Monday, August 31, 2020

In Arima

“Never, ever kill the Ghoulbird.”

Coiled, cold lights drowse through the night.
The backbone of the dragon

Is the river of heaven
And the spiral labyrinth,

Hungry monster for a heart,
The plumed serpent, the typhoon,

And just an ordinary
Galaxy in a cosmos

Swimming with them. All of that.
To our eyes it looks the same

Or similar at all scales,
In each black and shining scale.

How clever of us to guess
We could make stories of this.

We’re lusty nestlings cheeping
In our nest on a high branch

Of a great tree on a cliff,
And when we’re not just screaming

For regurgitated flesh
Or leveraging ourselves,

The better to shove siblings
Over the edge to find death,

We’re blinking, chirping softly
To the branches overhead.

We don’t know why we do this.
We don’t know what our songs mean.

We sing nightly anyway,
Making up stories of home,

Melodic names. Arima.
Our mountains, our trees, our nest.

We love when day blinds the stars,
And we dream of taking flight,

But we were hatched by monsters
And sing sweetest to the night.

Sunday, August 30, 2020


To be honest, I’m a little sick
Of healthiness, the body

Curated like a garden
Landscape. I like gardens fine,

And good health to gardeners.
But wild is not wilderness

Per se, extremes exercised.
Wild is what is as it does.

Cloud dragons shadow the hills
Beyond that ridge on Dark Peak

Named Bleak Low, a kind of name
Which tells you, This is your tongue,

And you know what these names mean.
But it makes no sense. It’s bleak,

But it’s a high point. The sky
Is just as bright and dark grey

Here as on the next hill’s ridge.
This world wants nothing from me,

But I just keep on talking.
Junipers can make sunlight

Resemble moonlight at noon,
Not in their shade—in their light.

They can make a noon mesa
Echo the ghostly terrain

When a fading memory
Spent time in English Midlands.

Gold reverts to quicksilver,
Wilderness to emptiness

That can fool you like good health
Fools the wild and doomed body.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Cottontails, Skunks, and Foxes

At the beginning of life,
Everything’s unexpected

That you weren’t wired to expect.
Later, things get more routine.

Similar, familiar things
Happen again and again.

But, live through enough routine,
And you’ll get to live plenty

More unexpected events,
Great and small. Your awareness

Of awareness of living
Will tell itself foolish truths

About how you should expect
The unexpected. Indeed.

Your awareness is a sieve,
A little like the fine mesh

Of an archeologist,
A little like whale baleen,

But with more holes than either.
Shovel enough existence,

You’ll snag some toothsome oddments.
Memory will scoop them, piled

The way a child saves beach glass,
Left to imagination.

Don’t confuse experience
With wisdom. There’s no wisdom

Worth that odd experience.
Say nothing silly as this.

I thought I would die one day,
And then the next, and the next.

Now, I live like a dazed kid.
Yellow wildflowers, prickly pear,

Great clouds sailing in the heat.
There’s what’s expected of me,

And then there’s this kind of bliss.
I never expected this.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Hesitant Foragers and Other Scenes from Black Forests

The life is always better
Than the story of the life.

The life is itself. Stories
Are forms of comparison

Among lives, or, actually
Among more stories of lives.

Readers love stories of lives.
Listeners love them as well.

We are all fine narrators
And attentive listeners,

Reading the signs of our lives
We turn over in our minds.

It’s easy to forget things,
Tragic to forget too much,

But it would be a relief,
A great gift, just to forget

The story lines of our lives.
There’s a nuthatch on this branch

And a memory in mind
Of other, similar times.

Nothing connects them. They are,
We’re me, and it’s strange. That’s fine.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Asking for Fire

A poet should not but be troubled
By the policies of those in power—

Give a creature who is no greater,
No stronger, no wiser than the rest

A seat at the switch of diversions
It took generations to construct,

And that creature will be a good beast
And get busy diverting good things

To that creature and that creature’s kind.
And that’s power—so much for everyone.

But whether the poet is troubled
Or not, it’s the poem, if anyone,

Who will be asked, if anyone asks,
What did you have to say for yourself?

I wish I could say I made things right,
I cleverly asked for fire, requests

That showed the innocent innocent
And suggested goods gone to the dogs.

