Friday, December 31, 2021

One Long Conversation

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
Edited publication

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.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Oak Springs Trilobite Site Recollected

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—
Ordinary wandering
Fermented by pure whimsy.

He would never live to see
Long hours worth resavoring
Without craving more something.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Life Is an Affair of People, Not of Places

Two young women walked
Carefully downslope
From the black boulder

Of tumbled basalt
Where they had picnicked
On the scruffy hill.

The car they climbed in,
That jinn, that demon,
Carried them away.

The dramatist wished
She could have heard them,
Whatever they said.

The novelist thought
Of a possible
Fiction anyway.

The diarist took
Note of all of this.
Cyclists pedaled past.

The air moved around.
The air moved around.
The air moved around,

And everyone’s wish
Was granted that day.
The dramatist heard

A fragment passing,
Yeh, I don’t know yet.
The novelist wrote

A full day’s quota
Of word count, then napped.
The diarist filled

The entry’s whole page
With words for details.
The cyclists finished

Their loop, stowed their bikes
In their van, and left.
The two young women?

They came back. They parked.
They walked together
To the water’s edge.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Tale of a Blank New World

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
Particular history,
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,

Complications, inflection
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

Great Myths Are the Gossip of the Ghosts

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
Memory’s cemeteries
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

Since The Gorbals

Actual stories involve little encounters
With littler encounters in them
Each smaller encounter closer to fiction

Four older people in a Dollar store
On a Thanksgiving afternoon in Caliente
Town of a few hundred remaining souls

Surrounded by rail lines and rocky desert
One is the frizzy-haired and heavy-set
Pallid white woman working the holiday

At the only business open in town
The other three just drifting through
Including a tall Back man in a coat

Who smells a bit of stale cigarette smoke
Plus his partner who is even frizzier
Paler and heavier than the cashier

And a very short white man with a cane
And a long white beard to his chest
And at first no one says anything at all

The out-of-state customers wander
The aisles and nearly intersect
As they collect their odds and ends

Then the partnered pair go to the counter
And chat to the clerk as she rings them up
Until the woman decides to return an item

And the tall man waits for her to do that
And the little man now waits behind him
And the tall man still chats and steps back

Nearly tripping over the little man silent
Behind him I’m sorry! I didn’t see you there
I’m easy to miss says the very little man

You’re just so quiet the tall man protests
Not wanting to seem to be making small
Of the small as the clerk chuckles Yes

You were quiet all around the store
And the tall man to be jovial adds
I bet you weren’t quiet twenty years ago

We all start out rowdier don’t we?
The small man waiting considers this
Seriously as if it were a serious suggestion

And then says I think I was rowdier then
But maybe I was always kind of quiet
By which point the clerk has rung him up

And the extra-frizzy woman ambles back
But as she and her partner turn to leave
The little man asks What part of Scotland

Are you from? so that the extra-frizzy
Woman wheels in delight to say Glasgow!
How did you know? People guess Ireland

All the time or even England which
Is just incredible and the small man grins
Through his beard and says loudly Great!

Rolling the r hard so that the delighted
Woman coos Oh that was very good!
He adds I spent a winter in Glasgow

In The Gorbals back in the early eighties
And gives her a significant look
The Gorbals! Oh that’s rough she exclaims

You know they’ve all gentrified now
Tore all those all old slums down
Oh no! I thought where will the poor go?

Dearie! She calls to her partner who is
Already half out the door This man knew
I was from Scotland straightaway!

