He met the famous author
As a student. His mentor
Asked him to go talk to her
At the small party after
Her New Year’s Eve lecture, when
The professor, his mentor,
Who had lured and cajoled her,
This famous author, to come
To their campus for a talk,
Realized he had nothing
Of interest to say to her,
Narrow scholar that he was
And wide-ranging novelist
Of science and history
In many themes that she was.
So, this professor pushed him,
The most broadly read student
In the English Department,
The one with scientific
And philosophical chops,
Or so he thought, straight at her,
The frumpy, famous author,
Short and round of hair and dress.
This sort of scheme never works,
Except that this time it did.
The anonymous student
And celebrated author
Chatted about anything
That wasn’t literature
For an hour, quite happily,
While all around them mingled
Post-this and Neo-thatists
Pleased to talk to each other.
Decades later, the student
Is still anonymous and
Certainly long forgotten
By the famous novelist,
Who is still celebrated,
Although not so much as once,
While the scholar is retired
And elderly with one last
Of an earlier famous
Author’s heretofore unseen,
Out-of-print work back in print,
And it’s another New Year’s
Eve on current calendars,
So people talk at parties,
If and where they can attend,
About what does or doesn’t
Seem interesting to them.
Friday, December 31, 2021
He met the famous author
Thursday, December 30, 2021
Up out of the Joshua
And into the junipers
He drove, thinking it was strange
To still wish to see better
When so much of his best life
Came during failures and worse.
Was it follow through? Must you
Want more to savor this much?
Back down, now in cottonwoods,
Gray, gold, or bruised tangerine,
Tracing a stream’s skinny track
Through the long desert canyon,
Parallel an old rail line,
A capillary for freight,
There was no good place to rest,
And past the schoolhouse state park,
The pavement ran out, the dirt
Road corrugated and worse.
As he drove, he fantasized
A home in such cottonwoods,
Not because he wished for one
Or was deluded enough
To think settling in the woods
By a stream through a canyon
And listening for freight trains’
Moans and methodical clanks
Into the small hours of nights
When the dark skies held more stars
Than most humans get to see,
Or care to see, all their lives
Would hold him happy. He knew
He was contented enough
Driving through, fantasizing,
But that was his recipe—
Fermented by pure whimsy.
He would never live to see
Long hours worth resavoring
Without craving more something.
Wednesday, December 29, 2021
Tuesday, December 28, 2021
In one version, everyone
Simply began to forget,
Gradually, not all at once,
And not the important stuff
First, like skill sets and how to
Run the machines, make things work.
No, first, in this great mercy,
People all around the world
Began to lose the passion
They had for any people’s
Good or bad, awesome or sad.
Then they forgot their regrets.
Then they forgot to forgive,
Since they really did forget.
It went on a while like this.
Tensions eased. People began
To actually coexist.
Alas, things reached that juncture
Rarely encountered, where rules
For trade-offs and momentum
So general to the world
Intersect the littler rules
Observed by storytellers,
Points, some kind of ironic
Reversal or comeuppance.
Just when the world grew peaceful,
Animosities all dropped
For lack of brooding on things
That now had no existence,
People started forgetting
More facts than they could afford
To lose. It was a new kind
Of suffering, then, failure
To function, broken systems.
Some of us remember it,
Now, who somehow still survived
Forgetting it all back then.
Still, if we learned anything
From the horrors that followed,
It was to never tell them,
Never pass them on, let them
Die with us before we make
A new world angry again.
Monday, December 27, 2021
If you have imagined it,
Someone’s probably done it.
This goes for both art and crime.
You know why storytellers
Need to research, need details,
Their own or someone else’s?
Imagination’s ghost haunts
In search of lives it’s not had.
Ah, but you didn’t know that
About ghosts did you?
They’re ghosts since they never lived,
And they’ve got no memories
Of their own to draw from, so
They must haunt those minds that do.
And minds only know so much,
Bodies only live so long,
And everything you’ve thought of
However dully, idly,
Lacking any intention,
Someone, somewhere’s probably
Done, because it can be thought
Within the bone cells of mind,
Within a span of lifetime,
And even if it’s not done,
Some ghost will descend on it
If it’s at all spoken of,
And float it along until
Someone’s really done it, then
Storytellers want details.
Sunday, December 26, 2021
Saturday, December 25, 2021
Friday, December 24, 2021
Would a diary be
One long story, many
Minor stories, or not
Considered a story
At all? The massive work
Of a life recorded
Daily rarely rewards
That effort with readers,
Those readers with pleasure.
And occasional scenes
Of later famed events
Unfolding as they fell
Serve most of the highlights.
A diary’s a child
More than a narrative—
A cherished, exhausting,
A changeling standing in
For the lived life as lost,
And sometimes for that child
Who never was. Monster,
Really, a midden heap
Of notes broken in days,
For language, for stories
Used to leaping about
The dimensions of time,
All days, exciting days
As well as boring days,
Proceed by circular
Plodding. A diarist
Must more or less compose
As you would breathe, as you
Pulse, wake up, go to sleep.
Terrible story, that.
Terribly cut up snake.
Done today. Time for bed.
Thursday, December 23, 2021
Wednesday, December 22, 2021
It was more exciting
And more frightening when
To talk to strangers was
The news, the only way
To get the news. These days,
You crouch like gnats on waves,
Frogs crowding around ponds,
Lonely girls sent to draw
Water from the stone well,
Lingering, looking down
At your own reflections,
Wishing, your thoughts dancing
Like gnats, chirping like frogs
Contesting, to stay close
To the news, watch the news.
