance

Have even less of a chance. The clerk
At Judd’s Auto in Fredonia, Arizona, tells

The customer in front of me, clutching
His new tickets and wadded up twenties

In a trembling hand while I wait patiently—
I, ever the patient, hanging from my crutches

With a soda can clutched in my own hand—
“Well, you never know, right? That’s why

You play. At least you know what you are
Getting yourself into. . .” He growls back,

“It’s fairer than the rest of it. One number’s
Got as good a chance as any. How many

Things can you do you can say that?”
She counts out his change. He’s not done.

“I know the odds here. I know ‘em going in.
And I’m equal.” The clerks nods, smiling

Now, getting into the spirit with him.
“I guess there’s nothing else like that, right?”

“Nothing much,” he grumbles, unwilling
To concede too much sacred space

To his gambling. He ambles off, a cowboy,
Still lean and narrow-hipped in his antiquity.

I hop to the counter after him, buy my Coke
And one, no two, of my own co-equal tickets.

Here’s to the multistate lottery, to all games
Ugly and mean-spirited but fairer than life—

I wrote this without having won it.
Thought this before I was in it.

Friday, March 20, 2020

No Words or Music by Anyone

Just being for no reason,
Not even needing to be,
Is enough, if it’s pain free.

The skull opens smoothly,
Like a well-made cabinet,
When it’s quiet. I’m at peace,

We say, in English, at peace,
Not approaching, not inside,
Guest arrived at an address,

Relieved, consoled, contented,
To have reached the right doorstep,
Not needing to be let in.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Who Says I Wasn’t Working?

“Ignorance equals
The capacity
For self-deception,”
But then can we not
Enhance the latter

Without increasing
The former? Likewise,
Must a reduction
In our ignorance
Shrink capacity

To deceive ourselves?
They may correlate,
But nonlinearly
And not equally.
They cut fine figures,

Nonetheless, ballroom
Dancers tiptoeing
Lightly through ruin
On a small planet—
Our ignorance and

Our capacity
For self deception—
Whirling through the night
That knows what it knows
And is not deceived.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020


A peach has more anima
Than a mortal has of soul,
Brave Jacopo joked, punning

Ahead of execution
By the Church authorities
Who may have hesitated

To burn this monk at the stake
For his life of wickedness
But swooped on his heresy.

Doubt is a stone in the mouth
Of faith sucking luscious flesh.
Stones swallowed mistakenly

Are well-adapted as waste
And root down into night soil
To sprout more generations

Of fruitful good and evil,
Inviting pollinators
And frugivores to the feast,

But kept pits desiccated
In the sterilizing sun
Serve only contemplation,

Bone-like, homely brown fossils
Of animae mummified,
Lasting past authority.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

A Real, Yet Abstract, Purpose

The secondhand shadows of moonlit trees,
We find our way to a satisfaction
And then lose it in fearing to lose it.

Day and night are not deciding what’s next.
The wind has not paused to make up its mind.
Without decisions, no uncertainty.

What would we be, absent our decisions?
We adhere like dew to our decisions,
While another moon dims in the morning.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Two Peculiar Metaphors

~Revisit the Longed-for Lake

Don’t say it. Don’t say it. Don’t
Say it too early. At all.
Show it. Let us look and guess.

Did you make it? Are we there?
What does this image suggest?
Spring rain on stucco houses

In tile-roofed subdivisions
In the desert back in March.
Two young girls creating homes

On the carpet of one house,
Using clever, colored blocks
While the black cat watched.

Two girls drawing each other
In pencil while the rain dried,
And the black cat prowled outside.

~Dove atop Pine

No one sees things in the woods
That don’t have material
Explanations anymore

Except when the woods themselves
Are only a metaphor
The way an angel is not

Either a human or God
Not even an animal
Not even really alive

Never was any of these
Not even among the most
Earnest of mythologies

Leading to the temptation
To use a term like “only”
For what has escaped being

Like any other being
Has escaped the use of like
Flown straight to identity

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Two Unknotting Problems

Alogon, Play of the Waves

Freedom’s enemies,
Effort and purpose,
Patrol to prevent
Contentment’s escape.

