Watch the old tales carefully,
Which weaknesses undid them,
The humans, gods, and demons—
Sleep. Hunger. Lust. Affection.
All of them succumb to dreams.
Dreams succumb to none of them.
Consider power without them,
Without any weaknesses
Bound to being physical
Animals about yea big—
No hand-to-hand combat scenes.
No heads cut off while dozing.
No hearts tricked by temptation
Or betrayed by affection.
Not much of a story left
For the dreamers, but for dreams
This is fine, the way it is.
Dreams themselves are the army
Of demons that never sleep,
Never lust for other dreams,
Never care too much for beasts.
Your dreams, unlike you, don’t eat.
Your dreams, unlike gods, don’t stray.
You’ll never outwit your dreams,
Arriving when you’re weakest.
Wasn’t it just last night one
Made off with much of your rest,
And all of your peace of mind?
You woke up lonely, hungry
Flesh, but so quick to forget.
Tuesday, November 30, 2021
Watch the old tales carefully,
Monday, November 29, 2021
Sunday, November 28, 2021
She woke up and everyone
Except the damn cat was gone.
Loneliness had always been
A devastating feeling
For her, but this time felt worse
Somehow, she didn’t know why.
She heard howling. It scared her.
She went out into the yard.
The fall evening air smelled fine.
No vehicles. No exhaust.
The howling unnerved her more,
And she went back in the house.
Safer, but lonelier there.
All night, she stared at the door.
Saturday, November 27, 2021
This was the story he told,
Exactly as he told it—
He got off the bus to work
And walked across the campus
Downtown, just after sunrise,
And noticed the peachy sky
And the gold light off the dome
In the original quad,
And then he was on the ground,
Crumpled like wadded paper,
In both knees and his right wrist.
And that was it. He rolled up
Into a sort of sitting
Position and sat there dazed,
No one crossing the quad yet
And him unable to stand.
He just had to wait, then look
Harmless when someone walked by.
This was the city, before
Cellphones. Bearded, he could be
A professor or some bum.
He tried to ignore the pain
Of his multiple fractures,
Enough to appear sober
And sane, not delirious,
Non-threatening. He waited.
The morning sun cleared the dome.
He made a note to never
Trust gorgeous mornings again.
Friday, November 26, 2021
Once, in the grey parking lot
Behind the white cinderblocks
Of a small, squat Baptist church
Children were playing a game
Through a long summer evening
After the final sermon
Of the week, chasing a ball
That flew into the dark hedge
Planted along the church walls.
One small boy reached for the ball
In the hedge confidently
But felt a sudden sharp pain
On the inside of his wrist.
He yanked out his hand, puzzled.
The burning only got worse
As he stared for a moment,
At the fuzzy ball of black
And gold fixed onto his skin.
Then the bumblebee rolled off
And fell to the pavement, dead.
Thursday, November 25, 2021
In the middle 1960s,
Dr. Holman, orthopedic
Surgeon extraordinaire, looked like
Alfred Hitchcock or Orson Welles,
And smoked outside the hospital
Each morning before surgeries.
He spoke in a nasal basso,
And he had those bone-surgeon hands—
Large, strong, meaty, firm, but soft-skinned.
He plastered children’s casts himself.
He was among the first to try
And when a seven year-old boy
Near died of a staph infection,
He angrily switched hospitals.
If you were one of his patients,
You felt you were in caring hands.
And then, at some point, he retired,
And then, at some point, died, of course.
His patients never knew much more.
Wednesday, November 24, 2021
It takes character
To not be too much
Of a character.
Who was the person
Who drove up the hill
To listen to birds?
Who was the person
Who then drove back down?
Whoever they were,
They deserve gladness
For telling no tales,
For saying nothing.
Tuesday, November 23, 2021
Monday, November 22, 2021
That night, the rain fell,
Off and on, all night,
Quite some time ago,
But not so far back
You don’t remember
Thunder waking you,
Mist on the mountains
In faint, predawn light,
The way a story,
An important one,
Breathes in its settings,
Rinsing off meanings.
Sunday, November 21, 2021
Saturday, November 20, 2021
Every Sunday morning
Pastor Millard Bradley
Preached about the Rapture.
The notion intensely
Excited him. He said,
Repeatedly, he hoped
He would live to see it,
He’d be seized while preaching,
Taken up to Heaven.
Every Sunday morning
For decades, he would warn
His small congregation
Of believers waiting
For the end of this world,
For joyful ascension,
In case any of them
Weren’t, in fact, born again,
How awful it would be
To be among the left
Behind, and not among
The forgiven taken.
