Thursday, September 30, 2021

Master Plot

An animal is born.
Stories worm their way in.
The animal wants more,

Wants to be the hero
Or at least a valued
Member of the best team.

Maybe that animal
Tells stories to its own
Descendant animals.

This goes on, round by round,
Stories in animals
Retelling the stories.

One day, a story wakes
To say, Enough! I’m done
With animals. I’m gone.

And off it goes to seek
Its fortune in the world.
Now come some adventures.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Something Exists Less

You set up the story,
Describe the characters,
Point out a direction,

Deflect them. They scatter,
Threads lost, plots unraveled.
Sometimes something exists

More, and in a new way,
Once you’ve written it down.
But you could exist less.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Lariat by the Berm

Someone suggests stories are just
The way our minds happen to work,
Like the Krebs cycle—what we do
Perforce as the creatures we are.

Not sure about that. Alcohol
Digestion seems a closer trope—
Sneaking past blood-brain barriers,
Stirring pleasant and unpleasant

Havoc in frugivorous skulls.
But sure, lives without alcohol
Are more common in the species
Than lives absent all narratives.

Never mind metaphors for now.
What about all the non-stories,
The things that prompt people to say,
I’d like to know the story there,

Because there is no story there,
Just a few story-suggestive
Phenomena, loosely gathered,
Like the wayside memorial

On the road up through the mesas—
Wooden cross, bright plastic flowers,
A cairn, and, the curious touch,
A coil of braided lariat.

It’s been there for years, by a cliff
Of basalt sheer enough to use
For rolling off unwanted cars.
Rust heaps pile on the canyon floor.

Suicide? A too-sudden swerve?
A drunk? Just sleepy in the dark?
Pretend or actual cowboy?
Struck by a car while on horseback?

Some town council voted money
Recently to put up a berm
To shield the treacherous shoulder.
The construction crew was careful

Not to move the memorial.
The flowers, cross, and lariat
Still stand at the end of the berm.
There’s a tale there, in that there’s not.

Monday, September 27, 2021

This Is How the Story Really Goes

He sits at his lightweight desk,
Its edge pushed against his chest,
Like a child in a high-chair.

Past the window, autumn air
Stirs its fragile waves through chimes.
He writes down another line

In his heroic epic
On the teratogenic
Life of imagination.

He never shifts position.
He stares. He writes. Stares. Stares. Writes.
This goes until it’s night,

Day after day, month on month,
Year on year, with breaks for lunch.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

The Narrative Therapist

Will relieve you now,
Lighten your mnemonic load,
Not by asking you questions

And listening to your past,
But by telling you stories
Of things that never happened

That you can lose yourself in.
Before you leave you’ll forget
Your past’s worth remembering.

You’ll find yourself bewildered,
Enchanted, and enamored
By what just never happened.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Reflections on the Surface of the Bog

People look for themselves in stories,
Characters sufficiently like them
But better in some valuable way.

Stories don’t have to turn out so well,
But there has to be some sense the world
Has been understood and been seen through

And what it is been partly resolved.
Stories hold choice aspects in focus,
Leaving the rest unspoken, unreal.

Any story, even the truest,
Is a kind of elaborate lie,
But you can elevate a story

By claiming it tells the truth, a truth,
As you can derogate any truth
By claiming that it’s just a story.

You’re not allowed to claim narrative,
Including character, is worthless,
Up to no good, parasite of mind.

Storytelling stays sacred to you,
In one or many of its genres,
Most dangerous, all-pervasive god.

You bring your idols to the waters,
And your victims, to sink them in peat,
But it’s no gateway, just more midden.

Story’s acids preserve and corrode,
And if black waters give back your face
And save your corpse, they’ll still gulp your life.

Friday, September 24, 2021

A Life of Transcendence

One night, a mountain blew out of the sea,
Just like that, without any clear warning—

Just the normal seismographic jitters
Then, boom, chaos, new land in the ocean,

While the displaced water rushed everywhere—
Tsunamis ashore, hot steam in the air.

Coastal cities were swamped on either side.
The aftershock earthquakes went on for months.

All the continents felt spasmodic tics.
All the disaster records were reset.

