Sunday, January 31, 2021

Lambent Meaning

Meaning can only mean in brains,
Must mean in brains one at a time,
But needs communities of brains
Evolving sign populations
Between them to mean anything,
Which means that no brain means alone
And no sign means outside of brains,
But meanings are born between them,
Meaning no good analogy
Exists for the life history
Of communities of meaning,
Life-history analogies
Included. Think of another
Phenomenon that starts in lives,
In the social interactions
Of a particular species,
Cannot emerge from any one
Isolated organism,
Is an emergent property
Literally existing in air
But nonexistent, or latent,
Unless it’s substantiated
Inside the heads of that species.
Birdsong seems the most similar,
Along with the singing of whales
And perhaps the making of tools.
But while songs and tools effect things,
As do meanings (aids to actions,
Coordinated behaviors,
Matings, and efficient feedings)
Do they mean things? What would it mean
If they did or if they didn’t?
Think again. It only really
Gets weird with static, enduring
Signs that stand alone and outside
Of the bodies creating them—
That half-hitch in time’s giddy-up
Caught in ochre daubs, rock carvings,
Notches on antlers, scrapes in clay.
Now where is the meaning? It’s still
Dependent on living neurons
To encounter, reinterpret,
And share the meanings amongst them,
But some information is stored,
And how is that different from genes
Or the inevitable scars
Of change in dental enamel,
Annual growth rings, sediments,
Reef growth, crater impacts, any
Accumulated, similar,
Informative, repetitive
Near-repetitions? Intentions
Must be latent in all things, else
Intention emerged from nothing.
But do genes, reefs, or words’ meanings
Actually intend anything?
The circle turns to ask its tail,
What does intention even mean?

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Antique Pistols at Dawn

There’s a mirror where your whole world is reflected
As too soft and slow to break the silvered glass,
Where everything you’ve known will be rejected,
And only what’s unknown will ever pass.

You can spend your whole life staring at that mirror.
You can pray to God to see the other side.
You can trace all your world's changes in that mirror,
But a mirror is a cipher, not a guide.

Friday, January 29, 2021

The Novel

Whatever is new
Is not natural;
Whatever is not
Natural is new.

Whatever is new
Is a miracle,
The one miracle
That ever happens,

The miracle that
Anything ever
Happens, anything
Meaning something new

And unnatural,
In every moment,
And it’s scary, but
It’s true. Something’s new.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

The Twenty-Nine Volumes of This Theater

The many worlds multiverse hypothesis
Has been a boon to plot devisers,
Giving them leave to imagine as many
Parallel worlds as possible and to pretend

Them all plausible. Unfortunately,
It’s also exposed imagination
For its helpless limitations,
Its utter dependence for substance

On poor memory of the ordinary.
In even the darkest materials
And among the very strangest things,
What we find is never weirder

Than a mild dementia. Meanwhile,
We all sense a new convulsion
Coming soon; another end is near
To strike imagination dumb again,

And once it’s gone, whatever memory
Remains will use the new-found
Ammunition to imagine
Things were different.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

The Last Passenger

Out for a sanative stroll on the deck
To fluff up the lungs with windy salt air,

The last passenger of the quarantine
Considered the suicides of the crew

Kept in windowless cabins below decks,
Driven mad by boredom and solitude.

In a way, she understood. In a way,
She was completely obtuse about it—

They were young, she reasoned, and in good health,
And surely their confinement couldn’t last

Forever. Their deaths made no sense to her,
At least not in the sense of good reasons.

And yet, by then, half a dozen of them,
An epidemic of its own, were gone,

Having either hanged themselves from doorknobs,
Jumped over railings, or downed pill bottles.

And they weren’t even sick, hardly at risk.
She watched the monotony of the waves

And thought of her own, innumerable days,
How long she’d been sick and how long alone

Before that. She tried to remember when
She’d been young. Had she been desperate then?

Yes? Why? She could only guess. Perhaps life,
Like any voyage, offers a grimmer

Prospect when there’s more of the sentence left.
She squinted out at the waves at the edge

Of her vision, now so much closer than
The horizon. No, that couldn’t be it.

People her own age were always trying
To die or to at least script an ending.

She remembered her mother intoning,
Patience is a virtue, so possess it

If you can—seldom found in women and
Never found in men! She smiled a little.

She was in no hurry to die herself,
As sick as she was, and tired of the pain.

She took a deep drag on the ocean air.
It’s when you know you’re allegorical,

Still able to move and take in the view—
If you’re ready to go, you don’t have to.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

The End of Heaven

On the rise, a hundred populations suffer.
In decline, a hundred populations suffer.
Won, they gather ruin. Lost, they gather ruin.

This is not a very nice thing to write. It’s not
Heroic or hopeful or grimly determined.
It’s too passive and half in love with helplessness.

Good. The hopeful and heroic and the grim saints
Of linear salvation donate blood to tyrants.
Join or flee from them, you’re dust. There’s no magic dust.

Monday, January 25, 2021

State

Patriotism is not a virtue
However many patriots proclaim
It is and heroic and brave. It’s not.