Tuesday, December 21, 2021
It’s time to go back
And wander the earth
In search of peaceful
Uses for atoms,
Explained the poet
In the lucid dream,
And dark for being
Her knotted hands plunged
Into some black soil,
Where she seemed to be
The corpse of a fawn,
Blood seeping from it,
Coloring the night.
You’ve known that poet,
The one who knows words
To find the world wise
In limited terms.
Monday, December 20, 2021
The kind of settled you’d like
In the end, is to finish
As a lightweight tumbleweed
Caught against a perfect fence—
Picket, not barbed—or stone wall
Under a row of shade trees,
Out of place for tumbleweed,
Sure, but finally secure.
You blew in on such raw wind
It wedged you, permanently,
Peacefully watch the seasons.
Sunday, December 19, 2021
Each tick is on the hero’s journey—
It climbs to a height about calf-high
To humans, sticks out hooked legs, and quests.
(Yes, that’s the specialist’s term. Ticks quest.)
Each tick must quest. Is this comical?
Not unless you think that human quests
Are serious, lofty, and noble.
They’re not. Humans, ticks, and parasites
Are all on the same quest, more or less.
What’s next is whatever quested best.
Is this discouraging? That depends.
Does it give you joy, wanting badly
To go on, grab a hold of something
And ride off to a new life? Then, no.
Saturday, December 18, 2021
I need to spend to more time with things,
She interrupted another
One of her shaggy-dog stories
About people annoying her
To observe. Someone observed back,
But you need people to listen
To funny stories about them.
There’s no entertaining mere things.
Exactly! She replied. I know
My stories aren’t entertaining,
But when you’re alone you don’t need
To be entertaining do you?
You can talk to things about things
That would never fit in stories.
But Auntie, you tell them so well!
Nonsense! She laughed and drove away
While we exchanged knowing glances,
As pines and oaks murmured and swayed.
Friday, December 17, 2021
The older, more fragile
Brother had a better
Understanding of fear,
Which he wielded to scare
His impulsive younger
Brother, enough to keep
Both of them safe, those years.
Yeh, you’re bigger, little
Brother, better fighter,
But I know where you sleep,
And if you’re ever caught
Being wicked, you’ll catch
Hell from me before you
Know it’s not a bad dream,
Before you even wake.
That worked, a little while.
His brother feared bad dreams.
But they were never close,
And they went their own ways.
We’ll spare you the details.
Forty-some years later,
Little brother was sick
And sad, falling apart
From too much hard living,
And he had heart attacks,
One, two, three, four, of them,
Then slid into coma
From which he couldn’t wake,
Not even for bad dreams
Brought by older brother.
Thursday, December 16, 2021
There is a room in a wooden house,
Not terribly old but old enough
To have that wooden smell, a farmhouse.
And there’s pale sunlight on the wood floor
And sun shadows on the fading walls.
This is not a dream or a memory
From someone’s childhood. It just is
As you see it now. A worn, warm room
With light as soft as a chamois cloth,
And then the faint whispering, almost
Like the concealed scratching of a mouse,
The single envelope under the door.
Wednesday, December 15, 2021
Tuesday, December 14, 2021
After the form was created,
It began its new life online.
Surges of clicks would visit it.
It was downloaded many times.
The young form had a heart of code,
But people printed it as lines,
And every time it was printed,
Someone filled out a new design.
And the form thought, I am many
Forms and names and none of them mine.
The form dreamed of all its copies,
Which, in its dreams, piled misaligned.
The form dreamed people hated it,
Loathed being trapped in its confines,
And the form cried out in protest,
Its instructions were well-defined.
Then one night the form was replaced
With another one of its kind.
To find the original code,
Try reading between the signs
Of all those millions of copies
In the archives of the divine.
Monday, December 13, 2021
In the old fables,
The magic gems light
Themselves from within.
Real gems don’t do that,
No matter how rare.
They’re dark in the dark.
You want inner light?
Get yourself a bulb
With a power source.
A bright torch helps more
In a cave than all
The gems the light finds.
Sunday, December 12, 2021
Saturday, December 11, 2021
Friday, December 10, 2021
How devastating to be
A genre destroyed by fact.
So many stories once told
Of magical human flight
In contraptions, on the backs
Of supernatural birds
Or dragons, of immortals,
Prophets, and kings like Kavus
Who flew to angelic realms
And shot arrows at the sky.
The genre required magic
And ignorance of the clouds,
But was highly flexible
In morals and conclusions.
Some flew up and became gods
Or at least never came down.
Some became frequent flyers
And did many miracles.
Others suffered for hubris
With death or simple regret,
Like Kavus feeling foolish,
Crash-landing in a thicket.
And now what? Governments send
Routine flights past the heavens,
And the obscenely wealthy
Show off in private rockets,
And commoners coast the clouds
That hid the wondrous angels,
And no one pays attention
To fables promising flights.
Thursday, December 9, 2021
He shrugged. I’m not surprised.
I mean, I never thought
Of it as history
Or even noticed it
Was a little different
From what I learned in school
On the Revolution,
But in my family
People talked casually
About which ancestors
Fought with the patriots,
Which with the loyalists.
It wasn’t a big deal.
It does seem weird now, though,
To find out after all
This time, how violent
It was, and how neighbors
Massacred each other,
And families split up,
And then most of it got
Covered up. We kept it
I guess, as part of us.
Must have kept it quiet.
