Friday, December 31, 2021

One Long Conversation

He met the famous author
As a student. His mentor
Asked him to go talk to her

At the small party after
Her New Year’s Eve lecture, when
The professor, his mentor,

Who had lured and cajoled her,
This famous author, to come
To their campus for a talk,

Realized he had nothing
Of interest to say to her,
Narrow scholar that he was

And wide-ranging novelist
Of science and history
In many themes that she was.

So, this professor pushed him,
The most broadly read student
In the English Department,

The one with scientific
And philosophical chops,
Or so he thought, straight at her,

The frumpy, famous author,
Short and round of hair and dress.
This sort of scheme never works,

Except that this time it did.
The anonymous student
And celebrated author

Chatted about anything
That wasn’t literature
For an hour, quite happily,

While all around them mingled
Post-this and Neo-thatists
Pleased to talk to each other.

Decades later, the student
Is still anonymous and
Certainly long forgotten

By the famous novelist,
Who is still celebrated,
Although not so much as once,

While the scholar is retired
And elderly with one last
Edited publication

Of an earlier famous
Author’s heretofore unseen,
Out-of-print work back in print,

And it’s another New Year’s
Eve on current calendars,
So people talk at parties,

If and where they can attend,
About what does or doesn’t
Seem interesting to them.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Oak Springs Trilobite Site Recollected

Up out of the Joshua
And into the junipers
He drove, thinking it was strange

To still wish to see better
When so much of his best life
Came during failures and worse.

Was it follow through? Must you
Want more to savor this much?
Back down, now in cottonwoods,

Gray, gold, or bruised tangerine,
Tracing a stream’s skinny track
Through the long desert canyon,

Parallel an old rail line,
A capillary for freight,
There was no good place to rest,

And past the schoolhouse state park,
The pavement ran out, the dirt
Road corrugated and worse.

As he drove, he fantasized
A home in such cottonwoods,
Not because he wished for one

Or was deluded enough
To think settling in the woods
By a stream through a canyon

And listening for freight trains’
Moans and methodical clanks
Into the small hours of nights

When the dark skies held more stars
Than most humans get to see,
Or care to see, all their lives

Would hold him happy. He knew
He was contented enough
Driving through, fantasizing,

But that was his recipe—
Ordinary wandering
Fermented by pure whimsy.

He would never live to see
Long hours worth resavoring
Without craving more something.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Life Is an Affair of People, Not of Places

Two young women walked
Carefully downslope
From the black boulder

Of tumbled basalt
Where they had picnicked
On the scruffy hill.

The car they climbed in,
That jinn, that demon,
Carried them away.

The dramatist wished
She could have heard them,
Whatever they said.

The novelist thought
Of a possible
Fiction anyway.

The diarist took
Note of all of this.
Cyclists pedaled past.

The air moved around.
The air moved around.
The air moved around,

And everyone’s wish
Was granted that day.
The dramatist heard

A fragment passing,
Yeh, I don’t know yet.
The novelist wrote

A full day’s quota
Of word count, then napped.
The diarist filled

The entry’s whole page
With words for details.
The cyclists finished

Their loop, stowed their bikes
In their van, and left.
The two young women?

They came back. They parked.
They walked together
To the water’s edge.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Tale of a Blank New World

In one version, everyone
Simply began to forget,
Gradually, not all at once,

And not the important stuff
First, like skill sets and how to
Run the machines, make things work.

No, first, in this great mercy,
People all around the world
Began to lose the passion

They had for any people’s
Particular history,
Good or bad, awesome or sad.

Then they forgot their regrets.
Then they forgot to forgive,
Since they really did forget.

It went on a while like this.
Tensions eased. People began
To actually coexist.

Alas, things reached that juncture
Rarely encountered, where rules
For trade-offs and momentum

So general to the world
Intersect the littler rules
Observed by storytellers,

Complications, inflection
Points, some kind of ironic
Reversal or comeuppance.

Just when the world grew peaceful,
Animosities all dropped
For lack of brooding on things

That now had no existence,
People started forgetting
More facts than they could afford

To lose. It was a new kind
Of suffering, then, failure
To function, broken systems.