If you are pointless,
Then they are pointless—
They’re irrational—
They’re freed—you’ve escaped.

The irrational
Should remain unnamed,
Not for a secret—
So this can escape.

Anomos, Theater of the Air

What begins as negation
Before being posited

Feels more valuable to state,
Fits more approximately 

Phenomena without speech,
The experiences named.

Snugger than this, the not-this,
Greek terms beginning with “a,”

English words starting with “un.”
Because what is named is not

The name, and the name is not
Less than its own history,

These moments soaking in sun,
Listening to canyon winds

Tune themselves on the old grass
Already nursing new shoots,

Composing phrases in lines
With no one around except

The squawk of an unseen jay
The groan of an unseen jet—

These moments when this excess
Existence wells into names

Such as sun, canyon, winds, grass,
Continuous and alone,

Can uncover what’s less than
Uncommon, more than unknown.

Saturday, March 14, 2020


A cousin of the proton
Was chatting with me one day
About the time he traveled

As far north as he could go
On a Canadian road,
Only then to find himself

Entangled with a local
Doppelgänger. He explained
How embarrassing it was

When both of them were spotted
Performing a private dance
On opposite sides of town,

How inconvenient, how strange
It was when they fell in love.
He was a poor raconteur—

His story lacked fine detail,
Leapt over unexplained gaps,
And went on without ending,

But I loved it just for that.
The deal with stories is this—
The good ones are portable,

Encapsulate their conflicts,
Are whole—complete and compact.
Go ahead, try telling one

About how all things began,
Without lying, to your child.
The best ones least resemble

The world they mirror so well.
Physicists built a funhouse
To catch the fast and the vast,

But with every mirroring
The fetch comes back distorted,
Until one day it’s prancing

Snow blind outside Inuvik,
No idea how it got there
Or how to explain itself.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Plaisans Causeurs

“Truth and falsehood are alike in face, similar in bearing, taste, and movement; we look upon them with the same eye.”

When chattering pleasantly of causes,
It would appear that all of us agree—
However mysterious truth may be,
However often we fall for falsehoods,

However soon we become unpleasant
About some cause on which we disagree—
That there is a difference between what is
And isn’t, between facts and illusions.

Even those who write off our existence
As delusion seem to do so to draw
A distinction between maya and truth.
It’s hard to speak without the assumption

That some phenomena are actual
And some descriptions are unreal or lies.
Do we know this? I’m not sure that we do.
It’s a contrast we can’t converse without,

But it may be as much our creation
As is narrative, as are faith and doubt.
Could it be that there is nothing more real
Nor more deceitful than our conceptions

Of a universe full of fact and cause,
Dark with misdirection and occlusion?
If wonders were neither true nor untrue
Nor knowably neither, what would we do?

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Squint-Eyed Timon

The descendants of Christendom
Remain, unknowingly, haunted
By specters from the destructions
Of most of their pre-Christian worlds—

Celtic, Germanic, colonized,
Of course, but earlier than those,
The burned classical libraries,
The smashed and mutilated art,

The echoing unlit caverns
Hinted at by stray quotations
From collections lost to the dark—
Sin against the original

Core of what would become “the West,”
Cataclysmic rupture greater
Than any loss experienced
In a more continuous “East.”

Compositions are acts of faith
Preservation is possible,
But the descendants of the West
Carve their thoughts and commentaries

Within traditions that contain
The knowledge from experience
Faith also holds a burning sword
And serves as the angel of death.

Why should such poets not assume,
Within a few generations,
The whole of this age won’t evaporate
In the faith of the next dispensation?

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Ah, Humble Heroism, Ah, Arrogant Complicity

It’s not a clever contradiction,
Much less deep paradox or koan,
To hold two exclusive positions
Unaware of their incoherence.
It’s a clue concerning the holder
Of both positions, a dark tip-off,
But not a peek into the cosmos.
We seem to like our heroes humble,
And condemn the idler’s arrogance.

Don’t think too much of yourself, person
Capable of transforming the world—
Don’t forget your culpability,
Person conscious of your own weakness.
We hold each other responsible,
Then remind each other to stay small.
On the off chance we’re truly helpless,
What do we expect to accomplish?
How should haughtiness follow a fall?

