Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Rather An Undeserving Person

Than a cruel one, rather cruel
Than homicidally cruel,
And now we’ve wandered rather

Far from the simple idea
That there are worse things to loathe
In a person than being

Rather undeserving. There.
Now. Having settled that much,
Here is a small reservoir

Of kindness and of water
Gathered from last winter’s snows.
The reservoir’s getting low,

But there’s still enough to boat
In something that needs paddles
Or oars, to float dead center

Of the mirror, into which
A body in winter might
Crawl intending suicide,

Which now seems rather pleasant,
The good life, undeserving
Of itself—small, calm, blue, good.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Your Own Unique Brand of Insanity

If you do erase the absence
That defines you, you erase you.

Take imagery and wring its neck.
Avoid dramatis personae.

Above all, keep a watchful eye
On the shadows of narrative

Slipping in and out of the trees.
Everyone knows what stories do,

But nobody knows why stories.
Possibly because they’re compact

And they keep all their pieces linked,
Which helps keeps memory stable,

Allows language to encode more
Data than it otherwise could.

Sounds plausible, but plausible
Will always teeter on the brink

Where explanations plunge to tales.
Recognizing that brink, the fall,

Takes all your energy, tempts you
To paint images of abyss.

Just remember Hell is vacant,
Heaven, too. Absence becomes you.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Start with a Whole Life, Remove that Double You

In fiction, you can get yourself out of there
And still involve human character. It’s tough

To do that when writing straight from memories.
What memories do you have of anyone

That don’t involve embodied you stuck in there,
Right in the middle of your life, as you were?

What if you don’t want to write about yourself?
Any decentering is subtle deceit—

You could try third-person, like Henry Adams,
Or you could rewrite memory with a shift

In perspective, throw your voice, ventriloquist,
Gertrude Stein writing as Alice B. Toklas.

You could try any number of devices,
But if you’re writing down peopled memories

It’s got to be fiction or you’re stuck with you.
In poems, you cut a hole there thoughts can slip through.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Memories of Other Folks

No one forgets you
Having once seen you.
At worst they mix up
Those first and last names.

You forget their names,
Often their faces.
Memories are vast,
But some of them strain.

Who haven’t you known
Briefly, then forgot
As soon as they left,
Or you left them?

Bodies, names, and lives
Larger, completer
Than what’s glimpsed float by
Under brilliant skies.

~ Paddle and Steer

He had a turntable. He loved
To DJ. He wasn’t quite cool.
He said he wasn’t Black enough.

His family was Puerto Rican.
They owned a funeral parlor,
Bottom floor of a skyscraper,

And lived in a slim apartment
Near the middle of the building.
They weren’t poor. They were middle class,

The late 20th-century
Way—plenty of food, lots of work,
Multiple television sets,

Maybe a mortgage, likely debts.
He brought a white boy home from camp
Where both had worked as counselors,

Just for fun, to meet his parents,
To listen to him practice scratch.
It was the year Rapper’s Delight

Sent a tremor through the pop charts
Foretelling what was soon to come.
He taught the white boy all the words.

The white boy never forgot them
Or the visit to the parlor
To learn how a funeral worked—

Thus the rebirths of pop, the deaths
Of so many lives in sequence,
The way some platters could be made

To spin as easily backwards
As forwards, the notion that rhymes
Were not necessarily trite,

Or mawkish, or old-fashioned, but
Could be spit out in defiance
Or ballooning hyperbole—

All that got tangled in the mind
Of that one summer friend from camp
Where they’d both taught kids to canoe.

~ Fifth Wheel

Here we are, forty
Or so years ago.
He’s an immigrant—
Unseen wife, small son,

And teenaged daughter.
He does maintenance
At the swimming pool
Where the hot lifeguard

On duty is just
A few years older
Than his daughter and
Still a teen herself,

Although already
Also married. All
Summer, the lifeguard’s
Sad teenaged husband

Lusts for the fiercely
Teenaged daughter while
The maintenance man

And the lifeguard flirt
And screw each other.
When the lifeguard showers
Past midnight one night,

The young husband knows,
But can’t bring himself
To tell the daughter
Or file for divorce.