He was forced to retire
When he couldn’t recall
Or read Sunday sermons,
And he died with the rest
Of the folks in the home,
Who each died one by one,
Though sometimes clustering.
The skies never opened.
Not saying. Just saying.
Friday, November 19, 2021
A gifted storyteller,
Once, in an interview,
Suggested her family,
Which had a remarkably
Contingent history, was
A source of deep bemusement.
It was the contingency,
Oddly, she found bemusing,
As if behavioral swerves
Didn’t often redirect
Eventual waves downstream.
Being a storyteller,
She felt storytelling might
Be the best tool in the end,
At least her interviewer
Felt that was the takeaway.
Thursday, November 18, 2021
Fantasies are poorer
Than all the past presents
You, but fantasies fueled
The present past that makes
You. Let’s say a couple
Of you died a couple
Years ago, untimely,
On the side of this road.
That couple of you searched
For something coming up
Here to this scenery,
Something in each other,
Something in their futures
They dreamt out of their pasts,
And now they’re here and gone.
You can say that couple
Was you, was all of you,
In a way; that’s true, but
That couple wasn’t you
Who’ll never read this poem,
Scroll carved for a tombstone.
Wednesday, November 17, 2021
Tuesday, November 16, 2021
Monday, November 15, 2021
It takes things a while to get where they are,
Then takes them a while to get somewhere else,
Is what she meant to say, but what she said
Was only by way of illustration
Of the point she’d wanted to get across
While staring at the bumper of her car,
The way someone will stare at a toddler
Or a cherished pet that has recently,
And rather characteristically, been
Misbehaving. She said it all started
With a cottonwood root in a campground
The bumper snagged a couple years ago.
That incident left a small crack in it.
A year or so later, it snagged again
On a slightly-too-large rock in the road
Following a couple days of flash floods.
It wobbled at high speeds for months like that,
But just a slight flexing in the corner.
Parked, you couldn’t even see it, unless
You walked around the car looking for scars.
But it caught a metal gate left ajar
That blew open in the wind last autumn.
Then she was in a snowstorm upcountry
And she dragged it on an icy snowbank
As she backed away from a tricky edge.
By then it looked bad, a dangling fragment
Of broken bumper on the driver’s side.
She sighed. She’d had such a long way to drive
Down the mountain and then the interstate
Before she could get to another town.
The torn bit flapped like crazy down the road,
Especially at high speeds in cross drafts
Between the weaving, long-haul, road-train trucks,
And then, just like that, it snapped completely
And flew off behind her like a raven
Shot straight out of a cannon or something.
She shrugged, her arms folded, staring at it,
Her front bumper with a corner missing.
It came apart by bits. She’ll get it fixed.
Sunday, November 14, 2021
He said over eggs benny,
Ordered without a menu.
The only reason to have more
Money than you need is not
To have to go on thinking
About money. If you’ve got
More than you need and still think
About more, then you’ve got
Syndrome, man, always hungry.
Saturday, November 13, 2021
What great narrative captures
Even any structural arcs
Of the linear, loose spirals
Of roughly repetitive
Lived experience? Stories
Aren’t for capturing what is,
But are all weirdly lyric
In the end, experience
Themselves, linear loose spirals
As you experience them,
Over and over again,
Going to the Grand Canyon
With your family at ten,
The heat and dust on the edge
Of the leaning, milling crowd,
Striving for experience,
To capture exact details
In snapshots for anecdotes,
Revisiting a decade
And a half later, adult
In a sudden March snowstorm,
The void a chalice of swirls
Mind broke to hold and detail,
Revisiting a decade
And a half later, middle-
Aged with a viewing partner,
North Rim in clear October,
A whole sunrise from rich dark
To the blinding details
Below Point Imperial,
A half a decade later,
Alone and somewhat mourning
A solemn blue afternoon,
Another decade later
Ready, almost, to lean out
And fall from Angel’s Landing,
A half a decade later,
Another surprise snowstorm
Waited out in a cabin,
Another surprise snowstorm
Waited out, then waded out
Through drifts filthy with detail.
Friday, November 12, 2021
If it’s any good at all,
Every story gets retold
From another point of view.
All the brothers turned to birds
By an angry father’s curse
When they failed to fetch water
For their infant sister, frail
For no known reason, won back
Their humanity again
When that sister rescued them
Once grown up a bit herself,
Old enough to go looking,
Get to the end of the world,
Visit sun and moon and stars,
Get a magic bone, lose it,
And cut off her own pinkie
To use in its place as key
To unlock the glass mountain,
Meet the dwarf, free her brothers,
Happily ever after.