Some of us remember it,
Now, who somehow still survived
Forgetting it all back then.

Still, if we learned anything
From the horrors that followed,
It was to never tell them,

Never pass them on, let them
Die with us before we make
A new world angry again.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Great Myths Are the Gossip of the Ghosts

If you have imagined it,
Someone’s probably done it.
This goes for both art and crime.

You know why storytellers
Need to research, need details,
Their own or someone else’s?

Imagination’s ghost haunts
Memory’s cemeteries
In search of lives it’s not had.

Ah, but you didn’t know that
About ghosts did you?
They’re ghosts since they never lived,

And they’ve got no memories
Of their own to draw from, so
They must haunt those minds that do.

And minds only know so much,
Bodies only live so long,
And everything you’ve thought of

However dully, idly,
Lacking any intention,
Someone, somewhere’s probably

Done, because it can be thought
Within the bone cells of mind,
Within a span of lifetime,

And even if it’s not done,
Some ghost will descend on it
If it’s at all spoken of,

And float it along until
Someone’s really done it, then
Storytellers want details.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Since The Gorbals

Actual stories involve little encounters
With littler encounters in them
Each smaller encounter closer to fiction

Four older people in a Dollar store
On a Thanksgiving afternoon in Caliente
Town of a few hundred remaining souls

Surrounded by rail lines and rocky desert
One is the frizzy-haired and heavy-set
Pallid white woman working the holiday

At the only business open in town
The other three just drifting through
Including a tall Back man in a coat

Who smells a bit of stale cigarette smoke
Plus his partner who is even frizzier
Paler and heavier than the cashier

And a very short white man with a cane
And a long white beard to his chest
And at first no one says anything at all

The out-of-state customers wander
The aisles and nearly intersect
As they collect their odds and ends

Then the partnered pair go to the counter
And chat to the clerk as she rings them up
Until the woman decides to return an item

And the tall man waits for her to do that
And the little man now waits behind him
And the tall man still chats and steps back

Nearly tripping over the little man silent
Behind him I’m sorry! I didn’t see you there
I’m easy to miss says the very little man

You’re just so quiet the tall man protests
Not wanting to seem to be making small
Of the small as the clerk chuckles Yes

You were quiet all around the store
And the tall man to be jovial adds
I bet you weren’t quiet twenty years ago

We all start out rowdier don’t we?
The small man waiting considers this
Seriously as if it were a serious suggestion

And then says I think I was rowdier then
But maybe I was always kind of quiet
By which point the clerk has rung him up

And the extra-frizzy woman ambles back
But as she and her partner turn to leave
The little man asks What part of Scotland

Are you from? so that the extra-frizzy
Woman wheels in delight to say Glasgow!
How did you know? People guess Ireland

All the time or even England which
Is just incredible and the small man grins
Through his beard and says loudly Great!

Rolling the r hard so that the delighted
Woman coos Oh that was very good!
He adds I spent a winter in Glasgow

In The Gorbals back in the early eighties
And gives her a significant look
The Gorbals! Oh that’s rough she exclaims

You know they’ve all gentrified now
Tore all those all old slums down
Oh no! I thought where will the poor go?

Dearie! She calls to her partner who is
Already half out the door This man knew
I was from Scotland straightaway!

He lived in The Gorbals for a year
That was a hard hard part of town!
The tall man turns and smiles I see

And the quiet little man now loquacious
Says One Sunday morning pissing rain
As usual I was just walking down a street

When I hear a building alarm and then
A minute later this pale scrawny fellow
Comes legging by me carrying a huge

Boxy TV set with the cord still dragging
Like a tail and off he goes into the rain
He grins O! the Glaswegian woman says

That was The Gorbals alright but
They’re all changed now all changed
I try to go back but it’s been a few years

The tall man chuckles Did they scare you
Back then? Oh yeh Laughs the small man
Happily I’ve been quiet ever since

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Roof, Roof, Ruff, Roof, Roof, Ruff

One year, a few years ago,
In the holiday season,
The divorced father, loathing

The endless repetition
Of the same six songs
For a sixth of every year,

Made a careful selection
Of medieval Christmas tunes
And Renaissance caroling,

That sort of thing. When time came
To put up the tiny tree
In the rented apartment,

He started up the playlist,
Content to avoid Rudolph,
Mariah, and all the gang

Piped into shopping plazas
Since well before Thanksgiving.
But this distressed his daughter.

