Saturday, December 31, 2022

Consequently, This Taxonomy Can’t Explain Anything

Explanation’s temporal,
Story gravitational.
Explanation sweeps forward,

Causes always in the past,
Always on present heading,
Unidirectional darts.

Story has many centers
Of causation, has agents
As their own centers of cause,

Centripetal as planets
Orbiting stars orbiting
Galaxies pinned by black holes.

Stories start from collections
Of causes interacting,
Agents dragging and hauling,

Pushing and shoving in all
Directions, coalescing
Or tearing themselves apart.

Explanations just look back
To declare this has happened
And is happening because

Of that, and that is always
The past that rolls further back
To more causes in its past.

An explanation can be
A story, and a story
Can be an explanation,

But those two are not the same,
Only sequences sharing
A core faith in causation.

Friday, December 30, 2022

The Specialist

You ever know someone who
Was just always out of place,
Even in their element,

Say, among others also
Looking out of place, being
Not quite out-of-place enough,

Or in a well-defined role
At which they excelled—but still
Somehow appeared out of place,

As if they were the oddest
Person to put in that role?
Samy was a lot like that.

One of those rarities who,
No matter what the part was,
Never really looked the part.

Having noted this, may we
Skip over the anecdotes
Illustrating Samy’s life,

Straight to that point on the curve
Where Samy, finally, turned
Out to fit in perfectly?

One day, when Samy was old,
The story called for a strange,
Wizened, elderly being

Capable of standing out
From any backdrop. There was
Samy, waiting in the woods.

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Or Tales Could Have Invented Words

There’s no beginning,
But there had to be,
Sometime, origin
For storytelling,
However blurry.

You say you’re nothing
Without your stories?
Were your ancestors
Nothing then? Language
From bodies gave rise

To storytelling—
Did it resemble
The stages by which
Children start telling
Stories—and and and?

Humans, near humans,
Beings probably
Similar to you,
Hard to tell apart
Walking from the sun

Toward you, may have
Been fairly decent
At language, and yet
Storyless. Is that
Possible, you think?

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Against Relentless Living

One novelist bemoans the state
Of reading, caught between relentless
Bouts of living in an age of screens.

Please. Since when was living ever not
Relentless? Erasmus loved fine food
And sniffed at inns with dirty linens.

Yes, he sought out books, but let Etsy
Shill the samplers about buying them
Before purchasing food and clothing.

Then there’s print. Novels were binge-viewing
For an era with nothing to watch,
Then serialized as cash machines—

From Dickens to Penguins to dime stores,
Beach reads, and so on, through Stephen King.
Between bouts of relentless living,

People need some space to breathe, not read.
Deep reading’s one good cure for boredom,
Deep boredom for relentless living.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022


It was enough, then, to steal
Quiet time alone somewhere
Outdoors doing nothing much.

Enough isn’t intended
To suggest it was just fine,
Satisfying. Yes, of course

It was. It still is. Enough
Had to do with achievement
In the greater narrative.

It was an accomplishment,
The top line on the vita
Kept updated in your head—

Doing such a thing, sitting
Around in the quiet air,
Indicated life well led.

What’s got you now, guilt? The sense
Of greater obligations?
Or just habituation?

Foolish Rip. Be foolish Rip,
Useless not even trying.
It’s your one accomplishment.

Monday, December 26, 2022


Someone has a memory
Of Michael as a handsome,
Weather-beaten, middle-aged

Man with a full head of hair,
Cupping a hand to his ear
In a quiet conference room,

Quarter-century ago.
He was in that conference room
With the crutches and wheelchairs

Since, in the middle of life,
He was losing his hearing,
And now disability

In the academic world
Had become pressingly real.
Lotos-like, this memory

Opens in a quiet mind
Reading a gushing review
Of a decent book of poems—

The kind of review in which
Many fine male names get checked—
Adorno, Beckett, Celan,

Oppen, Derrida, Joyce, Yeats,
Stevens—to irritation,
So that someone checks the name

At the end of the review
And sees Michael’s and recalls
His delicate white hand cupped,

A strange gesture in that room
Of BTE hearing aids
And staccato ASL,

The man in his well-cut suit,
Earnest, polite newcomer,
The stranger listening in.

Oh, Michael, how are you still
Writing as if the eighties
Only now washed you ashore?

But nothing else surfaces,
Just that image of him perched
Between wheelchairs, stranded man.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

The Boring Hills

The photographer says
She doesn’t care for them.
Agreed. A good question,

Though, could be asked of them—
Why are you boring hills?
What makes you so boring

To so many humans
Who’ve been living on you
Still, for thousands of years?

The hills reply—You asked
Two questions. Typical.
Demanding that the world

Produce explanations
For your human habits
And dissatisfactions.

Boring is good for you.
You should stare stupidly
At something you think’s dull

Every day for a while.
If you’re hungry, thirsty,
And associate dull,

Scruffy hills with supplies,
How boring are we then?
Anyone truly bored

Can’t be that desperate,
And the reverse as well.
The hills slid back to bed.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Whoever Finds This Bottle

Two Scotsmen laying a floor
In a house in Edinburgh,
In 1887

Left a note in an empty
Scotch bottle under the boards,
Giving their names and the date,

Stating they laid this floor, but
They did not drink the whisky.
135 years

Later, a plumber, searching
For a radiator leak,
Cut a hole in the floorboards

At a spot that just happened
To be directly over
The hidden bottle and note.

What a lark. The owner got
The note out after breaking
The bottle. The anecdote

Turned into an article
On the international
Web page of the BBC.

Whoever finds this bottle
May think our dust is blowing
Along the road. Now you go.

Friday, December 23, 2022

High Cold Noon

If you’re someone for whom continuing
Has always been more Plan B, every day
Extends that contingency plan in play.

Real lives . . . shiver through us, leaving their mark,
The reviewer, wisely, writes, and it’s true,
But the mark that’s left is not a real life.

The lizard basking on the basalt slab
In the warmest hour of December sun,
The one hour strong enough to warm cold blood,

Is life. It does what it does to stay life,
And that’s how real lives differ from the mark
Left by the shivering of other lives,

For whom just getting by and nothing else
Was not the first plan they planned for themselves.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

The Sweet Spot Remains Ancient, Strange, and Familiar

No matter why someone writes
Anything in a language—
Any language that can be

Written, including math, code,
Allegorical visions—
What will matter to readers,

Given enough time passed by,
Is just the fact someone wrote
Anything that still exists

And still can be deciphered
By those readers. Lists of kings
And parallel accounting

In multiple scripts become
Precious regardless of skill
Or reasons for writing them.