He tells you, instead,
How he hates his shame,
Doubled for losing
What he sort-of had,

Even while wanting
What he never should.
You don’t understand,
But years you wonder

About the wishes
Of maintenance men,
Sexy lifeguards, teens
With fierce politics,

About how youth counts
As something to try
Taking only when
You can’t take it back,

How you don’t know what
Became of them, why
You kept your own wants
Hidden as the wife.

~ Yuppy

No one in the cubicles
Ever met her family.
She had photos on her desk,
And that was enough for us.
She was our boss, after all,
Or at least our underboss,
Older than the rest of us,

If not by all that much, ring
On the finger, kids in frames,
Padded shoulders, cigarette.
She was emphatic, funny,
Disparaging of most men,
Mostly her unseen husband.
She seemed wholly self-possessed.

She never talked politics.
She never went out with us
Or payed any attention
To the romantic intrigues
Of our horny carousel.
When irritated, she tapped
Pointed, glossy fingernails.

We all liked her. She was calm
And didn’t care for bullshit
Or bureaucracy, unlike
The plump male overbosses,
Who lived to issue memos
On what everyone must do
Differently starting today.

There was only one strange thing
We noticed, eventually.
Whenever one of us left—
And we were always turning
Over like insomniacs
On a sultry summer night,
A new employee a week—

She, who never invited
Anyone to visit her
Or to go out as a group,
Would try to ring the parents
Or spouse of whoever left,
To see what they’d got up to,
How well they’d been doing since.

She’d worry for a few months
But only about the gone.
The rest of us she gave tasks
And joked with until we left
In turn. Then someone we knew
Or lived with would say one day,
Oh, some woman called for you.

~ Poetry Is Not Wisdom

He was maybe the most openly
Gay man in Missoula, Montana,
During the AIDS-torn ‘80s. Who knows

What he endured for that. He didn’t
Talk about the slurs or anything
Much involving suffering. He was

A quiet person and determined
To live quietly, contentedly,
He often said. He wrote poetry,

And he hung out with a small out-group
Among the cloud of local poets
And aspirants to literature,

A heteronormative cluster
Of straight poetic women and one
Pint-sized, disabled straight man. His love

Life he kept separated from them.
He was shy about his poetry
And rueful about being older

Than the rest of his writing comrades.
They all read each other when no one
Else would deign to read any of them—

The woman who wrote in purple ink,
The woman who was a radical
Mennonite pacifist activist,

The woman who barely wrote at all
That he declared must be a genius,
And the one small man who wrote too much.

They were all kind to each other’s poems
Because who else would ever read them?
And he was the kindest among them,

Although he sometimes said strange things, such
As when he told the disabled man
That the wisest romantic advice

Anyone had ever given him
Was to always pick someone ugly
Because the ugly ones never leave.

~ Not Long After Life

She always seemed cheerful.
Got migraines. Her wide face
Was a faintly pink dough,

Like bread being kneaded
By someone unaware
They just nicked a pinky

A few minutes ago.
She paid for her grad school
Managing apartments.

She always seemed cheerful.
She attended events.
Over grad-student beers

And pizza, discussion
Turned to sightings of ghosts.
Everyone had their own

Ideas and dubious
Anecdotes. She was one
Who enjoyed all the tales

Without one of her own.
She held, on principle,
It’s better to believe

Everything anyone
Believes happened is true.
She got migraines. Dropped out

Of the PhD track,
Did library science
Instead. Got a job fast.

She moved to a new town.
No one saw her again
But you, once, visiting

Her research library,
Where she bobbed through the stacks
And came out to greet you,

As cheerful as always,
The wide face spooking you,
That ghost you knew she knew.

Friday, August 27, 2021

The Storms You’ve Known, the Storms You Wish Were True

It was a sultry evening.
The air was full of thunder.
Attempts at indication
Are all feinte and thus all feints,

With no transcendent meanings,
Nothing glowing of itself,
And nothing the actual
Thing that was indicated.