That isn’t Christmas music!
You have to put on Christmas
Music for decorating!

Within a few minutes, both
Were barking along madly
To the all-dog Jingle Bells

As the desert sun shone in
Through the wide window, bleaching
The lights on the little tree.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Compose As You Breathe

Would a diary be
One long story, many
Minor stories, or not

Considered a story
At all? The massive work
Of a life recorded

Daily rarely rewards
That effort with readers,
Those readers with pleasure.

Name-dropping anecdotes
And occasional scenes
Of later famed events

Unfolding as they fell
Serve most of the highlights.
A diary’s a child

More than a narrative—
A cherished, exhausting,
Quotidian nuisance,

A changeling standing in
For the lived life as lost,
And sometimes for that child

Who never was. Monster,
Really, a midden heap
Of notes broken in days,

Unnatural units
For language, for stories
Used to leaping about

The dimensions of time,
Choreographing them.
All days, exciting days

As well as boring days,
Proceed by circular
Plodding. A diarist

Must more or less compose
As you would breathe, as you
Pulse, wake up, go to sleep.

Terrible story, that.
Terribly cut up snake.
Done today. Time for bed.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Desertion One Act

Are you ready to be a ghost?
The shadow asked you. I’m a ghost
Already, you said from your chair.

Are you ready to be all ghost?
The shadow asked again. Alright,
I think I’m ready now, you said,

And you waited by the window,
But it seemed like nothing happened,
Other than that the daylight dimmed.

While waiting, you noticed the drapes
Were overdue for a cleaning
And the windowpane had a crack.

Outside, a monotonous haze,
Neither solid clouds nor cloudless,
Blurred the dim, stolid atmosphere.

So? You asked the corner shadow.
When does this ghost business begin?
The shadow smiled, as shadows will.

Oh, you’re well in it now, my friend.
That’s a sad-looking parking lot,
You observed, absentmindedly

And apropos of nothing much.
Weeds were poking through the pavement,
And there wasn’t a car in sight.

Even the road looks abandoned,
You added, as you turned your face
To the highway in the distance.

Well, that’s the way it goes, the voice
From the corner shadow murmured.
What do you mean by that? you asked.

You know how, as you grew older
The days seemed to go by faster?
Well, they never stop speeding up.

Wait, time goes faster for a ghost?
Of course, said the corner shadow,
Then vanished as the roof collapsed.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

The Fairytale News

It was more exciting
And more frightening when
To talk to strangers was

The news, the only way
To get the news. These days,
You crouch like gnats on waves,

Frogs crowding around ponds,
Lonely girls sent to draw
Water from the stone well,

Lingering, looking down
At your own reflections,
Wishing, your thoughts dancing

Like gnats, chirping like frogs
Contesting, to stay close
To the news, watch the news.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Never Your Own

It’s time to go back
And wander the earth
In search of peaceful

Uses for atoms,
Explained the poet
In the lucid dream,

More irrational
And dark for being
Unusually clear.

Her knotted hands plunged
Into some black soil,
Where she seemed to be

Either inhuming
Or extricating
The corpse of a fawn,

Blood seeping from it,
Coloring the night.
You’ve known that poet,

The one who knows words
To find the world wise
In limited terms.

Monday, December 20, 2021

The Lightweight’s Fantasy

The kind of settled you’d like
In the end, is to finish
As a lightweight tumbleweed

Caught against a perfect fence—
Picket, not barbed—or stone wall
Under a row of shade trees,

Out of place for tumbleweed,
Sure, but finally secure.
You blew in on such raw wind

It wedged you, permanently,
Until disintegration.
Peacefully watch the seasons.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Off You Go

Each tick is on the hero’s journey—
It climbs to a height about calf-high
To humans, sticks out hooked legs, and quests.
(Yes, that’s the specialist’s term. Ticks quest.)

