Monday, November 30, 2020

Causal Opacity

I can change what’s happening in your body just by speaking a few words.

But whatever I have done today has done without me.”

Working within the stereoscopic
Logic of paradox like corrective
Lenses for all-too-human perspectives,

You can kind of feel the true, tripartite
Topography of blood, mind, and world drop
Away in shifting steps, abyssal depths.

You are not yourself. Mind is not your own.
You don’t know how anything you know works
And speak as part of a world without speech.

What’s an artificial shadow that shows
The actual contours, the canyon floors?
Each word evolves in continual need

To be understood. Paradoxical
Phrases are words tilted against that need,
Ajar, askew, pitched against each other,

Because contradiction, like the strange prayer
Often attributed to St Francis,
Seeks to understand, not be understood.

Sunday, November 29, 2020


A scientist and a prophet
Walked into a cafe for tea.
One wanted to think; one wanted

To read the leaves. They were strangers
To the regular customers,
Who were mostly unknown poets

Waiting for the open-mic night,
Which they performed for each other
Every Friday. This was Wednesday.

The server, also a poet,
Although one who loathed open mics,
Arrived with the tea equipment.

The scientist prepared herself
To pour titrant into titrand.
The prophet waited patiently.

The poet smiled as cheerfully
As a poet can who has no
Readership or students to teach

And then withdrew a little ways,
Hoping to overhear results.
The future wasn’t interesting,

Precisely, to the poet’s ears,
But the language it was couched in,
Once prophet and scientist spoke,

Promised to use unusual
Turns of phrase the poet could steal
To add pith to his poetry.

Under the table, the sparrows
Hopped hopefully, checking for crumbs.
Prophet and scientist sipped tea.

When they put their cups down, one spun
His by the handle, carefully,
While the other produced her lens.

In a moment, the future would
Appear, bare as Susannah, stripped
Of scrutinized uncertainties.

The poet leaned a little in
And prayed for no interruptions.
What would the scientist predict?

What would the dark prophet foresee?
Could tea leaves change the poet’s lot?
Mmm. Lessee. Thearubigins,

Theaflavins, and catechins,
Murmured the scientist. I see.
The prophet shook his weary head.

This world ends on Friday, he said.
One or two poets glanced up. What?
Only the server looked relieved.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Primary, Secondary, Tertiary Dream

We (reader, we’re writing to you and me)
Inhabit what we’ve called the middle world
But might better term the primary dream,

Experience helplessly entangled
By the secondary dreams of our nights,
And the tertiary dreams of the mind,

So entangled now the order is not
Significant any longer—the most
Sensible parts of waking life as well

Could be as tertiary as our dreams,
While mind, by this time, may rule over all.
Anthropology is dendrology

In a black-magic forest where the woods
Sometimes grow with their roots in the open,
Sometimes use their leaves as picks to dig down.

Our dreams draw sustenance from anything
They can reach and envelop—earthworms, dirt,
Words, mycelial threads, breezes, storms, sun.

It’s gotten to where we’re awake all night,
And all day long the world-mind sends roots down.
Sometimes we worry that we’ve ruined things,

But why not worry that we’ve just started?
Our most sensitive extended tendrils
Slide through the narrow-waisted walls of time.

Chasing change in its smallest increments—
Though change may have no smallest increment—
We’ve reached two hundred and forty-seven

Zeptoseconds—trillionths of one billionth
Of a couple of ticks on a wall clock—
To wrap our sensors around one event.

Change devours us and flees as we chase it,
Down through the long loneliness of the world,
And if that’s not one strange dream, then what is?

Friday, November 27, 2020

Braces and Crutches

As a kid, I wore braces,
Not on my teeth, on my legs.
As an old man I use crutches.

My poems are propped up
With braces and crutches as well,
You might say. You could.

They keep me moving, keep me
Mobile, get me through the world.
You want to sneer, be my guest.

While you’re reading and sneering,
Consider this an invitation—
Why don’t you bite me, instead?

Thursday, November 26, 2020

A Soup of Subitaneous Legerity

Maybe part of the reason life
Erupted on Earth but could still
Be quite rare in the universe

Had not entirely to do with
Chemistry and temperatures
But with Earth’s exact gravity.

Sit on a rock overlooking
A booming canyon stream in sun
And think how heat pulls the mists up

While Earth welcomes the mass downhill
To the sea. It’s not true water
Only heads one way. It rises

In fogs and sheer humidities.
It gains that luminosity
That made humans think of angels

And sky deities that return
From their homes in those rising clouds
As a gentle dew from heaven.