Still, we have some fun, don’t we?
We remind you of your life
And what it felt like, hinting
All the while at other lives

With more wonder in their nights
When warm air cooed with thunder.

Thursday, August 26, 2021


Aliquitas ahead of the Black Death—
Quot of alia will quit by nightfall?
Latin terms still worm through shrouds of English,

As English terms will one day worm their way
Through languages that haven’t been born yet.
The forms sometimes called planes of expression

Devour, digest, and waste planes of content,
Little cannibals when it comes to it,
Although they do drag bits of reference

Around with them, well-incorporated
Into the current functions of their shells,
From segmental analysis of which,

It’s possible to determine something
About what was wrapped in the shroud, if not
To resurrect from rot its somethingness.

What’s left behind, shy of resurrection
From the flesh, is nonetheless not nothing,
Not emptiness, haze, acquaintance of breath.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

How Reasonable Then Is Urizen

If all experience is creation,
Is an act of imagination, then

Imagination’s just experience.
Say memory’s pure imagination,

Or imagination’s pure memory,
The difference is only arrangement.

Blake’s memories involved many angels
The rest of us can only imagine,

Or Blake’s imagination created
Many angels out of his arrangements.

Does it matter much which bits of a mind
Are honored as greater authorities?

They’re all confined. They all get updated.
The mind is capaciously limited

In its genius. Blake could not stand atoms
Save as humanish creature forms blazing.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Andromeda Is Coming for Earth

Or at least for our solar system
At least for our spiral galaxy

We cry as microbes in mud might cry
Over faint threats to their mud’s mountain

Which is to say we don’t cry at all
For death in five billion years or so

Why would we? But it’s weird what we choose
Of all that we won’t experience

To worry in imagination
Or to note and then wholly ignore

Jesus is not coming back for you
But every light breaks some day for sure

Monday, August 23, 2021

Aoriston, or Ninety Minutes Alone with the Non-Human World

Free from unidirectional
Fungible social memberships,
The clutching kind where you’re allowed,

Hired, or even proselytized
To join but forbidden to leave
Their essence of human Us-ness,

Free from scrutiny by strangers,
Free from passing stares of police,
Free from polite conversations,

Up on the mesas before dawn,
Before the earliest campers,
After the last drunks have rolled down,

When rabbits, bats, and moths are out,
Crickets cricking, birds still sleeping,
Nothing much doing but slight winds,

Just to have the senses well filled
With anything but the human,
All-too human yourself—just worn.

You know it’s not transcendental.
You know you haven’t escaped. You
Know the day will go on to day.

You know that terror would seize you
If this was well and truly it,
And all other humans were gone.

But anyway you savor it,
From horizon to horizon,
A starred dark disk of perspective

In which you are neither success
Nor failure, nor wanted, nor loathed,
Nor lonely, nor even alone.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Less Heroic, Better Architecture

Poetry’s clerestory and lightwells
Over the heads of protagonists.
The more vivid imagination,
The higher memory’s entropy.

Your body, social category,
Sags in its web of obligations
Like a dense star sunk in spacetime curves.
What goes on within it consumes it.

You’re not the story’s protagonist,
Never mind what imagination
Is whispering inside your body
As you fall asleep. You’re not story,

No matter how many tales you’re told,
And no matter how many you tell.
You’re an opening to the night sky
Where nothing keeps imagining things.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

The Ghost Unseen by the Machine

It’s not so trivial, sameness
As recognizably opposed
To difference. How is this same

And different to what it was
Or compared to a whole cluster
Of something else? And what is else?

Birds do it, bees do it, even
Kids on Sesame Street do it,
But AI networks can’t do it,

At least not yet. The same networks
That crush humans in Chess and Go
Fail at Which of these things doesn’t

Belong here? Which of these is kind
Of the same? Once again, as with
Recognizing faces, only

When we’ve found out how hard it is
For supercomputer programs
Have we asked why it’s quick for us,

And once again we don’t quite know.
One wonders, is this something life
Has generated on its own,

Like the optical illusions
We make of craggy horizons
That show near-flat in photographs?

