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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thursday, January 21, 2021