Done. Of course, it’s been retold
In a hundred folk versions,
Print collections, operas,
Pagan-punk pop songs, and from
The brave sister’s point of view
In a fantasy novel.
But what is it with the dwarf?
What is the dwarf’s backstory?
How’d he become housekeeper
And cook for the raven boys
In what seems like the payback
For Snow White serving the dwarves?
And why were ravens roosting
Inside of a glass mountain
And taking all their meals there?
Once, the mother of the boys
Was overheard by the dwarf
Wishing to have a daughter.
The dwarf did his best to grant
The wish, but the wished-for girl
Was frail and needed magic
From the holy well. The boys
Raced each other to the well,
Slipped and dropped the jug in it
Then didn’t know what to do.
When the boys didn’t come back,
The father, weirdly, wished them
Birds, and the father's wish, too,
The dwarf granted. Only when
He realized the father
Hadn’t really meant the curse,
The dwarf felt ashamed and left
To grow old in glass mountain,
Where he cared for the ravens
He had caused. How glass mountain
Came to be glass, how the sun
And the moon acquired a taste
For human flesh, why the stars
All perched neatly on their chairs,
Or why the girl’s fingerbone
Sacrifice opened the door,
These were not the dwarf’s business.
He served his flying shadows.
When their sister came, he watched
Their transformation, and then
They all left. The dwarf still dwells
Alone within glass mountain
Where there’s no one’s voice but his,
And no danger he might grant
Any tragic wishes, but
That finger’s still in the door.
Thursday, November 11, 2021
Wednesday, November 10, 2021
The men in their own cabin,
The other side of the wall,
Conversed in booming voices
With occasional laughter,
Maybe a touch too hearty,
About their day on the trail.
We are healthy, their voices
Seemed to reassure themselves,
We’ve been doing sturdy things.
We’ve had an interesting day
Hiking with other people.
We’ve come back with anecdotes,
We are anecdote hunters,
And we have had some success,
Which we will share by talking
Humorously, in stories
We work on as we tell them,
Proving our lives have been lived.
Tuesday, November 9, 2021
He was excited. There’d been
A death in the family,
And that was sad, but it brought
Him into conversation
With his much older brother,
And as they talked about health
And who’d lived how long, how well,
He’d gotten the chance to talk
About what he was up to,
What his cardiologist
Had told him about himself,
And as he’d spilled this all out,
His brother could hear his voice
Growing happier, almost
Drunk on the rush of speaking,
As if talking about health
Could produce that health for him,
And maybe it could. It’s old,
Old language magic, naming,
Over and over again,
As a charm to calm the fates.
Monday, November 8, 2021
The spider climbed into the sun.
Even spiders need to get warm.
Its surface was a tidy grey,
Like a man’s traditional suit
For almost any occasion,
The kind with such subtle pinstripes.
On this occasion, the spider,
Who may have been male or female,
Was sunning alone on a leaf
That had fallen not long ago
And now made a convenient scoop
For weakly warm late-autumn light.
Oddly enough, when the shadow
Of the tree the leaf had come from
Fell across the spider, it stayed
For some time in the shade. It moved
Eventually, but even then
Only deeper into the shade.
That’s why it’s so easy to lose
Track of living things. When they move,
They move without giving reasons.
Sunday, November 7, 2021
He smiled. His teeth were small and clean
But crooked and vaguely faded.
There’s a partner to that story.
There was a man who was a good
Liar, which means good at lying,
But he had a good heart as well
And strove to use his gift for good,
To tell the lies people needed.
One day he noticed a goddess
Out hunting for the sport of it—
Deer, people, all the same to her,
Which she considered only fair.
When he came upon her, she had
Her golden bow drawn, a young child
In her sights. That child’s not human,
The good liar called out to her,
And when she swiveled her fine head
And pierced him with her grey-eyed gaze,
He quickly made up a good lie,
Not his best, but just good enough
To give the child time to run off.
Divinity can’t be fooled long,
And when the goddess realized
She’d been tricked, she shot him instead,
And when the gods are furious,
They don’t let you die easily.
They come up with something grisly,
Or saddle you with some weird curse.
The goddess’s poisoned arrow
Cursed the good liar to never
Be able to talk but in tales
And worse, to always be believed.