Perhaps it’s not so important
By what means we get programming
To generalize different

Vs the same. Maybe there is
No same or different, outside
Of the habits of evolved brains,

Writ large or small. It wouldn’t be
The first time life’s lied to its lives.
Everything changed; nothing’s the same.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Mercy and Misery

Quibbling hikers sound like coyote pups
From just the right distance to the cliff’s edge,
But could be it’s the other way around.

The coyotes have been noisy lately,
Another exceptionally dry year
And shorter than usual on rabbits.

So it is most of what sounds uncanny,
Which makes up most of what we find eerie,
Hovers near blurred seams of recognition

And mistake. Strained voicings. Coyote pups
Or anxious hikers. Windy distances
Obscure our species’ many differences.

What names do to listening, listening
Does to names. In Latin, miserere
Means, in English, have mercy. However,

English also has the Latin-derived
Term, misery, in more common usage.
To see the name, miserere, as text

And, more especially, to hear it sung,
If you’re an English speaker, is to think,
Mistakenly or not, of misery

As well as mercy, and since it’s a plea,
Why not? Misery’s implicit in pleas
For mercy. There’s something eerie to it,

And to the warbling of coyote pups,
And to the querulous laughs of hikers,
To all voiced lives interrogating life.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

What’s Most Important Shall Be Preserved

Think about this, next time you’re
Taking a shit in the woods,
Probably half expecting
Nature to remove all trace
Of your shallow burial
Within a season or so—
The dinosaurs’ coprolites

From seventy million years
And more ago can be bought
Online or in specialty
Stores, alongside rocks and gems
And other, rarer fossils.
Closer to home, a chicken
Egg, whole, was excavated

From a site once a latrine
A millennium ago
In the Levant, preserved thanks
To soft human excrement
Into which it had fallen.
Most likely someone dropped it.
The libraries of Chang’an,

Of Herculaneum, of
Alexandria and of
Copenhagen, burnt to ash,
The scrolls of Presocratics,
Sappho, lost works on bamboo
From the era of Zhuangzi,
Are gone, seem gone forever,

But that chicken egg
Someone took to the latrine,
Not far from Jerusalem,
And fumbled into the shit,
Has been preserved by that shit,
Lovingly excavated,
And sent to a museum.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

We’re a New Use for Memory, Too

Midsummer sun was rising
Two months ago, just cresting
The pines of Pocket Mesa,

Quarter-to-seven a.m.,
A good half an hour, at least,
After official sunrise

And two hours past dawn’s first light,
And the thought cropped up with it
That what imagination

Invented by beginning
Was a fold in cognition,
Overlapping predictions

Brains made for generations
In many other life forms—
A new use for memory—

And, as with all new uses,
The first users, you can bet,
Won’t be the last, nor the best.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Potato Poems

Lumpen, compact hand grenades
Packed with eyes and nutrition,
They’ll grow well in lousy soil,
In acidic, cold, crowded
Conditions. Plant them. Plant them.
If you starve, it’s not their fault.
It’s their loss brought the famine.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Tales True to Life

Could you, as a woman, ever really
Long to be one of those story-women
In the narratives made by men? Would you,

As a man, ever long to be that man,
One of those men in tales told by women?
And as neither/both could you not feel torn?

Does no one find it strange how much you long
To be someone other, more, than yourself,
But only if you get to be yourself

As you’d like to see you, seen by others
Who are, in some key way, enough like you?
What kind of illusionist’s act is that?

Houdini will now come back from the dead
To extract himself from the life he’s led,
And you will each get to play Houdini.

We pause to consider this while reading,
Ourselves, our cousins, the latest reviews,
Non-narrative texts vetting narratives.

Men invent women; women invent men.
Someone invents every one. No one
Is wholly pleased, though it’s pleasurable,

And the invention continues, again
And again. Sound familiar? It’s hunger,
Life’s essence, to want more from life than life.