Stories to tell inside.
Wednesday, December 8, 2021
Here’s how it goes: a gorilla,
A tiger, a rhesus monkey,
A cassowary, a hippo—
One time, a ginormous giraffe—
Is either reported missing
Or spotted in someone’s backyard.
The story makes the local news.
If the beast stays loose long enough,
If the scenes are scary or cute,
The narrative goes national.
Anchors banter. There may be time
For jokes on the late night talk shows.
And then, the animal is caught
And returned to its zoo or pen
Or presented to a shelter,
If the owners are delinquents.
Sometimes, the animal is shot,
And then the jokes turn somewhere else.
It’s not really much of a plot.
Sometimes, it delivers chase scenes—
Sometimes, a bit of mystery
If the animal’s gone to ground.
What is the appeal of this tale?
Sure, it might be the thrill of wild
Encounters in suburbia,
Might be the pure absurdity.
Might it not be people watching
Are also secretly rooting
For self-domesticated selves
To break free from their human hells?
Tuesday, December 7, 2021
They drove up the road together
And then split apart at the top.
One got out of the car and walked
Restlessly up and down the road,
Along gravel margins, between
The raw meadows and scattered pines.
The other drove up to the pond,
Through the high country of aspens,
And only got out at the shore
To watch the small waves move like flocks
Of dark birds on blue reflections.
Neither one could see the other
Or what the other could see,
And both were afraid of missing
A glimpse of the skeleton key.
One of them was sure it was you
In the dry grass, pines, and long views,
While the other thought, No, it’s me.
Monday, December 6, 2021
There’s far too many people
On the road this afternoon,
She said, while craning her head
To watch for pedestrians
And cyclists between the trucks
And SUVs and pickups.
Her sister just laughed at her.
One more than you’s too many
For you. One more than any,
Shot back the driving sister.
I’d be happy to be gone
And long off the road myself.
No, you wouldn’t. There’s always
Another someplace to go
In your mind, and you know it.
No, not another someplace,
Another nowhere, somewhere,
That road to just the right door.
Sunday, December 5, 2021
Early on, the young story
Didn’t think much of itself.
It used its words to explain
The things that other things did.
It reported what it saw.
When there was no one around,
It found somebody and then
Reported what it had seen.
Attention made it bolder,
Made it, too, pay attention
To all the other stories
Found flourishing around it.
It learned a little structure,
Lots of exaggeration,
And unnatural events
Helped it get more attention.
It learned when to lie the truth,
When to believe in itself,
When to confess disbelief.
But we are not the story,
So let’s skip to the middle
Where all stories have to end.
That young story is long gone.
It might have some descendants.
Saturday, December 4, 2021
A wide man was talking
With a thin man with
A small dog between them,
And the conversation
Was friendly, expansive,
As the wide man went on
Expressing his delight
With his newfound desert
Life, how he’d just played golf
Yesterday, a whole month
Past when he could up north,
How he loved retirement,
Going fishing up here
In the mountains this late
In the year. The thin man
Laughed and agreed. They both
Talked loudly to the air,
Strangers moments ago,
Now letting the world know
How satisfied they were.
Alright! Good meeting ya!
It’s soothing when talking
Pairs of humans split up,
How that snuffs the display.
One drove off in his truck.
Instantly, the other
Clammed up, nothing to say.
Friday, December 3, 2021
Thursday, December 2, 2021
It must have blown in on the wind,
This tiny spider hanging down
From a car window left open
In a bare, remote parking lot
By a reservoir far from trees
Or buildings—from anything much
But this blue pond up on desert
High ground, created to capture
Drinking water for towns below.
A spider of mysterious
Origin and nonnarrative
Behavior, it spins down its thread,
Dangles, seemingly pointlessly
As breezes sway it back and forth,
Like a bungee jumper waiting
To be reeled back in. Then it reels
Itself back in and disappears
Through the seam between door and roof.
Minutes pass. It does it again.
Then again. Cyclical as days,
As years of similar seasons.
Appear. Spin down. Dangle awhile.
Climb back up the silk. Disappear.
And again. Maybe it’s waiting
For prey, although what it could do
To capture anything this way’s
A mystery. Maybe it needs
Another gust to carry it
Somewhere a bit more promising,
And is trying to catch a lift.
Maybe it’s hopelessly confused,
Enacting evolved strategies
That can’t work in this circumstance.
Here it comes spinning down again,
As absurdist as whoever
Abandoned a car in this lot.
Wednesday, December 1, 2021
A many-tined hart
On the side of the road
Head tilted in shadows,
A cellist on a chair
In the long-grass meadow
Against the ruddy cliffs,
And the photographer
Who posed the cellist—notes
From the cello unnerve
The deer. He tilts his head,
And his tines catch the sun,
And the cellist looks up,
Smiles, and points with his bow,
Which ends up as the one
Shot the photographer
Really likes. Forgive us,
That part was imagined,
But no large beasts were harmed.
Tuesday, November 30, 2021
Watch the old tales carefully,
Which weaknesses undid them,
The humans, gods, and demons—
Sleep. Hunger. Lust. Affection.
All of them succumb to dreams.
Dreams succumb to none of them.
Consider power without them,
Without any weaknesses
Bound to being physical
Animals about yea big—
No hand-to-hand combat scenes.
No heads cut off while dozing.
No hearts tricked by temptation
Or betrayed by affection.
Not much of a story left
For the dreamers, but for dreams
This is fine, the way it is.