He lived in The Gorbals for a year
That was a hard hard part of town!
The tall man turns and smiles I see

And the quiet little man now loquacious
Says One Sunday morning pissing rain
As usual I was just walking down a street

When I hear a building alarm and then
A minute later this pale scrawny fellow
Comes legging by me carrying a huge

Boxy TV set with the cord still dragging
Like a tail and off he goes into the rain
He grins O! the Glaswegian woman says

That was The Gorbals alright but
They’re all changed now all changed
I try to go back but it’s been a few years

The tall man chuckles Did they scare you
Back then? Oh yeh Laughs the small man
Happily I’ve been quiet ever since

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Roof, Roof, Ruff, Roof, Roof, Ruff

One year, a few years ago,
In the holiday season,
The divorced father, loathing

The endless repetition
Of the same six songs
For a sixth of every year,

Made a careful selection
Of medieval Christmas tunes
And Renaissance caroling,

That sort of thing. When time came
To put up the tiny tree
In the rented apartment,

He started up the playlist,
Content to avoid Rudolph,
Mariah, and all the gang

Piped into shopping plazas
Since well before Thanksgiving.
But this distressed his daughter.

That isn’t Christmas music!
You have to put on Christmas
Music for decorating!

Within a few minutes, both
Were barking along madly
To the all-dog Jingle Bells

As the desert sun shone in
Through the wide window, bleaching
The lights on the little tree.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Compose As You Breathe

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.

Name-dropping anecdotes
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,
Quotidian nuisance,

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,

Unnatural units
For language, for stories
Used to leaping about

The dimensions of time,
Choreographing them.
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

Desertion One Act

Are you ready to be a ghost?
The shadow asked you. I’m a ghost
Already, you said from your chair.

Are you ready to be all ghost?
The shadow asked again. Alright,
I think I’m ready now, you said,

And you waited by the window,
But it seemed like nothing happened,
Other than that the daylight dimmed.

While waiting, you noticed the drapes
Were overdue for a cleaning
And the windowpane had a crack.

Outside, a monotonous haze,
Neither solid clouds nor cloudless,
Blurred the dim, stolid atmosphere.

So? You asked the corner shadow.
When does this ghost business begin?
The shadow smiled, as shadows will.

Oh, you’re well in it now, my friend.
That’s a sad-looking parking lot,
You observed, absentmindedly

And apropos of nothing much.
Weeds were poking through the pavement,
And there wasn’t a car in sight.

Even the road looks abandoned,
You added, as you turned your face
To the highway in the distance.

Well, that’s the way it goes, the voice
From the corner shadow murmured.
What do you mean by that? you asked.

You know how, as you grew older
The days seemed to go by faster?
Well, they never stop speeding up.

Wait, time goes faster for a ghost?
Of course, said the corner shadow,
Then vanished as the roof collapsed.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

The Fairytale News

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

Never Your Own

It’s time to go back
And wander the earth
In search of peaceful

Uses for atoms,
Explained the poet
In the lucid dream,

More irrational
And dark for being
Unusually clear.

Her knotted hands plunged
Into some black soil,
Where she seemed to be

Either inhuming
Or extricating
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 Lightweight’s Fantasy

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,
Until disintegration.
Peacefully watch the seasons.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Off You Go

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

Auntie Raconteur

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

Terror Never Works for Long

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

How a Poem Delivers the News

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

The Stations of Kay Theresa

She used to joke she’d become immune
To human-interaction toxin
Through a microdosing regimen—

Tiny conversations with strangers,
More than hello, less than a minute,
That’s the way you do it. Tolerance!

At the last stop on her long road up
To where her thoughts could let their hair down,
She encountered two men with a boat

They were easing into the water,
And another old man watching them
From a ledge above the shore, silent.

The two men with the boat were talking, cheerful,
And had a couple of fishing poles.
Leave them alone, she thought. The third man,

The silent one, seemed more interesting,
But the problem with the taciturn
Is they’re often secretly lonely

And, once invited to talk, can’t stop.
She eyed him, and then she recognized
In his weird, half-inward expression,

A loner beyond the final stage
Of social detoxification.
He was hanging up there at the top

Of the long road climbing the mountain
For the same exact reason she was,
But he was beyond the wish to talk.

He just had to listen a little
To wind-blown scraps of conversation,
And that was enough to steady him.

She turned her face to the open lake,
Then nodded when she turned back to him,
Careful not to call out a greeting.