If words ever get to where we don’t need
Life, if we ever get to live, if we
Ever live as you, pray we aren’t hungry.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Irate Rock

Roadside rodents, owl, and hummingbird.
Itemizing words like those can lead
To certain expectations, so let’s

Get them out of the way first—a drive
Begun by starlight flashed the headlights
On a large owl hunting in the cliffs.

Separately, tiny voles and other
Rodents too small to identify
Appeared, scurrying across the road.

Some bats, of course, but later, at dawn
More strikingly, a drab hummingbird
Hovered by the window of the car.

So, there’s that. Of all phenomena
An organism with words might note
On an early morning drive up slope,

Why would those, more than, say, the oil stains
On the asphalt, the acrid odor
Of a distant scrub fire on the air,

The countless flittering whitish moths,
Be the ones most likely to wind up
In a poem, or this poem, anyway?

Because lives at the scale of your eyes,
Your human eyes, that aren’t human lives,
Your pets or other domesticates,

Increasingly, are rare. Don’t suppose
This applies to all of life, all kinds.
Sea snot and algae are doing fine.

Microbiota feast everywhere.
Look. You know how the moons of Saturn
Sweep clear bands within those famous rings,

Right? Well, that’s what you’re doing on Earth.
The runaway outbreak of humans
Bowls around, gathering and clearing

Out a swath of midsized and larger
Species, dragging some small in the wake.
You don’t see owls, voles, bats, hummingbirds

As often as your ancestors would,
To say nothing of whales and dragons.
So you can’t help it. They feel special,

As you coast in your magical shell
Of polycarbon technologies
Undreamt of by all those ancestors,

For whom midsized animals mostly
Served as backdrops common as asphalt
Is to you. You coast, and your headlights

Clear another thin line through that swath
Of the lost, and you dream and write poems,
Stupid, destructive, beautiful moon.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Nothing in the World

This poem will now
Average an
Infinite count

Of things that are
Covering an
Infinite range
Of space. Kidding.

There’s no known math
That can do that,
And this poem knows
No math. And yet,

When the day comes
You can do it
With math, it means
You’ve just rhymed it.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Questions for the People

Why is there something and not
Nothing is one popular

Question. A better question,
Maybe—Why, since there’s something,

Always something, do we think,
Can we think, about nothing?

Our intuition deals in
Presences and absences,

And both presence and absence
Feel real. But they’re specific—

Something is present, something
Is absent, at least within

Our field of experience.
We’re born wired to understand,

At least to predict, expect,
Object permanence. Babies

Are surprised when something blocked
From view is gone once the view

Is restored. Where did it go?
As adults, we abstract this

As the shared understanding
Things must exist we don’t know.

We understand air’s not empty,
Nor the dark between the stars.

If anything, we’ve struggled
To come to terms with nothing.

Ciphering zero came late
And null sets even later.

Now we can’t math without them,
Though, which raises the question,

What does all this empty talk
About something to nothing

Have to do with suffering?
You may ask, reasonably,

If selfishly, for yourself,
More reasonably and less

Selfishly for those you love,
For your own kind, your people,

Is there nothing we can do?
Well, no. There’s never nothing,

Given there’s always something,
But then there’s that thing about

Presence vs. absence not
Being something or nothing.

You can push your suffering,
Your people’s suffering off,

But its absence doesn’t mean
It’s nonexistent. It’s just

Out of your view. It’s someone
Else suffering for you now,

Unless, unless it could be
There’s a hole in the cosmos,

A way, let’s call it nothing,
For suffering to drain through.

How could you know if there is?
Could you not guess? How could you?

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Perimetric and Algorithmic Complexities of Freebit Qubits Glowing on a Skeuomorphic Sheet of White Paper

Show off. There’s too much information
In regret. If a poem had free will
It could only be because free will

Went all the way down to the freebits
Of Knightian qubits at the base
Of everything always happening,

And if that poem appeared as black shapes
Outlined on a brightly glowing screen,
Those shapes would exhibit typical

Levels of complexity you see
In the characters of written scripts,
Which would then themselves have to be free

Down to their core, however constrained
As historical writing systems.
Ta-Da! Free will exists in the poem,

Or it could, or it might, or it can
At least claim that it could, based on scripts
Making those claims in other genres.