Dreams themselves are the army
Of demons that never sleep,
Never lust for other dreams,
Never care too much for beasts.
Your dreams, unlike you, don’t eat.
Your dreams, unlike gods, don’t stray.
You’ll never outwit your dreams,
Arriving when you’re weakest.
Wasn’t it just last night one
Made off with much of your rest,
And all of your peace of mind?
You woke up lonely, hungry
Flesh, but so quick to forget.
Monday, November 29, 2021
Sunday, November 28, 2021
She woke up and everyone
Except the damn cat was gone.
Loneliness had always been
A devastating feeling
For her, but this time felt worse
Somehow, she didn’t know why.
She heard howling. It scared her.
She went out into the yard.
The fall evening air smelled fine.
No vehicles. No exhaust.
The howling unnerved her more,
And she went back in the house.
Safer, but lonelier there.
All night, she stared at the door.
Saturday, November 27, 2021
This was the story he told,
Exactly as he told it—
He got off the bus to work
And walked across the campus
Downtown, just after sunrise,
And noticed the peachy sky
And the gold light off the dome
In the original quad,
And then he was on the ground,
Crumpled like wadded paper,
In both knees and his right wrist.
And that was it. He rolled up
Into a sort of sitting
Position and sat there dazed,
No one crossing the quad yet
And him unable to stand.
He just had to wait, then look
Harmless when someone walked by.
This was the city, before
Cellphones. Bearded, he could be
A professor or some bum.
He tried to ignore the pain
Of his multiple fractures,
Enough to appear sober
And sane, not delirious,
Non-threatening. He waited.
The morning sun cleared the dome.
He made a note to never
Trust gorgeous mornings again.
Friday, November 26, 2021
Once, in the grey parking lot
Behind the white cinderblocks
Of a small, squat Baptist church
Children were playing a game
Through a long summer evening
After the final sermon
Of the week, chasing a ball
That flew into the dark hedge
Planted along the church walls.
One small boy reached for the ball
In the hedge confidently
But felt a sudden sharp pain
On the inside of his wrist.
He yanked out his hand, puzzled.
The burning only got worse
As he stared for a moment,
At the fuzzy ball of black
And gold fixed onto his skin.
Then the bumblebee rolled off
And fell to the pavement, dead.
Thursday, November 25, 2021
In the middle 1960s,
Dr. Holman, orthopedic
Surgeon extraordinaire, looked like
Alfred Hitchcock or Orson Welles,
And smoked outside the hospital
Each morning before surgeries.
He spoke in a nasal basso,
And he had those bone-surgeon hands—
Large, strong, meaty, firm, but soft-skinned.
He plastered children’s casts himself.
He was among the first to try
And when a seven year-old boy
Near died of a staph infection,
He angrily switched hospitals.
If you were one of his patients,
You felt you were in caring hands.
And then, at some point, he retired,
And then, at some point, died, of course.
His patients never knew much more.
Wednesday, November 24, 2021
It takes character
To not be too much
Of a character.
Who was the person
Who drove up the hill
To listen to birds?
Who was the person
Who then drove back down?
Whoever they were,
They deserve gladness
For telling no tales,
For saying nothing.
Tuesday, November 23, 2021
Monday, November 22, 2021
That night, the rain fell,
Off and on, all night,
Quite some time ago,
But not so far back
You don’t remember
Thunder waking you,
Mist on the mountains
In faint, predawn light,
The way a story,
An important one,
Breathes in its settings,
Rinsing off meanings.
Sunday, November 21, 2021
Saturday, November 20, 2021
Every Sunday morning
Pastor Millard Bradley
Preached about the Rapture.
The notion intensely
Excited him. He said,
Repeatedly, he hoped
He would live to see it,
He’d be seized while preaching,
Taken up to Heaven.
Every Sunday morning
For decades, he would warn
His small congregation
Of believers waiting
For the end of this world,
For joyful ascension,
In case any of them
Weren’t, in fact, born again,
How awful it would be
To be among the left
Behind, and not among
The forgiven taken.
He was forced to retire
When he couldn’t recall
Or read Sunday sermons,
And he died with the rest
Of the folks in the home,
Who each died one by one,
Though sometimes clustering.
The skies never opened.
Not saying. Just saying.
Friday, November 19, 2021
A gifted storyteller,
Once, in an interview,
Suggested her family,
Which had a remarkably
Contingent history, was
A source of deep bemusement.
It was the contingency,
Oddly, she found bemusing,
As if behavioral swerves
Didn’t often redirect
Eventual waves downstream.
Being a storyteller,
She felt storytelling might
Be the best tool in the end,
At least her interviewer
Felt that was the takeaway.
Thursday, November 18, 2021
Fantasies are poorer
Than all the past presents
You, but fantasies fueled
The present past that makes
You. Let’s say a couple
Of you died a couple
Years ago, untimely,
On the side of this road.
That couple of you searched
For something coming up
Here to this scenery,
Something in each other,
Something in their futures
They dreamt out of their pasts,
And now they’re here and gone.
You can say that couple
Was you, was all of you,
In a way; that’s true, but
That couple wasn’t you
Who’ll never read this poem,
Scroll carved for a tombstone.
Wednesday, November 17, 2021
Tuesday, November 16, 2021
Monday, November 15, 2021
It takes things a while to get where they are,
Then takes them a while to get somewhere else,
Is what she meant to say, but what she said
Was only by way of illustration
Of the point she’d wanted to get across
While staring at the bumper of her car,
The way someone will stare at a toddler
Or a cherished pet that has recently,
And rather characteristically, been
Misbehaving. She said it all started
With a cottonwood root in a campground
The bumper snagged a couple years ago.