Each tick must quest. Is this comical?
Not unless you think that human quests
Are serious, lofty, and noble.
They’re not. Humans, ticks, and parasites

Are all on the same quest, more or less.
What’s next is whatever quested best.
Is this discouraging? That depends.
Does it give you joy, wanting badly

To go on, grab a hold of something
And ride off to a new life? Then, no.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Auntie Raconteur

I need to spend to more time with things,
She interrupted another
One of her shaggy-dog stories

About people annoying her
To observe. Someone observed back,
But you need people to listen

To funny stories about them.
There’s no entertaining mere things.
Exactly! She replied. I know

My stories aren’t entertaining,
But when you’re alone you don’t need
To be entertaining do you?

You can talk to things about things
That would never fit in stories.
But Auntie, you tell them so well!

Nonsense! She laughed and drove away
While we exchanged knowing glances,
As pines and oaks murmured and swayed.

Friday, December 17, 2021

Terror Never Works for Long

The older, more fragile
Brother had a better
Understanding of fear,

Which he wielded to scare
His impulsive younger
Brother, enough to keep

Both of them safe, those years.
Yeh, you’re bigger, little
Brother, better fighter,

But I know where you sleep,
And if you’re ever caught
Being wicked, you’ll catch

Hell from me before you
Know it’s not a bad dream,
Before you even wake.

That worked, a little while.
His brother feared bad dreams.
But they were never close,

And they went their own ways.
We’ll spare you the details.
Forty-some years later,

Little brother was sick
And sad, falling apart
From too much hard living,

And he had heart attacks,
One, two, three, four, of them,
Then slid into coma

From which he couldn’t wake,
Not even for bad dreams
Brought by older brother.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

How a Poem Delivers the News

There is a room in a wooden house,
Not terribly old but old enough
To have that wooden smell, a farmhouse.

And there’s pale sunlight on the wood floor
And sun shadows on the fading walls.
This is not a dream or a memory

From someone’s childhood. It just is
As you see it now. A worn, warm room
With light as soft as a chamois cloth,

And then the faint whispering, almost
Like the concealed scratching of a mouse,
The single envelope under the door.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

The Stations of Kay Theresa

She used to joke she’d become immune
To human-interaction toxin
Through a microdosing regimen—

Tiny conversations with strangers,
More than hello, less than a minute,
That’s the way you do it. Tolerance!

At the last stop on her long road up
To where her thoughts could let their hair down,
She encountered two men with a boat

They were easing into the water,
And another old man watching them
From a ledge above the shore, silent.

The two men with the boat were talking, cheerful,
And had a couple of fishing poles.
Leave them alone, she thought. The third man,

The silent one, seemed more interesting,
But the problem with the taciturn
Is they’re often secretly lonely

And, once invited to talk, can’t stop.
She eyed him, and then she recognized
In his weird, half-inward expression,

A loner beyond the final stage
Of social detoxification.
He was hanging up there at the top

Of the long road climbing the mountain
For the same exact reason she was,
But he was beyond the wish to talk.

He just had to listen a little
To wind-blown scraps of conversation,
And that was enough to steady him.

She turned her face to the open lake,
Then nodded when she turned back to him,
Careful not to call out a greeting.

She was rewarded with a curt nod
And the actual ghost of a grin.
My most successful relationship,

She would relate cheerfully, later,
Undisturbed by murmuring voices,
With my favorite fellow human.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Le texte après la lettre

After the form was created,
It began its new life online.

Surges of clicks would visit it.
It was downloaded many times.

The young form had a heart of code,
But people printed it as lines,

And every time it was printed,
Someone filled out a new design.

And the form thought, I am many
Forms and names and none of them mine.

The form dreamed of all its copies,
Which, in its dreams, piled misaligned.

The form dreamed people hated it,
Loathed being trapped in its confines,

And the form cried out in protest,
Its instructions were well-defined.

Then one night the form was replaced
With another one of its kind.

To find the original code,
Try reading between the signs

Of all those millions of copies
In the archives of the divine.

Monday, December 13, 2021

The Fairytale’s Assistant

In the old fables,
The magic gems light
Themselves from within.