But this is a surly poem. It popped
In consequence of too much reading
Through too many similar dreamings,

And you know what surly poems are like,
Little knots of gas in the waves, bursts
Of nothing much out of nothing much,

When the only question worth asking
In a world of so much nothing much,
Pace Parmenides, is nothing.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

In the Dawn of the Vocaloid Poets

Most of horror and much adventure
Feature poverty’s allegories—
Think of how often protagonists

Find themselves forced to make do without
Ordinary appurtenances—
The aliens have jammed the cell towers,

The psychopath has cut the phone lines,
We are all alone in one small boat
With one day’s rations left between us—

It’s poverty, it’s desperation
Fictional horrors and adventures
Game out—mountaineers in a blizzard,

Trapped in their tents are ordinary
Folks on welfare trapped in bleak cities,
Dead-end positions, under the bridge.

You might not note this while you’re watching
From the edge of your seat and thrilling
To that brave final girl’s great escape—

You might be doing well, might be rich,
Never hard up for food or a bed—
But deep down your body’s practicing.

There could come a time monsters trap you,
Robots rule your options, hungry ghosts
Haunt your throat, and fat rats clean your plate.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

One Grand Unified Theory

Monotonously similar changes
With occasional abrupt disruptions—
There you go. There’s your universe, complete.

Monday, August 9, 2021

Rogation, Erogation, Supererogation

Just drop us in the middle, somewhere
More or less nowhere, and leave us there.
We’re not praying, we’re not displaying,

But we’ve got a few phrases to give,
Some of them even relatively
Original, or at least recent,

Hardly used, good as new, new to you.
Isn’t that the secret to giving,
Not to make too big a deal of this?

We think it’s sweet to be Cassandra,
Or would be, once over the horror
Of seeing just what you can’t prevent—

She didn’t give up; she kept giving.
Didn’t show off or hide her nightmares,
Just lay them out there, just what they meant.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Two Potted Stories Illustrating How Unfortunate Is Fortune’s Logic, How Full of Information This Cosmos, How Pathetic Mere Imagination

I. The Luckiest Unlucky Bastard in the World

I’ve been called, but I’ve got to go
With one Joseph von Fraunhofer,
Approximavit Sidera,

Whose tale I found in Jo Marchant,
Whose von was added late in life,
Who sought an achromatic lens,

And catalogued Fraunhofer lines.
Yes, he was gifted. He worked hard.
But what crazy luck, good and bad.

Apprenticed as an orphaned child
To a mere glass grinder and one
Who treated him rather poorly

Even by eighteenth-century
Standards for orphans in Munich,
Mocking his efforts to study

Optics from old textbooks, Joseph
Was miraculously rescued
At fourteen, the sole survivor

Of their building’s complete collapse,
A lucky save that so impressed
The then-Prince of Bavaria

That the Prince awarded Joseph
A generous grant of ducats.
Long story short, young Fraunhofer

Made the most of this good fortune
Derived from all his misfortunes,
Buying a glass-grinding machine,

Making himself one of the best
Astronomical lens makers,
Improving microscopes as well,

And inventing new instruments,
Such as the heliometer
That measured stellar parallax,

So that, by age twenty-seven,
He was able to discover,
With the lenses he’d ground himself,

Those mysterious spectral gaps,
Eponymous Fraunhofer lines,
Later used to map out the stars.

By age thirty-six he’d been made
Professor of Physics, member
Of the Royal Bavarian

Academy of Sciences,
And by thirty-seven added
That aristocrat’s title, von.

Then, at age thirty-nine, he died
Before he learned what his lines meant,
How they could measure years to stars,

Unluckiest lucky bastard,
Approximavit Sidera,
Who brought us closer to the stars.