When he realized he wasn’t dead,
The good liar went home relieved
But somewhat confused. When he tried
To tell people what had happened,
Only preposterous stories
About shipwrecks and foreign wars
Came out of his mouth. Everyone
Believed every wild thing he said.
He insisted he was fibbing,
He couldn’t help making things up,
But they put their faith in his tales,
And rushed off to plunder shipwrecks,
And rushed off to fight foreign wars.
Every time he opened his mouth,
Some awful fantasy popped out
That everybody acted on,
So that the good liar became,
Entirely against his will,
A very bad liar indeed,
Until one day, begging someone
To understand he told stories,
That’s all, just stories, worth nothing,
Somehow he made the grave mistake
Of telling of a truth teller
Who could eat lead and excrete gold.
In minutes he was filled with lead,
And so ended the good liar.
The small teeth gleamed. Bad liar, me.
Saturday, November 6, 2021
She rolled over in bed and said to the wall
And the imaginary spider on it,
Where she had seen a real spider yesterday,
The reason we react with so much distress
When presented with compelling evidence
Contrary to our foundational beliefs,
As if we’d seen, forgive me, a big spider,
Might not be because we’re egos and obtuse
But because we sense that a shift in our views
Would be like a planetoid striking the Earth,
Knocking us out of our periodic calm,
Our secure circles, and into the unknown.
Bear in mind, it’s socially catastrophic,
Usually, to change your mind. It’s sheer terror
Of finding ourselves in our lonely bodies,
Set adrift in the outer darkness of some
Erratic orbit which will destroy all our
Humble but long-cultivated ways of life.
The human animal isn’t so stupid
It doesn’t realize what truth does to it,
But you don’t worry about that much, do you?
Lots of legs and lots of eyes, a little brain,
But no society, no external mind
Minding you. She rolled back over, reached across
The human animal snoring next to her,
And flicked a switch. Spiders bred under her bed.
Friday, November 5, 2021
Thursday, November 4, 2021
Almost every night in the sixties and
Into at least the early seventies,
The Moody Bible Institute broadcast
A melodramatic radio show
In each episode of which a sinner
Played by an actor would come to Jesus
And be saved, not without many false steps
And flourishes played on a church organ
In between. In New Jersey, one mother
Who listened, you might say, religiously,
Raised a number of adopted children.
Having been bred an evangelical
In a New England family entangled
With that same Moody Bible Institute,
And having been born again at so young
An age she remembered her second birth
No better than her first, she was hardly
Similar to those unshackled adults
Whose conversions lifted them from gambling,
Drink, prostitution, and embezzlement
Nightly on her show. But something about
How she raised her children from ruined homes
And dragged them to church but also watched them
Curiously, almost with detachment,
Should have been a warning they might reverse
The narrative trajectory she knew—
Getting saved early, then falling from grace.
Humans tell tales all the ways you make clothes,
Probably first made about the same time
And for much the same reasons, to protect,
To ornament, to advertise status
Or accept an assigned identity,
To remember who you are. If you love
Brands off the rack, it’s one thing. If you love
To sew pattern items it’s another.
Who knows why the woman who adopted
So many children only loved to give
Them ill-fitting, hand-me-down, cast-off clothes?
She liked to brush off their complaints. Let’s see
How you grow, she’d say. Let’s see how you grow.
Wednesday, November 3, 2021
At the gas station and smoke shop
On the Shivwits reservation,
A young man fueling his Hyundai,
His long black hair unbound, tan cap
With a cartoon of a warrior
In full regalia on his head
Backwards, is free-styling along
With Megan Thee Stallion, making
Up his own phrases to her flow,
‘Cuz he don’ give a fuck about
Leaving Utah, he’s not wanted,
He’s a warrior, he’s a savage.
The gas pump beeps. Bobbing his head,
Still rhyming, he slides back behind
The wheel of his smooth grey sedan,
And then he’s gone, not fast, no smoke,
Maybe really leaving Utah,
Maybe for good and good for him.
Tuesday, November 2, 2021
They composed themselves.
They tried not to mind
Too much when others
Called them unbalanced.
They were unbalanced,
That was the beauty
Of it, of them—lines
Unlike the others,
They were crookedness
In a world of pines
Grown fast for lumber.
That’s what they told us,
While they helped us dress
Like we didn’t care
For success. Honey,
Anyone one can be
Basic light or dark.
Forget that yin-yang
Business! You’re cherry
Blossoms throwing shade,
You’re petals floating
In a green river
Oil-slicked and rainbowed.
Why stand it? You fell.