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Sky Heavy

poeta fui, e cantai 

Cat’s-eye agate, this sky between rains—
It has a style too high for poets,
Too low for astronauts, and just right

For contrail-tracing passenger jets,
Ubiquitous, not quite iconic,
Too common to call nostalgic yet.

I have been a passenger. Mostly,
I just watch from down by the wayside,
In the haze of a data-crazed age,

Seeking calm and, counting, not counting,
Weaving long lines threaded with numbers,
This shuttle that balances my days.

Incredible what we’ve kept aloft—
Thousands of years of commentaries,
Impossible beliefs birthed as faiths,

Narratives floating like spiderlings,
Gossamer parachutes on the breeze,
Engorged heavier-than-air machines,

Vast bellies swelled with people or bombs,
Cargo or sensory equipment 
Made for collecting information

From the atmosphere, the way baleen
Gathers krill and plankton from the sea.
I say we. These carbon pods seeding

Bare skies with human technologies
Have not burst into flower thanks to me.
This atmosphere, gravidly empty,

Can sustain, ignore, or condemn me
Who is not a cause but consequence
Of things, one branch of a tree that sings.

Monday, March 9, 2020

The Arrow of the Poem

I once asked Longfellow if he could write
A poem as well that ended with the arrow
Broken where it fell, the song stolen,
Or both forgotten, never recovered at all?

I wanted him to make it a happy poem,
Happier than that happy-ending poem
He wrote, the kind of poem impossible
For most, the poem that flies in the night,

But that was another poet, different trope,
And not either what I wanted, not quite.
Can a poem contain confirmation of its loss
And content us with what it has found?

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Ink Black Crane

The part when you’re just being,
Just a bundle of basic
Bodily functions breathing

In a chair by a window,
Alone while the sun comes up
And the clouds alternate shades—

Snowy against purple darks,
Dove grey, bronze, floral coppers,
Grey-white again against blue—

And you think of the Taoists,
Their disconcerting habits,
Like climbing towers to drone

And tune themselves to what is
While still striving for magic
Flights to immortality—

That’s one of the better parts
Of what is, letting the ink
Black crane fly off on its own.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

No, I Only Believe in the Truth

When someone asks you if you believe
In something, you understand them

To mean that the something in question
Is debatable and your opinion questionable.

You understand you’re being challenged
To miraculously change their minds for them

And, failing that, to join them in whatever it is
They do or don’t believe. No one ever asks

If you believe in, say, chairs—or, if they do,
You know they’re referring to the ethics

Or health of the common habit of sitting
In chairs, as opposed to some more natural

Manner of hovering near ground when not
Standing or kneeling or lying down. No one

Cares to get your opinion on the existence
Of facts they know you know exist. If, then,

You’re ever asked as to whether you believe
In God, clouds, evolution, love, or humanity,


Friday, March 6, 2020

Incredibly Cheery Quartet for the Coming of Spring

~ Relax

I worry too much. I wake up telling myself,
Before I’ve even fully escaped the clutches
Of dreams, “you worry too much.”

Death and the future are one and the same.
We’re always crawling into both, never
Actually finding ourselves in either one.

I think of the slow seal, caught by its tail
By the quicker mother polar bear, just
As it was escaping under the ice. I think

Of its head, a moment later, in the vice
Of the polar bear’s jaws, facing the camera,
Bleating last pain and panic. Silence. I think

Of the magnificently framed composition
Of the polar bear and her sons on the white
Ice smeared with a crimson de Kooning

And the voiceover warmly narrating, 
“At last, after the longest night on Earth,
The mother and her cubs can relax.”

~ Per Sora Nostra Morte Corporale

The human body spends a life
Evolving a new person who grows old
Acquiring fragments of lost souls.

Then body dies, the person
Goes, and all the souls are left behind,
Poor lonely, homeless little souls.

Until another body—maybe many
Evolving persons of their own,
Persons grown acquiring souls,

Encountering forgotten husks,
Consume them, sweetly sleeping thoughts, 
And new hosts tend old souls at home.