Real gems don’t do that,
No matter how rare.
They’re dark in the dark.

You want inner light?
Get yourself a bulb
With a power source.

A bright torch helps more
In a cave than all
The gems the light finds.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

A Sthenic Character

Even chortling with derision,
Her voice chimed as clear as a bell—

The more we get go know ourselves,
The less willing to acknowledge

We become about what we know.
She had in mind the morning’s news

But nothing in particular.
We study and study ourselves,

She said, and all our studies catch
Us lying all over the place,

Worst about who we think we are,
Which convinces us now we know

We are what we don’t think we are,
Which is what we think we are still.

The human mind is strong that way.
Her laugh pealed. Sthenic, as you know.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

The Life of Kuma

The wave was born a cat’s paw
Padding on the still ocean,
Substantial in its instant.

Through capillaries it grew,
Until gravity seized hold,
And it gained a leeward face,

And wind pushed its windward spine,
And the wave began to climb
As matter’s oscillation,

Energy on its way through
Dull, stationary water,
And the wave became a swell,

Traveling further, faster,
Losing so little power
As it raced now, across seas,

The great wave, superimposed
On time’s own wave of the tide,
So it retained its full strength,

Not a thing but an event,
Until it crossed half the world
To crash against the shoreline,

It didn’t care which shoreline,
City or sandbar or rocks,
To smash as a massive swash.

And then it was gone, κῦμᾰ,
Wave translated and transformed,
Power shattered and forgot.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Of Imagination

How devastating to be
A genre destroyed by fact.

So many stories once told
Of magical human flight

In contraptions, on the backs
Of supernatural birds

Or dragons, of immortals,
Prophets, and kings like Kavus

Who flew to angelic realms
And shot arrows at the sky.

The genre required magic
And ignorance of the clouds,

But was highly flexible
In morals and conclusions.

Some flew up and became gods
Or at least never came down.

Some became frequent flyers
And did many miracles.

Others suffered for hubris
With death or simple regret,

Like Kavus feeling foolish,
Crash-landing in a thicket.

And now what? Governments send
Routine flights past the heavens,

And the obscenely wealthy
Show off in private rockets,

And commoners coast the clouds
That hid the wondrous angels,

And no one pays attention
To fables promising flights.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

A Shadowy Orality in the Family History

He shrugged. I’m not surprised.
I mean, I never thought
Of it as history

Or even noticed it
Was a little different
From what I learned in school

On the Revolution,
But in my family
People talked casually

About which ancestors
Fought with the patriots,
Which with the loyalists.

It wasn’t a big deal.
It does seem weird now, though,
To find out after all

This time, how violent
It was, and how neighbors
Massacred each other,

And families split up,
And then most of it got
Covered up. We kept it

I guess, as part of us.
Must have kept it quiet.
Stories to tell inside.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

The Escaped Animal Narrative

Here’s how it goes: a gorilla,
A tiger, a rhesus monkey,
A cassowary, a hippo—

One time, a ginormous giraffe—
Is either reported missing
Or spotted in someone’s backyard.

The story makes the local news.
If the beast stays loose long enough,
If the scenes are scary or cute,

The narrative goes national.
Anchors banter. There may be time
For jokes on the late night talk shows.

And then, the animal is caught
And returned to its zoo or pen
Or presented to a shelter,

If the owners are delinquents.
Sometimes, the animal is shot,
And then the jokes turn somewhere else.

It’s not really much of a plot.
Sometimes, it delivers chase scenes—
Sometimes, a bit of mystery

If the animal’s gone to ground.
What is the appeal of this tale?
Sure, it might be the thrill of wild

Encounters in suburbia,
Might be the pure absurdity.
Might it not be people watching

Are also secretly rooting
For self-domesticated selves
To break free from their human hells?

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

The Tale of the Skeleton Key

They drove up the road together
And then split apart at the top.
One got out of the car and walked

Restlessly up and down the road,
Along gravel margins, between
The raw meadows and scattered pines.

The other drove up to the pond,
Through the high country of aspens,
And only got out at the shore

To watch the small waves move like flocks
Of dark birds on blue reflections.
Neither one could see the other

Or what the other could see,
And both were afraid of missing
A glimpse of the skeleton key.