She was rewarded with a curt nod
And the actual ghost of a grin.
My most successful relationship,

She would relate cheerfully, later,
Undisturbed by murmuring voices,
With my favorite fellow human.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Le texte après la lettre

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

The Fairytale’s Assistant

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

A Sthenic Character

Even chortling with derision,
Her voice chimed as clear as a bell—

The more we get go know ourselves,
The less willing to acknowledge

We become about what we know.
She had in mind the morning’s news

But nothing in particular.
We study and study ourselves,

She said, and all our studies catch
Us lying all over the place,

Worst about who we think we are,
Which convinces us now we know

We are what we don’t think we are,
Which is what we think we are still.

The human mind is strong that way.
Her laugh pealed. Sthenic, as you know.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

The Life of Kuma

The wave was born a cat’s paw
Padding on the still ocean,
Substantial in its instant.

Through capillaries it grew,
Until gravity seized hold,
And it gained a leeward face,

And wind pushed its windward spine,
And the wave began to climb
As matter’s oscillation,

Energy on its way through
Dull, stationary water,
And the wave became a swell,

Traveling further, faster,
Losing so little power
As it raced now, across seas,

The great wave, superimposed
On time’s own wave of the tide,
So it retained its full strength,

Not a thing but an event,
Until it crossed half the world
To crash against the shoreline,

It didn’t care which shoreline,
City or sandbar or rocks,
To smash as a massive swash.

And then it was gone, κῦμᾰ,
Wave translated and transformed,
Power shattered and forgot.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Of Imagination

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

A Shadowy Orality in the Family History

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

The Escaped Animal Narrative

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

The Tale of the Skeleton Key

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

Every Day’s a Kind of Road, but Roads Don’t Come with Doors

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

The Ancestor Narrative

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

Up at Altitude

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

Apologies for the Apologue

So the tortoise and the ant
Got around to conversing
About their fine victories,

Engaging in some modest
Boasting, naturally. The ant
Expressed belief in hard work.

The tortoise expressed a faith
In staying the course. Dogged
As does it, they each agreed,

Although both secretly thought
They had the better idea
On how best to persevere.

As they chatted and enjoyed
The morning sun by the pond,
Grasshoppers stridulated

Their relentless choruses,
Hares mated to make more hares,
Fables spawned more victories.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

The Lot

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

Large Beasts Are Likely

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

No They’re Not

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

A Recognizable Shape

He blinked, slowly. Man, I like
All kinds of shit that’s awful
For me. His face was a cloud,

Random configurations
Of blurred features assuming
A recognizable shape.

He tried to shake the shadows
He saw in front of his eyes.
Still here, though. Then he faded.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Bella’s Post-Apocalyptic Dream

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

Gorgeous Morning

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,
Simultaneous crunching
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,
Half uncomprehendingly,
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

A Patient Biography

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
Intramedullary rodding,

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

To Listen to Birds

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

Cognition and Consciousness

Everyone has some subdivision
Discomfits them in conversation.

Some don’t like breaks along lines of race,
Others squirm when gender enters class.

Some don’t want to speak of the other
Species dividing up the planet.

A few can get uncomfortable
Debating body and soul; many

Would rather not get into questions
Of gods as ghosts or nature-nurture.

Do you know the story of Mary
Versus poor Martha, of how to serve

Attendance on a man who may be
God? Do you know Rose Red and Snow White,

The dragon or the chicken, chicken
Or the egg, the yolk of language pursed

In the white of the void? For today
The awkward subdivision will be

The story of Cognition versus
Consciousness. One day there was no life

On Earth. The next day, what do you know?
From the beginning, the chemicals

Seem to have been possessed of or by
Volition. But when did life first move

By means of a stratagem, a cline,
Some earliest form of cognition?

And is there a straight line from that point
Through fungal, rhizomal, neural nodes

In networks, or did such cognition
Require repeated reinvention?

One day, Cognition went to the well
To draw the pure, clear, sacred water,

But once at the well, Cognition felt
Weak with bitter lonesomeness and wept.