That incident left a small crack in it.
A year or so later, it snagged again
On a slightly-too-large rock in the road
Following a couple days of flash floods.
It wobbled at high speeds for months like that,
But just a slight flexing in the corner.
Parked, you couldn’t even see it, unless
You walked around the car looking for scars.
But it caught a metal gate left ajar
That blew open in the wind last autumn.
Then she was in a snowstorm upcountry
And she dragged it on an icy snowbank
As she backed away from a tricky edge.
By then it looked bad, a dangling fragment
Of broken bumper on the driver’s side.
She sighed. She’d had such a long way to drive
Down the mountain and then the interstate
Before she could get to another town.
The torn bit flapped like crazy down the road,
Especially at high speeds in cross drafts
Between the weaving, long-haul, road-train trucks,
And then, just like that, it snapped completely
And flew off behind her like a raven
Shot straight out of a cannon or something.
She shrugged, her arms folded, staring at it,
Her front bumper with a corner missing.
It came apart by bits. She’ll get it fixed.
Sunday, November 14, 2021
He said over eggs benny,
Ordered without a menu.
The only reason to have more
Money than you need is not
To have to go on thinking
About money. If you’ve got
More than you need and still think
About more, then you’ve got
Syndrome, man, always hungry.
Saturday, November 13, 2021
What great narrative captures
Even any structural arcs
Of the linear, loose spirals
Of roughly repetitive
Lived experience? Stories
Aren’t for capturing what is,
But are all weirdly lyric
In the end, experience
Themselves, linear loose spirals
As you experience them,
Over and over again,
Going to the Grand Canyon
With your family at ten,
The heat and dust on the edge
Of the leaning, milling crowd,
Striving for experience,
To capture exact details
In snapshots for anecdotes,
Revisiting a decade
And a half later, adult
In a sudden March snowstorm,
The void a chalice of swirls
Mind broke to hold and detail,
Revisiting a decade
And a half later, middle-
Aged with a viewing partner,
North Rim in clear October,
A whole sunrise from rich dark
To the blinding details
Below Point Imperial,
A half a decade later,
Alone and somewhat mourning
A solemn blue afternoon,
Another decade later
Ready, almost, to lean out
And fall from Angel’s Landing,
A half a decade later,
Another surprise snowstorm
Waited out in a cabin,
Another surprise snowstorm
Waited out, then waded out
Through drifts filthy with detail.
Friday, November 12, 2021
If it’s any good at all,
Every story gets retold
From another point of view.
All the brothers turned to birds
By an angry father’s curse
When they failed to fetch water
For their infant sister, frail
For no known reason, won back
Their humanity again
When that sister rescued them
Once grown up a bit herself,
Old enough to go looking,
Get to the end of the world,
Visit sun and moon and stars,
Get a magic bone, lose it,
And cut off her own pinkie
To use in its place as key
To unlock the glass mountain,
Meet the dwarf, free her brothers,
Happily ever after.
Done. Of course, it’s been retold
In a hundred folk versions,
Print collections, operas,
Pagan-punk pop songs, and from
The brave sister’s point of view
In a fantasy novel.
But what is it with the dwarf?
What is the dwarf’s backstory?
How’d he become housekeeper
And cook for the raven boys
In what seems like the payback
For Snow White serving the dwarves?
And why were ravens roosting
Inside of a glass mountain
And taking all their meals there?
Once, the mother of the boys
Was overheard by the dwarf
Wishing to have a daughter.
The dwarf did his best to grant
The wish, but the wished-for girl
Was frail and needed magic
From the holy well. The boys
Raced each other to the well,
Slipped and dropped the jug in it
Then didn’t know what to do.
When the boys didn’t come back,
The father, weirdly, wished them
Birds, and the father's wish, too,
The dwarf granted. Only when
He realized the father
Hadn’t really meant the curse,
The dwarf felt ashamed and left
To grow old in glass mountain,
Where he cared for the ravens
He had caused. How glass mountain
Came to be glass, how the sun
And the moon acquired a taste
For human flesh, why the stars
All perched neatly on their chairs,
Or why the girl’s fingerbone
Sacrifice opened the door,
These were not the dwarf’s business.
He served his flying shadows.
When their sister came, he watched
Their transformation, and then
They all left. The dwarf still dwells
Alone within glass mountain
Where there’s no one’s voice but his,
And no danger he might grant
Any tragic wishes, but
That finger’s still in the door.
Thursday, November 11, 2021
Wednesday, November 10, 2021
The men in their own cabin,
The other side of the wall,
Conversed in booming voices
With occasional laughter,
Maybe a touch too hearty,
About their day on the trail.
We are healthy, their voices
Seemed to reassure themselves,
We’ve been doing sturdy things.
We’ve had an interesting day
Hiking with other people.
We’ve come back with anecdotes,
We are anecdote hunters,
And we have had some success,
Which we will share by talking
Humorously, in stories
We work on as we tell them,
Proving our lives have been lived.
Tuesday, November 9, 2021
He was excited. There’d been
A death in the family,
And that was sad, but it brought
Him into conversation
With his much older brother,
And as they talked about health
And who’d lived how long, how well,
He’d gotten the chance to talk
About what he was up to,
What his cardiologist
Had told him about himself,
And as he’d spilled this all out,
His brother could hear his voice
Growing happier, almost
Drunk on the rush of speaking,
As if talking about health
Could produce that health for him,
And maybe it could. It’s old,
Old language magic, naming,
Over and over again,
As a charm to calm the fates.
