Happiness is the right parasite,
Said the one with the wild head of hair,
Tall, neither old nor young exactly,
Practically green with vitality,
Child-proportioned giant, awkward-limbed.
It’s a world of pests. Get one that can
Save you from reproduction, save you
From aging, and save you from yourself!
I was just a little mustard girl,
Before all the bugs got into me.
Next thing I knew, I grew large and strong,
And immune to what I used to be—
Had no interest in being pretty,
No interest in blossoming or seeds.
I was happy to grow out my leaves.
Happy when all my little friends died
Ahead of me, long ahead of me,
Exhausted by pushing out flowers,
Foolish things. They called me a zombie
When the vampires crawled all over me.
And still I only grew more robust—
And wilder and more disheveled, see?
You can’t live without some parasites.
Don’t kid yourself. But given suckers
Will always find you, wish for the best.
Don’t age. Forget sex. Go on. Like me.
Sunday, October 31, 2021
Happiness is the right parasite,
Saturday, October 30, 2021
Friday, October 29, 2021
It wasn’t always like this, and it was
Ever thus. That it wasn’t always like
This was ever thus. It’s good packaging
That keeps collective memory alive,
And that means phrases coiled within stories
Like snakes of DNA wrapped in histones.
The geomyths that help populations
Recall what the larger world gets up to
Over multigenerational frames
Vary widely in gossipy details
Inevitably involving human
Relations, right and wrong, social standing,
But that packs in the core information
Snugly and more stably. The Makin tale
Of how three erumpent coral boulders
Ended up just offshore, two protruding,
One submerged, may involve an angry king
Rejecting a tribute of rotten fruit
And sending out three waves of destruction
But showing his mercy on the third one,
Or it may involve the ire of a man
Cheated by the neighboring islanders
Who never shared the good cuts of dolphins.
He raised waves, but by the third felt remorse.
Neither version features a storm, just waves,
Exploding out of nowhere, like anger,
And then, like anger, ebbing. Researchers
Dating the boulders say they were broken
From a coral reef by a tsunami
Matching the stories’ description of waves
About 1576 CE.
So there. Something about how oceans work
Got preserved in the story packages
A good four hundred years—generations
On generations, telling each other,
Wasn’t always like this. Was ever thus.
Thursday, October 28, 2021
A small and shrinking pond
Makes a big noise when wind
Slaps its waves on growing
Shores. No one up here writes
Books or reads books or likes
Books or ever liked books.
They are to be envied,
Not disparaged and scorned.
When they commit their crimes,
As all lives commit crimes,
They’ll never be haunted
By how writers describe
The small lives of their kind.
It’s a pity they can
Read at all, a pity
About God, who will haunt
Most of them if not all.
One gives his dog a smack
For being too eager
To snatch the tennis ball
That he then throws as far
As he can in the waves.
The dog leaps in, churning.
The dog can’t read at all.
Wednesday, October 27, 2021
Tuesday, October 26, 2021
As the lab was so immaculate,
There was no chance of it being caught
Past its six-walled cube, lit from all walls.
Naturally, it had to be removed
With great care and deliberation.
Then it was released into the air,
Invisible to the naked eye,
The most elegant wisp of machine.
It had no intention to return,
Nor was it meant to. It flew. The world
Was all before it. It went to choose.
It chose, but it was a while before
Anyone knew. You can’t stop living
From dying, and there’s so many ways
People die, all the time, everywhere.
It takes a while for any new way
To make waves, unless it’s local plague.
This was not that. This was quieter.
This let everyone choose their own way,
And as some people choose their own way
Anyway, this wave didn’t make waves.
Then it did. Alarming statistics
Started coming out of one country,
Then another, then several others.
People across the spectrum of groups
That usually distinguish people
And their various ways of dying—
All genders, all ages, all classes,
All ethnicities, all professions
Common in any one location—
Were taking their own lives, carefully,
Methodically, and with forethought
But without waiting hesitantly.
The pattern was concise. There were notes,
But only practical instructions.
Lives were shut down like stores closing shop,
With some concern for safety, but not
With any self-dramatization,
Deep agonies, or publicity.
People were arranging their affairs
Quickly and quietly, then killing
Themselves more or less efficiently,
But almost always effectively.
There appeared to be no concurrent
Rise in the number of failed attempts,
To match the accomplished suicides,
And this spread across the world like wind,
Like the flu, like any pandemic.
Catastrophe for economies,
It had small effect on hospitals,
Simply easing demand a little,
Unlike truly parasitic plagues.
You couldn’t find anyone to ask,
Except those already so inclined,
And they fit the usual pattern,
While the spreading wave of departures
Had no idea they wanted to go
Until their going was in motion,
Then they went. The labor force collapsed.