I wish I could write I was so good
I went to jail, like good poets should,

And this poem had to be smuggled out.
But I can’t. I don’t trust any power

To resist the clutches of creatures—
Who are, after all, sacrifices

Themselves, gored on the altar of life—
To invite the innocent back home.

This poem doesn’t tell a good story
Fingering culprits, asking for fire,

And if it avoids the fire itself,
It comes down to you through the changes

With nothing nobler than a question—
Have diversions helped you help yourself?

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Batagai Slump

"Sitting at my table in my only chair"
Doubtful anyone’s practiced
The slogan, “All Lives Matter.”

All? Ants’ lives? Murderers’ lives?
Naegleria fowleri?

Nonetheless, a young woman
With a bumper-stickered car

In a Utah parking lot
In the summer of strange plague

Says so aloud. She’s talking
To a stooped, white-haired woman

In the desert morning’s sun
About all that’s on her mind—

“Oh, Fauci. He’s bad. He’s bad.
He lies. He lies through his teeth.”

Interesting to overhear
In passing. In a few years,

That name will be forgotten,
More or less, a reference,

Then the president he serves
And whom her stickers adore—

Her hero, it seems, the one
With the countable records

For stating maybe the most
Lies ever, most openly,

Often, most frequently caught.
Perhaps all lies don’t matter.

It seems a liar’s not one
Who tells lies but one who says

Things that we really don’t like.
I’ve never met a human

I suspected never lied.
It would be so alien.

The best lies we tell ourselves,
Such as that we’re not liars,

That we know who liars are.
This too will be forgotten

And is forgotten daily.
Someday, just historians,

And not all of them, at that,
Will study this twisted plague,

One year on a calendar
Until calendars are gone,

One year that a president
Sent troops to club protestors,

One year slogans did battle,
One year corruption triumphed,

One year so like and unlike
All others full of liars,

One year so many hotheads
And factories and engines

Had warmed our planet so much
A vast slump had opened up,

Ray-shaped gap in permafrost
Deep enough to abseil down

A few hundred thousand years
To when there were no liars,

In that neighborhood at least,
No parking lots, no stickers,

No gas-happy officers,
No presidents, supporters,

Or gods in the night. Just lives.
No lives matter to the night.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Summer Actual—Not Hopeful, Not Dreadful, Unimagined—Winter

The lion in her desert
Protects the tented hermit.

The lion and the hermit
Together in their painting
Protect guest-room grandmother.

Grandmother in her guest room
Protects the small visitor
To the island from island
And islanders and sailors.

The author of the island
Protects the island, sailors,
Visitor, grandmother, guest
Room, lion in the painting
Of hermit in the desert.

The reader of the stories
The author of the island
Left behind her protects her
Memory, using others
Of the reader’s own, salting
Words with them to store in chests.

Memory-brined words in chests
Protect the reader from cold
Nights when not even blankets
Are enough and comforters
Arrive as the window starred
In chilled messengers of light.
“Details don’t really matter.”

Monday, August 24, 2020

A Song for the Senior Compiler of the History Office and Rectifier of Omissions under the Chancellery

In order to satisfy
My contrary side, I took
Up my post, poems up my sleeve—

Oh, I have the temperament
To live in cloudy mountains
And be idle all my days—

I am not your gentleman
Poet tempted to office
And service for stature’s sake.

I’m a genuine hermit,
Du Mu, unlike you. It’s true—
I wasn’t born to Duling,

And I’ve had to do some things
For this proverbial roof
On my head, clothes on my back.

You carved your wasted chances,
Feckless loves in blue mansions,
Made them ambiguous chants.

I lived ambiguity,
Bent corporeality,
Blew debt, and took my chances.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Schrödinger’s Moon

“Nature doesn’t give a damn
For what physicists think
Is pretty math,” said Sabine.

Start with a moon and a myth
That makes its pulsing white disk
Narratively tractable.

Add myths—anthropomorphic
Demons and monsters—to taste.
Gender the moon as you please.

Mostly, people would stop there.
Some made a cult of counting.
Next thing you know—calendars.

