Saturday, October 31, 2020


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 30, 2020

Demonstration, Remonstration

Empty Aumbry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Anonymous Theater

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 29, 2020

An Age in an Instant

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

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

Invariably comforts
Another, and another

Now finds itself unsettled.
The mind transfers force between

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

Well, comfort the unsettled,
Upset the comfortable,

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

Comfortably successful,
Hardworking poet might say.

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

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Observation, Record-Keeping, and Prediction

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

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

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

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

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

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

Needing continuous observation
And durable, meticulous records,

Stable many human generations,
To grow into the immense precision

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 27, 2020


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

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

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

Passing through our lives like worms
Greedily tunneling soil,

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

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

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

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

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

Boethius, Xin Qiji,
Unaware of each other,

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 26, 2020

The Theater of Farewells

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

Episodic memories
Vacate their assigned seating

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

Which causes consternation.
That past solution whispers

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

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

A breathing recollection,
Warm scents of limbs and blossoms,

Something vividly intent,
Is unsettling. The absence

Of a surplus organized
And orderly is harder

To bear than the gradual
Diminishment of a mess.

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

Sunday, October 25, 2020

All the Bodies of the Soul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Radical Equivalence

Honestly, content
No longer often

Moves me—existence
And its awareness

Have many virtues,
Most of which are mute.

An angle in blinds
On sunlit windows—

One dusty corner
Of happenstance dawn—

Sows contentment and
Means nothing at all.

Friday, October 23, 2020

The Sorcerer’s Retrospective

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

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

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

Thursday, October 22, 2020


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More massive than those
Teeming in our guts,

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

Would stop signaling
And shedding robot
Spores around the sun,

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

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

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

To Rotate, Wander

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

Depending on perspective,
However, to outsiders,

You’ll seem to be wandering
Or rotating perfectly

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

And from your own perspectives,
You may feel like wandering

Or savor cyclicity.
You find yourself happiest

Choosing bearings that suggest
Moving freely or smoothly.

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The Heroes of Self Concept

Within the infinity
Of games possible to play,

Among the myriad games
Humans have actually played,

Lie the behavioral games
Deployed for experiments.

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

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

Payouts according to what
The subject then self-reports.

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the rationalizers,
Not “radically dishonest,”

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

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

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

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

Kant could cheer are more common
Within the fractious breakdown.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mere animals crave payout.
The fearfully scrupulous

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

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

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

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

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

They know just how dangerous
Wholly human games can get.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Papa Did Nothing but Work at His Desk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Loss Averse

Maybe we only love life
Because we hate to lose things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Hungry Ghost Fugue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 16, 2020


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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Tales Were Never for the Silk

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Means to Withdraw

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Nihilist Cred

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 12, 2020

Kindness for Strangers

Gleaming cable cars ferry
Queues of tourists to the top

Of the mountain to visit
Cloud-shrouded monasteries.

Supposedly, this culture
Remains collectivistic.

Supposedly, I remain

We all climb in together
And up our shining car

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

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

I can believe inflections
Differ, like intonations,

But extensions of kindness
To non-kin conspecifics

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

Our fears of ghosts and demons,
Our ratcheting novelties

In forms of transportation—
Not born of one tradition.

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

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

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Ephemera Febris

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 10, 2020

A Weakness for the Awkward

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

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

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

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

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

For the awkward, its habit
Of fracturing and falling

Apart. But after physics
And before nothing at all,

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

Friday, October 9, 2020


There is no universal
Human experience, no

Such thing as the Common Man.
No generalization holds.

Each one is wholly unique
And compounded of culture,

Experiences of terms,
Bodies, languages, beliefs,

Contingent privileges,
Circumstances, suffering,

Hunger for something better,
Beyond mere precarity,

All of that universal
Human experience. So.

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

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

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Twenty-Three Poems about Tigers Instead

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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Twenty-Three Poems about Horses

A horse has a mind. I think
It does. Not a mind like ours.
Our minds are reins, bits, and whips.
The mind of a horse is plain,
But it can be wild or kind.
A horse will never explain.
A horse makes up its own mind.


Nothing much has to happen
For time to gallop along.
Time is rhythmic, after all,
And can smoothly lift its hooves
All at once from level ground,
Flights inside monotony
Riders might not feel at all.