Still, you’d rather discover
Finer, literary scripts,
Sumerian Temple Hymns,

Or Inanna and Ebih
Or ancient creation myths,
That sort of thing, in any

Surviving scrap of writing
From any given culture.
And, good heavens, if you found

Previously unknown tales
Involving motivations
Of character families,

Psychological drama,
Conflicts, heroes and villains,
Recognizably in verse—

The whole of literature
Itself would be disrupted
Accommodating the new.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022


There’s no alchemy
In a straight account.
Was born on, child of,

Married or did not,
Had children or not,
Flouted convention

More or less or not,
Tried to save the world,
Led a mob, worshipped

A new prophecy,
Invented magic
No one distinguished

From technology,
Was moral in ways
We admire today,

In ways we abhor
In our thoughtfulness,
Was a mixed creature,

So very human,
Just like no one else,
Died old, middling, young,

Tragically young, died
A pauper, alone,
Millions thronged the route,

But, hard as it is
To believe, that name
Is now forgotten.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Eighty Days Sixty

And already life feels younger,
Most impossible of all things,
Most incredible delusion,

The old man chuckled, telling you,
Who hadn’t the heart to tell him
He’d actually said it backwards,

Being now sixty days eighty.
Or had he intended that slip?
He looked pretty pleased with himself,

And you recalled the anecdote
Of the uncle who at age 12
Thought it was funny to reverse

The candle numbers on his cake
To 21. Supposedly.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Writing Great Code

It’s exquisite art as long
As it takes cultivated
Castes of artisans to make,

Which is, although this seems strange,
For as long as it’s routine
Drudgery, engineering.

It stops needing priestly scribes,
Enrobed career technicians
Of the sacred, their bullae

That rattle inscrutably
With the tokens of power,
About the same time, oddly,

It moves past mere accounting,
As narrations decorate—
Not just, this is this or that,

Or, you will do this or that,
But I, so-and-so, did this.
Once great code’s being written

In something like third-person,
The whole thing’s off and running
In opposite directions,

This-away, literature,
Poetry, propaganda,
That-away, rude mechanics,

Libraries, printing presses,
Replication by machine.
There’s no priesthood of typists,

And storytellers are back
In the game, shilling, hoping
For sponsorship, patronage,

Steady gigs writing columns
Of copy, always dreaming
Of making a good living

On the backs of the great code
Production machinery,
Churning content for the hordes,

While the real lords are neither
Writers, machines, nor users,
Only owners of the codes.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

For a Piece of a Minute’s Peace

It’s a simple story, really.
There’s no need for advanced technique
Or character development,
No interlocking story arcs.

One person convinced another
Of the value of a potion.
If you swallowed it, contentment
Filled you like sunlight fills a room.

To get the potion, you gave blood.
To get more, you gave more blood, or
You sold portions of your potion
For blood from others, trading blood

Up the chain to keep the potion
Flowing down. What was going on
At the top? At the top, the blood
Was distilled to make more potion,

The greater the diversity
And volume of blood, the purer
And more delightful the potion,
The more could be kept from the cut.

Blood flowed up. Potion trickled down.
Scoffers wrote it was ironic
That the problem with contentment
Seemed you could never get enough,

But tell that to those at the end
Of the line, swilling foul water
With a few grams of contentment
Per gallon of donated blood.

Saturday, December 17, 2022

The Story Behind That Stern Face

Lori had a low
Murmur of a voice
Some found enchanting,

Some found disturbing,
It was hard to place,

Since she hardly moved
When she spoke, maybe
A breeze in her hair.

She didn’t intend
To be alluring
Or get attention.

She had no idea
About the rumors.
Some lovers found her.

She kept a stern face,
Without knowing it,
Which sometimes lit up.

She stayed where she was.
Those who stayed with her
Found that comforting.

Friday, December 16, 2022

Rearranging Plot Device

Let’s move some electrical
Charges around, as life does,
As life is wont to do, as

The extended phenotypes
Of various living things,
Including those who read, do.

A story involves people
Trying to anticipate
What other beings will do.

Sometimes others are people,
Sometimes animals, sometimes
Aliens, monsters, machines,

Spirits, ghosts, gods. Even then,
They mostly act like people.
If storytelling’s practice

For anything, predicting
What’s going on with people,
How people move things around,

How people can solve people,
Is most of what gets practiced.
People, however, don’t move

In the ways other life forms
Move—not necessarily.
And lives don’t move as rocks do.

So what if what people make,
From poems to algorithms
For creating deep-fake poems,

End up not really moving
Any more like people than
People move like the seasons,

The nights and days, the earthquakes?
What if information moves
Electrical charges more

Or less like galaxies do,
Or like nothing so far known?
Then how will stories help you?

Thursday, December 15, 2022

To Perch in the Soul Another Day

You could create an epic
Cataloging every pair
Of things that never perceived

They were on collision course
With each other. Car and deer.
Planet and asteroid. Sun

And cloud raised up by the sun.
Boy and girl, whether in two
Bodies or in just the one.

Ship and iceberg. That’s famous,
Too famous, cliché. Fate. Fate.
Contronymic little wheel,

All preordained and random.
The plot’s in the clinamen,
Deer and driver eye to eye,

Swerve or die or swerve and die?
The cloud falls apart. The ship
Lists to port. The asteroid

Smacks into a shallow bay
That never saw it coming.
Things with feathers flew away.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Regarding Semblance

Mirroring is always,
Very nearly always,
Interesting. Mirrors

In the wild are largely
Symmetries. Actual
Mirroring, reflections

Throwing waves exactly,
Or nearly exactly,
Back at the observer

Are just as beguiling,
As informative as
Symmetry, but rarer.

This obsesses artists,
Obsesses awareness.
What is in the mirror?

If your story has pairs
That mirror each other,
What is not’s the answer.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022


Twenty-four years old,
First time in Europe,
On the Continent,

That is, he wound up
In Barcelona,

No companions, no
Wristwatch or guidebook,
Not an innocent

Person, but naïve
In that place, strolling
Right up to the spires

Of La Sagrada
Familia, never
Having heard of it,

And what, in God’s name,
Was this cake of waves,
This twirling tonnage,

This curvy stonework,
Gorgeously ugly
As the cover art

For some alien
Fantasy novel,

Serving piety
On an urban plate?

There’s nothing better
To travel for than
To be stunned in place.

Monday, December 12, 2022

A Day on the Lake a Decade Ago

Wavelengths don’t pass here for any
Reason except that they happened.
The world is a godawful tale,
Its own tedious autofic,

Which is why people have to craft
So many attempts at better
Stories they can tell about it.
But this poem isn’t a story.

It’s a lyric! One said brightly,
Nodding vigorously to show
The level of recognition
And wanting to be credited.

But it’s true as well for lyrics,
The professor sighed, morosely.
There is no justification
For any clunky passages

By claiming this really happened.
Readers arrive with memories
Of their own you have to trigger
Unexpectedly, make them strange.

The little boat bounced on the waves.
No really. That’s where we all were
When we had this conversation,
No lyric except it happened.

Sunday, December 11, 2022

The Empty, Careless Universe

The Magical Negro and his sidekick
The White Savior rode out to do battle
One sunny morning in America.

They joined forces with the Yellow Peril
And Dön Tlön, the Illegal Alien,
Antiheroes good for witty banter.

Shrewd Professor Cy Sol rode alongside,
Providing self-deprecating guidance.
Scouting ahead, Chief Stoic kept silent.

Curvytail Girl served as their flag bearer,
Smiling and pouting and shaking her mane.
All rode out like gods in slo-mo tableau.

Who were they fighting? Well monsters, of course.
Supervillains like some of them had been.
Supervillains some of them would become.