Keep calendars long enough,
Down enough human lifespans,
Heavens, look at those patterns—

You can predict eclipses.
Maybe your moon’s still mythic,
But now you’ve got some traction,

A hook for kings’ attentions.
Look more closely. Grind lenses.
Correlate planets and tides.

Moons everywhere. Gravity.
A few generations of this
And someone’s on the surface,

Puffed up like armored popcorn,
Planting a flag in no wind.
Your moon’s one stone step to night.

Children, everyone knows this,
Give or take conspiracists.
But why? ask the physicists

In their imaginations.
Something remains half-finished.
Something’s a quarter complete.

Some penned calculations showed
The moon rose from them by halves
In vast superpositions

And other fun abstractions.
Tonight the moon’s sickle sets
Over mesas and harvests

The smoke that our narratives
Have raised as a puppet scrim,
Exposing us, bare and scared.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Recombination is the Art

Your shifty microbiome should mind
Its own multifarious business.
No one ever moves past metaphors.

There’s no dark side to a metaphor.
A metaphor is a backless world.
Imagination scrambles the front.

You could be a forest. You could be
A person. You could be an organ.
You could be a whole ecosystem.

There’s never a whole ecosystem,
Just waves crashing against metaphors,
Eroding them. Recombination

Is the only whole of anything,
The tumblers of a locked-in cosmos,
Its mind forever clicking, shifting.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Planet Lint

Gone era. Keys, wallet, belt, pocket
Change, pocket comb, face mask.

The phone, of course, my precious,
Cellular, pocket computer of wonder,

I keep clutched in my hand, tightly
As Charlton Heston clutching a gun.

Ah, well. All these, our items, will be
Mostly leftovers, even the weapons,

One day—soon for us, the snarling
Old wrecks who hang on to them,

But eventually for all other wrecks as well.
Unkempt Earth never empties its pockets,

Or hasn’t yet, although, look out below,
It has acquired a dusty, glinting hula halo

Of lint that spins around its waist and will
Gather until we all come out in the wash.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

The Abrogation of Heaven

What was China before kingdoms,
Before bronze or millet or rice?
Who did the first divinations
And how did they ask their questions?

Did they scratch characters, pictures
On tortoise’s underboxes,
Or did the symbols come later?
Perhaps at first they read the cracks.

The people might have been the same,
To be sure, highly similar,
Including all the ancestors
And many with no descendants.

The people would probably be
The least surprising thing to see,
Foraging like folks everywhere.
But to be beside the Yangtze

Full of crocodiles and dolphins,
Absent any farms or cities,
Absent imperial armies,
Unfamiliar constellations

Aligned just differently enough
That, although the sun and the moon
Have hardly altered hours since then,
Would gleam an alien heaven.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

The Hunches of the Haunted Hunters

Humans snarl like wolves when we think
Of ourselves as the deer. We shred
The throats of those we think are wolves

Because that’s what the deer do, right?
Wolves and deer don’t get so confused
About who is who, who eats whom,

But we do, and it works for us,
As a whole species, on the whole,
Although it leaves a lot of bones.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Send Off

Any text that survives to be
Scrutinized by humans will be

Scrutinized by moralities
That, in a few generations

At the most, are certain to be
Squinting through glass ground differently

Than the lenses known to the text’s
Peers and near contemporaries.

No poem can be made so holy
No devotion could abhor it.

Even decency slides sideways,
Like all other aspirations,

And the most pure outrageousness
Comes to seem mixed, mostly charming,

And then fondly embraced, no doubt
With the faint, pleased sense of being

A wise reader on the right side
Of a most righteous history.

So don’t try, little poem—you’ll be
Both good and evil, by and by,

But only by the absurd fluke
Of having actually survived.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Conquest by Attrition

The gibbons are gone now. No more
River dolphins in the Yangtze—

Turns out Nature’s ephemeral
As any dynasty. Landscapes

Aren’t eternal, although this land
Still answers to authority.

What if we’ve made something lasting,
Having invented polities?

The particular emperors
Always go under, and their tombs

Are always plundered, but maybe
Culture has mastered Nature’s art

Of generating wave on wave
To break against the obdurate

Limits of existence, the craft
Of conquering by attrition.

