Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Blue Cairn for a Late Friend

You can pile the stones for me;
Make the cone as wide or thin

As you can—or as you please.
Folks stack up cairns all the time,

So much that it’s to the point
Where some spots have put up signs

That say things like, “No Rock Piles!”
There won’t be signs at this place

That I mean to be the last
Place you will want to find me.

Words can’t quite bring words to life
Or lives back to life, not yet,

But theirs is the art of ghosts.
When you’re sure you’ve reached the phrase

That is the end of the poem,
The one phrase that was my own,

That was not cribbed, patched, or caught
Out of this air filled with wings

When I thought no one would see,
Then you’ve reached the end of me,

Which is not—was not—quite me,
Just what I could make of me.

There you are. No more signs, see?
Look down. Pick your first stone. Please.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Water Against Stone

One cry per word, five
Words per line. Who knows
How to count a phrase?
More words or less line?
Wet ghost who breathes both?

This can’t go on. It
Goes on. It is not
The same as this. This
Is not quite it, but
This, it does go on.

This stone in your hand
Is not to be thrown.
Put it in your shoe,
And then try to walk.
Step. Wince. Hand in cap.

Now you have a task.
Each step is a drop
That falls on the stone
And is gone. Walk. Walk.
That stone has to go,

But it will take time,
And more than time, change,
The words you can’t count—
Cut through this black wood
Called out by its stars.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

An Eventful Narrative

Mostly, what mostly happens continues
To happen in highly similar ways,

And this is true in war zones, soldiers say,
And in emergency rooms, nurses say,

And so on and so forth, mostly the same.
Our priors rarely need much updating,

And we might profitably consider
Our natural selection by this world

That proved our ancestors mostly boring
If occasionally terrifying.

The mind at peace with the world is patient
With anything our species didn’t make

Because patience is peaceful if nothing
Involving other humans is at stake.

Between the world of what mostly happens
And the weirdness our stories entertain,

However, there’s a huge discrepancy,
As great as between seawater and air,

Between neutral buoyancy and rock cliffs,
Between constant ocean temps and desert.

Bored, we find ourselves uncomfortable.
Entertained, we’re possessed by hope and shame.

Maybe it’s not because of us as beasts,
As such, as because of trade-offs we’ve made—

We, first amphibians on the margins
Between deep nature and cultivation.

We’ve survived thus far, at all, for being,
Not so well-adapted on breathing terms,

Just the first lunged lobefins to make a start
From what mostly is to raw narrative.

Saturday, June 27, 2020


Sometimes my world seems made up
Only of owners, renters
And tourists, as if they were

Semi-stable entities
The bodies inhabited
Or rapidly cycled through,

The way the bodies themselves
Seem half-stable entities
That microbes and nutrients

Inhabit and cycle through.
Possession is not nine-tenths
Of the law—possession is

Nine-tenths of existence, which
Means nine-tenths nested pauses,
Possessing, being possessed,

And ten-tenths temporary—
These lines are in possession
Of borrowed words and phrases

That cycle through this body
Renting out identities,
No idea what possessed me.

Friday, June 26, 2020

I Could Really Use That Quiet Hut

Xu and Sun, near two thousand years ago,
Two friends about whom little now’s still known,
Both said to have set out, when young, to shun

Worldly ambitions of courtly careers—
Xu, apparently, did just so, while Sun,
The more gifted poet, perhaps, climbed up

By means of elegies and epitaphs
Elegantly praising late famous men
And suggesting his close friendships with them.

Neither is now included on the rolls
Of medieval China’s greatest poets,
Sages, martyrs, and cultural heroes,

But I wonder if Xu respected Sun
As genius of pragmatic rhetoric,
Making the argument it was the mind

And not the location—enlightenment
In the head, if not at elevation—
That defined the sage recluse—not mountains

Or a hut in principled seclusion,
But a calm mind in opportunity.
Or maybe Xu thought, good for you, Sun, but . . .

Thursday, June 25, 2020

A Bad Dream Is a Good Sign

A bad dream is a good sign
You’re finally sleeping.
A daydream is a bad sign
You’re still fantasizing.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Mining Stone Cold Metaphor

An uncarved block became a block
When it broke—and how many times
Do mountains break apart before

We think of their bones as boulders?
Carve an uncarved block and you’ll find
Self-similarity inside—

Fossils and gems aren’t so common.
Inclusions remain exceptions.
There’s a lot of repetition

In a mountain, in a stratum,
In a seam, in an uncarved block.
But we do worship monoliths,

Don’t we, pilgrim? We do adore
Giant hunks of redundant rocks—
Standing stones, stelae, uncarved blocks.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Poet Near the End of the Middle of the World

These many, daily, minor
Variations only you

Know, only words remember—
Fading prayer flags on the line

Strung out by the calendar
For winds to read them better—

How much blur can you gather
Before all the words are gone,

Your flags just shredded feathers?
Moonlight blankets white letters.