The tears fell into the well, blooming
Across Cognition’s sad reflection,

Becoming Consciousness. And a voice
Called out from the bottom of the well,

As there is no Consciousness without
Both reflection and the calling out

To Cognition, Come to my rescue,
For I am drowning here in the dark.

But Cognition was either fearful
Or not lonely enough anymore.

To this day, if you go to the well,
You will find them, Cognition curled up

By the lip and often staring down
The dark hole from which Consciousness calls.

Monday, November 22, 2021

An Important One

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

The Prophecy

Long ago, once, an elderly widow
Who owned a home in Lansing, Michigan,
Suburban-style house, smack in downtown, died.

Her estate attorney rented part out
To a young couple who lived in the back--
A dark, chilly, two-room with kitchenette.

The attorney didn’t know the couple
Were actually runaway teenagers
Who worked minimum-wage at Burger King,

Owning and affording nothing, who ate
Most of their diet from food scrounged at work.
They were just to keep someone in the house

And pay a little rent, while paperwork
On the estate kept it off the market
A few months. One of the couple, a boy,

Discovered he could break into the front
Parlor of the house through a back-room’s door.
The lawyer kept the front of the house warm,

Mysteriously, with no one in it.
Mornings that winter, on days without shifts,
The boy would slip into the dusty warmth

And direct sunlight of the gold parlor,
With a paper sack of smuggled burgers
From work, and settle on the large sofa

To spend hours with a dog-eared paperback
A customer had left at Burger King,
Frank Herbert’s Dune. In level sun and dust,

In an overheated, overstuffed room
Filled with a dead woman’s dense furnishings,
The boy read, as if hallucinating,

An invented world of invented words.
Shadout Mapes. Kwisatz Haderach. Muad’dib.
All the rest of them, as the dust floated,

And outside was winter, old, grimy snow.
He lived a long time, that boy, there and then,
A long time after, as well. He survived

To view a version in a theater
In an open desert, two thousand miles
And decades removed from that dusty room.

It was the light of the widow’s parlor
That came to haunt him in the theater.
The wondertale prophesies its own past.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Two Fables

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

Who Said What

A gifted storyteller,
Once, in an interview,
Suggested her family,

Which had a remarkably
Complex, unremarkably
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.
Bemusement’s storytelling.

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

Thoughts on Thoughts

In her late short-story collection,
On Thoughts, her unnamed protagonist
And narrator of the title piece

Isn’t contemplating suicide
So much as the thought of suicide,
Amongst all of her thoughts on dying,

On ends, and how to handle them well.
Around the middle of the story,
She does, in fact, attempt suicide,

But she survives, and most of the tale
Is delivered retrospectively,
As she muses on prior musings

And how they have come to feel distant,
Artifacts of someone else’s thought,
A kind of family photo album,

In which one sees the resemblances
Among the faces and to oneself,
But mediated by so much time—

The world they’re from, the world she’s in now.
In the interval, she’s grown attached
To the place she tried to kill herself,

Out in the woods near her house—at first
She feels like she’s checking on a wound
To see how it’s healing. Over years,

Her visits become more gestural,
More like someone absentmindedly
Fingering a half-forgotten scar.

She comes to find the spot comforting,
A place of familiar contentment,
A holy place, a sanctuary.

On one visit, she catches herself
Nodding at favorite trees and rocks
As if they were dear acquaintances.

She wonders why she feels at home here,
Where she’d tried to join the inhuman.
I just wanted to be them, she ends.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Concealed Carry

How this country, to fetishize,
Legalize, and make a cliche
Of a strange phrase of permission.

Laws aside, here in desert towns
Between autumn cliffs and mountains,
It’s an interesting exercise

To walk around and think about
Which ones of the other bodies
Milling around in towns, on roads,

In stores, picking kids up from school,
Are hiding pistols in their clothes.
A month ago, a local man

In a trailer on Goose Mesa
Drove down into Hurricane,
Maybe to shop, run some errands,

And ended up unconcealing,
Brandishing his gun in the street,
Threatening a man and daughter.