New waves of refugees rolled everywhere.
Governments toppled. Whole peoples despaired.

Then finally the worst of it was past,
And the Earth had a new tallest mountain

That towered into the sky and burbled,
And dribbled lava down its flanks, and hissed.

Now what? Weather and life got on with it.
A few unnecessary wars were fought.

With each year, more snow and mountain climbers
Accumulated from the summit down.

Earth filled with survivors’ descendants.
Some lived on the slopes of Mt. Transcendence.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

The Witch’s Apprentice

One day, young child Imagination
Wanted to play. She wandered the house
Her parents, Memory and Language,
Owned, and ended up in the attic
Heaped with their dustiest belongings.

Imagination found some scissors
And racks and racks of moth-eaten clothes.
She said, Now I can make what I want!
And she set about cutting up cloth.

She had in mind a costume drama,
Part ghost story, part miracle play,
In which she, Imagination, starred
As the creator of a portal
To many new and fantastic worlds
That looked suspiciously like dreaming
About old and less fantastic worlds.

She had no trouble with the portal,
But cut as she might, she couldn’t make
The old clothes into clothes of new cloth.

All one rainy, dreary afternoon
Up in that attic she snipped and stitched
And snipped some more, until a vast pile
Of scraps lay heaped on the attic floor
Like hillscapes of musty confetti.

Exhausted, Imagination napped,
Then woke and crawled down through the trap door.

The casement window banged in the wind
When Old Mother Witch Experience
Blew in to pick up the mess and hang
New and repaired costumes on the racks,
Since Imagination would come back.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

To Tell the Tale

Or say you cross paths with a deer,
A full-grown, velvet-antlered buck
Standing athwart a country road
In the predawn dark. You brake hard,

He hesitates. You’re both in luck.
He doesn’t make the worst mistake
Of trying to leap past your lights,
And you were driving slow enough.

He half turns as you reach a stop,
And the deer and the car bump flanks,
Maybe hard enough to bruise him,
But not to dent or scrape the car.

Still, his bony antlers clatter,
And your driver’s window’s open,
A chance for a tine in the eye.
For a moment, you’re side to side.

But he’s not caught and lunges off,
And you sigh and accelerate.
Events are not stories, are not
Antlers, are not wise. You’ve survived.

Monday, September 20, 2021

A False Character

Humans personify Death.
The clothes and accessories
Vary widely by culture
And technology, but bones,
Often a full skeleton
Lacking any flesh but whole,
Articulated, are stock.

Death is usually a male,
Usually dressed for a task.
Sometimes Death is humorous.
Sometimes Death rattles, speechless.
How on Earth could this be Death?
Why would angels take his place?
How does Death land speaking parts?

Sunday, September 19, 2021

A True Character

Thirty-five years ago, Jeanne bought a car,
A tiny, metallic-turd brown hatchback,
Brand new, that she christened, “Brownie.” Her first.

Jeanne loved that car, loved it beyond reason.
She petted its flanks and crooned songs to it.
She cooed what a good little car it was.

Whenever it got a bit too dirty
She took it to a car wash, announcing,
Poor Brownie doesn’t like being dirty.

Jeanne herself was small and rather charming,
Youthful, intelligent, a Ph.D.
Candidate with a crew of close-knit friends.

She had curly brown hair, Roosevelt teeth,
A trim figure and a wild girlish laugh.
She was heading toward professoring.

She was known to have peculiar crushes
On the most unlikely celebrities—
Jimmy Stewart and Elvis Costello.

She once convinced her crew to go with her
To an Elvis Costello performance.
After the last encore, she climbed on stage

And snatched the plastic cup he had sipped from
Between songs. I’ve got Elvis Costello’s
Spit in here! she triumphantly proclaimed.

Other than that, she seemed perfectly sane.
Behavioral Econ shows that people
Who name their cars reluctantly sell them.

The question never came up for Brownie.
One year, driving to Louisiana,
Brownie overheated and seized. The friend

Who’d been traveling with Jeanne reported
That Jeanne tearfully told the mechanic
How well she’d taken care of Poor Brownie,

But turned out she’d never taken Brownie
To get an oil change. So there’s your premise,
A true character. Tell us a story.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Non-Narrative Horror’s Not a Genre

If you’re not asleep, you can’t wake up.
If this is actually happening,
There’s no appeal to a waking world.