~ Reluctant to Face the Wall

No tool hasn’t been a weapon;
No weapon hasn’t had the chance
To kill or maim those wielding it.

A discipline’s a well-honed tool,
Whether for steeling the body
Or cutting out the monkey mind—

Whether for carving memories
Into rococo palaces 
Or focusing on the unknown—

But the assassins, the thinkers,
The hunger strikers, free divers,
And monks sitting zazen all know,

As they hang by bare fingertips
From the cliffs that each has chosen,
That the edge they’ve polished is keen,

That blades don’t care what they sever,
And that there’s a reason for life 
To buck, to shy, to spring away,

Wary of wintry discipline,
To shiver with dread, reluctant
To return to facing the wall.

~ Much Obliged

Obligation is a wonderful invention
Life built out of humans for humans
To make out of life—it’s key

To how we compete, how we cooperate,
How we raise offspring, how we survive.
I wonder, now that it’s carried us so far,

If we will carry it too far—oblige ourselves
Into extinction, one more strategy winking
Out under the blinking stars. Then spring.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

People Living Thin

“The new literature of minimalism is full of stressful advice.”

It’s not minimalism.
The closets aren’t decluttered.
The closets may be a mess.
You keep what little you have,
When what you have is worthless.

It’s not wisdom, or wellness,
Or shrinking carbon footprint,
Or abjuring screens, or Zen.
You breathe in, doing little.
You do what little you can.

It’s not something you attain,
This freedom from possession,
The way you wear all things thin.
You burn your boat to fuel it.
Nothing sails into this wind.

Diminishment’s not success
When coming back from the brink.
Don’t let go of that plank yet.
The ship can sink; all ships sink.
Advice goes down with the wreck.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

The Cattle of the Moon

Dreams don’t come with narratives.
We add stories later, when
We’re trying to remember.

There is nothing humans do
Someone will not do too much,
Including storytelling,

Including even dreaming,
Even sleeping to get more
Dreams for interpretation.

Dreams low, herds of emotions
Clustering in the darkness,
Afraid of wolves and lions,

And we wake in a stampede,
Trying to shout narration
To the fading rumps of ghosts.

We check ourselves for hoof prints.
Then we begin explaining—
The moon had sacred cows, and . . .

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Fantasy Fasting

Between the springs and the ledge,
The mind blooms, blossoms open,
Not to entice but to breathe

Irrelevance, the wayside
Hotel of the real, not hymns
To the meaning of the springs.

Irrelevance. It’s okay
To proceed by negation
When nature affirms nothing.

We spring from mountainsides, hot
With meanings, hot from the core,
To cool in the open air.

Here, by the side of the road
Pilgrims follow to the springs
Of our selves, humanity,

It becomes clearer, bare air,
Watching steam evaporate
In the distance and vanish,

Meaning is a local thing,
Forceful but confined, a fine
Novelty, not the whole world.

We dream we are pure and fierce.
We dissipate with the heat.
Thoughts boil off into the world.

Between the springs and the ledge,
The mind blooms, blossoms open,
Not to entice but to breathe.

Monday, March 2, 2020

How Often the Music Stops

The world is full of empty chairs,
Any moment, every moment.
Most of them are just sitting there,

Silently, alone or in rows,
At a table, available,
Formal, visual echoes

Of a shape our bodies can take,
An option, an alternative
To the more ancient shapes we make,

Standing, squatting, kneeling, lying.
Who knows when someone first built
A chair, why they bothered trying?

For someone too fragile for earth,
Who uses logs and stones for seats
And cherishes a secure perch,

Every empty chair is precious,
A beckoning island of rest,
But it’s loneliness they suggest.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Knowledge That Was Never Ours

Poetry as means to thought,
Way to find unknown ideas—
At least nine decades ago,

The marvelous Tobias
Dantzig declared, in the light
Of the latest news about

The structure of the atom,
We must call the infinite
Divisibility of

Matter “a myth.” Poetry,
However, keeps dividing
Matters indefinitely.

Maybe poetry’s a myth.
Certainly it’s stuffed with them.
But at bottom it isn’t.