The love of what’s out of place
Because it makes you stronger,
Because it feels like magic,
Because it’s just so gorgeous—
That’s why the love of horses
In forested India,
In imperial China.

I pass the roadside ponies
Stuck in the muddy paddock
Under runty cottonwoods
And wave at their big, brown eyes.
Almost every time I think,
Better to be raised for dudes
On vacation or for war?


The nobility we see
In horses, did we see it
When we only hunted them?
Or did they become noble
Once we nobly mounted them?
Once our nobles rode on them
I think horses lost something.


Let’s say that horses aren’t us.
We paralleled each other,
Both adapting to open
Country as the grasslands spread.
They evolved hooves from digits,
While our kin evolved digits
From tools by analogy.

Even before we rode them,
Poor horses were used for tools—
At Boxgrove, the earliest
Bone tools ever discovered
Were made from the skeleton
Of a horse hunted for meat
Then used to shape fresh flint blades.


I would like to love the horse.
I think it’s admirable
To admire them, if you can
Admire and be kind to them,
Not work them to death, not ride
Them to death or off to death
On them. But I’m no houyhnhnm.


I heard a whinny today
From my back porch, where road noise
From out-of-sight trucks and cars
Predominates. I have no clue,
Between desert and golf course,
Walled yards, small roads, and highway,
Who would ride in on a horse?


Sometimes I see the tourists
Jolting along single file
Down canyons and up mesas,
Saddled on plodding ponies.
I’ve been a tourist myself,
And no country was stranger
To me than that horsehide back.


It’s a proud way for humans
To assess other humans—
How well can you ride a horse?
It’s power, prowess, knowledge
Important to knights, actors,
Stunt performers, cavalry,
Cowboys. Transcendent humans.


What luck to have discovered
Submission would lead to herds
Larger than any wild ones!
Species who never learned this
Were wiped out. Central Asian
Steppe ponies serve purposes
In breeds on six continents.


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. Horses
Are other than humans. Just.


Four horses without bridles
Or saddles graze the long grass
On a slope of summer hill,
Neither wild nor put to work—
Pets, almost, but on display.
Will horses ever not mean
Wealth to whoever owns them?


I’m impressed with the bronze ones
And the marbles even more.
How those men must have loved them,
Seen in them perfect totems
Of beauty as pure power.
So much longing invested
In invulnerable flesh.


Li He was born in a year
Of the Horse. He lived only
A brief life of many poems,
Twenty-three about horses,
Rich with allusions and tropes
Suggesting he mused a lot
On undervalued poets.


Will they ever go extinct
While we who hunted, herded,
Bred, broke, and rode them survive?
Are they at least as secure
As us now, even ignored?
Or will herds shrink to endlings
And die if they don’t serve us?


Despite our avidity
For horses—how we race them,
Name them, fictionalize them—
See what invisible props
They’ve been in novels, movies,
And television series.
Think we’re naming us, not them?


How many famous horses
Even are there, anymore?
Today’s fantasy heroes
Can mostly fly on their own.
We’ve kept a few famed, named swords,
But who would spur Seabiscuit
While wielding Excalibur?


You want to get in our heads
To see an image of you,
Complained Bamboo Harvester.
Clever Hans was doing sums
Meanwhile in a dusty stall.
Senator Incitatus,
However, withheld his vote.


Buttermilk and Golden Cloud
Left only replica lamps
And cast-iron descendants,
Which sold well for quite a while.
Their hides were stretched on plaster
And foam and exhibited
For selling themselves so well.


Such is fame, a human game,
Like war, racing, pony rides,
And chieftains’ gold-crammed kurgans.
Humans have nothing but games,
Which define humans. Horses,
By contrast, can thrive on grass
As soon as games release them.