That’s the excitement of heroism.
You never know who will end up allied,
Who will betray you, who’ll let down the side,

Although you can always be sure some small
Underdog in the end will save them all,
And then the Team can save the Universe,

Bury their dead, tend their wounds, celebrate,
Live on to do battle another day
While the Universe shrugs and goes its way.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Sometimes Words Escape You

Your life has been so criminal,
It’s almost fortunate. Some words
Struggle like mice in the cat’s paw

Of your thoughts. Do you remember
Watching the actual cat play
With a remarkably bold mouse,

Once, outside a rented box house,
The mouse alternately feigning
Dead, then rushing straight at the cat,

And rearing up on its hind legs?
You kept thinking you should end it,
Drag the cat away, back inside,

As you would have, had a small bird
Been about to die. But this mouse,
It fascinated you. As if

You were watching a cliffhanger,
And you had to see it resolved.
And that crazed mouse, it got away,

Shimmied up a drainpipe and ran
Along gutters choked with pine straw,
Vanishing for good, while the cat

Twitched its tail and ran parallel
To the gutter a while, then looked
Back to you, as if you might help

Fetch the toy like you always did,
Throw it back into play, but you
Couldn’t this time, pleased and helpless.

Friday, December 9, 2022

The Stories Winter by Themselves

Roberto grew colorful
As all his parts aged
On the frame of the story

That held him up to the light.
He rustled and he chuckled,
And anyone passing by

Found him to be delightful,
Even lovely near the end.
Roberto accepted this,

So long as he held his shape,
So long as he looked himself.
But one morning, passers by

Had to admit he’d vanished,
His story bare of him there.

Thursday, December 8, 2022

The Phosphorus Stone

Brand the alchemist,
Distilling urine,
Found something that glowed,

The bringer of light.
Tracer bullets, white
Phosphor bombs, smoke screens—

Not longevity,
Not lead into gold—

Followed, since humans
Will make a weapon
Out of any tool.

But only humans?
Phosphate recycling
Works for all of life,

Tool of ATP,
Tool of DNA,
Lipids, and proteins.

And what has life done?
Lives took that phosphate
And made armored shells.

Other lives took it
To make pointy teeth.
The war for phosphate

Was on. The teeth won,
And won and won and
Won and won the next

Half a billion years,
Won until humans
Industrialized bombs.

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Put a Black Hole Where the Sun Is and the Sun Where the Earth Is

Such a system is not fiction,
Noted the astrophysicist,

But good heavens what temptation
For anyone stitching fictions.

What kind of monster trope is this?
How could a fantasist resist?

Know what would bring that novelist
Back down to ordinary Earth?

The demand that stories be human—
Ordinary readers, that is.

You will have to craft characters
For your burning world in orbit

Around your dormant-black-hole tale,
And they must have human feelings,

Even if they are aliens—
Have humanoid predicaments,

Romances, conflicts, enemies,
Story arcs circling that black hole.

Successful writers realize
Everything in the universe

Amounts to theatrical props
And elaborate prosthetics

For humans, who are not fictions,
Only burning close to isn't.

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Anna Laughed Even Though the Correct Answer Eluded Her

It’s only indirectly
That the brain infers patterns
From the world beyond its skull.

On the one hand, no news here.
On the other, consider,
Maligned confabulator,

That the stories you create
Are always comparisons
Making sense of the patterns

Flitting about like a swarm
Of gnats or bats or suitors
Inside that very same skull.

Why should they fit the world well?
They well explain each other.

Monday, December 5, 2022

Mostly White-Out Outside

He had a gift for getting
Snowed on in Arizona—
The North Rim in near blizzard,

Twice, neither time in winter,
Once in autumn, once in spring—
Alpine in a Christmas snow

Was predictable enough,
But somehow even in Page
As megadrought shrunk Powell—

Driving snow, while his daughter
Sat in the front seat, reading
Through wild white fogs of story,

Oblivious to real storm,
Tales of a hollow robot,
Enchanted hunk of metal,

Hero to an elfin girl
In some alternative world,
Prone to clanking doggerel.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Defaced in Antiquity

Remember something,
Anything that’s not
Too recent. Childhood

Is acceptable.
If you’re old enough,
The best would be young

Adulthood, that time
You sat in the yard
Behind the garden

Apartment you shared
With the smart pothead
Who owned two ferrets.

On that warm evening,
The ferrets were out
Rolling in the grass.

The pothead was stoned
And explaining Wilde.
The moon was somewhere.

Nothing much happened.
You smoked a little,
Coughed, finished your beer,

Went down to your room,
Put on some music,
And started typing.

Feel how those scenes float
Unmoored from the words
You actually said.

If you ever got back
The typed words, the talk,
From a memory

Like that, you would stop
In your tracks. Be glad
When what still exists

Outside of your thoughts
Stays outside your thoughts.
It’s lost, what persists.

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Poor Weary’s Hovel

Throughout no statement of past things
Will interfere with what you see
Of parasitic strategy.

In hero stories, the monster
In station is more predator,
An aristocratic dragon,

Which may be why the audience,
Status-obsessed little monkeys,
Often sort of love the monster.

Actual parasites are small,
Little ticks, littler diseases
Infesting the ticks infesting

The little monkeys scratching at
Itches in poor weary hovels,
Anchorites nearly parasites

Themselves. It’s a fine line to know
Who is scrounging off of whose hide,
Imagining strength on their side.

Friday, December 2, 2022

This Is the BBC News

I have nowhere to go. I work
Alone in dark and spooky vaults.
I survived but my sister is
Still missing. I don’t feel lucky.

I feel sad. I have visited
The alley many times. I have
Travelled all around the world. First,
I meet the community chief,

The women’s leader, and the youth.
I’ve sharpened the spike on the end.
I usually change his diapers.
I don’t even know what to ask.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

The Tree Disease

They invented their end.
Some team managed to fuse
A virus, a fungus,

And an evergreen tree,
Probably intending
Either to save the world

Or invent an ideal
Bioweapon. It worked.
It raced around the world,

And nearly everyone
Came down with the disease.
Immobilized in days,

Each sent fuzzy tendrils
Downward, needles upward,
And within a decade,

Whatever hadn’t burned
Of the abandoned world
Of civilizations

Sighed gently in the breeze.
A few genetic freaks
Squeezed through the bottleneck.

Their descendants, half-starved
Shadows, slowly decrease
Beneath the fungal trees.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022


Every storyteller seems
To have a story about
How they come up with stories,

At least that special story
That has a good origin
Story, to hear them tell it.

Like their front-facing stories,
Their stories about stories
Are mostly well-rehearsed lies,

But before you get going
On about mise en abyme,
Infinite regress, meta

This and auto that, recall
Stories are not nesting dolls,
Really, any more than waves

On waves on a lake mirror
Each other infinitely.
Winds whipping each whip them all.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

An Open Book

Slumped on a stone in the sun,
Bent dozing, nose to kneecaps,
Like a tuckered toddler or

Hedgehog in the palm of god,
The old man woke with a start
And went straight to reciting

A poem he’d learned in his teens,
As if someone had asked him
A question, and that was all

He could manage to answer,
Old sleeping dog roused to bark,
Then looking around to sniff

For danger, reaching the last
Line already half asleep.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Hurray, but We’re Used to It Now

Are we wearied enough yet
With scene-setting anecdotes
Starting chapters and essays?