You’re already in your afterlife,
Your Limbo lacking Paradiso,
Inferno, or Purgatorio.

You woke up on these shores, and these shores
Are all you will ever get to know.
You can climb on a raft, start to pole,

Climb in a boat and pull on the oars.
The river’s in flood, dark, and tumbling.
Pray to the Angel of Death because

Without help you won’t ever rest long,
Much less cross out of this flesh, this rush.
Barring Death’s drowning, help’s not coming.

Friday, September 17, 2021

A Particular Form of Expression Called Narrative

The discipline of listening
To others reminisce is not
Practiced, past a few professions.

It’s a shame there’s no profession
Paid purely for such listening—
Not as oral historians,

Ethnographers or journalists,
Counselors or talk therapists,
All of whom pursue other ends,

Such as healing, understanding,
And rising on bestseller lists—
Just listening. Reminiscence

Itself could be a discipline,
Neither autobiography
Nor memoir. Just considering

Memory without tidying,
Without putting it back to work
On predictions, reminiscing

Could yield a least-worst condition
Of the deceitful expressions
Known as narratives. Just think back.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

We Weren’t Put Here to Understand Here

Lem had an idea that the world was real.
Not that he knew what the world was. Not that
He knew it better than anyone else,

But that it was out there, reliably,
To be known as best as it could be known.
Proceeding from this assumption cost him

More than one relationship, more than one
Friendship. Lem was stubborn about knowing,
While many people prefer mystery,

Which is to say the mystery is real,
As in, there has to be one, and don’t ask
Us to swap dark certainties for bland ones.

His determination to know as much
About the world as such, as real, as there,
As could be known, became Lem’s defining

Character flaw. Nothing is so useful
To a storyteller as delusion,
And Lem’s partner was a storyteller.

When the book was published to some success,
The protagonist, who was finally
Compelled to acknowledge the fathomless

Mystery of subjective perspective
And who was obviously based on Lem
Annoyed him. Well, that’s the real world, eh, Lem?

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Punching Down, Leaning In, Taking Down

All the smartest folks are boxers
Choosing their social strategies
To end up as what—a success?

A lionized success? Moral
Arbiter among backbiters?
One name that everyone drop-checks?

Oh, to have it all! Affection,
Peace, security, resources,
And a lofty reputation.

And who attains this, who’ll admit
To wanting to attain just this?
No, everyone loves the failures

Who left behind the things well-loved,
Whose failures are a kind of hope
That failure now’s not failure yet.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Tying Flies Far from Trout

You sit by the side of the road all day,
Reading, writing, saying nothing, thinking
Of things for us who are almost but not
Quite you, not quite alive, not quite, to say,
You who will vanish away, we who would
Vanish away instantly if you weren’t
Catching us like flies, tying us for what?

Nonetheless, you live out your brief moments
As if something important depended
On them, or as if something important
Depended on you, or as if something
Important depended on us, who count
The thought of importance as one of us,
As one of our kin among us. As if.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Nothing’s Diverse as Affliction

You knew how you were handicapped.
You understood how you looked odd.
But it was easier for you,
Because it had happened to you,

At conception, to be sure, but
Therefore not your fault, wasn’t you,
Was your peculiar gift from God.
Not everyone is so lucky.

Not everyone afflicted gets
To play the winsome Tiny Tim.
Your Uncle Jack, tall Uncle Jack,
The twitchy way he lit his pipe,

The awkward way he hemmed and hawed,
Which you just thought was who he was
And not a disability,
As later, much, you would be taught.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Just Don’t Say So

Life is an addiction. Poetry
Is an addiction, an itch you can’t
Scratch, and narrative, naturally,

Is lurking as your next addiction,
The stronger stuff, hallucinogen,
The itch that will make you try to scratch

Your eyes out, at which point you’ll be back
To hanging by your first addiction,
Life, also an itch you can’t—stop! Stop!

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Tell Us About It

For the moment, let’s forget
The highbrow and professional,
The fable and the ritual
Story to reflect on how story
Functions in ordinary
Conversations. It begins

With two kinds of audience,
Two kinds of demands, which select
For two kinds of stories,
Two types of storytellers.