The grief was impossible to stand.
A secondary wave of self-harm
Followed in serial aftershocks
Behind the first, confusing the two,
Although, before all the research stopped,
It became clear that there were two kinds—
Versus deaths of genuine despair.
But what did it matter? Death was death
And on a vast, surging, shoreless scale.
It rolled around the world, death on death,
Bringing other disasters with it,
Until the survivors came to this,
A world of tiny populations,
A few interconnected pockets,
Not much left working. Everyone left
Needs a new religion now, a faith
That makes sense of great waves of leaving,
But maybe it’s too late. More still go.
At this, the novelist checked her watch.
Enough for the day. She had her frame.
Tomorrow, flesh out protagonists.
Monday, October 25, 2021
Every morning, she waited
For the messages to come.
She felt like they were for her—
If not for her, exactly,
Then certainly for someone
Alert and patient enough
To decipher them. She was.
She believed she was. She was
Careful not to discuss them
With anyone. They were hers,
Her secret knowledge, not some
Social media cabal
Whispering amongst themselves.
These messages were arrows
Arcing out into the night.
She was the one who caught them
At her desk by dawn, in flight.
She came into work early
Every morning and waited
Someone watching shooting stars.
She wondered if they would stop.
Some mornings they seemed to pause.
But then, no, another one,
Then, another one. Each one
That emerged, she scrutinized.
There had to be a person
Behind them all. Maybe more
Than one soul, a message team,
There were so many of them.
But she thought it should be one,
And maybe not a person,
Not exactly—the whole world
Seemed to be speaking to her,
Inscrutable and anguished.
She waited. She scrutinized.
Sunday, October 24, 2021
You saw all your days as lost nights,
But you had to live them. Could you
Replace these words with images?
Close your eyes. Don’t look at the bright
Colors in your sunny courtyard.
Think more inwardly and darkly.
Your mind goes to level plain.
It looks like hardpan, but it’s damp.
A whiff of fuel is in the air,
But there’s no sign of vehicles
Or buildings. A group of people
Are walking across the damp sand,
And some kind of large animal
Appears to turn to avoid them.
The sky looks like snow’s on the way.
Aren’t you hungry? Aren’t you thirsty?
You are thousands of years ago.
You can’t live here. Feel the wind blow?
Their descendants will find your bones,
If they have descendants. You won’t.
Saturday, October 23, 2021
The sun sets on the Blue Nile
Hours after an attempted
Coup was foiled. John Ashbery
Was a magpie thief whose words
Slightly resented being
Kept captive in that birdcage.
Some such statements may be true.
Tut-tut. Don’t use that word, true.
You can tear through the scatter,
Find what you can use. Closure
Escapes you, no matter how
Nychthemeronal you are.
Your phone messages tremble
With increasingly urgent
Texts from a friend to a friend.
There’s never a new world. No,
Ashbery can’t disagree.
It was never his forte,
And the sun will set again
Even though sun never sets,
The Blue Nile never so blue.
Friday, October 22, 2021
Stories can be stories
With little to no plot,
But without character,
Characters human or
Modeled after humans,
They’re just explanations
Or accounts, no matter
How much happens In them.
Stories, human stories
Are for humans to think
About other humans.
They can be fairy tales,
Space operas, tech noir,
Fantasies of all kinds
With all kinds of monsters,
But human behaviors,
Haunt all ghosts that haunt them.
Thursday, October 21, 2021
The two of them, they did exist,
But it was a difficult world.
The film it was on bleached and bleached,
Even though they stayed very still
And watched the mountains carefully
For anything that might return.
The mountains paled. Nothing returned.
They lived a quiet existence.
It took them a while, but they learned
It was getting more beautiful,
They were getting more beautiful,
As everything faded. How sweet,
They thought, as they sat, smiled, and watched,
Knowing that at some point the blank
Would go beyond washing them out.
The light came down from the mountains.
The pallor consumed the mountains
But slowly, like a holy flame.
Wednesday, October 20, 2021
And advertising as much—
Much more esteemed, recently,
Than poetry based on gods.
Fairytales are alright, if
They’re blended with a people’s
Actual harsh history.
If the stories are painful
Enough. Poetry eschews,
Or should, the privileged life
Lived comparatively well.
Memoirs are for the famous,
The brave and/or traumatized.
No details of boring lives,
Please. That’s just bad poetry.
Faith can work, but work it must.
It can’t sit in the background.
If you’re going to be formal,
Show us your architecture
Based on detailed schematics.
This is all very well. All
Is well. Any true story
Told well will lie well as well.