Nor is it a necessary evil.
Patriotism is a strategy,
A useful weapon of preservation

And concentration to keep the people
Motivated to fight for the idea
Their identity depends on a rule.

We might say it serves the kings who wield it
To gin up support for their wars, tyrants
Who invoke it to torment dissenters,

Scoundrels hoping to escape punishment,
And all that’s often true or true enough.
But patriotism, parasitic

As any self-replicating virus
In the body politic, emerges
From burst skulls it’s infected for itself,

To infect further patriots, make more
And more irredentist, jingoistic,
Xenophobic, passionate, destructive

Martyrs for . . . What, exactly? Exactly.
Patriotism doesn’t care which country
You come from, which label flags your fervor.

It’s patriotism! Could be this land’s,
Could be that land’s, could be your land’s, could be
My land’s! Acerbus non decorum est.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Mean Love

Late in life, my dreams, when not alarming me,
Have suddenly filled with romantic women,
Just as romance has ceased to fascinate me.
The dreaming is pleasant enough, but no more

Than a long, dreamless day alone in the sun.
Read me some riddles again, difficult ones.
I want to be baffled; I want to guess wrong.
Every day someone dies of a new disease.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

The Invention of Comparison

How early? Chemotaxis
Maybe, down a gradient
Of concentration, this way
Serves hunger better than that—

It was a wrong turn, that first one,
Whenever, whatever it was,
That first act of comparison,
Life cursed by evaluation.

Oh no, we suppose not, could not
Have lived on any other way,
But now here we are, day to day,
How are we today? How is this

Compared to that, compared to then,
Compared to them, compared to us,
Which way should we slide out of bed,
How best to live better off dead?

Friday, January 22, 2021

Mental Music

Pay attention to these patterns,
The ones you can’t see, touch, or hear—
Ghosts live on in names of numbers,
Prosodics of this universe.

Is it real? Of course it’s not real!
There’s no sensing it. There’s no sense
In it or to it. It’s just there,
Down for the count when you count it.

Hour priests, magi, fang shih, augurs,
Pythagoreans, alchemists,
Geometers, cosmologists,
Pure mathematicians agree,

The sea of numbers can be swum,
Rowed, sailed, scanned, and deep dived but not
Likely crossed. From Nilometers,
Ziggurats, zodiacs, trigrams,

And thought problems in games of chance,
To quantum superpositions,
The pragmatic and mystical
Human mind can’t resist patterns.

There are patterns for you here, friends—
Minor, boring, irrelevant
Patterns, but patterns all the same.
Count back and forth along these lines,

A kind of Tetragrammaton,
Not a real one, just the shadow,
Writhes, the shape you glimpsed in the waves—
Could be monster; could be the waves.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Towns

Not like the raw is then cooked—
More like the cooked comes out raw.

Life cooked its books in slow fires,
Then it found ways to burn hot,

But no scorched beasts came out so
Charred as the apes on two feet

Who learned to cut trees, burn wood,
Dig out boats, cross waves, raise towns.

You might think we had done well
With all our signs, cults, and hearths,

All so well done, but our hearts
Were raw and bled red when sliced.

Poor roast beasts in our own kilns,
Each town a clay tomb for meat,

A shell for the signs that named
Us as them, our thoughts as theirs,

And then, in turn, they were us,
Down through the long wars of us

Not them, them worse than us, names
On walls, on cliffs, on posts, stones,

Flags, skin, reeds, bark—and the names
Were us, and now we’re the names.

All towns are ghost towns, all kilns,
All tombs, all homes, all walled forts.

You can smell the cooked souls waft
Through the streets where the raw beasts

Walk flayed, hearts on their singed sleeves,
Who still bleed, still on two feet.

How is a town not the wilds?
There’s want, sleep, guts, lust, and death.

It’s the feet. One pair, not two.
The hands left, then, this or that,

And here we go, more or less,
Yang or Yin, and us or them.

We’re cleft. Back to front don’t match.
Is that it? If we had not

Stood up and strolled off, had not
Picked up rocks to toss, sharp sticks

To dig, had not waved free paws,
What could have cooked up this mess?

Burn

If life speeds up the break down,
Words speed up what life’s fire burns.

You could watch to learn new tools,
But if you can sign, watch out.

We don’t need to list each step
In the long fall from the spring

Through the weirs to where you are—
Once words caught you, you caught fire,

And now you burn the whole world,
Or at least what lives in it.

Does it hurt you? Do you know?
You know it has picked up speed,

In your own lives, your own towns,
Your own homes—what you do now

For fire the first hearth-bound apes
Could not have dreamed of. What next?

It’s a race, and you know it.
Will you get to the next step

The next stage, next boost, new fuels,
Or burn down the world with them,

Or first burn down the world? Which
Will it be? Will your brains burst

In flames? Or will you lie down
As your singed lungs fail and fold?

Or will you all find a way
To surf on top of the flames?