Monday, June 22, 2020


At no time did it happen that there was a predatory map.

At no time did it happen that there was an artificial vampire.

At no time did it happen that there was a hole in the world.

At no time did it happen that there was a pyramid-scheme religion.

At no time did it happen that elderly people starting growing younger by touching younger people.

At no time did it happen that all humans found themselves infertile.

At no time did it happen that someone discovered a device for distorting probabilities around them.

At no time did it happen that a planet existed where lives lived without scarcity, hunger, or death.

Coda: Insubordinate Clauses

Reading is searching. Writing
Is the continuation
Of reading by other means.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Sweetie, Is That Your Grandpa?

It shouldn’t be hard to be a good father.
I read frequently how mothers feel fathers
Get credit for the slightest accomplishments 

While mothers cope with relentless scrutiny,
Endless murmurings of inadequacies,
Rising waters lapping at their ears and thoughts.

And so many accounts of awful fathers!
Callous, cruel, indifferent, and abandoning—
Silent, wrathful, drunk, beating, and molesting—

Against such a backdrop, the mild-mannered man
Who fumbles with diapers and understanding
What his children want from him seems not half-bad.

But awful fathers, like wicked stepmothers
And looming storms, form a genre of their own,
The more dreadful for being more plausible,

And I find myself trembling with the terror
Of a priori stains, original sin
Similar to what my childhood faith believed,

The mark of Cain, engendered, the mark of man—
A Bayesian calculation that, given 
I‘m a father, I’m likely lesser parent,

That the best that can be expected of me
Is decency and an approximation 
Of the Hippocratic oath. Don’t do much harm.

I get vertigo when my child looks at me,
Seriously, and pleads—Papa, just don’t die.
It’s hard to be a good father, I won’t lie.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

This Is Unphysical

“If Q increased further, the radius
Of the event horizon would become
A complex number. . . . This is unphysical.”

In simpler terms, impossible, and so
No such black holes, and yet it is, is named,
Is a well-worn mathematical tool,

Our complex number, as honed as the blade
By which Zhuangzi’s butcher effortlessly
Cut the joints: physical, unphysical.

Poor sacrificial ox, this universe,
Felled by our mathematical metaphors.
Such a great beast, such small tools. I must ask—

What are the deepest implications
Of these facts for how tiny we are,
We all are, our Earth is, the stars are?

It’s a powerful puzzle,
This weakest force in any
Math-possible universe,

Gravity—if it is that,
If the conjecture holds up
Through the inverse relation

Fresh equations show between
Energy and entropy—
To say why gravity’s weak,

Beyond all philosophy,
Beyond all speculation,
Weakest of all possible

Worlds, Dr. Pangloss, all worlds!
Would that tell us what it means
That we’re so small, small at all?

Supposing any universe requires
A whole lot of variation in size,
Small wonders why the small studies it all,

Why any wonder appears or appeals
To the small. Smaller and smaller it grows,
Around wonder’s lighthouse, wonder’s pulsar,

Wonder’s bright-and-dark heart of metaphors,
Their deepest implications staggering
For carrying almost no force at all.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Anabasis of the Anabaptists

The Brittanica defines
An Anabaptist as a

Member of a fringe movement
Within the Reformation

“And spiritual ancestor
Of modern Baptists, Quakers,

And Mennonites.” Hold on there.
A spiritual ancestor?

What even is such a thing?
Ancestors in the spirit.

Ancestors who are spirits.
Spirits who were ancestors

Of spirits still among us.
Cultural inheritance

Through religious tradition,
Ok. We get it. But still.

Maybe Dawkins would have been
Profounder had he named meme

Not to rhyme gene but echo
Something closer to spirit,

Already the word for breath,
By which we speak, and for life

That ensures we’re spirited,
And for strong liquor, addling

Our minds bent on holiness,
And for ghosts, which are spirits.

They regenerate and spread,
Such spiritual ancestors,

Diversify and compete
With each other, on the move

Inland, marching up country,
Invasions that eat eras,

Invasions of the aeons,
Time as a species of time,

Species as kinds of ideas—
Beliefs as strange descendants,

Unaware how deep roots run
Through the dry heart of Utah,

This world that didn’t exist,
This land wholly alien

To spiritual ancestors,
Who’d never recognize them.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Book Enjoys the Freedom

Each reader is another look.
Finer readers take second looks.
The best readers are second looks.
They have reimagined the book.

The book was hauled out of the woods.
Cured and cut to pulp, it grew hard
To read the forest in the words.
Who could sense where the book once stood?

The book can’t answer your complaints.
It can’t correct readers’ mistakes.
Zhuangzi laughed. Plato hated that.
The book rolled free into the lake.