This was a tactical error
As well as typical madness
For a land of guns shoved in pants.

The dad called the cops, the cops came
To ask questions, the unconcealed
Carrier lost it completely

And tore down the road at high speed
In his car as the cops gave chase.
Then he went full amok, shooting

Randomly at oncoming cars,
Finally forced out of his car
When spikes on the road pierced his tires.

He was headed home, of all things.
Fleeing the cops, causing havoc,
Why on earth was he headed home?

Don’t you find it somehow touching,
That he was trying to get home?
He almost made it. In Rockville,

He abandoned his car and fled
On foot, as they have to report
In these car chase accounts, on foot,

A kind of choreography,
The national dance, a car chase,
An active shooter, fled on foot.

He ran in and out of houses.
A woman and her child huddled
On the phone with the cops, while he

Prowled their yard, fully unconcealed,,
And, apparently, exchanged fire
With the now small army of law.

He was never going to get home.
After several hours of standoff
A single shot, back of the house,

And then quiet. Body armored
Swat teams, all their guns out, of course,
Encircled the treed yard and found

The gunman in a pool of blood
Having shot himself in the head.
Could have been so much worse, all said.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Her Front-Bumper Saga

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

One Good Meal a Day, Man

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

Fungible Prader-Willi
Syndrome, man, always hungry.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Filthy with Detail

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

Within Glass Mountain

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,
Stop-motion animation,

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


The tall young couple
Strolled up to the door,
But it was locked, but

The bearded old man
On the bench outside
Told them the woman

Just left, so they went
Around the corner
And came back with her.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

The Other Side of the Wall

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

Parable of a Rational Being

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

Good Dialogue Is Two Monologues Clashing

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


after Jackie Wang

Pleasure met Punishment
When they were still children.
Sometimes they felt like kin,

Or at least next of kin.
They followed each other
Everywhere. They finished

Each other’s sentences,
No matter which one did
The crime. Punishment thought

Pleasure didn’t deserve
To be punished. Pleasure
Thought punishment shouldn’t

Act so pleased. They never
Married, but no one lived
Who remembered them when,

So everyone assumed.
Most thought that they deserved
Each other, but who knew

What their relationship
Really was? Not even
Them. Punishment. Pleasure.

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

For Him

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

I Hope to See You Somewhere Down That River

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,
Off-kilter, skew-whiff.
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

The Sign on the Back of the RV Read: Disabled Veteran with PTSD So Play Nice!

Another day, another interview.
He tapped his ashes in a cup
And asked why. You’re no

Journalist, and you’re shit
At ethnography. What’s up?
You want to know what I think

Of politics? I’ll tell you what.
I think it’s all irrelevant except
The occasional kindness

Versus the constant greed.
He winked. You wanted an ism, right?
You wanted a creed. Nah. Not me.

What I see is little people
Using other little people
To screw over other little people.

We’re vicious shit, man. I think
People just aren’t comfortable
With who we really are, you know?

Say it’s some behemoth corporation.
Ooh, blame the big business company.
Blame the capitalist system, right?

Sure, but those are sneaky, greedy, little
People at the top—and down in most
Of the middle rows, too. You know?

He took a long drag and sighed.
Or say it’s the damn elites. Yeah, so?
Say it’s some corrupt king or president.

That, too. And all their suck-ups
And corrupt soft commanders,
Hands in the honey and giving orders.

And then they’re all about patriotism
Or the Revolution. The Motherland,
Whatever shit. But it’s still damn people.

And if the robots come and get us, see,
The computers, right? The machines?
It was people built them, wanted them

Like that. Just like that. People.
People screwing people. Ha. That’s
My politics. What? Oh, kindness. Kindness.

You know, it usually loses, but it’s there.
A little bit. Not when someone powerful
Acts all Robin Hood. When someone

Does something small to ease things,
Let someone go, you know, go be a citizen,
Own something, get a vote. I don’t know.