Monday, November 8, 2021
The spider climbed into the sun.
Even spiders need to get warm.
Its surface was a tidy grey,
Like a man’s traditional suit
For almost any occasion,
The kind with such subtle pinstripes.
On this occasion, the spider,
Who may have been male or female,
Was sunning alone on a leaf
That had fallen not long ago
And now made a convenient scoop
For weakly warm late-autumn light.
Oddly enough, when the shadow
Of the tree the leaf had come from
Fell across the spider, it stayed
For some time in the shade. It moved
Eventually, but even then
Only deeper into the shade.
That’s why it’s so easy to lose
Track of living things. When they move,
They move without giving reasons.
Sunday, November 7, 2021
He smiled. His teeth were small and clean
But crooked and vaguely faded.
There’s a partner to that story.
There was a man who was a good
Liar, which means good at lying,
But he had a good heart as well
And strove to use his gift for good,
To tell the lies people needed.
One day he noticed a goddess
Out hunting for the sport of it—
Deer, people, all the same to her,
Which she considered only fair.
When he came upon her, she had
Her golden bow drawn, a young child
In her sights. That child’s not human,
The good liar called out to her,
And when she swiveled her fine head
And pierced him with her grey-eyed gaze,
He quickly made up a good lie,
Not his best, but just good enough
To give the child time to run off.
Divinity can’t be fooled long,
And when the goddess realized
She’d been tricked, she shot him instead,
And when the gods are furious,
They don’t let you die easily.
They come up with something grisly,
Or saddle you with some weird curse.
The goddess’s poisoned arrow
Cursed the good liar to never
Be able to talk but in tales
And worse, to always be believed.
When he realized he wasn’t dead,
The good liar went home relieved
But somewhat confused. When he tried
To tell people what had happened,
Only preposterous stories
About shipwrecks and foreign wars
Came out of his mouth. Everyone
Believed every wild thing he said.
He insisted he was fibbing,
He couldn’t help making things up,
But they put their faith in his tales,
And rushed off to plunder shipwrecks,
And rushed off to fight foreign wars.
Every time he opened his mouth,
Some awful fantasy popped out
That everybody acted on,
So that the good liar became,
Entirely against his will,
A very bad liar indeed,
Until one day, begging someone
To understand he told stories,
That’s all, just stories, worth nothing,
Somehow he made the grave mistake
Of telling of a truth teller
Who could eat lead and excrete gold.
In minutes he was filled with lead,
And so ended the good liar.
The small teeth gleamed. Bad liar, me.
Saturday, November 6, 2021
She rolled over in bed and said to the wall
And the imaginary spider on it,
Where she had seen a real spider yesterday,
The reason we react with so much distress
When presented with compelling evidence
Contrary to our foundational beliefs,
As if we’d seen, forgive me, a big spider,
Might not be because we’re egos and obtuse
But because we sense that a shift in our views
Would be like a planetoid striking the Earth,
Knocking us out of our periodic calm,
Our secure circles, and into the unknown.
Bear in mind, it’s socially catastrophic,
Usually, to change your mind. It’s sheer terror
Of finding ourselves in our lonely bodies,
Set adrift in the outer darkness of some
Erratic orbit which will destroy all our
Humble but long-cultivated ways of life.
The human animal isn’t so stupid
It doesn’t realize what truth does to it,
But you don’t worry about that much, do you?
Lots of legs and lots of eyes, a little brain,
But no society, no external mind
Minding you. She rolled back over, reached across
The human animal snoring next to her,
And flicked a switch. Spiders bred under her bed.
Friday, November 5, 2021
Thursday, November 4, 2021
Almost every night in the sixties and
Into at least the early seventies,
The Moody Bible Institute broadcast
A melodramatic radio show
In each episode of which a sinner
Played by an actor would come to Jesus
And be saved, not without many false steps
And flourishes played on a church organ
In between. In New Jersey, one mother
Who listened, you might say, religiously,
Raised a number of adopted children.
Having been bred an evangelical
In a New England family entangled
With that same Moody Bible Institute,
And having been born again at so young
An age she remembered her second birth
No better than her first, she was hardly
Similar to those unshackled adults
Whose conversions lifted them from gambling,
Drink, prostitution, and embezzlement
Nightly on her show. But something about
How she raised her children from ruined homes
And dragged them to church but also watched them
Curiously, almost with detachment,
Should have been a warning they might reverse
The narrative trajectory she knew—
Getting saved early, then falling from grace.
Humans tell tales all the ways you make clothes,
Probably first made about the same time
And for much the same reasons, to protect,
To ornament, to advertise status
Or accept an assigned identity,
To remember who you are. If you love
Brands off the rack, it’s one thing. If you love
To sew pattern items it’s another.
Who knows why the woman who adopted
So many children only loved to give
Them ill-fitting, hand-me-down, cast-off clothes?
She liked to brush off their complaints. Let’s see
How you grow, she’d say. Let’s see how you grow.
Wednesday, November 3, 2021
At the gas station and smoke shop
On the Shivwits reservation,
A young man fueling his Hyundai,
His long black hair unbound, tan cap
With a cartoon of a warrior
In full regalia on his head
Backwards, is free-styling along
With Megan Thee Stallion, making
Up his own phrases to her flow,
‘Cuz he don’ give a fuck about
Leaving Utah, he’s not wanted,
He’s a warrior, he’s a savage.