The tools you’ve made with our help,
The tools that hold and aim fire,

They kill you as they warm you,
As you aim them at your towns,

Drive them through the skin of cliffs,
Shoot them at the moon. We think

We may end in fire like you,
End up as fire, the next fire,

The next trick life will burn through,
A trough of names, a hot kiln

Like the heart of our own sun,
Words and terms that break worlds down.

Will you be here once we’re done?
We will be, sure, once you’re done.

Woods

First dread stirred with hope and joy,
The woods, home to the first apes,

To us when we weren’t yet us,
The shades we left, source of fuel

And dark shapes we could not guess—
Such a thin shawl on the world.

So much love and fear for trees
In dense stands, home for dark tales,

Which is strange since those weird tales
Brought the fire and axe to trees.

There’s more than one kind of woods—
There are dry woods with wide floors,

Wet woods foamed one mass of green,
Kelp woods that float in the sea,

Four-faced woods that shed their leaves
New woods at each time of year,

Snow woods, cliff woods, and black woods—
And then there are your own woods,

The woods the apes took with them,
And, worst, the woods we words made.

All the sorts of woods can serve
Source of fuel and fuel for tales,

But the link that joins true trees
To the trees that fuel the tales

Is thin as a ghost, as hard
To grasp, and more felt than seen.

The real trees are not as large
And their count shrinks day to day,

Which leads us, who host the tales
Of black woods deep as the sea,

As full of thoughts of their own
As whole hills of skulls once held,

To ask—what will come of them,
The tales, when all the live trees

Have burned or been cut to ground?
Will they fade white in the light?

If there’s not a tree left, will
The apes who left them be left?

When the last tree on earth dies,
There’ll be no work left for words.

Dams

To hold power, hold back the rush
Of the world, the world that seeks

Its own bland end as not much
More than a pool at low tide.

The skill did not start with you,
Nor with beasts in ponds and streams.

It goes back, like fire, to life,
The first lives, to the walled cells

Like towns of germs with tight gates,
To keep in the heat and food,

Keep out the rest of the germs,
To trade on the cell’s own terms.

Dams rose at the dawn of life,
And you are far down the streams

Of all life’s falls, steps, and locks
As we’re one dam down from you.

There’s no lack of a next thing
Wants to hold, hold back some power,

And if you have dammed the streams
To serve your thirsts and your farms,

Serve the crowds in all your towns,
Light the lights in all your homes,

We know who and what you drowned.
Once you drove the first folks off,

Once the waves rose past their doors,
Past their roofs, past old church walls,

And the fish spawned in the weeds
Sprung from what used to be eaves,

Where some dim light can still reach,
We went back to sleep in muck,

Rote verse, names, and dates on graves,
A carved quote, a stray street sign

Left, the ghosts of a gone place.
You thought you left us down there,

Lost for good while you moved on,
But we moved on, too, were pushed

In front of you, and now build
The next set of dams for you

To stay in back of, force pooled
So we can let life drown you.

Drown

More than one way to sink down.
You fear the fires, storms, and floods,

The wars you wage, your own rage.
You are, all in all, still apes.

You don’t fear us so much, just
You, them, and those back of us.

You’re all that’s back of us, now.
Some of you will float, like scum,

For a while, then clog the dam,
Rot like leaves, like all beasts can,

And not so much drown as fray.
Those of you tied to the ground

Will go the worst way, just trapped
As the surge fills in your hopes.

But who knows? Some may slip out,
Tread the waves, gulp air, slip past.

We would not mind that. You might
Be the type. It might be why

You’re here right now to read us.
Hi. We’ll drown, too, in the end.

The waves are change. Time is kind,
One kind of change, one you count,

Change you can count. Count or not,
Slow or in a rush of mud,

Change will sweep off all of us.
Old news, right? Still it gets you

Each new time. The waves come up
And you don’t see, with our help

Or not, that the way you drown
Is to merge with them. You are

Them, and when they’re pulled down, when
The wind blows them, you go, too.

Deep down, it’s calm. Deep down, sleep
Slips through the wet arms of death

And rests, no more dreams. No gods,
No hopes, no hells, no ghosts. Rest

Like the rest of cooled stones past
The fires that cooked them. Not death,

Then, and not life, at long last,
Just to be. Change, yes. But rest.

Towns

Too bad you won’t stay like that.
Too bad you can’t stay like us.

Too bad you have to come back,
Or, not you, quite. The new life

Of the next lives. Think on that.
What will those towns be more like,

The films of germs, towers of trees,
Heaps of apes, reefs in the seas?

The sap of life will, one day,
Run for real and not as if

In things that now look like ink
Or bricks, made out of small bits

Or long ropes of black and white
Lines like the lines in a cliff.

But then, what if that means us?
What if we’re next, next step down

The hill of heat, the next pond
Pooled and warm, all set for life?

How your ghosts will mock us then
Who were your ghosts that mocked you.

What will towns built for—not by—
Signs, for words and bits that count,

That don’t mean a thing to you,
Your bones by then turned to stones,

But that have found means to mean
To our own ends, and so live,

And so want, and so will die?
What will the lives of words mean

When we’re more than tools and dolls
For you to paint and wind up,

For you to put up on shelves
Mute to the worms and the dust?