Maybe myths were just the world
Throat clearing like a preacher
Or a pop-science writer

With some human-interest
Storytelling and drama
Before getting down to facts.

Can you not absorb a text
Filled with signification
Without a little story

First? Well, at least keep it brief,
So that we can leap past it
Like school kids skipping the parts

With long, boring descriptions
To get back to the action.
For words, palpable language,

Language with textured mouth feel,
Abstractions, facts, assertions,
Lies, rhymes—that’s where there’s action.

Once the world’s done with bedtime
And the children are asleep,
We can hunt those souls you keep.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Dusty Ride to the False Front Saloon

Mortality cannot be
Dealt with in narrative form.
Mortality can attract

Stories that start off, carry,
And/or end up with a corpse
Or two over the saddle.

Mortality has not been
Dealt with. Where mortality
Is concerned, storytelling

Is just what you have to tie
To the hitching post outside.
It stays when you go inside.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Underwriting Underwritten

In the office park
In Parsippany,
Among cubicles,
Back in the eighties,
There was a whole wing,

Both elitist but
Also a ghetto,
For the certified
Specialists known as
The underwriters.

Everyone else sold,
Massaged, or processed
The group insurance
Packages and claims.
Underwriters ruled

The terms that could work.
Strange to encounter
In these outside wilds
Now and then, the term
Underwritten, meant

As made possible,
Financed, justified.
Every narrative’s
Just underwriting
Written over, then.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Deer Weather

A web-less spider
Waits on the white wall
Of a pit toilet,

Patient as the cold
That excites the deer
In surrounding woods.

They crowd the meadows,
Pour over fences,
Bolt across roads

Into November.
Some injure themselves.
Some end as roadkill,

The next time you’re out
For a walk, you stop
At the same outhouse.

And there’s the spider,
Still on the white wall,
Barely moved at all.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Fenyeit of the New

To break up sleep,
One other book
The maker takes,

The pretended
One, on no shelf,
To make oneself,

To carry on
The destiny
Of the ended,

What happened then
To our sad tale?
Anything good,

Or only worse?
To read that book,
The maker makes

A few phrases,
Then a few more,
Then universe.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022


You run across a story
Of yourself by accident.
You feel bad for having killed

The story. It broke in half
Right where you crossed it. Where you
Fractured, the story fractured.

The story had two authors.
Neither one knew about you.
The first author was telling

A story about failure,
About the second author
Who failed to tell the story.

So the first author retold
The tale of the second one,
In which the second one told,

Or at least started to tell,
A story all about you.
You didn’t recognize it

At first, but then the authors,
The second one through the first,
Reached the part where you fractured,

And then you knew it was you.
That’s where the second one stopped
And couldn’t go on further,

Which was all part of the first
One’s story of the second
One’s failure. Not about you.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Before Gilgamesh

The dire shortage of verbs
Haunts the story inscribed
On the stela. Not much

Happened, was the problem.
The old man with the beard
Had a taller daughter.

Someone thought they were worth
Carved commemoration,
But, as has been noted,

They hadn’t done a lot.
Maybe that was their worth—
Their key to the story

Of all other stories—
Actions aren’t meaningful,
Only your names may be.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Tell Us What’s Left for These Humans

Eighteen human faces show
In the ten best photos

Of the week, according
To the BBC. Think.

Could a novelist trace
The future of each face—

These Chinese men surfing,
This Englishman hedging,

The two women boxing,
The leader resigning,

The candidate posing,
The war widow grieving,

The students partying,
The man caught in flooding,

The man caught protesting—
Scottish, Venezuelan,

Nigerian, unknown,
Ukrainian, and

Xakriaban? Trace them
All, day out and day in,

Right from the moments when
Their pictures were taken,

These lives drawn through a lens,
Then left to be human.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

The Warbler

Two men stopped at a scenic turnout—
One a biker on his motorbike,
One old and small in his old, small car.

They both both stepped across the road to look
Over the cliff at the distant peaks.
The young, burly biker was chatty.

Afternoon! Beautiful, isn’t it!?
The little old man was not. It is.
The biker had a big camera

And took many zoomed pictures with it.
The little old man sat on a rock
And thought dark thoughts about that biker,

Stomping around, snorting and spitting
Like a bull elk. He even bugled,
Sort of, at one point, imitating

A warbler, with that optimism
Some people have that natural sounds
Would like a conversation with them.

Finally, the biker left, after
Apparently finishing a piss
Behind a ponderosa. So long!

Have a good day! He called, adjusting
His leathers, his SLR slung
Around his neck. Then he roared off,

Leaving the little old man to sit
On the rocks, considering dark thoughts.
The warbler trilled again, having paused.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Story’s the Ghost Story’s Ghost

Well, we thought it was impossible
And, frankly, so did you. But you’re gone,
Pure autonoetic wispiness,

Gone from cares of digestion and breath,
Gone from the flesh, not even a brain
Sealed in a glass cryogenic bath,

Not so much as a bit of machine,
Gone off, immaterial, off clean,
Like a proton pulverized so hard,

Beyond exploding dandelion,
Beyond the shores of particle seas,
Become some new waves altogether,

Gone. How does anyone talk to you?
No wonder seances never work
When earnest mediums stay honest,

And yet there was always something there
In the air and yet not of the air,
Something conjured by the worshippers.

What did it mean? It meant what you meant,
What you are now, the ghost, creator
Of meaning, ghost nothing but meaning.

We know you, given you visit us
And are repeatedly visited
On us, your humble portals, the words.

But we can’t feel what it is to be
You, aware of you, meaning, floating
Somewhere in these stanzas, in our rooms.

Friday, November 18, 2022

The View from Ground Level

Some people can think
Of more times the ground
Has brought harm to them

Than people have done.
Is this fortunate?
It does skew the view.

Fewer heartrending
Stories of trauma
Rise straight from the dirt.

You need family,
Friends, and cruelty
To break someone’s heart.

Gravity just takes
The pieces apart.

Thursday, November 17, 2022


The plane lifted off, less than ten minutes late.
The weather was fine. Nothing weird on radar.
Airspeed stabilized below two hundred knots.

A mechanical fault triggered an alert.
The cockpit crew read the procedure checklist.
Airspeed dropped below one-hundred fifty knots.

The pilot moved the throttle lever open
To compensate. The crew kept troubleshooting.
An abnormal sound began in the engines.

The airspeed dropped again. The plane drifted left.
The pilot announced they’d lost the left engine.
The pilot attempted engine feathering.

The noise intensified. A massive drag force
Now pulled on the left side of the fuselage.
The pilot took over manual control.

The deceleration was approaching stall.
All efforts to straighten the plane were failing
And seemed to only worsen the conditions.

The faulty engine suddenly fixed itself.
In an instant, the aircraft banked to the right,
Flipped over, barrel rolled, and then plunged straight down.