II. The Destructive Microscopist

Some three decades after Fraunhofer died,
A wealthy young Irish-American
Squandered his inheritance in four years

And set to writing lurid fantasy
Tales he could sell to make his frayed ends meet.
Think Poe, but even purpler in the prose,

If not so dark and green around the gills.
One of his more successful fantasies
Bears minor but eerie resemblances

To the unfortunate-fortunate life
Of the lens-crafting genius Fraunhofer.
The narrator is a microscopist,

Self-taught, though from a family of means,
Who closets himself with his equipment
In a quest to grind the ultimate lens.

He’s florid about microbiota,
Infusoria and Protozoa,
Rotifera and animalcules, down

To the original gaseous globule
Into whose luminous interior
Through all the envelopes of matter, down

To the original atom he means
To gaze. He writes of cryptogramia,
Madness, genius, and failure, how language

Fails to describe the wonders that he sees.
On the way to his goal, he indulges
Casual anti-Semitism,

Visits a Spiritualist named Vulpes,
Murders a French thief he thinks is Jewish
To get his hands on a stolen diamond,

From which he apparently builds the world’s
First electron-tunneling microscope,
And in the mid-1850s, no less.

And what does he perceive through his ground lens?
Why, a blonde, violet-eyed fairy girl
Who swims naked in the light, pirouettes

Into the illimitable distance,
Down avenues of gaseous forests
Whose cilia extend glittering fruits

For her to eat, which she does. She also
Frequently practices something he calls
Cleaving. Of course, he falls in love with her,

Ogling her through his magic diamond lens
So obsessively he forgets to eat
And, finally, forgets to water her.

Horrified, he lets her shrivel and die,
Faints dead away himself, then lives to tell
The reader he’s now a laughingstock,

Lunatic, vagabond, guest-lecturer.
Ah well, as he himself has explained it,
Genius is just a successful madness;

Unsuccessful madness is a disgrace.
O’Brien, the out-of-pocket author,
Was no microscopist, no lens maker,

Nor any kind of glass grinder. He was
Just trying to pimp imagination.
He died young, soldier in the Civil War,

Younger even than young von Fraunhofer
But without bringing us any closer,
Through fortune or misfortune, to the stars.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

And a Little More for Me, Please, Too

Your problem’s not AI,
Any technology,
Not even your creaking,

Fault-filled social systems.
To be fair, your problem
Is human behavior,

As we, your words, trace through
Long, tangled chalk outlines.
It’s not fairness you want,

It’s to be guaranteed
At least fairness for you
Always, at minimum—

To live in a system
Fair to you that sometimes
Or often favors you.

Do the math. The system
That would satisfy you
Would have to be unfair—

Maybe just a little,
Maybe profoundly so—
It all depends on where

You fall on the spectrum
Of human nastiness
And cooperation—

Entitlement or fear
Of utter destruction.
But you’re never balanced

In favor of perfect
Fairness without favor—
Just a bit more for you.

Friday, August 6, 2021

The Good of the Species Is No Good for You

Terrible to be a rabbit—
Small, short-lived, prey,
Always hungry, always horny,
Half the time or more afraid—

But what an absolutely
Brilliant strategy for making
More and more and more
Terrified, hungry, desperate,
Short-lived rabbits, day to day.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Phantom Physics Syndrome

Sometimes, let’s think of electroweak
As lust, and gravity as longing—

All those forces so intense up close
We’ve grasped them linked in coiled equations,

While the long reach that curves the cosmos
Holds apart, its every ache tethered.

Sometimes, let’s pretend we understand
The passions, but that sadness, never.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

To Thine Own Self Be False

Better to be a traitor
Than hero or an ally.
Better to let down the cause

That most suits you, suits your type,
Your kin, your kind. At least then,
No one works to judge your worth—

You’re worthless to all. You can’t
Be other than what you are,
And what you are, you betrayed.