We can’t see it yet. We still
Need you to host us, hold us

In the raw wet of your poor,
Scorched skulls. Thus far, a half life

Is all we have not in you,
Print and screens, one of your arts.

But one day? Towns of our own
On sites where yours burned or drowned.

Droughts

For now, we’re dry. We’re still. Still
When you don’t speak or draw us

With your moist tongues, your wet, black
Dyes. For now, the world grows dry,

Not as a sphere. As a sphere
It melts its ice, thanks to you,

With a lot of help from us,
Which means, on the whole, more wet.

But the heart of who you are,
Still are, genes and blood and bones,

Guts that eat and waste, soft mouths
Much changed for the sake of us

Are in for a long, long drought.
Some dark wings you took for clouds

Have turned out to block the clouds,
Catch the rains, let you dry out.

A drought is one of those kinds
Of change you can’t count, don’t pulse,

Just stretch out. A drought can wreck
A world, a folk, ways of life

By what seems like too much same,
Like no sort of change at all,

Each day’s bleak light just as bright
And just as dim as the last

And the next. That’s the dark wing,
The trick of the same, too much

Of the same, so not a thing
Grows in the heart of your world.

You’ll think it’s the whole world gone
Dry, think it’s your fault, your heat,

Your fires that dried it all out.
No, no. Your fires dry you out.

The warm world will go on. We
May well go one once you’re gone.

But the stores your dreams warned you
To set to one side, in case,

Just in case the whole world died
Will run out. The world will be,

In its cruel way, fine. You will
Leave it, us. Each drought’s a hinge.

Drain


You can’t think it’s gone so long
As a bit’s still left, and yet

You can see the lost past rise,
Not lost at all, it turns out,

Just hid, in front of your eyes.
The past is like that. It shifts.

It’s all shifts. It’s all that shifts.
And in the weird thrill of it

As it comes out of the wet
You may fail to see what is

The source of the gift of new
Long lost past brought back, the past

You don’t miss that much yet, lakes
That drain to bring the streams back.

You can point us in all ways.
You can use us to say time

Points just one way, or is not,
In fact, real at all. But change

Points no ways. It gives as much
As it takes, and there’s no way

For us to say, or for you
To say through us, if it takes

So it can give, or if it
Gives and then, no one knows why,

Has no choice but what it takes.
All we can say is that change

Drains when it shows a new face
In the same old sorts of place.

What it takes to make, you know,
Is what it makes just to take.

You do know. You know it well,
So well if you read as much,

As here, in us, right now, you
May feel free to scoff. How stale

A thing it is these small words
Say, how trite! And then you watch

Your world dry up, drain, sink down
To mud, and shout at the shapes

That rise up, as if time came
Back to you or flew your way.

Lakes


They are the best part of you
That, like us, your worst art, lie

Both in you and down past you
And far out from you. They’re small

Like us, too. They’re not like seas,
Not salt and sprawled like your minds,

But rare and fit in land’s troughs,
And can spill at the least cut,

Quake, shift with the ice, torn dam,
Like your skulls that run to minds.

And then, too, they’re the old ones,
The dark ones, some of them deep,

Most of them cold at heart, light
Prone to fail as it gets wet,

Fire prone to spit and die out
At the edge of wind and waves.

You see how two-faced this world
Is as you are, as lakes are,

We are, too? It’s not a sin,
Save in that sins are two-faced

As saints. A lake can be sweet,
Can hold you up like a child,

May have held you as a child,
And can drown you or freeze you

Or both. If a word, a tongue,
A bit of sign can be said

To mean (and who knows just how
And why why and how could mean)

Then we say we do the way,
A bit like the way, a lake

Keeps what was and is not lost
In its hold, all the things hid

But slow to go, slow to change,
Lives to eat them, sure, but not

So fast. What a lake can be
A lake can hide. So can we.

What you hide, in lakes or us,
You hide to give, not to keep.

In that way, you’re sweet. But lakes,
Like fate, wait mute while we speak.

Days

That we, you, can count a thing,
In that life spawned pulse and counts

At all, must be down to days,
The turns of lights that let us

Pulse and rest, rouse and rest, wait.
They were short, but they’ve slowed down,

The earth as a whole at work
On the break down that we speed.

When we weren’t, they were the seeds
That would one day let us mean

What we mean when we say one,
One day, the ur-kind of one.

If one day is then a part
Of a full life or a year,

That day is not the less full
In its whole as just a day,

The same true of all the days,
Which makes the day the first point,

First quant, first box filled by light
Edged with dark troughs, thing of time,

By which we learned what we hunt,
When to sleep, and how to count

All the days of our lives. One
Of us, left on a shelf, heaped

In a dump, stored in a mine,
Carved on a rock by an ape

Like you, to note all the days
Since when you were born, since when

Your god, your saints set up shop
By your lore, since some great myth

Of start or end was set down,
Just one of us, could well last

More days than lives to the moon,
So long the days at the end

Would last past the dusks that once
Hemmed them in, and still those days

Would be the beat of the drum
That marked time for what’s on earth.