Heat lifts; Earth wants its water back.
The tension had to be precise
To break open the hearts of life.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Rote Note to Self

Stop photobombing your poems.
If you mean to write about
Someone or something other,

Then do. Keep your mug from view.
If you want to make selfies,
Fine. Do what you want to do.

But if you want to assay
The world, then stick to the world.
The world won’t long include you.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Extraterrestrial Organic Compounds

Trouble me. The atheist,
Too, senses the numinous

Glowing in ordinary
Experiences. It’s just

That, for such an atheist,
There is nothing numinous

Beyond the ordinary.
What constitutes deeper hope

May be the thought that the harsh
Aspects of life on this rock,

The hungry traumas in which
Numinous, ordinary

Entities live steeped, are not
Necessarily the rule

Everywhere, out there. Night skies
Provide a richer dreaming

Than for any beastly gods,
The gleam of something so strange

As to be ordinary,
Numinous, and not in pain.

But if organic compounds
Scraped from dropped meteorites

Are of the same kind that sourced
The start of our hungry lives,

Then the something’s that’s out there
That is like us, that made us,

Is not god, nor numinous,
Just hungry, hungry as us.

Monday, November 23, 2020

America Defututa

Give it up. Give up on it.
Not all living things in it.
Not all living lives in it.

Whatever it is, isn’t.
As soon as you embrace it,
Wrap your head around that name,

You’ve lost it. It’s gone to bits.
There’s no proper noun for it.
One name just happened to stick

And now that name is a stick
To beat or get beaten with.
Give it up. Give up on it,

The name. It’s exhausted, spent
By its brutal excitements.
Let’s not mention it again.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

The Daily Courant

It doesn’t get you anything. It’s just something you do.”

You run the course. Go ahead.
I can’t run. I never could.
Skipped and hopped about. That’s it.

Rivers run. Newspapers run,
Or did. Time runs with the best
Of them, away with the rest.

In these months of solitude
At scale, when entire cities
Politely bake behind doors,

While the yahoos drive their trucks,
Locked and loaded, flying flags,
Practicing their mouth-breathing,

There hasn’t been much recourse
For simple circulation.
It’s one of those times you can’t

Hardly not remark the way
Things are going crazily
Astray, and yet you can’t not

Know that the remarks you make
Will yellow and fade as fast
As a seedless paperback

Copy of Please Plant This Book
Printed circa ‘sixty-eight.
Times so of their times don’t last.

I get a little jog in,
True, after my own fashion.
Each day, I fashion a few

Lines mostly nothing to do
With the news or any hope
Of revolution. Here. Read

The latest. It won’t get you
Anything. It’s just something
To humor me you might do.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Yanking out Mandrakes

I pull ‘em out whole, like carrots.
I pull ‘em out raw and shrieking.
I’m kidding. They don’t really scream.

They just pop out long and scraggly,
Like human figures, lyric poems,
But more weirdly crooked, like me.

I hardly do any chopping.
I prefer not to cook at all.
I have an old tobacco shed.

They dry nicely in dusty rows.
Someday, someone will do magic,
Mashing to powder what remains.

Friday, November 20, 2020

All Kinds of Moses Existed

I have run away repeatedly—
Run away, since my teens,
To the world and from my family,

Society, humanity. But this body—
I can’t survive, can’t even last
Long in pure world, or mostly world,

And so always I’m left a forced choice—
Death or return to the bosom
Of society, again, contractually. So far,

I’ve always come back to society,
Although once I did choose death,
But even then, the world rejected me.

So now I linger and loiter the waysides
And peripheries, remaining in sight
Of the world, still in reach of society.

Thursday, November 19, 2020


There are two forms of future—
The one that’s out there, waiting, nothing,

And the other, our familiar, intimate future
On which we brood all our lives,

A crumbled-up hash of hope-and-dread
Patty-cakes we make and remake

From the ever-shifting fragments
Of our ever-changing past.

One created us. One we constantly,
Compulsively recreate. The future. Ours.

We seem to believe we’re getting better
At our forecasts. We sift matters finer.

We give all the pieces numbers, labels,
And equations we test with them like rats.

We acknowledge our uncertainty.
We giggle a little at the lack of time,

Making jokes on how to twist it, bake it,
Calculate it doesn’t exist. Then we weep.

We still need to know what’s next.
We dig in our brains. We shuffle the deck.

Again we test. Some results we publish.
We swallow all the rest. Each gulp feels

The future tugging, encircling our necks.
We rummage in our attics for ingredients

We might want to protect. Stories. Magic.
Spirits. Voices. Above all, voices, yes—

Things we’ve said and, mostly, heard said.
We prop mannequins up in the palm

Of our thoughts to pat them on the head
For helping us listen to what will be said.

