“I can change what’s happening in your body just by speaking a few words.”
Monday, November 30, 2020
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
Friday, November 27, 2020
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
Wednesday, November 25, 2020
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
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
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
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
Saturday, November 21, 2020
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
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
Who knows who they really were?
They tried to insinuate
Themselves into the slipstream
Of high canon formation,
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
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
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,
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.”
Saturday, November 14, 2020
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
Thursday, November 12, 2020
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
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
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
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
Friday, November 6, 2020
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
Wednesday, November 4, 2020
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 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
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?