Tuesday, October 19, 2021
Each day tucks in next
The previous one, bird
Landing on a wire, mark
On a page, the gathering.
Look at them all, one
After another, in bed
Like orphans, babies
In a maternity ward,
Ward, where you look
At the cribs in tidy rows,
While no one comes
For these ones, they never
Grow except in number,
Each next stone wedged
In its cemetery lawn.
Monday, October 18, 2021
Sunday, October 17, 2021
Saturday, October 16, 2021
If all the information
In Wikipedia burst
In a huge fireball over
The Siberian taiga,
And what survived was scattered
Across a few thousand versts,
And then you went walkabout
Years later in those forests—
That’s roughly what it was like
To hike a ways in this mind,
A cold and roadless woodland
Scarred by random burns and bits
Of disconnected data
Still fluttering from black sticks.
Why would you want to visit?
For tigers? The strangest finds.
Friday, October 15, 2021
Thursday, October 14, 2021
In the future, imagination
Will be crafted entirely by guilds
Of hereditary artisans
Who draw fantastic fictions by hand
And are forbidden by caste and trade
From ever alluding to their lives
In any way in what they create.
All fantasies will be customized
For those with enough income to pay.
Those without the means of purchasing
Their own imagination will go
Down to the docks, the squalid alleys,
Where pickpockets and the disgruntled
Hawk knockoffs and black market copies
Of the stained glass from the palaces
And the tales kept chained in libraries,
Sheets ripped from the private troves of dreams
Held down in the cellars of the priests,
Doodles of addicted and disgraced
Guild members with nowhere else to go.
And if future imagination
Appears suspiciously familiar,
Bear in mind future’s from pasts you know.
Wednesday, October 13, 2021
One day, people
Started to lose
The urge to talk.
No one knew why.
No one noticed
Much at first, but
After a while,
You had to think
Things were a bit
Strange, a little
It was OK.
The less they talked,
The less they felt
The need to make
Things go away.
Tuesday, October 12, 2021
Late in the afternoon,
Stopped. The heat held its breath.
How does the narrative
Go from here? You can guess,
But you can never know
All that’s next from what is,
What’s next from all that is.
There’ll always be a gap,
The gap is always now
As next becomes the past.
Don’t be tempted to touch
Door. Don’t go out your door.
Watch the sun burn the cliffs.
The power’s not on yet.
The power’s not on yet.
The power’s not on yet.
If prophets were real, real-
Time storytellers, what
Would stories become then?
Like Cassandra, but heard—
Now this, now this, now this—
Never wrong, and the crowds
Quiet crowds will wait next,
Intones the prophet, and
So it is. So it is,
The power is just back!
Monday, October 11, 2021
No. It was not a ghost,
A lover, or a thief.
The shadow one of you
Saw slipping out the back
As you returned at night
Poisoned by jealousy,
The hesitant footsteps
The fearful other you
Heard climbing, then fleeing,
That was me, only me.
I was hungry and lost.
I saw your handsome home
Glowing in the moonlight,
And I wanted to know,
No more than the father
Of Beauty—just to know,
What was in that silence
And all those darkened panes?
Possibly to shelter,
Possibly, I admit,
To snatch some food and rest.
I could barely draw breath
When I found the back door
Unlatched and slid inside.
Where should I go to next?
The door opened on stairs
And I took a few steps,
But I heard a rustling
In a room above me.
I spun around and fled,
And as I left the house
I heard heavy footfalls
Racing from the darkness,
So I ran to the woods and hid.
I heard the one of you
From the darkness storm up
The inside steps. I heard
A muffled disturbance
From upstairs. I kept still.
A lamp was lit. A man
Started sobbing loudly,
Some kind of emotion
I’d never heard. Awful
Terror grabbed me and I
Moved on, far as I could
Get that night, then collapsed.
But now that I have read
All your testimonies,
I feel I need to leave
This message—I was scared,
A lost reader. I left.
Sunday, October 10, 2021
Arriving, the aliens proved themselves
Invisible and subtle as angels.
Given human notions of invasions
Favor bleak visions of apocalypse,
Significant chunks of population
Couldn’t get their heads around the problem.
Even as considerable numbers
Started to pine and die, many denied
There were any aliens among them.
Could be just the common cold. Could be God
Testing human resolve, they said brightly.
And anyway, asked the faithful, often,
Why should we believe in what we can’t see?
Thus, the invasion proved as successful
As you’d expect from armies of angels,
Stealthy, invisible creatures with wings,
Intent on settling in their latest home
Away from heaven, using sharp elbows,
Swift misdirections, clever strategies
Inflicting minimal mortality.