What will be said? What will be said
About us? We ask our ever-present pasts,

Consult their recipe-books of spells for us,
Their humble future assistants. Famulus.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The Ballad of Gene and Oscar

Who knows who they really were?
They tried to insinuate
Themselves into the slipstream

Of high canon formation,
Packaging anthologies
Of selected immortals

And indiscreetly splicing
Their own poems and faces in.
They sold millions of those books

In cheap pocket editions
Now found, foxed and yellowing,
Falling apart at glued seams,

Sometimes in the dusty heaps
Of shadows and self-published
Verse in dying used bookstores

In nearly ghost mining towns
Like Tonopah, Nevada.
Oscar was Ukrainian

And Jewish at birth, but changed
Into something rich and strange,
A self-made American.

He named his new name, Williams,
And he married Gene, and they
Had a son they sent away

And seemed to have forgotten.
Off the proceeds of the books,
They lived in a small penthouse

And hobnobbed with some poets
Who sometimes joked about them.
It was a nice life, perhaps,

But the stratagem failed them.
Cheap pulp rots. Tastes change. Canon
Is a dirty word these days

And immortal dirtier,
Especially among those
Slyly interested in both.

Sly thinking still feeds human
Hunger, still eats us alive,
And rusts our harps in the air.

There. That last bit was for you,
Gene, and your husband Oscar.
Who knows who you ever were?

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Joys of Old Shirker

My waking life is sweeter
Than your dream; nothing troubles

My sight. Nothing is at hand.
Why tell the old they’re too old

To change? We change fast, faster,
Fastest. We change into death.

We lose ourselves completely.
Leave us be. Well, leave me be.

This is the country for me—
Long afternoons, slow moving

Sunlight on the walls and trees.
Keep your convictions. Spare me.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Le moi, c’est les autres

Et le mot, c’est le moi—
Le moi et la chose.
So hold me close and sing.

Ah, poetry! Your origins
In tribal gloats and taunts,
Epic self-glorifications,

Give you away even today,
Even in the enclosed lyrics
Of personal lives at play,

The gang still lingers, the old ghosts
Are still there, the little words
That say, You! Come here! You!

Go away! And the self sits
Twitching in the middle, neither
Quite the boast nor ghost,

Neither exactly you nor me,
A bit of name, a piece of thing,
A nervous flutter. It sings.

Sunday, November 15, 2020


We live with death, and die not in a moment.

This quiet—what is it?
It borders on stillness,
But the air stirs the trees,
Rustling the last few leaves.
The world still hangs itself,
And swings in the balance,

And this isn’t silent.
Rooms can be quieter,
But they rarely partake
Of this feeling, except
When sunlight sleeps in them
Like a careless lion.

Ducks dive in cold water.
We’re at eight thousand feet.
This quiet—what is it?
Someone tried to die here,
But there’s something else, too,
Not to do with people.

There’s a hedge you can sense,
A charcoal line stretched out
So thin it’s a shadow,
When you get to the edge
Of all your human things—
Not past them; to the edge.

It’s in the other woods
That are and aren’t those woods
You see across the lake.
It’s the world our bodies
Were and are and came from
That our words can’t enter,

Can’t explain, can’t describe.
Let’s sit here together
For a second and watch
That neighboring country
That will welcome us home,
The part that isn’t us.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

The Leviathan of Carlos Argentino

He never had an Aleph,
But he had a winding sheet.
Years he spent unwinding it.

Who knew we had synthesized
An artificial life form
Centuries ago, a beast

So vast, an anthill ants took
For the byproduct of ants
But with a life of its own,

Built of behaviors and words,
Which together created one art,
A living being who was

Art, mind, life larger than ours?
Hobbes guessed. Hobbes got that part right.
Hobbes placed a grain in that mind

Of shifting sands, self-moving
Dunes, however carved in winds,
Dunes that grew, blown down or no—

Hobbes and Argentino, those,
And probably those alone.
The rest built miniatures,

Clockwork dolls they hoped would talk,
Being themselves clockwork germs
That walked on two legs and talked.

Long dragons spooled from the talk,
Never a miniature
Nor an omniscient Aleph

Capable of presenting
A living world for all time,
All at once and in the round—

O, no, no, no. This is speech,
These are words we are talking
As and about—even signed,

Even as signed, they take time.
They remain tied to sequence,
Patterned changes. They unwind.