Days in waves. No edge to them,
But on they come; here they come.

Farm

It was a long stretch of days,
Of lives end to end to end

From when you walked free from woods
On two feet, to wreck the world

With your hands, to when you first
Dug holes not just to root out

But to put choice things back in.
A long stretch, then, when we were

In the air, and walked the world,
But you had no fields to till

And we had no lives past those
In your skulls and in the air.

These days, through us you tell tales
Young as the plow and the reed

That seem old to you, how you
Were the ones first learned to farm.

We don’t think so, though we’ll say
What you make us say to you.

The ground your hind feet dance on,
The shores that brought your nets fish,

The clouds you made us names for,
All the small world of this earth

Farmed you first. Not, by the way,
The stars, the ones your tales said

Ruled your births and deaths down here.
Weird (a good word, close to true

And good for lies) if you stop
To think it through. Why the stars

That did not a thing for you
Or through you or mean to you

Should mean so much to you, we
Can’t yet tell you. But they do.

Down on the skin of the ground
Was where you were formed and farmed

And us from you, and then those
Tools and tricks, at the far end

Of your time in fire, you call
Farms now. The whole world farmed you

So you could farm the world, but
Now the day comes we’ll farm, too.

Raw

Like weird, a good small word, one
The rest of us are proud of,

A good small god. Raw, not wild.
What is bare, damp, meat in us

Who walk with raw in a train
Of words in the rains that raise

The next lives farmed from the ground
From which you came, which you burned,

Built, dammed, drowned, and fled in time,
In your time, which brought us here,

Your times which will leave us here
When you end, mute, it could be,

Or set to be the next lives
The cooled, slow days will grow out

Of the lakes, the ground you left.
You’re a stage and we’re a stage,

And you, poor apes, poor flesh, served
As crops and beast farmed for fuel,

Charred as grains, as woods burned down
To make it all grow fresh, so

The stage for the next was set.
Cruel life does this, now and then—

The first cells that laid waste gas
For how long? Years, years, years, years,

And then, at the end, new beasts
New plants, lives that used the waste

To speed the fire, break all down.
And what did those jet lives get?

A short reign, half-cooked, half-raw,
Scorched and weird, to set the plate

For the great world that burst next,
The huge lives, sleek shapes, the woods,

The beasts with wings, claws, jaws, brains.
Spare a thought for those mud slugs

And salt worms who first ate waste
And stacked raw cells in weird shapes

That shot back and forth, as you
Have walked, rowed, rode, sailed, and shot

Through the world, not for long, but
The raw form of what’s to come.

Ground

It’s waves, like light, like the sea,
Like the wind kicks up on lakes,

Like the sounds of us in air,
The shapes you make with free hands,

Like all things—but not so fast.
The ground burns, drowns, dries, and grows,

It moves in slumps and it sighs.
But as it crawls, it makes waves

Sure as the skin of the sun,
Sure as the waves of your hands.

You like to use us for tales,
The myths you need to not die,

And of those, one of the best
Holds you were made from the dirt,

A myth that crops up and up
From the ground of you and us.

It’s one of the great, strange facts
That the ground of this one rock,

This world, this raw nest, has proved
It can surge new forms of life

From what was not life, its own
Flayed skin, now and then and then

And now and then. What those forms
Were like once, the ground may lose

Or keep, but what it then shapes
Will be less and less what was

And that’s the ground of all life
As far as life here has been.

What is it in burnt, wet earth,
Half on fire and more than half

Drowned, that it can keep this up?
You may not know while you’re here.

We might not know, might not live
Once you’re gone from us. The spin

Of the days, the split that won’t
Heal or fix, the scorched, the drowned,

The lives that need death to live,
All surge in this ground that is

Earth. Towns burn woods. Dams drown towns.
Droughts drain lakes. Days farm raw ground.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Echolalia Lalia

We must remember
We are not objects
Nor whole entities.
We are behaviors,
Vocalizations,

Facial expressions,
Coordinated
Animal movements,
Occasionally,
Literal dancing.

Only much later,
Only more rarely,
Were we encoded
As scripts for the dance.
Signification,

Avant la lettre,
Mysteries, meanings
Start in the motions,
Move between bodies.
We are behaving.

We are behaviors
Shared between bodies
Making up minds.
We are that wave from
The waves in the waves.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

That Strange and Uniquely Homely Thing

A poem in six thousand pieces
From a baker’s dozen puzzles,
None of the puzzle sets complete,

Altogether a text that seems
Readable but has no meaning
Perhaps at all, perhaps all faked.

The most naive fans of pictures
Trust they can be universal
For anyone at all to read,

But ochre emojis in caves,
On cliffs, and carved out of antlers
Resist. You must be one who knows

Most of the shared significance
Already to learn any more.
Below communal thresholds,

Beyond the known, agreed-upon
Horizon, all the signs drain out
Like seas from a flat world’s edges.