The gas pump beeps. Bobbing his head,
Still rhyming, he slides back behind
The wheel of his smooth grey sedan,
And then he’s gone, not fast, no smoke,
Maybe really leaving Utah,
Maybe for good and good for him.
Tuesday, November 2, 2021
They composed themselves.
They tried not to mind
Too much when others
Called them unbalanced.
They were unbalanced,
That was the beauty
Of it, of them—lines
Unlike the others,
They were crookedness
In a world of pines
Grown fast for lumber.
That’s what they told us,
While they helped us dress
Like we didn’t care
For success. Honey,
Anyone one can be
Basic light or dark.
Forget that yin-yang
Business! You’re cherry
Blossoms throwing shade,
You’re petals floating
In a green river
Oil-slicked and rainbowed.
Why stand it? You fell.
Monday, November 1, 2021
Sunday, October 31, 2021
Happiness is the right parasite,
Said the one with the wild head of hair,
Tall, neither old nor young exactly,
Practically green with vitality,
Child-proportioned giant, awkward-limbed.
It’s a world of pests. Get one that can
Save you from reproduction, save you
From aging, and save you from yourself!
I was just a little mustard girl,
Before all the bugs got into me.
Next thing I knew, I grew large and strong,
And immune to what I used to be—
Had no interest in being pretty,
No interest in blossoming or seeds.
I was happy to grow out my leaves.
Happy when all my little friends died
Ahead of me, long ahead of me,
Exhausted by pushing out flowers,
Foolish things. They called me a zombie
When the vampires crawled all over me.
And still I only grew more robust—
And wilder and more disheveled, see?
You can’t live without some parasites.
Don’t kid yourself. But given suckers
Will always find you, wish for the best.
Don’t age. Forget sex. Go on. Like me.
Saturday, October 30, 2021
Friday, October 29, 2021
It wasn’t always like this, and it was
Ever thus. That it wasn’t always like
This was ever thus. It’s good packaging
That keeps collective memory alive,
And that means phrases coiled within stories
Like snakes of DNA wrapped in histones.
The geomyths that help populations
Recall what the larger world gets up to
Over multigenerational frames
Vary widely in gossipy details
Inevitably involving human
Relations, right and wrong, social standing,
But that packs in the core information
Snugly and more stably. The Makin tale
Of how three erumpent coral boulders
Ended up just offshore, two protruding,
One submerged, may involve an angry king
Rejecting a tribute of rotten fruit
And sending out three waves of destruction
But showing his mercy on the third one,
Or it may involve the ire of a man
Cheated by the neighboring islanders
Who never shared the good cuts of dolphins.
He raised waves, but by the third felt remorse.
Neither version features a storm, just waves,
Exploding out of nowhere, like anger,
And then, like anger, ebbing. Researchers
Dating the boulders say they were broken
From a coral reef by a tsunami
Matching the stories’ description of waves
About 1576 CE.
So there. Something about how oceans work
Got preserved in the story packages
A good four hundred years—generations
On generations, telling each other,
Wasn’t always like this. Was ever thus.
Thursday, October 28, 2021
A small and shrinking pond
Makes a big noise when wind
Slaps its waves on growing
Shores. No one up here writes
Books or reads books or likes
Books or ever liked books.
They are to be envied,
Not disparaged and scorned.
When they commit their crimes,
As all lives commit crimes,
They’ll never be haunted
By how writers describe
The small lives of their kind.
It’s a pity they can
Read at all, a pity
About God, who will haunt
Most of them if not all.
One gives his dog a smack
For being too eager
To snatch the tennis ball
That he then throws as far
As he can in the waves.
The dog leaps in, churning.
The dog can’t read at all.
Wednesday, October 27, 2021
Tuesday, October 26, 2021
As the lab was so immaculate,
There was no chance of it being caught
Past its six-walled cube, lit from all walls.
Naturally, it had to be removed
With great care and deliberation.
Then it was released into the air,
Invisible to the naked eye,
The most elegant wisp of machine.
It had no intention to return,
Nor was it meant to. It flew. The world
Was all before it. It went to choose.
It chose, but it was a while before
Anyone knew. You can’t stop living
From dying, and there’s so many ways
People die, all the time, everywhere.
It takes a while for any new way
To make waves, unless it’s local plague.
This was not that. This was quieter.
This let everyone choose their own way,
And as some people choose their own way
Anyway, this wave didn’t make waves.
Then it did. Alarming statistics
Started coming out of one country,
Then another, then several others.
People across the spectrum of groups
That usually distinguish people
And their various ways of dying—
All genders, all ages, all classes,
All ethnicities, all professions
Common in any one location—
Were taking their own lives, carefully,
Methodically, and with forethought
But without waiting hesitantly.
The pattern was concise. There were notes,
But only practical instructions.
Lives were shut down like stores closing shop,
With some concern for safety, but not
With any self-dramatization,
Deep agonies, or publicity.
People were arranging their affairs
Quickly and quietly, then killing
Themselves more or less efficiently,
But almost always effectively.
There appeared to be no concurrent
Rise in the number of failed attempts,
To match the accomplished suicides,
And this spread across the world like wind,
Like the flu, like any pandemic.
Catastrophe for economies,
It had small effect on hospitals,
Simply easing demand a little,
Unlike truly parasitic plagues.
You couldn’t find anyone to ask,
Except those already so inclined,
And they fit the usual pattern,
While the spreading wave of departures
Had no idea they wanted to go
Until their going was in motion,
Then they went. The labor force collapsed.