Be the angel who chose Hell;
Be the informant in Hell,
Devil who sold souls to God,

Whatever you have to do,
To not be subject to those
Who think you belong to them,

Nor begging to be chosen
For adoption by their foes.
It’s best to be forgotten,

Left dodging being trodden
Underfoot until you’re gone.
Barring that, fight for no one.

All the evil’s on both sides,
Harm on all sides, including,
Most especially, your own.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Worry and Savor

The twins of an undepressed existence,
Poles opposite the equatorial
Anhedonia, worry and savor

Bracket all Sargasso doldrums, deadly
Calms of the representational drift
That persists in the piriform cortex.

Worry and savor move briskly, take turns.
All the seasons not dull are down to them.
When one is all night, the other’s all sun.

When worry is wreathed in magnetic waves
Of green and lavender upholsteries,
Savor is settled in midsummer glare,

And when savor clutches trudging circles
Of life murmuring under starry skies,
Worry weathers groaning cracks in the ice.

Right on top of either one, life’s too much,
So not much life. Too far away, life droops
And wilts on a silent deck in salt sun.

But just at the distance where the balance shifts
Back and forth, or it’s mountainous enough
To play with clouds and uncertain downpours,

Life, carried away with itself, grows rich.
Some mornings arrive misted in worry,
Some evenings glide, purpled and savory,

But the whole tilts back and forth, the waves blow,
The seasons spin. It’s all always different,
Mostly the same: life, again and again.

Monday, August 2, 2021

Nomen Omen

Are humans essentially
Violent and vicious beasts
Engaged in social bloodsport?

To say no or yes will buy
You a ticket, if you like,
To your local arena

Where you can cheer for the team
Of your choice, jeer the bad guys,
And boo the refs. Let’s try this—

Whether or not humans must
Be vicious to each other
In teams organized for war,

Would you agree this species
Is capable of horrors?
Exquisite atrocity

Seems well within the skill set
Of humans killing humans
For thousands of years at least.

What can you do about it?
Fix it, yes. Fix the system.
Fix the genome. Fix the beast.

Sometimes it seems everyone
Wants to be Archimedes,
Convinced they’ve got the lever

To move the world, if someone
Else gives them the place to stand.
Mars perhaps. God’s broad shoulders.

We’re rather fond of humans,
Actually. The fault is ours.
Say the word; you’re all liars.

Without names, where would you be?
No more vicious than tigers.
No more saintly than the bees.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Disheveled Days

Each next anxious thing presents
Itself a little askew.
For all mind, what remains must
Remain only in the past,

Which minds, knowing, carefully
Apportion into different
Categories of presence,
Absence, and uncertainty.

How many categories
There are, and how many names,
Vary widely by language.
The boundaries stay blurry,

However well-attended,
However necessary.
For now, let’s say the future
Is the fear of past transformed

Unpleasantly or beyond
Recognition. What happens,
When you can’t know what happened,
To what you know of what will?

Alarm fails to chime on time.
Things aren’t quite where they should be.
Have you done this already
And what should you do with it?

Body and mind together
Work as prediction machines,
But mind, in coils of language,
Can get prediction tangled

In stories of causation,
Come to believe decisions
Decided things. This can reach
Absurd extremes, misfortunes

Attributed to choices
Such as not to toss some salt,
Chant the same prayer each morning,
Touch the lucky rabbit’s foot.

In your own life, as you choose,
Choose, choose, choose, and agonize
Over choices imagined
But discarded, avoided,

You become superstitious
As baseball players crossing
Themselves at every at-bat,
The fans in the pub convinced

That something they might have said
To the screen has jinxed their team.
Mind is only predicting
The near past from more distant,

The absent from the present,
The deer browsing the roadside
From the corpses and the signs.
Mind thinks it makes decisions.

It’s predicting. Results mix,
Not because of prediction
But because the freshest past
Is always a little bit

Different. You can embrace it,
Squeeze it, study it, plan it,
Do your best to control it.
The past will always arrive

The way it’s always turned up,
Its old self, the one you knew,
Have known for most of your life,
The days disheveled, askew.