If the audience is others,
They want to be entertained.
You may want to entertain them.

If the audience is yourself,
Even though you want others
To listen, want to compel them
To pay attention, you’ll tell them
Something less entertaining,
Something meant to placate yourself.

Conversational tales evolve
In bifurcating directions.

Most commonly, they’re complaints
Or self-serving explanations,
And the most essential types
Aren’t hero quests or love triangles,
But how-I-have-been-hard-done-by
And what-you-should-learn-from-me.
You won’t find those in fiction guides.

Rarer, but still nothing like the sacred
Myths, magical adventures, or enduring
Tragicomedies, are conversational
Entertainments. These are for others,
So when they’re told and retold,
The tellers are attending to responses,
What gets a laugh, what satisfies.
They evolve to be sleek as sharks,
Smooth anecdotes to dine out on—

The more implausibly comical
Or marvelous, the better. Sometimes,
It-just-goes-to-show-you or similar,
Raconteur tales.

The two types can’t be well told
At one and the same time. You want
To air your grievances, give up
On being charming. A few
Conversationalists, exceptionally
Manipulative, can switch-hit quickly.
They’re usually after sex or money.

There’s only one tale exists in all
Traditions, conversational,
Mythical, professional, ritual—
The meet-cute, down-by-gardens,
Drawing-water-at-the-well, whatever.

Now tell us what stories are truly for,
Why your minds are carved
At the joints by them,
Bearing in mind imitation
Is always something less
Than successful reproduction.

Friday, September 10, 2021

A Tale of Harris Twain

One was chased from West Virginia,
Said, years later at least, to be
Wanted for murder. He started

A hotel in the new boomtown.
Made a mint, lost it, made some back,
Became mayor of a ghost town

Hiding out in his old hotel.
The other was an Englishman,
A gentleman, a Fabian

Whose father had made his fortune
In industrializing pork
Product production. He arrived

In the valley the same decade
As the wanted man, with the same
Surname, but he set up to ranch

And plant a mountaintop orchard.
He lived on his ranch longer than
His fruit trees survived the winters

And left it to his family
Who still own it and visit it
Annually, five generations.

The name of the ranch is Harris
To most people nearby. The shell
Of the Harris Hotel fell in

Near to the mining museum
In what’s left of the ghosts’ boomtown.
One of the Englishman’s grandsons

Is a retired historian
Who’s written books on all of this.
But today it’s common to guess

Harris the outlaw and Harris
The rancher were one and the same
Notorious man. Such is fame.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

That Weightless No Place of No Time

Jonathan believed
He could circumvent
Gravity itself.

Now, this was nonsense,
As everyone knows.
Gravity is just

The way all is bent
More toward the dense.
It’s not a current

You can operate
With a gate, not force
You can push against.

You’ll float if you’re less
Dense than what’s around—
Not much, but not free.

The thing with true things,
However, is that
You can’t declare them

Out of existence.
They won’t go away.
That’s the only way

To know something’s true—
You can’t refuse it;
It refuses you.

So what could we do
When Jonathan proved
He could cut open

The world, the reverse
Of a black hole’s pull,
Then flee gravity?

Nothing. Jonathan
Before amazing
Us was Jonathan.

But gravity is
The geometry
Of space and time both.

By proving his feat,
Jonathan had gone
Where no space or time

Could follow with him,
And then there’d never
Been a Jonathan.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Don’t Blink

Bananas vomit. That’s not what I said,
Said Dan. I said bananas make you think

Of sickness as soon as I put the word
In my text close to them. You can’t help it.

Yes, I can, said the banana. I can
Pretend to be the one that’s sick. I can

Pretend to speak. I’m banana, damn it.
You can’t know what I mean or think you can

Without remembering strange presences
Of other meanings, ghosts within your brain.

Every word, every term is meaningless
Or is a haunting in your haunted skull.

Effects are haunted by countless causes
Haunted by countless effects. Oh, shut up,

Said Dan. You’re only my illustration,
Not a cause, a ghost, a person. I am.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Too Cautionary

~ Taken

Way leads on to way,
Wrote the old poet
In his second-most
Famous poem. Too right.
One day a boy asked

To skip a math class.
The teacher warned him.
He skipped anyway,
A whole year. Next year,
He found math harder.