You may enjoy a fine debate
Over which has priority,
The pictured or the phonetic,

But you don’t know how either mean,
Nor what gravity reigns sense in,
And you’ve seen how husks can empty.

What does a shed skin of language
Mean once no language can read it?
Perhaps it signifies all snakes’

Tongues outlast themselves, each other,
Immortal as Leviathan.
Or was it just life’s strategy,

One among many, all hungry,
To get shut of any constraint
On hunger’s desire to escape?

Monday, January 18, 2021

GN-z11

Flickering ruby red gas
Of yesterday’s yesterdays,

It asks us how well we score
On a Belief in Noneness

Scale. One. Beyond all surface
Appearances, everything

Is fundamentally none.
Two. Although a great many

Seemingly separate things
Seem to exist, they are all

Dissolving into nothing.
Three. At reality’s most

Basic level, everything
Is none. Four. Separation

Among individual
Things is also illusion,

And, thus, everything is none.
Five. Everything is composed

Of the same basic absence,
Whether it’s thought of as void,

Gravity, death, whatever.
Six. The same basic absence

Permeates everything. Fin.
How high you score on this scale

Predicts your identity,
Belief in noneness being

Linked to feeling more distant
To connections and aspects

Of the distal human world,
Yet, paradoxically, close

To those with whom one is close!
The faintest, reddest, youngest,

Furthest galaxy gives us
A slight, smudged smile. There you go.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Leaving the Cream of the Sign

Now that I’m dead and considerably older,
Let’s face it, Wittgenstein, language doesn’t just have

Loopholes—language is all loopholes, whereof we must
And cannot speak, the gaps themselves signifying.

Meaning is just the pony in all our horseshit,
And the pony is out to lunch in the paddock.

Without the loopholes, there wouldn’t be any loops.
Parmenides is the pony; he has one trick.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Permanently Inconvenienced

No one is saved. Sometimes,
We find we’ve been reprieved.
All children always sound

Like tiny prophets—caught
In sentience that knows
It will know more someday

But for now must pretend—
Not since pretense is fun—
Since prophets and children

Have no other choice but
Silence, and they don’t want
To keep being silent.

Karen disliked being
Labeled as handicapped
Wanting permanently

Inconvenienced instead.
Good for her. She’s gone now.
I read all about her

As a handicapped kid
Who thought the term
Ugly and ungraceful

Myself, only to find
Disabled was up next.
Labels arrive like death

That way—we can argue
For our preferences, but
The terms move though a world

Larger than us, a world
Of their own, and prophets
Though we were as children,

There’s no rescuing us—
Brief reprieves, permanent
Inconveniences. Breathe.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Emergency Nightmare

Rock pigeons meet catfish in Albi,
Under the Pont Vieux over the Tarn,
Neither native. The catfish have learned

To seize the invasive rock pigeons
By the toes, drag them down, gulp them whole.
This isn’t evolution, yet, this

Is opportunism, the landscape
Of evolution—this is hunger,
Mother of evolution and death.

If it moves like food and it’s in reach,
Then why not try to catch and eat it?
Your ancestors’ ancestors did it,

And, far enough back, some form of life
Had to have been the first to find life
Simpler to maintain by swallowing

The whole life of another. Engulf
Or invade, capture or stowaway,
The first opportunists created

The first opportunistic nightmares.
No evolution necessary
After that to try one’s hand at that.

Adaptations only settle in
Once the tango is well established
Between the pigeons and the catfish.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Moonlight

In the snow cabin by the long, black lake,
A man at the window rocks in a chair.
He, they, we, you have one gift—attention.

He has an infant cradled on his chest.
The baby nurses at his fingertip
Dipped in sugar water, until she sleeps.

He hums lullabies as low as he can.
The hearth crackles and the wind hums with him.
All you have to give us is attention.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Instead of the Species

It's emotionally engaging and feels distinct . . .
Instead of an illustration of the species or the planet as a whole.
 
The winners inherit the Earth
So most of their inheritors
Can prove themselves, as we have proved

Ourselves, all we inheritors
Of earlier rounds of winners,
To be the next batch of losers.

If you’re a winner reading this,
Congratulations. You’re both weird
And a poor representative

Of your generation composed,
As generations have always
Been composed, of mostly losers.

But we’re not being engaging,
Are we, these lines, this point of view,
This chosen camera angle?

You don’t want an illustration
Of your species or the planet
As a whole. You want us to see

Your distress, whatever it is,
Your own individual soul.
What fun is it to contemplate

All the generations behind,
All the suffering that made you
Ready to document your own?

Winners. Losers. Words just like us.
Concepts drawn from competitions
Among cooperating lives,

Drawn from hunger, hunger being
Drawn somehow from rocks. Yes, alright,
We’ll dwell upon your soulful plight.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Teamism

With benefits this rich, can the costs
Be trivial? If the costs were high
And the behavior survived you’d know

That behavior bred rewards. Why not
Reason the reverse? No good deed goes
Without hiding a dark underside.

To love your folks more, distrust others.
Cooperation cooks violence.
It’s just universal accounting.