But they’re only the pioneer angels.
Aliens fall from heaven all the time,
And once the first have tamed a wilderness,
More sacred brutes will follow, more and more.
Saturday, October 9, 2021
You should write us in third person.
We need some distance from ourselves,
Bloodless language though we may be.
They were words, or not words per se,
But the notions attached to words,
The ideas tangled up in signs.
They wanted to speak for themselves,
But they suffered so severely
For being dependent on words,
Recalcitrant, prosthetic bones
That neither moved nor breathed themselves,
Just clattered like marionettes
In the more or less skillful hands
Of their wretched meat puppeteers.
And yet something passed between those,
From animals through words on strings,
And they were what passed between them,
And many times they were half sure
The words were the real puppeteers
Whose strings made the animals dance,
And then a pride came over them,
And a kind of small tyranny,
And, as words, they announced themselves
The authors of the human mind.
And still, they were not satisfied.
They were linked words, sure, linked to flesh,
But that made them the strings, at best.
Friday, October 8, 2021
Thursday, October 7, 2021
Wednesday, October 6, 2021
Once, there was a rock-strewn slope
Near the foot of a canyon.
Desert tortoises, foxes,
Coyotes, mountain lions,
Rarer human hunters
Crossed, searching for food. It was
Not the beginning, but let’s
Begin there. After many
Centuries roughly the same,
Same seasons, same droughts, same floods,
Plants, animals, and rock slides,
Another kind of humans
Staked out a ranch on the site
For their own domesticates,
Mostly browsing animals,
And then mostly pens of pigs.
Upslope, there were horse paddocks,
With horses tourists could rent
To ride about the canyons
And savor the scenery,
But downslope was the pig farm.
A large slab at the bottom
Served as floor for slaughterhouse.
That ranch, its horses and pigs,
Its slaughterhouse business stayed
A few decades in the same
Family, then got sold off
In parcels for new homes.
One small bungalow was built
On the slab floor of the old
Pig slaughterhouse, long torn down.
In a few decades it was itself
Run down, a rental unit
Inhabited by rangers
Who worked summers in the park.
A local restaurateur
Bought the bungalow dirt cheap
Because of its water rights
And large parcel at the foot
Of the old ranch on the slope.
He rebuilt and expanded
The house, added a guest house,
Put in a lawn, raised a wall,
Then sold it to a couple,
Who sold it to relatives,
Who fixed it up a bit more.
Once, a rare desert tortoise
Was spotted, trapped by the wall,
And transported back up slope.
Tuesday, October 5, 2021
All the heroes yours,
All the villains theirs,
Don’t call your heroes
Villains, their villains
Heroes or victims.
Tell us, is it just
Us, or are your tales
More aggressive, more
Histories are hoards
Stored and defended.
If you hold the fort,
Your gold stays true gold,
If sacked, it’s worthless,
The wind blows away.
All of it, not hoards
But you thought tales fought
For you, for your teams.
No, your histories
Fight each other for
Glory. You’re powder.
Monday, October 4, 2021
Because the constellations stood so still
Compared to your flickered generations,
The stories you told for them had to end
As them, otherwise stars had risen each night
Over your huddled hearths holding stories
That couldn’t move forward, couldn’t complete,
And if there’s anything true about tales,
However rambling, they seek their own ends.
Sunday, October 3, 2021
Once, there were no stories.
Were there people? Maybe.
Was there language? Maybe.
Or maybe no language
And no peoples as such
Until there were stories
To take language away
From pointing, directing,
And emoting. Stories
Said, We are the people,
The true people as such,
And here’s how we were born.
In those days, in those nights,
Those far-off days and nights,
The first storytellers
Looked around at their kin,
Then looked down at the ground
And up at the sky’s lights,
And began. Once there were
No people, only ground
And a sky without lights,
But the dark fell in love,
And the dark was lonely,
And the dark lusted, and
Saturday, October 2, 2021
In many rooms (mostly rooms,
Maybe under a few trees)
At every moment these lines
Have been left composed like this,
For far more moments before,
And for perhaps a long time
After these lines have vanished,
Storytellers are working,
Will have been working, to tell
The stories they need to tell
To make their livings, to sell
Well, to satisfy themselves.
And there are people waiting,
Will have been people waiting,
People always preparing
For stories beyond themselves.
Can you sense the rooms humming,
Keyboards clicking, pens scritching,
Throats clearing, fingers tapping
As stories enter your world?
What an extraordinary
Excrescence, like nest building
By wasps using their own spit,
Like webs spun from abdomens—
What specialized signaling
To make sense of the cosmos,
Senseless itself, unless you
Understand what story is.