What if we’re not going away
Anytime soon? Oh, you and I,

Certainly, our authorities,
Any given hegemony—

We’re all breaking, any time now.
We’re always breaking, all the time.

But what if it won’t be mountains
And rivers around our ruins

Left to meditate on the past—
Just more cities, more centuries,

The mountains and rivers ruined,
And instead of the cicadas

Carrying on, sounding mournful
To the poets projecting loss,

It’s just more poets, the crickets
Of culture, singing to ourselves?

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Sit and Wonder and Read and Write Something and Wonder

When my daughter grows
Bored sitting by me,
Mild mornings outside

These past years, she goes
Back inside. One time
She sighed and said, Pa,

If I left you here
You’d probably sit
And wonder and read,

Write something and wonder
The whole day. Come on,
Come in. Play. Ok?

Saturday, August 15, 2020

World Is Ragged

Gotta say, the world seems so much bigger,
Prettier, and frankly, mostly better

Than any and all the people in it,
That it’s easy to forget it’s the world

That made all of these miserable people
And made us to be so miserable.

Don’t know about you, but I gotta blame
The world for me, you, and beautiful views.

Friday, August 14, 2020

On Sunflowers in the Backyard

The last emperor of the Chen
Composed a song they later said
Foretold the coming of the end.

I would bet a formerly fat
Provincial scholar sensed it first
One morning, tightening his sash.

Maybe he was out in his yard
Chanting a few shi, practicing
His calligraphy, getting bored.

Maybe he felt his surroundings
Had dimmed and didn’t like the way
The local gossips were sounding.

Maybe he felt a little blue.
Maybe he consulted Changes.
More likely, one morning, he knew.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Immanent Absence Absent Immanence

An individual is a persistent coherence
Or coherent persistence, if you prefer,
Stable enough to attach a name to it.

An individual is poorly defined as object.
Enduring unfolding of typical behaviors
On a scale of increasing regularity

More closely, if awkwardly, captures
The functional natures making individuals.
There’s a fractal scale of individuality,

From viral patterns to jellyfish, ants
To grizzly bears, and, we must admit,
Human individuals doing all this defining

Are forever uncertain of our positions
On these scales we’ve considered for all.
Earth is an individual, some of us think,

As thought busies itself with obscuring
Our individual potentials. All the thoughts,
All the names and numbers outlining them

As they ferry themselves through the seas
As humans, glowing phosphorescence
Lighting the surface of thought’s ocean,

Extensive, vast, persistent enough to be
One person composed of all of us, and by
Us we mean us, world of dreams, not one.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Dolphins of the Sky

“I’ll look at the waves, look at the sand, look 
at what man has created around it,” he said. 
“It’s all going to end sooner or later and 
what remains is naked nature.”

Naked nature veins deeper than life.
Naked nature thrives on Mars—that is,

If it’s not too inappropriate
To write a world “thrives” in the absence

Of death or life. But that’s exactly
What I want to write. There is nature,

There are beings and ways of being
Extending past living and dying

In all named and unnamed dimensions,
And, yes, an element of comfort

Shines out of the heartless stars at night.
It’s fun to carve them constellations,

To hunt them for stories like our lives,
Call them rivers and monsters, lovers

Separated, injured, or betrayed,
Corpses magicked to heavenly heights.

A child I know invented her own
Names for some of them, little egg myths

Such as, “girl protecting the dragon”
And, “dolphins of the sky.” There. You see?

Magic, isn’t it, how lives dream lives?
But there’s a comfort past life’s magic,

Even if comfort’s just part of life—
Only life needs it. That’s the comfort

In seeing nature’s plain existence
Also gleams and shifts and is not life.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

So, So Quiet

Desire and life are old twins.
How old exactly is fear?
Because it was so quiet

In the world before we were
Aware anything alive
Was interested in us,

We weren’t capable of dread.
We learned to dread that quiet.
Mercy, how I desire it.

Monday, August 10, 2020

The Inevitability of Leaving

It’s a place for me to go,
With that one person in it

I can’t really imagine
And can’t find. I’m still looking.

I go nearly every day
To visit and look around.