The wild horse populations
Grow fast in America,
Like a cycle completed,
Equus from this continent
To this continent returned,
Content to conquer again.
Conquering means surviving.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Memory of a Random Sunrise, Roughly a Month Ago

Nearby lawn sprinklers, distant trucks,
Birdsong, breezes, and the tinny notes

Of a long-ago recorded piano mingle
And congregate in the demi-hush

Of a suburban dawn late last summer.
The cosmos is represented by one

Morning star that’s not a star, the moon
Hanging an oblong head in western pines,

And a disappearing wave from Orion.
The cat gnaws a just-caught grasshopper,

Adding tiny crunching as the tinny piano
Stops, but the birds and the trucks go on.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Autonoetic Poetics

The wind is the whooshing
Earth makes by spinning,
And if it’s calm where you are

Be sure it’s whooshing
All the harder somewhere else—
I never feel the slightest breeze

That isn’t a reminder
Of how all of this is tumbling
Swiftly through a windless space.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

A Similar Universe

Another autumn proceeds—
Is this Liu Xiao’s persimmon
Or the maple of Clive James?
Life plays coy with timing things.

Every organism cloaks
A similar universe,
A molecular hocus-
Pocus for astrologers.

Living defies unfolding,
Preferring to keep itself
Guessing, meaning surviving,
Both sweeping and scattering.

All your future fantasies
Spread out fond parts of your past.
Ah, if only you could live
All the heaped-up hours at once.

Poetry, too, has always
Stayed provably neither/nor—
Neither disprovable nor
Provable. Who could prove this?

Saturday, October 3, 2020

A Primitive Concept of a Collection

When I’m doing next to nothing,
Somewhere near to nowhere’s middle,

And I can’t hear human noises—
Or just rarely, fairly distant—

Then everything feels actual,
Reality feels actually

Real, most nearly, and I’m at peace.
Can’t say why this is, exactly—

Wouldn’t ever claim it’s better
Than another way of being

Alive and nonetheless at peace—
It works, in my experience,

The slow hours, the changing light, flies,
Birds, occasional grasshoppers,

The deer moving through the shadows—
Or also no creatures at all,

Not that I sense, just the breezes,
Next to nothing to do with me.

Friday, October 2, 2020

The Last Eschatologist

Here we are, humanity,
An inexhaustible store
Of wonder and bottomless

Well of hate, mise en abyme,
Not only made of mirrors,
But digging a true abyss.

I was born around the time
The Ox-Herd and the Weaving
Woman get their only night

Per year to spend together,
Crossing over Sky River.
“Nothing for it now, just row.”

The world was supposed to end
That fall, but a fly fell in
The ointment of the timeline.

The end was called off for then.
It was planned to come again
And then again and again,

Like God, like the alignment
Of the planets, like Charon.
“Nothing yet, but soon. Now row.”

I begin to fear the worst
Will come to pass, and instead
Of the End, Armageddon,

Complete annihilation,
Humanity’s extinction,
It will all go on ending,

We will all go on ending
And then beginning again,
No end to the bitter end,

More and more complicated,
A longer and longer tale,
Occasionally touching,

Occasionally meeting
Over the river, turning,
“Nothing much keeps changing. Row.”

Thursday, October 1, 2020


Learning how to live while waiting to die,
Is learning how to live like you’re really
Just waiting to die, only way to live.

It’s not just other people drive you mad.
True, social obligations are the worst—
Somehow, you find yourself a parasite

Upon the very same society
That parasitizes you. Mutual
Persistence through mutual destruction,

The gravest Escherian cul-de-sac
Ever knotted by selection’s knitting.
Humans spawned our own domestication

Which eats us now we can’t live without it.
But there are other anxieties, too.
Was that scream this morning a coyote

Breakfasting on your predatory cat
That made a cat’s breakfast of so many
Unfortunate rodents, lizards, and wrens?

Is that raspy whispering from your car
History about to repeat itself?
Could this wind be about to knock you flat?

The fine black thread that stitches these as one
Armillary Sphere tapestry of dread
Hisses its own name each time you tug it—

Do. Oh, do something, do. Surely you could,
You must. Just try to do something. You know
Something is wrong, could be soon. What to do?

Drive around in the dark, hoping to spot
A shadow of living cat. Post posters.
Crawl under you car and study the mess,

Makes no sense? Take it to a mechanic.
Get back in the house before the storm comes.
Answer the phone. Batten down the hatches.

Make another list and cross life from it.
Do it. Do this. Do, do, do lisps a hiss.
The gods are in the details of that list.

Or don’t. Don’t try not to. Ah, passivist.
No, of course you’re not just waiting to die,
But won’t you die doing things? Let some slide.