One of them was sure it was you
In the dry grass, pines, and long views,
While the other thought, No, it’s me.

Monday, December 6, 2021

Every Day’s a Kind of Road, but Roads Don’t Come with Doors

There’s far too many people
On the road this afternoon,
She said, while craning her head

To watch for pedestrians
And cyclists between the trucks
And SUVs and pickups.

Her sister just laughed at her.
One more than you’s too many
For you. One more than any,

Shot back the driving sister.
I’d be happy to be gone
And long off the road myself.

No, you wouldn’t. There’s always
Another someplace to go
In your mind, and you know it.

No, not another someplace,
Another nowhere, somewhere,
That road to just the right door.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

The Ancestor Narrative

Early on, the young story
Didn’t think much of itself.
It used its words to explain

The things that other things did.
It reported what it saw.
When there was no one around,

It found somebody and then
Reported what it had seen.
Attention made it bolder,

Made it, too, pay attention
To all the other stories
Found flourishing around it.

It learned a little structure,
Lots of exaggeration,
And unnatural events

Helped it get more attention.
It learned when to lie the truth,
When to believe in itself,

When to confess disbelief.
But we are not the story,
So let’s skip to the middle

Where all stories have to end.
That young story is long gone.
It might have some descendants.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Up at Altitude

A wide man was talking
With a thin man with
A small dog between them,

And the conversation
Was friendly, expansive,
As the wide man went on

Expressing his delight
With his newfound desert
Life, how he’d just played golf

Yesterday, a whole month
Past when he could up north,
How he loved retirement,

Going fishing up here
In the mountains this late
In the year. The thin man

Laughed and agreed. They both
Talked loudly to the air,
Strangers moments ago,

Now letting the world know
How satisfied they were.
Alright! Good meeting ya!

It’s soothing when talking
Pairs of humans split up,
How that snuffs the display.

One drove off in his truck.
Instantly, the other
Clammed up, nothing to say.

Friday, December 3, 2021

Apologies for the Apologue

So the tortoise and the ant
Got around to conversing
About their fine victories,

Engaging in some modest
Boasting, naturally. The ant
Expressed belief in hard work.

The tortoise expressed a faith
In staying the course. Dogged
As does it, they each agreed,

Although both secretly thought
They had the better idea
On how best to persevere.

As they chatted and enjoyed
The morning sun by the pond,
Grasshoppers stridulated

Their relentless choruses,
Hares mated to make more hares,
Fables spawned more victories.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

The Lot

It must have blown in on the wind,
This tiny spider hanging down
From a car window left open

In a bare, remote parking lot
By a reservoir far from trees
Or buildings—from anything much

But this blue pond up on desert
High ground, created to capture
Drinking water for towns below.

A spider of mysterious
Origin and nonnarrative
Behavior, it spins down its thread,

Dangles, seemingly pointlessly
As breezes sway it back and forth,
Like a bungee jumper waiting

To be reeled back in. Then it reels
Itself back in and disappears
Through the seam between door and roof.

Minutes pass. It does it again.
Then again. Cyclical as days,
As years of similar seasons.

Appear. Spin down. Dangle awhile.
Climb back up the silk. Disappear.
And again. Maybe it’s waiting

For prey, although what it could do
To capture anything this way’s
A mystery. Maybe it needs

Another gust to carry it
Somewhere a bit more promising,
And is trying to catch a lift.

Maybe it’s hopelessly confused,
Enacting evolved strategies
That can’t work in this circumstance.

Here it comes spinning down again,
As absurdist as whoever
Abandoned a car in this lot.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Large Beasts Are Likely

A many-tined hart
On the side of the road
Head tilted in shadows,

A cellist on a chair
In the long-grass meadow
Against the ruddy cliffs,

And the photographer
Who posed the cellist—notes
From the cello unnerve

The deer. He tilts his head,
And his tines catch the sun,
And the cellist looks up,

Smiles, and points with his bow,
Which ends up as the one
Shot the photographer

Really likes. Forgive us,
That part was imagined,
But no large beasts were harmed.