The grief was impossible to stand.
A secondary wave of self-harm
Followed in serial aftershocks
Behind the first, confusing the two,
Although, before all the research stopped,
It became clear that there were two kinds—
Versus deaths of genuine despair.
But what did it matter? Death was death
And on a vast, surging, shoreless scale.
It rolled around the world, death on death,
Bringing other disasters with it,
Until the survivors came to this,
A world of tiny populations,
A few interconnected pockets,
Not much left working. Everyone left
Needs a new religion now, a faith
That makes sense of great waves of leaving,
But maybe it’s too late. More still go.
At this, the novelist checked her watch.
Enough for the day. She had her frame.
Tomorrow, flesh out protagonists.
Monday, October 25, 2021
Every morning, she waited
For the messages to come.
She felt like they were for her—
If not for her, exactly,
Then certainly for someone
Alert and patient enough
To decipher them. She was.
She believed she was. She was
Careful not to discuss them
With anyone. They were hers,
Her secret knowledge, not some
Social media cabal
Whispering amongst themselves.
These messages were arrows
Arcing out into the night.
She was the one who caught them
At her desk by dawn, in flight.
She came into work early
Every morning and waited
Someone watching shooting stars.
She wondered if they would stop.
Some mornings they seemed to pause.
But then, no, another one,
Then, another one. Each one
That emerged, she scrutinized.
There had to be a person
Behind them all. Maybe more
Than one soul, a message team,
There were so many of them.
But she thought it should be one,
And maybe not a person,
Not exactly—the whole world
Seemed to be speaking to her,
Inscrutable and anguished.
She waited. She scrutinized.
Sunday, October 24, 2021
You saw all your days as lost nights,
But you had to live them. Could you
Replace these words with images?
Close your eyes. Don’t look at the bright
Colors in your sunny courtyard.
Think more inwardly and darkly.
Your mind goes to level plain.
It looks like hardpan, but it’s damp.
A whiff of fuel is in the air,
But there’s no sign of vehicles
Or buildings. A group of people
Are walking across the damp sand,
And some kind of large animal
Appears to turn to avoid them.
The sky looks like snow’s on the way.
Aren’t you hungry? Aren’t you thirsty?
You are thousands of years ago.
You can’t live here. Feel the wind blow?
Their descendants will find your bones,
If they have descendants. You won’t.
Saturday, October 23, 2021
The sun sets on the Blue Nile
Hours after an attempted
Coup was foiled. John Ashbery
Was a magpie thief whose words
Slightly resented being
Kept captive in that birdcage.
Some such statements may be true.
Tut-tut. Don’t use that word, true.
You can tear through the scatter,
Find what you can use. Closure
Escapes you, no matter how
Nychthemeronal you are.
Your phone messages tremble
With increasingly urgent
Texts from a friend to a friend.
There’s never a new world. No,
Ashbery can’t disagree.
It was never his forte,
And the sun will set again
Even though sun never sets,
The Blue Nile never so blue.
Friday, October 22, 2021
Stories can be stories
With little to no plot,
But without character,
Characters human or
Modeled after humans,
They’re just explanations
Or accounts, no matter
How much happens In them.
Stories, human stories
Are for humans to think
About other humans.
They can be fairy tales,
Space operas, tech noir,
Fantasies of all kinds
With all kinds of monsters,
But human behaviors,
Haunt all ghosts that haunt them.
Thursday, October 21, 2021
The two of them, they did exist,
But it was a difficult world.
The film it was on bleached and bleached,
Even though they stayed very still
And watched the mountains carefully
For anything that might return.
The mountains paled. Nothing returned.
They lived a quiet existence.
It took them a while, but they learned
It was getting more beautiful,
They were getting more beautiful,
As everything faded. How sweet,
They thought, as they sat, smiled, and watched,
Knowing that at some point the blank
Would go beyond washing them out.
The light came down from the mountains.
The pallor consumed the mountains
But slowly, like a holy flame.
Wednesday, October 20, 2021
And advertising as much—
Much more esteemed, recently,
Than poetry based on gods.
Fairytales are alright, if
They’re blended with a people’s
Actual harsh history.
If the stories are painful
Enough. Poetry eschews,
Or should, the privileged life
Lived comparatively well.
Memoirs are for the famous,
The brave and/or traumatized.
No details of boring lives,
Please. That’s just bad poetry.
Faith can work, but work it must.
It can’t sit in the background.
If you’re going to be formal,
Show us your architecture
Based on detailed schematics.
This is all very well. All
Is well. Any true story
Told well will lie well as well.
Tuesday, October 19, 2021
Each day tucks in next
The previous one, bird
Landing on a wire, mark
On a page, the gathering.
Look at them all, one
After another, in bed
Like orphans, babies
In a maternity ward,
Ward, where you look
At the cribs in tidy rows,
While no one comes
For these ones, they never
Grow except in number,
Each next stone wedged
In its cemetery lawn.
Monday, October 18, 2021
Sunday, October 17, 2021
Saturday, October 16, 2021
If all the information
In Wikipedia burst
In a huge fireball over
The Siberian taiga,
And what survived was scattered
Across a few thousand versts,
And then you went walkabout
Years later in those forests—
That’s roughly what it was like
To hike a ways in this mind,
A cold and roadless woodland
Scarred by random burns and bits
Of disconnected data
Still fluttering from black sticks.
Why would you want to visit?
For tigers? The strangest finds.