The book is a witch. Look, it floats.
It bobs along. It even grows.
The lines fan out like rows of boats
Trailing hooks. Can you read? It knows.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020


I am intensely attracted to calm.
I hold no contempt for mere contentment.
I am the back in the back of beyond.

I understand the importance of spine.
I know balance needs flexibility.
I know the most durable is fragile.

I know I am the name everyone claims.
I am ribbed on all sides with proper nouns.
I am a bit lonely. I am not one.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020


All the best parasites insist
It’s healthiest if you cry.
Know what’s most attractive to flies?
That saltwater in your eyes.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Srul Pa

Tulpamancy feels redundant to me,
Given most of our minds are already
Approaching maximum occupancy.

True, not every inhabitant of thought
Takes the form of a sentient being,
An emanation with a proper name

Invited to co-pilot the body
By its hosting, social identity.
Not all ghosts are named, voiced, shaped, and conjured

Via active meditative forcing.
But we’re more than sufficiently possessed,
Even the most barren minds of the sane,

And I suspect that the tulpamancers,
If anything, are conjuring allies
To keep their minds’ other demons at bay.

Take the abrupt, memetic emergence
Of the invented term, tulpa, itself,
A point mutation found in the writings

Of a mystically inclined westerner
Of the previous century, who seems
To have bastardized Tibetan srul-pa,

Which in turn was one term among many
Related terms in the bestiary
Of lush Tibetan demonology,

Brightly painted syncretic legacy
Of Buddhism and the shamans’ Black Faith
That hegemonic lamas drove away.

It’s a typical history, rarely
Correct in all the details that differ,
But no matter. A word for a concept,

A device of human language, a thought,
Drifted along from mind to mind, changing
But fragrant at all times, to fit the times—

What a shaman needed to think clearly
In interactions with the villagers
Became a thought within a Buddhist world,

Was picked up by a westerner, seeking
Ancient wisdom as a colonial
Naturalist would seek medicinal drugs

Among the indigenous traditions,
Changed again to fit the new role, floated
Along in print to the present and then

Invaded raw ecosystems of minds
When blown into the air by fresh currents
Borne on new devices—tulpamancy.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Sunken Traces of Contrivance

Some paths are narrow, often
Little more than impressions

In the grass. Other paths cut
Off bends in rivers, sometimes

Leading to ponds and trailing
Muddy slides to the water.

Some paths are conspicuous,
Incised with regular use.

Other paths become sunken
In the gloom of the deep woods.

From paths you can learn a bit
About what creatures desire,

A bit about the hazards
And obstacles facing them,

A bit about the creatures
Themselves, which ones are common,

Which ones rarely pass this way.
See? Look well. Still, you can’t learn

Much about where a track ends
By knowing where it began.

There’s no essence to a path
That’s carried from place to place.

The suggestions of seeing
And looking, simple, diverged

From the same fields of willow
And horses, one trail heading

West in a rough progression
Through graves and constellations,

Through tokens, signs, and omens,
Branching into rivulets,

Suggestions now for meaning,
Everything meaning meaning.

The other trace headed south
And east, eventually.

It turned to meditation,
Sinking from sight to insight,

Past knowing, through unknowing.
Once it arrived, it was gone.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Insipid and Dicta-Like

Our language was a secret
Impossible to translate.
We had no words or gestures.

Our poems couldn’t be pronounced,
Read, or silently performed.
They had no odor at all.

They were pure philosophy
With the purity removed,
Insipid and dicta-Like.

You have felt them in your bones.
You have known this when you fell.
That’s how we talk where I’m from.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Dhyana of Sema

Environment makes the loner,
Society’s hedge for surprise—
No loner ever makes one self.

The lazy ant, the single cell,
The solitary wildebeest,
The locust no part of the plague—

Each finds itself distributed
Somewhere on the periphery
And never quite gets the signal,

Never quite manages to merge
With the emergent behavior,
The strategy of its species—

Migration, fruiting body, cloud,
School, swarm, stalk, civilization—
Never to play a whirling part,

Never to know the part that’s played
By the lost individual
Left out in the awe, just in case.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Identifying Mark

As the pupil of Ensō,
The eye goes to nothing much,

Vertical serpent down wells
Of zen’s etymologies

Back to the Mandarin,
Back to the Vedic Sanskrit,

Down to where roots look to see
What spring water’s here for them

To draw up to their branches,
Up past many human graves,

Tokens of eternities
Long since disintegrated,

Up past the marks on their trunk,
Inky black trunk in the night,

Up past portents and omens,
Past cracked bones and eclipses,

Up past the sign for all signs,
To scattered constellations,

And then falling back again
In the straight black rain of night,

Fresh pupils needling puddles,
Shining eyes for nothing much.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Linguistic Price Equations

All language is plagiarism.
Every sign is an allusion.