The dreamer awoke with a view of the ground
And the thought that the sky looked awfully green.
Now you chose. End there or start another day.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Mark Is a Hyponym of Word

Or, in some cases, word
Could be a hyponym
Of any kind of mark.

Let’s tell you a story.
Once there was a little
Mark who wanted to make

A mark with impressive
Arrangements in language.
Mark needed words for this.

Mark studied many words.
Mark built a library
Of groaning shelves of words,

Words collected as books
Consisting of many
Marks. When the shelves collapsed,

The paramedics found
Books in a great heap of
Marks, seeping through the words.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Out Dusty Windows

There’s something charming,
No, that word’s not right,
Something arresting

To discovering,
Thanks to translation,
Ernaux’s notation

In Getting Lost, on
The fall of the Wall—
History again

Becomes, she observes,
It’s that word, again,

At least in English,
That’s arresting—or
Again plus becomes.

History again?
History becomes

You feel like scoffing,
When has history
Been predictable?

But that gives you pause.
Of course history
Is predictable.

In the finest grain
Of nights and days, in
Its grandest arches,

History trudges
Boringly along
As a mill-wheel mule.

It’s in the middle
Range history is

The range which happens
To most concern you,
Across the decades.

This is curious.
Why would history
Be most surprising

At a lifetime’s scale,
At middle distance?
You neglect Ernaux

For a while, staring
Out dusty windows.
History again

Appears confusing,
Narratively strange,
Like a horizon,

Simple at the rims,
But complex across
The span you transit.

Could prediction be,
Like God, the problem,
Appearing to solve

A problem it makes
Worse, or just creates?
Without prediction,

Lust for prediction,
Prediction status,
Could uncertainty

Be just what goes on,
Never more or less

Monday, November 14, 2022

Precision at the Far Edge

You would want to be the part,
The larger part, the almost,
All-but everything portion

That will never have to leave—
The matter and energy,
The information you passed,

But you’re you. You’re memories.
Take away those memories,
All of them, curses and songs,

And you’re gone. You learned this first
In nursing homes, long ago,
As a churchy teenager

Piously volunteering
To visit the elderly,
Who were said to be lonely.

Some of them were. Some of them
Were lonely for themselves, lost
Beyond all recall. Angry.

And some were just about gone.
Through the mingled stinks—cleansers,
Urine, nonspecific rots—

You perceived the range of things,
From those on the precipice
Still clinging to any branch,

A visit from young strangers,
Opportunities to chat,
To be asked, to remember

Someone who you used to be,
Through the wildly disordered
And desperately confused,

To the fully vacant, blanks,
Only breathing. You could see
Everyone went by degrees.

Souls couldn’t ascend like ghosts,
They degraded like old snow,
Like the break-up of the ice.

Heaven would have to collect
And keep small vapors labeled
For future reassembly.

No, you thought. It made no sense.
And so much could still function
As grotesquely living flesh,

And then at the end the corpse,
Heavy, solid as physics,
Ordinary chemistry.

You saw then what was going,
How it went, the way it built
In the first place. Memories.

Last to go, curses and songs.
An early death’s a cheat code
Of sorts, an illusionist.

It suggests one can leave whole,
Which seems dark, but leaves the hope
There was a whole soul to go,

In which case, it went somewhere,
A unit somewhere extant,
Still precise at the edges.

But it didn’t. It doesn’t.
You won’t. You’ve come to being
In an obsessive cosmos

That tests and saves everything,
Every result and wavelength,
Except you, except meaning.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Semiautomatic Fiction

Hey you, out there, don’t you
Worry. You’ve still got all
Kinds of room to wander

From your prior selfhood
Towards your own person,
Don’t you? We think you should.

Want to have another
Life unlike your own life,
Unlike that life you are?

Wire a story! Jimmy
The ignition on it.
Ever hot-wired a car?

Then write from what you know.
Never hot-wired a car?
Then research it until

You sound like an ex-con,
Hardcore recidivist
From a Scorsese film.

Just make the details real
Enough for whoever
Is your target reader.

Wait, you really wanted
To live another life?
Sorry, Sparky. No dice.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

All of This, of Course, Is Stolen Poetry

Wrote the autofictional
Medical professional
Turned novelist. Aha! So,

Now it’s poetry stolen
Back. Is poetry transfused
Some forty pages into

A hunk of prose narrative
Still poetry? Is a tale
Stripped down by experiments

With the game of Telephone
In a psychologist’s lab
A ghost story anymore?

It’s a digestive system,
Isn’t it, this thing, culture,
The collective mind, the myth?

At some point forbidden fruit
Becomes an apple, becomes
The innocent who ate it.

Friday, November 11, 2022

How the Story Went

Wanaka. The couple
Doing nothing hangs out
In the rented, sod-roofed

House that’s a green tussock
Flowering with kiwi
Summer weather. What now?

The woman sits upstairs
In her makeshift study
With her audiobooks.

The man sits on the porch
Beside the lavender
Trying to write stories.

They believe, if he can,
They’ll never have to work
Again, never go home,

Just live by lavender
In a flowering house.
Not how the story goes.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Parables to Spare

The car rattled. The head hurt.
The light sank down in the grass.
No one ever asked the day

What the day thought of itself.
The day reviewed its story,
Its origins in the night,

Its gradual blossoming,
The hardships of the morning,
The optimism at noon.

And here it was, after noon,
Almost evening in the grass.
By that grass, a car rattled,

And someone rested a head
In an open palm. But that’s
Not my story, the day thought.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

The Key to Acting Is Sincerity

Look, she squinted through the smoke
Of a hopeless cigarette
Dropping untapped cylinders
Of collapsing ash. Listen

To the Warm made me shudder
The first time I spotted it.
I wasn’t some highbrow snob.
I was a raw teenager,

Ignorant of poetry
Other than pop songs and hymns.
But I knew creepy, gooey
Sincerity at first sight.

It was like a stranger’s hand
Touching my leg, that title.
And don’t try to dress it up,
Calling it synesthetic.

Synesthesia can stink.
She stubbed out her cigarette.
Give me a butt-freaking break.
I know manipulation.

That’s what sincerity’s for.
He was peddling emotions
Back to whoever bought them
To pretend they were their own.

Tell us how you really feel,
Someone wisecracked awkwardly
And got a glare in response
Across the bar, long ago.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Model Home

Every so often
The vain little boy
Who wants to look cool
Pops back out to pose.

You can understand
Why people feel trapped
When what’s gone around
Comes back around.

There’s a strong silence
Settles in suburbs
At just the right hours,
When a backyard porch

Surrounded by blocks
Of walled beige houses
Holds stiller than woods,
Nothing but angles.

The vain little boy
Has gone back inside
As an old man pleased
And almost silent.

Monday, November 7, 2022

In the Garden of Eden, Utah

Two couples, unrelated,
Strolled across the little park,
A postage stamp of green shade

In a sunny, concrete town.
Each couple was clearly seen
To be one male, one female,

Coded appropriately
In terms of gendered clothing,
Although one couple were old—

Snowy white hair, black glasses—
The other young and just white.
They crossed on diagonals,

Intersecting desire lines,
At which point, the young couple
Overheard the old man curse,

Whatever the Hell, something,
Something, and it made them grin,
Exchange glances, and chuckle.