I don’t believe in any big arc of history
Going any which way. But you can see
Sometimes, when folks aren’t crucified.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Memoirs of the Witches’ Broom

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

Knowing Now

Do a simple thing, she said.
Take a breath. Walk out the door.
Close it or don’t. Nothing will

Ever be the same again.
She laughed and set down her glass.
You get it, right? It’s not big,

Bad events alone that wreck
Your memory, split your life
Into before and after.

Everything you do does that.
She squinted, sighed. Cleared her throat.
OK, some things are bigger,

Hit you harder, way faster,
My ex-husband’s death. She paused.
The hospital. Things like that.

But it’s just you notice them.
Your body makes its mind up
What to grieve. How stunned it is.

She stared out at the sidewalk.
It’s a bad story, you know?
I don’t mean it’s misery.

It’s not all miserable.
That’s not what I mean. Life’s good,
You know. It’s . . . most of the time.

But it’s not a good story.
You can’t go back and reread.
You know you can’t rewrite it.

She laughed again. Shook her head.
But it doesn’t come out right.
It comes out herky-jerky,

All smooth and boring, then, wham!
Even if the whole of it
Looks not so bad in the end.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Euhemerism Erumpent

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

An Ongoing Crime

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

A Likely Story

It’s an interesting argument Askold
Melnyczuk makes on behalf of fiction—

That in its fictive specificity,
Concerned with individual cases,

Fiction understands, for each character,
Any other character subjected

To the same experiences likely
Would react to them rather differently,

And, It’s this recognition that has led
Some fiction writers . . . to doubt the idea

Of causality. This doesn’t ring true,
Unless that some is a fairly small sum.

It seems foolish to posit convictions
Common across the spectrum of fiction.

But it’s interesting. Does fiction do this?
Can fiction shake faith in causality?

If so, fiction’s guilty of a large part
Of the grave sin of which it stands accused,

Of calumny against reality.
But what a gift it would be if it could—

If we told you a story, a fiction,
And you saw nothing causes anything.

Is it possible Melnyczuk’s confused
The sense of inevitability

With causality? Is it not the faith
In cause that causes a writer to think

A different character would behave
Differently—faith in character as cause?

But we long to salvage some part of this—
That a story, an invented sequence

Of events cooked up by a writer’s brain
Could be correlative to causelessness.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

A New Toy for the Novelist

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—
Pragmatic self-elimination

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

Ideal Reader

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
Patiently, attentively,
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

Pleistocene Poetry Scene

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

Whenever the Pressure to Popularize Is Felt, Poets Tend to Be Drawn Toward Narrative

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

Character Driven around the Bend

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,
Human psychologies,
Haunt all ghosts that haunt them.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

A Holy Flame

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

Poetry Based on True Stories

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.

Autobiography’s fine,
If the stories are painful
Enough. Poetry eschews,

Or should, the privileged life
Lived comparatively well.
Memoirs are for the famous,

Adventurers, trailblazers,
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

By Addition

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,

Old-fashioned maternity
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

This Article Is about the Argentine Republic

We know more now, too much more.
In 1976
An eighth-grade thirteen-year old

In suburban New Jersey
Was assigned geography
Homework on Argentina

And did what kids did back then—
Go to the library or
Some encyclopedia,

Nearly out of date, someone
Years gone conned your folks into
Buying on a subscription.

Haul the volume containing
Argentina from the shelf.
Find the entry. Start reading

And copying out by hand
The sorts of information
Your homework has demanded.

You’ll get a couple pages
In your own bad penmanship
And earn another good grade.

You won’t expect to recall
Any of it. You don’t think
Perons will stick in the mind,

That you’ll feel an insider
Thrill when you see the first ads
For the Broadway musical

Evita, that you’ll pick up
Borges because the jacket
Bears the word, Argentina,

That you’ll feel slightly sickened
To find out, years and years late,
How Peronism ended,

How the junta came to power
And the Dirty War began,
That, even after decades,

You’ll perk up when a colleague
Turns out Argentinian,
That you’ll daydream of moving,

Rarely, but now and again,
Down to Argentina, that
You’ll feel some weird ownership

Because you wrote that homework,
Or that you’ll go the whole way
Round the Southern Hemisphere

To see the seasons reversed,
Watch Orion’s handstand, but
Not visit Argentina.