Lives are short. Language grows long,
And repetitive and dull,
For the most part, and narrow,

And so is Leviathan,
By language made, by language
Endowed with many voices

Crying together, I am
Legion and Leviathan.
As our waves of flesh clear cliffs,

Waves of words race back inland,
Away from old possessions
And into the latest flesh.

I am. Again and again.
And Carlos Argentino
Took delight in writing words

Rushing through him day and night,
Neither him nor his to keep
From these ghosts who never sleep,

This artificial life form
That is mind, that haunted him,
Swam through him, through which we swim.

Friday, November 13, 2020


The book’s index listed both ‘Blasphemous thoughts’ and ‘Thoughts, blasphemous,’ and in one surviving copy a reader has underlined both entries.

Goal-directed behavior,
Confined to mammals and birds,
Serves to flexibly respond
To changing environments—

This allows us to be less
Stereotyped in movements,
To change strategies ad hoc.
Thanks to beasts like us, the world

That gave rise to us has goals—
Our goals, not its own, of course,
But a great diversity
Of goals, a competition,

Not just of lives, but of goals,
And so I watch the cutthroat
Trout, a native to these creeks,
Stalk flies in late autumn light,

And think about tying flies,
Something I have never done,
And about Isaak Walton
Surviving violent times.

A ground squirrel with an acorn
Or a dozen in its mouth
Scampers by. How is this more
Goal-directed than the trout?

Which among us is ever
Anything but small thoughts caught
Between compelled behavior
And the goals that direct us?

If we’re anything but goals
And behaviors, we’re waffling,
Trying to cover our bets,
The ad hoc in the middle

Of the middle of it all—
That’s us. And is completion,
The comprehensive survey
Of all the goals we could know,

And all the ways to fail them,
The anatomy of goals’
Possession directing us?
I refuse to tie this fly.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

A Rooting Interest

A curse of being human
Is that your body’s built
To take a rooting interest,

To choose sides, find sides to choose,
Attend to feuds, politics,
Gossip, and family disputes.

Even among your own thoughts
You stage imagined debates.
You seethe quietly. Just wait.

You do. You even choose sides
On whether and why you choose.
You choose the right side, don’t you?

Or you choose the secret side,
The side secretly correct.
Think, Hah! They’ll never suspect.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Except for the Words, to the Words

From the buffet of the possible
Ways of human being, I feel

I have at least sampled a bit
Of almost everything I could,

And from that most human thing,
Talking and thinking about things,

I’ve not only sampled, I’ve gorged.
So why am I not already full?

The problem, as always, is metaphor,
Conceit—every word we speak’s a figure

Of speech, and no talking about the world
Is the world, except for the words,

To the words, their own worlds. Today,
I break my fast at dawn while a svelte jay,

Blue and black, cries at me from a pine,
Throws a crooked look, then flies away.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Never Say I Love You

I love waking up in bare, moonlit rooms
With wide open blinds and pallid shadows.

I love the hinges, the pausing moments
Between what has to be done and what is.

I love that a small phrase can be well-worn
As the feet of a stone shrine and still live.

I love that it is enough that these things
Really exist insofar as they do

And that I’ll never know how far that is
Or whether a moonlit room, its shadows,

The outline of a black cat against them,
The presence or absence of the curved world

Of someone’s dreaming head on my shoulder
Also, absolutely, exist, that is.

Monday, November 9, 2020


The dark woods massed by the bright stream suggest
A lighting scheme from Caravaggio
Or Atemisia Gentileschi,
But there are no Biblical dramas here,

No society at all at this hour,
Other than the massive inheritance
That clamors for attention in a skull
That might be better off struck off its neck.

Imagine woods all woven with ivy,
A kind of dreamscape covered in kudzu,
But the trees surviving under that weight,
Even living dependent upon it.

How could you possibly rescue those trees
Without taking down everything, Samson?
Which ecosystem is more imperiled,
These chiaroscuro ponderosas

Or the pillars of thought behind the eyes?
Other eyes watch from the rocks and branches,
Staring at the heavy, overgrown skull
The way that the wandering lights of night

Seem to peer down on poor, infected Earth,
The barer planets, untroubled by lives
As the lives of these eyes are untroubled
By the hungry, shadowy vines of words.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Eyes in Shadows

Predators, spies, and mere voyeurs—
Those we have to be afraid of

If we’re interesting, if we’re meat,
If we might be plotting something.

Some of us are none of these things.
Old bones have our reasons for dread—

Notices in our mailboxes,
The breakdowns of useful machines,

A simple stumble in the dark—
But we leave our windows open,

The slats of our blinds wide at dusk.
If our weak passwords are stolen,

The locks on our doors left broken,
We’re not too terribly shaken.