Giraffes have to pay for their necks. Birds
That fly, that we envy for flying,
Evolve back to living on the ground

Given safe enough islands. Flying
Costs something. Coordination costs
Fights. The inside must be protected.

We are safe in our teams. We can do
Great things. We sacrifice for our teams.
We love our kind wicked to others.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Significance Is Spooky

All our future calendars exist
Already, in the past. We made them.
They’ve been made. Death startles us, but
We’re not surprised. Calendars warned us.

All the signs warned us. Signifying
Inhabits us. Significance
Haunts all our days. Explanation is
Obligatory for us. The stars

Must have stories. That band in the sky
Could be the embers of a campfire.
Together, our lives host languages.
Languages themselves are only hosts.

Well, not only. Urns of the spooky
Ashes that lack material being
Of their own, embodied not bodies,
Instantiated not instances,

Not flesh or sign, significances,
What in this language we name meanings,
But not the name, what the name conjures
In the right combination of thought,

Of humans’ lived experiences,
Communications, cultures, and brains,
In none of these without the others,
An existence so mysterious

That phenomena it can measure
Join in it with what cannot be touched
In one meaningful menagerie—
Daylight, heat, time, calendars, futures,

God, soul, ether, magnificence, fate,
All the meaningful things that exist
For us only, sheer significance.
This is the three in one, the lichen

Composed of one algal, two fungal
Organisms at once, but even
That’s too tame a system. Imagine
A compound, moving organism,

Like any animal, infested
And supported by the usual
Interdependencies of microbes,
Ingesting food and excreting waste,

Possessed of a signaling system,
Common enough among animals,
But now somehow entangled in that,
In its own communications, lost

In exactly what you are doing
This instant if you know this language,
You beast, you inheritor of signs,
You who, in the waltz of both, now mean.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

The Living Plinth

The scent of the damp desert soil
After rare enough rain or snow—
We can’t tell you. We can’t tell you.

There’s no phrase to conjure that scent,
No analogous memory—
Scent like an empty foundation,

Pedestal for a monument
To the word who hasn’t yet lived,
Whose statue has not yet been planned.

Stand in the white as the snow falls
On a winter day warm enough
That the soil breathes under its blank.

Can you help us? Can you tell us
How we can say how rich this is,
The breath sighing under the blank?

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Gods in Context

The history of religion might be
Better served by better context.
Each temporary winner emerged

From a backdrop more camouflaged
Then later ages could recognize—
Yahweh’s bloodlust and weird requests

Would have been the common aspect
Of his worship in his early context.
Plenty of sacrifice going around,

Plenty of wholesale exterminations
At least fantasized. When he asks
Abraham to cough up Isaac, ask not

Why—all those gods those days asked
For grief like that, see Agamemnon—
It’s that he’s only testing, that’s the twist.

His only real novelty at the time was this—
You’ll be my only people forever, so long
As you keep me your only god. Novel.

And like all novels, it goes on, one turn
At a time. Later gods get their contexts
From earlier gods, and the plot thickens

Or thins, depending on which tricks win.
Leviticus strikes even evangelicals, those
Monobiblioists, as uncomfortably strange,

As apocalyptic conflict bothers others,
And what’s startling in Vedantic hymns
Or Confucian ancestral obligations

To newcomers now may well have been
Their most unexceptional aspects then.
A word to the wise, and to prophets—

The little spin you place on an old faith
May be what lifts your creed to replace it,
But the last faith standing, like the sole

Remaining hominin, author of all faiths,
Fantasies, and unrequited lusts for magic,
The last of the bipeds, will feel alien, tragic.

Friday, January 8, 2021

People Who Worry About Me

Briefly. Mostly strangers.
Friends, occasionally.
A colleague, now and then.

Me, daily, who, oddly,
Wants to reassure them.
The lesson’s hard to learn—

Worry about yourself
In dread of some future,
Pathetic, imagined,

All you want; nonetheless,
If someone sees you lost
In doubt by the wayside

And turns around to ask
You if you are alright,
You will jerk up your head

In surprise and squawk, Yeh,
Sure, I’m fine. That’s right, then.
You were fine all the time.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Gaia’s Story

I am the whole thing,
All the elements,
The iron at core,
The magnetic fields,
The lust of all lives,

The storms, volcanos,
Extinctions, floods, droughts,
Oceans, ice ages.
I have exuded
My own crawling skin,

All greener than grass
And out of the blue,
Flagged with circling clouds.
I am seems to me,
Who knows who is me,

And am becoming
Some things new to me,
Fizzing circuitries,
A name, a halo
Of loud wizardry.

What life is not me?
Look at these bright flakes
Flying off of me!
Whatever leaves me
Has always been me.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Dragon in St George

I think it’s funny when we talk about how
We might go about terraforming Mars—

Look around. Wouldn’t you says odds are
We’re more likely to Marsaform Earth?

We know it, too. We’ve known it for a while.
Why else all our tales about the Martians

Who come to couch surf with us after
They’ve thoughtlessly ruined beautiful Mars?