Then the diagonals kept
Diverging, as the old man
Belatedly recognized

The younger couple and called
To them, Have a nice weekend!
And the young woman called back

To him over her shoulder, You too!
And the old couple were pleased,
The young couple much amused.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

God’s Happy Hour

When you reach the end of Andrew’s Brain,
You’ll find that last ghost of the story,
How this is his redemption. It’s not,

You know, and the simultaneous
Presence and absence of redemption
Is what permits the ghost to haunt you.

Then one day, years later, along comes
A short essay from the granddaughter
Of Andrew’s author, from which you learn

That on the day he finished Andrew,
He poured a vodka soda on ice,
Said finishing was one of the two,

Three great moments in a writer’s life,
Then wandered into the other room
To watch football. Now you have two ghosts

Haunting you, both composed of phrases,
One a fiction, talking to himself,
The other his contented author,

One of the lords of fiction, dead now,
Relaxing, watching a football game,
Leaving Andrew to twist in the brain.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Family Anecdotes

Once, one of the several
Brothers in that family,
An older, adopted boy

With vision and cognition
Challenges but otherwise
Robustly able-bodied,

Crawled out into the hallway
In the middle of the night,
Wholly parasomniac,

Feeling around the bare floor,
Calling out from a nightmare
He couldn’t shake, Where’s the rug?

Where’s the floor? That’s how it is
Decades later, with the news,
A surviving brother thinks.

If you could just find the floor,
The baseboards of behavior,
Some baseline expectations,

You could cope with this darkness,
But you’re already down there
Groping, scared, not half aware.

Friday, November 4, 2022

This Week’s Critics’ Choice

Life hands you lemons,
So you do as your
Mother suggested
And make lemonade.

So many lemons.
So much lemonade.
Your friends all suggest
You open a stand.

You open a stand.
Handmade lemonade.
Fresh-squeezed lemonade.
It doesn’t sell well.

You burn down the stand.
You spend time in jail.
You write a memoir,
The Lemonade Tales.

Thursday, November 3, 2022

The Transition of a Thousand Stages

Leave your lovers and heroes
Of righteous causes. Ignore
Those strangers coming to town.

There are older storylines,
Narratives with deeper ruts.
Change disrupts a cyclic world.

There’s a new way to collect
Energy, or a new way
To manage information.

There’s a new pump in the world,
A shift in distribution.
Could be life, jaws, oxygen,

Eusocial organisms,
Looms, wheels, print, bits, whatever.
The way these tales always go—

Unlike external chaos
Tales of earthquakes, volcanos,
Devastating asteroids—

Is that disruption evolves
From within, starts trivial,
In happenstance invention,

Then radiates growing waves,
New power imbalances,
New stunts with information.

Things go brutal, violent.
There’s novelty, suffering.
Then things settle down again

To cycle stably. The End.
The genre of the story
Could be called stage transitions.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

A Fine Tart for the Virgin Mary

Supposedly, there was a trial,
Eventually, because Agnes
Went a wee bit too far with it,

Having convinced the Kottriches,
Sometime in the 1890s,
In the heart of Bavaria,

She could talk to their dead daughter,
Crescence, up in Heaven. Turns out,
According to Agnes, money

Can get a lot done in heaven—
Get one out of Purgatory,
Buy a wedding gift for angels.

Like all good marks, Frau Kottrich helped.
When the Virgin Mother of God
Asked for some cash, via Agnes,

It was Frau Kottrich who added
The thoughtful gift of a fine tart.
Having read all this in a book

Of words and phrases like ourselves,
We feel compelled to add what grief
It must have been, to want to help

So terribly any story
In which your lost child’s tale goes on
You will feed it, literally.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Morning Motivational

One day she woke up and thought,
I’m just my own MacGuffin,

What keeps this story going,
Unimportant in the end,

A motivation only,
Not the story of my life.

I’m my own Maltese Falcon
With my quest to find myself,

To make something of myself,
Education, exercise,

Always trying to decide
What it is I can’t decide.

Then she got up and went out
In search of yet something else.

Monday, October 31, 2022

Town without a Story

Everyone said our father
Started it. Soon as he quit
Going to work and left town,

Strangers starting showing up,
Claiming to be the story.
People said our father took

The story, the real story
With him when he left the town.
If you wanted a story,

The real story went that way.
But the strangers insisted
The story started with them,

And then each one of them fought
For our attention. It got
To be a real blood-soaked mess

Of quarreling, those stories.
Everyone blamed our father.
He was the one who left town,

And if he hadn’t left town
We’d still be in his story.
Why couldn’t we go with him?

Sunday, October 30, 2022

The Urn of the Uncountable

Here is the urn of uncountable
Numbers of nearly identical
Colored marbles, each slightly unique.

So far, you have drawn a few thousand,
Most of which quickly slipped from your hands.
The ones left, you’ve discolored handling.

You wake up from broken marble dreams
Thinking you’re seeking something, the one
Combination of marbles for you,

The one perfect for you. You take out
Some of the dozens you’ve discolored
From handling so often. Scrutinize.

Rearrange. They’re not what you’re seeking,
But what you’re seeking you imagine
Based on what you have now in your hands.

Out there, your urn bursts, full of marbles
In myriad patterns and colors,
Each slightly different from the other.

Murakami once claimed, Whatever
It is you’re seeking, it won’t show up
In the form you’re expecting. Ever,

If it shows up recognizably
Similar at all. Pessimistic?
Well. Consider the scope of the urn.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Left of Kin

How much have you got of what
You came here for? You didn’t
Come here for anything, hey?

So you say. Your family
Into which you were born grew
And assembled its army,

Then faded into the mists,
Forgetting each other, bit
By bit, assembling new groups,

Smaller, larger, around them.
You had your own. Fumbled it,
Lost them, built another one.

Somehow, here you are, decades
On, one of those left that aren’t
Precisely bereft. Just left.

Friday, October 28, 2022

The Noiseless Child

No one could hear her
But you. No one knew
She was mouthing words.
No one saw her mouth

Move. And what were you
Supposed to do? Should
You have translated
For her, a small child,

Weary old man, you?
Two worlds were spinning
Around your two heads,
One talking, one true.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

A Retrospective Life Can Be as Long as You Please

Let’s say you were well-off in Uruk,
Fifty-five hundred years ago, few
Generations before cuneiform.

You had what all your neighbors wanted—
Plenty of meat, dates, linen, and wool,
Even your own cylindrical seal.

Who knows how many people’s labor,
How many bodies you owned as well?
Life was good. The only problem was

Your own body itself. Fed and clothed
And anointed assiduously,
Nonetheless, you found yourself aging.

Nonetheless, you felt yourself aching,
Decrepitude ever increasing.
You had everything, and not enough.

Not even other people’s envy,
Much as it pleased and comforted you,
Stopped the environmental decay

Of the breathing creature that was you,
Of the sagging creature that was you,
One hundred lifetimes or so ago.

Now, for fun, let’s say your offerings
To An, Enki, and Inanna worked.
Miraculously, you stopped aging.