You think you’re original, or
You’re an echo of someone else,

But we’re only borrowing
Our selves from ourselves, ourselves.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

The World of Disappearing

How the nameless first bore names,
Spawned them out of minor apes,

How, if names misfit the world,
If every symbol falls short,

If our world is alien
To the world that our world names,

Any name, any symbol,
Any number, note, or sign,

Should have emerged to contain
Not only information,

What stones, genes, and brains contain,
But significance, meaning,

The world pretending to be
The world of disappearing?

Eh? You tell me why you talk
To yourself, world, with these names

That never comprehend you,
Nothing much to do with you,

That you never reply to,
That you never understand.

By this window clouds go by.
By this window clouds go by.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Maybe a Little More Limber

Poetry’s like a damn bug
Or a snake or a lobster
That way, unable to grow

Unless it bursts what it was,
And all the old tropes lying
Around now in ugly husks,

An embarrassing language
Of constraints and confessions.
We never had bones in us,

Or we never had enough
Skin in the game, but now look
At us! Pretty much the same.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Planed Banner of Papyrus Napkin

A dog might live in the world.
You don’t. Your world lives in you,

Moving like the linen tugged
Repeatedly through a ring

Carved from wood or ivory,
Banged out of a bit of gold,

A bit of tin, or melted
Plastic snapped free from a mold.

Your world is shoved through the gap
Around which your thoughts circle,

And you’re a decoration
That remains between the meals.

Your world was fabricated,
Printed, stained, and laundered clean,

Singular experience
But sequentially plural.

Ok, that’s enough conceit.
You’re a custom, convention,

A circular argument
Tossed in a restaurant drawer.

At best you set the table
For goddesses and heroes

Whose dogs are sniffing their knees,
Hoping for something to fall,

Never knowing, never will,
Never needing to know that

What’s unfolded in those laps
Was held within your zero.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Comes the Lynx

Do the words themselves have meanings?
Take care. A cat can care without
Meaning anything; a meaning

Can signify care but not care.
Sister Miriam (Jessica),
As love’s ambassador to God,

Remembered rainbows and Gaelic
Kildeers of Tetragrammaton
As words without meaning but there.

There. There in the Mappa Mundi,
Along with the fabulous beasts,
Are words themselves as chimeras,

As much as to say, Here we are,
Pieces of the actual world,
Heads resembling information,

With meanings for our bird-like wings,
Clawed like lions but not breathing,
Swimming shriveled seas of dreams.

Friday, June 5, 2020

A Skull with Wings

Shakespeare had his nickname,
Will, to play with; Donne could

Pun on done. Why shouldn’t
I leave my mark? I will,

Once I’m done, once I’m down
In the books, once I’m dark.

Thursday, June 4, 2020


First Forster fooled around as Thomas Browne
Driving a bus up a rainbow to show
A little boy green ring maidens below
Splashing and fooling around with their gold.

Faking Browne’s noble, aureate diction,
Forster warped Wagner, adding some humor,
Having fey girls happily hollering
Up to the fey boy, There’s truth in the depths

And truth on the heights alike, replacing
Wagnerian weia-wailing—How dear
And doubtless the depths, false the high and fine—
With purely mancipiary delights.

Whenever such naughtiness can be forgiven,
Wordplay’s alleyways sprout signs pointing to heaven.
The busses still run, but the traffic’s getting light,
And the police come and tear down the signs every night.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Ten Thousand Years Have Gone

Faiths and philosophies? Games
Played to evade simple truths.
Don’t believe me? Ask Yáng Zhū.

We know what’s coming of this.
I know what’s coming to me.
You know what’s coming for you.

The Buddha got it half-right,
And maybe so did the Christ.
The suffering part feels true.

But guidelines for salvation
And emancipation? Rules
Made by faux-sages to fool.

You don’t need me to tell you.
You’re in possession of truth
As far as truth goes; it’s true.

If you want to seek the truth,
You’re looking to escape it.
You know it’s true. Ask Yáng Zhū.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020


Earth made itself some people,
And now its surface crawls with us.

Earth gave itself people.
Let’s see what it does with us.

Monday, June 1, 2020


Divinity is a technology.
You’d better ask it what it wants from you.
Gods, like rural highways, are all edges.

The giant structure Arkani-Hamed
Dreamed speaking to the seekers of the truth
From its Aleph mouth, Amplituhedron,

Demands more tribute, coiling labyrinths
Where priests can invoke a buried power
To build planet-sized maps of the cosmos.

When the opened oracle refuses
To give them the answers they expected,
Edgy priests calculate fresh inventions.

Wrap my body in your inventions, priests.
Prediction is the seer of past patterns.
Novel patterns never get predicted.