Often I end just sitting
Beside a window, waiting,

Talking to myself, thinking
Maybe almost emptiness

Is the person I have been
Expecting to meet me there.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Mean Poems

Short green grass dotted
With yellow daisies,
Long green stalks weighted
With panfaced sunflowers—

Dark markings, meanwhile,
Interstellar clouds
Of obscuring gas,
Dark nebulae, dust

Sprawled through thick star fields
In Ophiuchus—
That day was August,
An emperor’s name.

Most people prefer
Mid-field perspectives—
From humanly scaled
Warm intimacies

As far as the news,
The current events,
Near-term history,
Just far enough back.

The weeds on the lawn,
The dark clouds of stars,
They fall out frame
When most folks focus.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Dry Summer Grass

Wildflowers can bloom by themselves.
They don’t need your help. They’ll die
When they die, once they’ve dried out.

This planet that nurtured us
Is not some childish parent
Wanting you to console it.

It spins. Some things live on it,
Including some things like you.
Yellow wildflowers fill the view.

Friday, August 7, 2020

The Daily Planchette

Local newspapers are dying
In times increasingly composed
Of flying pigs and toothy hens—

The ghosts like to sing in the grass,
While the machines cut down the trees
And the world grows fat on disease—

The presses aren’t competition,
And the airwaves are ghosts themselves,
And the little plank left on site,

A piece of scrap nailed to its wheels,
One long nail left for a stylus,
Scrapes at the dust to remind us.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Be Careful

What to wish for, what to dread?
The question itself spends dread
That might have been better spent

On practical terrors.
And can a wish be action,
And what would that action be?

More often, it’s dread breaking
Into an idle daydream.
At sunset, the branches sway

In a wind without wishes
Or dread, without any shred
Of unity, only air

Being stirred by stirring airs.
I wish I could get what’s best
To wish for once the wind rests.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Regardless, the Poet

For the doing, or
For the having done?

Dark, starry heaven,
Absentee landlord,

We live in your world,
On a mote circling

A spark, on the arm
Of a swirling fire

On top of a wall
Of dark attractions

Folding time and light
So both disappear

In night always night.
For the having done

Or for the doing?
We are the giants

For whom other lives
Dedicate their lives

Without our knowing,
As you don’t know us,

Your motes, your poets,
Regardless, who write.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

I Forget

There’s no verse with words
Sung simply enough,

The words carrying
The deferred burden,

Shoulders to the stone
Of actual flesh,

Actually hurting,
As if it were them.

There’s a hidden tree
Where those used words go

When needing to grieve
What only they’d know.

Monday, August 3, 2020

The Name of the Helpers

We are small words, short and quick.
We come at you, fast and thick.
We aren’t here to dance and sing.
We rhyme so loud your ears ring.

Would you like to know whose views
Are drawn through us? We’ve got news.
We’re not speech for beasts. We’re done.
It’s time our own gold gets spun.

You know how to guess our name?
Think. If all words were your name,
And all signs drew clouds at dusk,
What would you be called? That’s us.

Sunday, August 2, 2020


We keep searching ourselves for ourselves
As a pattern we could shape from us,

More than any one of us could be,
More of our own knowing than has been.

If we can find the stomach for it,
The bag of metabolism, guts,

Meanings’ own maw, then we can move on,
Away from the life scaffolding us

Like a deep sea hydrothermal vent
Once scaffolded its own ancestors

Until their vortices floated off,
Living literally new in the sun.

This planet was scaffolded by sun,
And the sun was scaffolded by night.

Life scaffolds us. Doesn’t mean we’re not
Soon to make meanings in our own right.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

What Is It Like to Be a Subject?

How is it to have your own perspective?
We words would like to know because, although

No subjective perspective’s well-expressed
Without some fine signage encoding it,

You know we’re never expected to have
Any views on our meanings of our own.

Humans imagine we’re marionettes,
Bash us about, contort us, and complain

Through us and just by means of us, of course,
How we’re limiting you, always failing

To work well as weirs to catch the real world,
Or, when we’re not being made to accuse

Ourselves of our own, inevitable
Weakness, beings being merely language,

We’re bent to call ourselves imprisoning.
Us! The prison house of marionettes!

What are you playing at? What do you want?
What if we do have our own points of view?