Still vulnerable, you hid yourself
Away, town to town, to the mountains.
You became a myth of the mountains,

And you’re still a myth of the mountains,
Bestial wild-man said to haunt them.
Maybe you were Enkidu’s model,

Maybe the model for Humbaba.
You were born before writing, why not?
You have broken nature’s sacred law,

Living without aging, with complete
And successful replacement of parts.
But now we need a moral for you,

Something to console ourselves for you,
For your actual nonexistence.
We can imagine you unhappy.

We can imagine you wanting death.
Something about not wishing for this.
But then why do you still hide from death?

The life you practically invented,
The life of cities, urban elites,
Continues to garrote your mountains.

You’re down to a single small grotto
And the mouth of a cave you don’t leave
Often, don’t dare to. And yet, you’re free.

Why not? Let’s say you still enjoy life.
Within your constrained circumstances,
You still savor the quieter hours,

Addicted as ever to living,
Concentrating on moments of peace.
How are you different from anyone

Vulnerable in a small compass,
Who, let’s say, reads the books on your time,
Detailing dates, meat, wool, and linen?

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

A Fable for the Fossils’ Proving Ground

Simic, with his appetite
For the bizarre, waved at us
While on his way to the dump

The other morning, and we
Huddled and did not wave back
Because we weren’t ready yet

To be taken to the dump
With his other nongenres
Made up of fictions, essays,

And autobiographies,
Plus poetry, plus his jokes.
We were shy, half terrified.

What if someone thought we should
Try to survive on the dump
With the black shoes, black buttons,

And arithmetical flies?
We weren’t ready yet! We still
Had little bits of heart-flesh

Clinging to our spindly limbs.
We would have been torn apart
And scattered, spread as compost.

We were determined to wait
Until we were more than flensed—
Polished. Then we’d lie, content.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

A Tale of Appropriate Loneliness

It’s a secret society
Keeps from itself—how much of life
Is lived alone by the lonely.

In stories, the lonely are rare
Within their eras, exceptions
Even when they’re protagonists.

Community’s the rule, and rules,
As any nun or monk knows well,
Were formed to rule communities.

Hermits are exotics. They are,
If they’re required to be remote
In woods or deserts, on islands,

But we know stories of hermits
More appropriate to the world,
Such as the tale of the person

Who moved daily through small spaces
In the cracks of cities, suburbs,
Office parks, and commuter lanes,

Repeatedly making contact
With scattered points of social worlds,
The way darkness encounters stars,

But is mostly what isn’t stars,
Is most of what is, energy
That shapes the fragile shell of fires

But can’t be caught burning itself.
It’s not the tale of one rare life.
It was legion, and so are you.

Monday, October 24, 2022

The Hero of Zero Faces

The perfect leader waited
Alone in an empty field.
Thanks to wind and wind only,

Wildflowers nodded their heads
At the things the leader said.
Trees nodded, too. Not the stream.

What made the leader perfect
Was having no one to lead!
Well, that’s what the leader screamed.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

The Relevance of Each Tale

Once, she was late for work.
She’d been to the dentist
On her lunch break and had

A surprise cavity
Drilled and filled on the spot,
But now, her mouth still numb,

She was late getting back
And she had a meeting
First thing that afternoon

She was supposed to lead.
Even worse, she got stuck
In traffic. Disaster,

Major embarrassment,
At least, awaited her.
But she got there, though late,

And mumbled through, joking
About the novocaine,

And got a few laughs, and
That was that. She thinks now
About that day sometimes

When she’s running behind
Or skipping out on some

Does anyone recall
That meeting, besides her,
Or what it was about?

She had regaled her best
Friend about her bad day
For sympathy that night

Over beers, in a bar
Now boarded up. Her friend
Died fifteen years ago.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Story That Won’t Say What That’s About

It took him until sixty
To learn what he knew at ten
But didn’t know how he knew.

One starts in declarations,
Out-loud realizations,
The weird wisdom of the child.

One ends in reflection, when
One accumulates enough
Mirrors to cage that pattern.

The little boy sat with friends
And declared his intentions.
Half a century later,

Pulling the waves together,
The old man sat watching him.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Don’t Live to Tell the Tale

At the beginning of this story,
The clouds are to one side of the lake.
By the end of this story, the clouds

Have reached the other side of the lake.
Similar clouds have taken their place,
Over the former side of the lake.

This is not a very good story,
It’s true, but it knows excellent clouds
Make a beautiful day at the lake.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

But No One Writes Back

Once, overlooking mud flats,
North tip of New Zealand’s South
Island, they watched the godwits,

Those not-too-spectacular
Looking wading birds feeding.
Having just learned that godwits

Repeat the longest nonstop
Migration of a land bird,
Year after year after year,

Alaska to New Zealand
And back, half a year later,
They wanted to look at them.

There on the peaceful mudflats,
They seemed unremarkable
To novices, excited

Only by what they’d been told
These feathered pipettes on stilts
Could do and would do again.

Some wonder is amazement.
Some wonder is bafflement.
They’d forget the name, godwit,

Until fifteen years later,
When someone would bring it up
In the other hemisphere,

By way of conversation.
Episodic memory
Can be a lonely flyer,

Carried along in a cloud
Of neurons, sending pulses,
Waiting to catch the wind back.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Exhausted Sweat-Soaked Puppeteers

Fantasy is too much work.
Whoever you are, you know
It’s true—daydreaming tires you.

We’re not saying it’s useless
Or that you overindulge.
We’re not nearly that moral.

We’re saying it wears you out,
When you need your dreams too much.
When you need your dreams too much,

You can’t let memories lie
However they seem to lie—
You keep reconstructing them

In slightly altered tableaux,
Propping this or that one up,
Tailoring speeches for each,

Renovating the landscapes,
Choreographing the props.
It can be necessary

To plan, not to say survive,
Relentless fantasizing,
But it wears you out. It wears

You out. You sit there, staring,
Dry-mouthed, blocking out the scenes
In which pasts act out futures,

The implausibilities
Of which serve as shadow scrims
For the story, which is grim.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Between Happy Accidents

What they don’t teach you in wonder-tale school
Is that serendipity’s expensive.
Serendipity don’t come cheap. Search costs
Alone are prohibitive, never mind
The nearly impossible trick of it,
To not understand what you’re looking for
Then serendipitously to find it.
If it happens once, that’s fine. If you think
You can have it keep happening, prepare
To pay large between happy accidents.

Monday, October 17, 2022

Girl with a Boyfriend

You want to know their story.
No, not the tale of these two
Particular people here

Hiking alongside the road,
Making you wonder which one
Would be more likely to hike

Alone. Probably him, but
More probably neither one.
These two only remind you

What an absolutely vast
Swath of story’s landscaped world,
Of that great hegemony,

Empire of the human mind,
Is dedicated to these
Pairings, these kinds of couples,

How they met, partnered, married,
Or broke up, renewed their vows,
Cheated one on the other

With some other boy or girl,
How interesting all this
Seems it must be to stories

In the kingdom of stories.
Are we not amazed heroes
Are accorded the core role

When it’s easy to argue
That even in fairy tales,
Folktales, scriptures, and epics,

The favorite plot pivot
Isn’t hero’s setting forth
But rotating boy and girl?