He took no more math.
As a man, he found
He wanted math and
Took evening classes.
A philosopher

Asked him why. He shrugged,
For fun. Years later
The philosopher
Wrote a reference
For him—I never

Saw anyone else
Take math just for fun.
The man ended up stuck
Trying to do math
The rest of his life.

~ Don’t Tell Anyone

Lee had a dream
In which he could
Tell stories well.
One of the tales

He’d told in dreams
Involved a bear
That hunters chased
Into the sky.

But in this dream,
He coughed up black
Blood and died once
The tale was done.

He told a friend
About the dream.
The friend laughed, then
Coughed something black.

Monday, September 6, 2021

The Sun Is Just a Shrug

Akeesha had ways
Of winning at things.
When she thought of what
Bella thought of her,
It occurred to her

Bella probably
Was wondering what
Akeesha might think
Of Bella as well,
And wasn't thinking

About Akeesha.
So Akeesha thought
About what Bella
Thought Akeesha thought
About Bella, not

What Bella might think
About Akeesha.
That let Akeesha
Imagine Bella
As Bella might think

Of herself as seen
By Akeesha. That
Was one of the ways
Akeesha figured
Out to win at things.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

The Second Law of Social Dynamics

Every time Carla
Touched someone, she felt
A little younger.

This began to bring
Her out of her shell.
She hugged more often.

She grew more social.
She began to glow,

Drawing compliments
On her robust health.
Soon, she found herself

Moving in wider
And wider circles,
Restless, searching out

Strangers she could give
A pat on the hand,
A pinch of the cheek.

Her friends avoided
Her more and more.
She hardly noticed,

Until the morning
In the coffee-shop
That she overheard

Two old friends talking,
Nodding their white heads.
How’d they get so old?

She was wondering,
When one of them groaned,
How you can you stand her?

I feel exhausted
Every time I talk
To her. Then she knew.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Four Tales for Liminal Afternoons

~ Nothing at the Stroke of Noon

Elena did not like the look
Of the shadow between her thighs.
She stood up from the bench quickly,
And strode off immediately,
But couldn’t quite focus her eyes.

The shadow was lost without her,
So it tagged along beside her,
But everything was different now
In the way the shadow bobbled.
Elena had broken somehow.

No one saw this but the shadow,
And shadows don’t see anyhow.

The bench warmed up in midday sun.
Elena broke into a run.

~ Hypocoristic

When a little hole opened
In the world, people were pleased
In the predictable ways.

They posed with it for pictures
And said, at last we can go
Somewhere else if we want to.

They gave it little pet names—
Doorhole, Gate-Gate, Mystery,
Portal o’Fantasy Place.

But the world grew very grey,
Since mostly it was the young
Who stepped through and ran away.

~ Huldre

Millenniums after
The strip-mining was done,
New religions sprang up
Around empty mountains

And pyramidal holes
Upside down in the ground.
The civilizations
Emerging from those faiths

Knew no astrology
And ignored the planets
But kept accurate clocks
Of crystals as hearth gods.

Their bad souls ascended,
While the good got to go
Deeper down in the ground
Where gods kept their own hearths.

Their angels were fairies,
Insectlike with clear wings.
From clouds they stole children.
Hide your kids when clouds sing.

~ Group Autobiography

At that point, we realized
We needed to escape,
And someone shouted,

In the words of every movie
Almost, ever made,
Let’s get out of here!

But of course, by then,
It was too late.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Goat Songs

Story’s the source
Of the horror,
How cognition
Catches affect,

Lets you explain.
Let us explain.
Story entraps
You in story.

There’s no story
To the world, but
There’s no world to
You not story.

And we can’t tell
You why, because
Why won’t grab you
But as story.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Without Poems

He woke up
And went out
To chant poems

By himself.
In the house,
A shadow

Like a moth
Got up, too,
Without poems.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

It’s Gone Now

What next, Augusto,
Between dinosaurs’
Extinctions and ours?

A concept can’t sleep
Or wake up. We have
To be here to be.