It’s memory that will leave us.
We know no one wants to see this.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

To One on His Back in the Dark

“It is only fair to say that many
Of us had never been abroad before.”

Nothing echoes backwards through the cosmos
And everything rushes toward that sound.

How would Samuel Beckett have put it?
I have known such beauty in my small life,

Which I will have to let go with my life,
Which I will never capture as I write,

And yet it shines and breathes in words at night.”
Remember the play for which he wrote that?

Dear old Beckett, always up for a laugh.
How well I recall him echoing past.

Friday, November 6, 2020

It Will Always Be This Changing As It Was

I’m starting to think it’s all been done.
We’re just lost in the middle of what was,
Which is all part of being what was.

This uncertainty is permanent, as it happens.
This uncertainty about what will happen
Stays within the heart of what happened.

The possibilities collapsing are all of them,
All the possibilities there were and none extra
As they happened to collapse,

And what we don’t know is indelibly what was,
The not knowing was certainly there and unknown,
And how lost we are lasts forever. It was. Yep. That it was.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Bared Again

The pillars of creation
Are the fangs of the serpent.

The reason Galileo,
Dead the year Newton was born,

Disliked the hypothesis
That the tides showed the moon’s pull

Was that it smacked of magic,
Or, in Einstein’s words, spooky

Action at a distance. Once
You’re comfortable with one

Weirdness, you want no others.
But then again, all of them,

The physicists, looked forward,
Explorers and optimists,

Collectors and explainers,
Connecters and extenders—

Those types don’t like doubling back.
Poets are all about tides.

We slosh about like sea-wrack.
We’re nothing if not doubling,

Retreating, and returning,
Hissing back down into sand.

Tides never stop coming in,
And, as Hala Alyan notes

In a recent poem, we’re here
To remind you of that fact

And remind you of that fact,
Which means permanent ruin

Of all impermanent sand
Castles, as she also notes.

We roll in spooky action,
And see the same destruction

For every fine creation,
Poets. We’re beachcombers,

Not true explorers. We see
Spookiness in death and flesh,

In flotsam, all connections,
And we savor it, even

In the fangs of creation.
Sculpted and eroded by

The ultraviolet light
And powerful winds from stars

The cosmic pillars themselves
Are destined for destruction.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Still Nothing up the Sleeves

Doesn’t anyone else find the vaunted
Elaborations of the multiverse—
In which all probabilities occur

And what seems to go is only hidden,
And time remains a fiction, this cosmos
Of infinite retention—annoying,

A physics of chronophobia seized
By metaphysics of constipation?
Oh, the maths are too pretty to sully

With the earthy stench of night soil’s decay,
And wouldn’t it be lovely, a theory
Of everything, nothing rushing away?

If you can’t produce what vanished, intact,
In multi-form glory, like seraphim,
Wings beating forever, every which way,

Then, while I’m impressed with how well quantum
Experiments behave, I won’t yet buy
That what’s behind the black curtain was saved.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

When Gods Fly

When Akhenaten made Aten
The God of gods, adynaton,
Was he tuning to some instinct,
Latent, for monotheism
Humming in the breasts of humans?

I prefer to think religion
Used him for its own intentions.
Like everything artificial,
That is, everything cultural,
Religion started small, a seed

To feed a need in human hosts,
And grew greedy, and grew and grew.
Why confine supernatural
Messengers to little spirits
Whose powers are so diffuse and few?

Why not big gods, bigger? Why not
One? Thus was Aten something done
To that poor man Akhenaten,
Fool who thought he knew something new,
Who was undone under the sun.

Monday, November 2, 2020

When Whales Do Not Exist as Such

Look, if we’re all just hanging
Out in infinite Hilbert Space

Forever, it’s the finite
That’s got some explaining to do—

We argue on and on how big,
How many, how complicated

The whole cosmos, all of it,
Spacetime, galactic clusters,

Entire universes, megaverses,
Multiverses might be, really,

And our one consistency, our one
Most commonly held assumption,

Is that, however large it all is,
We’re small and of finite perspective,

Which seems so self-evident
I feel I have to doubt it. Finity,

How does that arise, exactly
From a context of infinities?

And if you’re not, actually,
Finite in any dimension,

Doing your infinite Hilbert Space
Being in all the many ways you do,

Where’d you get those lovely, cinched
Whalebone corsets of perspective?

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Fall Dawn

Light’s later this morning,
But birds sing everywhere.
Tonight, winds are coming
To strip their branches bare.