A child young enough to be
That ‘70s child’s grandchild
Checks with Wikipedia.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

To Trap Gumnivorous Saps

Details are dangerous, detail
Words, that is. If you list details
Like gold pocket watch or dead mouse,
Black hummingbird tongue or damp hair,

The point is to entrap someone,
To get the reader’s brain to fall
Into memory’s honeypot,
Amber and sticky, and stay there

While their memories engulf them,
Their own memories your detail
Words have conjured, and they murmur,
Wonderful, it’s as if I’m there.

And while they’re swimming in themselves,
Whatever bodegas or barns
Suggest to them, dark as syrup
In them, you pump them full of air,

The real purpose of your detail
Words, to beguile, when all the while
You have some hollow perspective,
Some void you wish to slip in there,

Aneurysm in the making,
A bubble released in the mind,
Transient ischemic idea.
Immobilize those honey bears.

Convince them there are true stories,
Or that your story speaks a truth
That your detail words can vouch for,
That your stories can prove you care.

Stories are shameless, but they’ll blush
And say they’re ashamed to be true,
Pretending they’re such bad liars,
With their amber, transfixing stares.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Bad Fiction

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.

Friday, October 15, 2021


A few days after she gave birth,
She sat by the window, nursing,
And she saw a sheet of paper
Float down from the sky to the yard.

Later, she carried her infant
Outside, and she picked up the scrap.
It looked like a poem. It had lines,
But didn’t rhyme. It made no sense,

Something about an old father,
A baby napping, a lizard,
And a woman taking a bath.
Since it had an infant in it,

She kept it. A few days later,
This happened again, then again
A few days after that. She kept
Them all, in a drawer, then a box.

She kept them in case she ever
Was telling someone about them
Only to be told she was crazy.
The poems were crazy. She wasn’t.

The world was crazy. She wasn’t.
She kept the poems as evidence.
She began to take note of when
They showed, reliably, three days

And about four, five hours apart,
Advancing completely by turns
Around the clock. Sometimes they fell,
Sometimes they were just there, paper.

Most of them were short. Some were long.
If she was somewhere with people,
She might find one in her pocket.
She decided they had to do

With her baby, somehow, they must
Mean something extraordinary
Was meant to happen through her child,
But her child was ordinary,

And her life was ordinary,
And then at some point she noticed
Without having really noticed
That the magical poems had stopped,

And she forgot about the box,
Until one day she found her child
Hunched over a sheet of paper
Looking puzzled, reading a poem.

Later that night, she looked under
Her darling’s bed and discovered
Another whole box of the things.
There was never anything said,

But she knew the poems had switched now,
And she suspected her child knew
That she knew and might have deduced
Or guessed that she had decided

That nothing need ever be said.
One day, she slid her collection
Under her child’s bed, side by side
With the box already filled there,

And that was it for her. Her child
Suffered considerably more,
Puzzling over drifting pages
And, in adolescence, timing

Their arrivals to the minute—
Three days four hours and twenty eight
Minutes apart. They never failed.
The boxes moved into the shed.

The child grew up, reasonably
Educated, and had lovers
And a few partners, a career.
One or two partners were informed,

But mostly the poems ended up
Filling boxes in storage sheds.
The child had a child, grew older,
Grew middle-aged, grew to be old.

Meanwhile, the poems kept arriving,
Uninvited, unannounced sheets
Filled with lines and lines of writing,
One more, every three days and change.

On a day approaching sixty,
The old child was found dead in bed,
With one last poem tucked in a fist.
Like the rest, it made little sense,

But was read out at the service,
As probably the child’s last thoughts,
Which it wasn’t, which were, Where will
All these damned poems go once I’m dead?