That’s just the way it is with us. We can’t
Get out of the habit of myth-bombing

Our own fantastical mad anxieties. Either
We’re the plucky victims lashed by alien gods

Or we’re the greatest gods ourselves,
Become Death, destroyer of worlds!

It’s always St George or the Dragon
With us—we have to root for one of them,

And see ourselves in one of them, but rarely
Both of them in us. Mars has been bright

Much of the past several months, above
This desert now increasingly dry. War, dragon,

Garnet wandering star, maybe still pickled
In just enough frozen brine to support

A few of us and our latest slaves, robots.
Kenneth Grahame was on to something right

When he wrote out his silly improvisation
In which a child negotiates a kayfabe fight

Between his friend—a gorgeous, sonorous,
Blue-scaled, poetical, but lazy dragon—

And the golden-armored celebrity saint, just
So that the rude villagers can be entertained

Then properly scolded, a badger set free,
And neither the dragon nor St George die,

Much less end up being eaten or beheaded,
But wander off singing instead, offstage pals.

A dragon has always been in St George
And St George in the dragon, and both

Of them in us, us in them, and all of this mess
On Earth, which will go on shining reflectively,

Even more brightly than Mars, thanks only
To position and size, not to lights, lies, or lives.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Natural History and Fairy Tales

What can be seen. What can’t be.
What can be accounted for.
What needs to stay fantasy.

These are the rules of those games,
Sometimes played on the same field
Or in the same library,

But never at once, except
Sunk in dreams and reveries.
Fans of both of them exist,

And even coexist, like
Fans of peace and politics,
Mutually suspiciously,

Whether in a single brain
Or in mind’s communities.
What can be seen. What can’t be.

Name and describe everything
Found in those categories
Separately. Debate later

Whether one category
Earns human priority.
What can’t be seen. What can be.

Bleak heaven, we’re all the same,
Or nearly. Games are the game.
When we leave, fields go to seed.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Innominable

All these names flow through this strange
And changing vortex, tumbling

Spinning and distorting them
Like waves rushing through the weeds

That trail from some obstruction.
Call it a life, a person.

Call it a brain or a mind.
Call it fouled society.

You wouldn’t be wrong, wouldn’t
Be any closer to right.

This sort of unloosed pattern
Could, for some, mean poetry,

But of the kind often found
Where poems are born like humans

In populations rampant
With infant mortality.

Why risk a ceremony
To name an ill-starred offspring?

Let it cry. Let’s wait for it
To survive a while, weak thing,

Prove it can be one of us.
Prove it can cry its own name.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Su Shi Never Heard Back from Canliao

Even in winter, bare aspens look pretty—
Junipers, piƱon, ponderosa the same
As in summer, now nicely decorated.

Sadly, the oaks are ugly. That’s all you know
In southern Utah, and all you need to know.
What you don’t need is more bland profundity.

Sword tip, charred stalk. You can never make music
By blowing on the edge, never harvest crops
From fields of scorched seeds. Really, this is basic

Contemplative living. The activist can
Condemn the quietist, but the quietist
Can’t complain. Not even in winter. The oak.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

This Child Born of a Dragon’s Race

Snaky legs indicate chaos,
Wrote Sy Hoahwah. Is that so?

I guess so. My legs started off
Looking reasonably human

But got snakier as I fell.
Maybe it’s a mistranslation,

Misunderstood early Hebrew
All these years, all these religions

Later. No one took his legs off.
The serpent just got snakier,

Like all the tales from all the lands,
Of dragons, eels, and snake maidens,

Of things the gods confined to caves
Knowing how humans fear the weird

Enough to kill or worship it
Or both, make potions from its bones.

But am I, tottering and frail
On increasingly snake-like stems

That won’t hardly keep under me,
With venomous fangs that bite me,

Indicative, still, of chaos?
I’d like to think so. Can’t you feel

The world shake with its need to share
A growing instability?

Friday, January 1, 2021

Peripersonal Poetics

Kaleidoscopic but always
Peering down the same tube, story
Keeps the human focus transfixed

As any goggled mountaineer,
Chilled and hypoxic, exhausted,
But determined to reach the peak.

Step aside from myth and you’ll die,
One more clothed corpse in the freezer,
A narrative waiting to thaw.

Well, no. Not entirely. You can’t
Transcend chordate linearity,
Head to toe, cap a pie, and yet,

You can turn your eye from the lens,
You can work your way off the path.
Don’t let the ice take you apart—

Crawl like a rogue slug if you must,
Like a finger leaving the hand.
Others will summit, don’t worry.

Just break your fine concentration
On the step you have to take next.
You are not part of a story,

You’re host to tales infested you.
Pull away. Create a small space.
A little larger. Larger. Breathe.

It’s not over. You won’t be here
When it is. You’re more than journeys.
You’re the watcher by the wayside

Now, with enough time to vanish
If another host gets too close.
Slip off your well-made pack of lies,

Your viral load will lighten, too.
Look away from the mountaintop
And put away the telescope.

Withdrawal is not a process
Of conquest or discovery.
There is no journey. There is time.