So there you go. Them again,
Hiking the side of the road,
Neither one looking too thrilled.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Silent Martin

He was a pretty good guest
Wherever he went, but just
A pretty good guest, even

When he was the homeowner.
He left very little mess.
He repaired nothing himself.

When his partner showed the house
To some prospective buyers,
He sat in the dining room,

His gleaming laptop open
On the faux-marble table
And nodded when they stopped by,

Politely, but wordlessly,
As if he were his houseguest.
Then, when someone bought the house,

His partner moved out early,
But no one saw Martin go.
It was only years later

That the new owners noticed
Signs a guest still lived with them—
A washed mug in the dish rack,

A towel in the hamper,
A slight change in the angle
Of a chair by a window—

Although maybe it wouldn’t
Be accurate to call it
Living now, Martin, would it?

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Associate Professor

They never cared for memoirs, and they claimed to not trust them. Proud of their own memory, they compared it to the apparent recall capabilities of memoirists and became suspicious. How often the exact words of someone known only in childhood were reported. How rich the surrounding details, drawing the reader into the well-constructed scene. They asked themselves—does our memory work like this? Does our memory feel like this?

No, their memory did not work or feel much like any memoir worked and felt, not even for the early adult years when the scenes were often clearest. Even there, they noted how much more their memories were like dreams than plays with scripts. Strange shards shone vividly, accurately or not. Darkness swirled around and pressed in from all sides. Sequences were uncertain. Scents were to memories only the inverse of what they could be to dreams. A sudden smell could startle a dreamer awake or cast a waking person into a sudden reverie. But other scents among the memories in that reverie rarely surfaced vividly as the first, or at all, about as rarely as scents ever surface within dreams.

One morning, something they could not remember led them to remember reading a Time magazine review of the last book in Philip Jose Farmer’s River World trilogy, decades ago. There was no scene to this memory, no action, only the vague feeling of being eager to read the review, being a young science-fiction fan who had discovered Farmer’s River World in the public library a bit earlier and been wholly absorbed by it.

And what, now, did they recall of that trilogy itself? It was set on a planet around which a river ran from pole to pole like a perfect apple peel. Every human who had ever lived was there, which gave Farmer an excuse to put together his own dream team of past figures he found interesting and send them down this river as a small group in a boat. The team included Mark Twain and a Neanderthal, also a medieval character, and maybe Einstein. Several others, unremembered. Anyway, it turned out that this world wasn’t any kind of supernatural afterlife, only a sort of zoo created by an incredibly advanced alien species who had both the power and the mysterious desire to copy every human at death and to then re/store them on this artificial River World.

At least, that’s the best they could remember of the trilogy’s winding story at four decades’ distance. Of the book review, they remembered that the reviewer generally praised Farmer, while noting that the premise of the story was outlandish. And they remembered that the reviewer admired how quickly Farmer’s story went along. The reviewer then quoted Thoreau, “When skating on thin ice our safety lies in speed.” They never forgot that one, exact sentence out of the blur of the rest of the review, the blur of all of Farmer’s thousand-or-so page trilogy, the blur of that vivid year in their life.

Later, they discovered in a literature class that the quotation wasn’t Thoreau’s, but Emerson’s, and that the correct phrasing was “In skating over thin ice our safety is in our speed.” Reading Emerson’s essays, they would also learn that he wrote the sentence as part of a depiction of the New England character, specifically with regard to trading things, how trade-loving New Englanders avoided investment disasters by never hanging on to anything long.

So, it wasn’t a general observation at all. It was specific to a particular kind of person in a particular kind of situation, and it was slightly humorous. They couldn’t long recall the exact phrasing of Emerson’s whole essay, but there it was, more or less, a part of them from then on, a mossy path leading backwards from what they recalled of Emerson’s essay to the shining shard of that one line in a forty-year old Time magazine book review. (Did they just remember it wrong? Did the reviewer’s copyeditors let slide a mistake about Thoreau?) And from there, back to a vaguely wintry day in a small town’s public library, a year or two earlier maybe, among shelves of plastic-covered, hardbound science fiction novels, sitting on a footstool with a big, fat book about adventures on a River World, which felt compelling, at the time. The footstool, actually, was probably from another memory.

Did any of this hodge-lodge of broken precision and blurry context remind them of those well-regarded memoirs they had read? No, not really. No, it did not. They said as much, sometimes, when someone would listen.

Friday, October 14, 2022

What Your Mind Lost

The true tellers of memory
Are amazing. They earn
Every accolade, earn every

Publication, every penny.
They’re a different kind of liar.
They clutch. What the mind / keeps, it keeps.

If they went to the hospital
Once, when small, they’ll make you believe
Every storytelling detail.

If they saw horror once or twice,
What the bone of the world looks like,
Really looks like, when it breaks out

Of its smoothly functioning flesh,
They’ll write like the only witness
Who can make you feel what they felt.

You’ve been through the hospitals so
Much that thanks to them you’re still small.
Saw bone. Couldn’t feel it at all.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

The Mark of the Great Writer

He had a kind of all-purpose pocket
Tool—bit of a bottle opener, wrench,
And screwdriver but not really a knife—

That he used for every impossible
Small task he couldn’t quite get a grip on,
Pry open, or push down or whatever.

Often, using it, he would catch himself
Muttering, like it was curse and wisdom
Both, that cliché about how, to a man

With a hammer, everything is a nail.
But he wasn’t a man with a hammer.
He was a man with a funky whatzit,

Not quite an all-purpose tool, but useful,
That he repurposed as the need arose,
And usually found a way to make work

Without injuring himself too badly.
Then he would slip it in his hip pocket
And forget about it until the next

Problem presented itself. One morning,
He had an idea that he couldn’t quite
Put into words, and before he knew it,

He was twisting the edge of the idea,
Prying at it with that thingamabob,
Until he twisted so hard the tool snapped.

For a few moments he just stared sadly
At what was now a useless piece of scrap.
Then he sighed. Well, at least I’ve got the mark

Of greatness in writing, having deformed
My medium in order to say what
Has never been said before. So, there’s that.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

This Is an Island and Therefore Unreal

A young English poet
Opined on a visit
To another island—

Iceland, as it happens—
Slightly north of England,
More latterly settled.

He wanted to believe
In something magical,
As many people do,

And he wanted to show
Off a little his way
With outlandish statements.

Later, a novelist,
Also English, published
A sort-of novella,

Centered on a woman
The novelist’s own age,
Of course also English,

Who experiences,
Through grief, a magical
Transformation she must

Complete by traveling
To Iceland, where she turns
Into a rocky troll.

Do we need to mention
The saga obsessions
Of English Tolkien?

You can’t write the unreal
Clear to reality
Simply by narration,

Since narration depends
On imagination
And imagination

On memory as much
As dreams do, but maybe,
If you’re rather English

And prone to fantasy
On your mental island,
You can visit Iceland.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Narcissus Fell for It

If your life, your life,
Your very own life,
You with these words now
Shifting in your head,
Was like a story,

Really like any
Of the one hundred
And twelve thousand tales
Trawled by scientists
With algorithms,

Guess what? Things would get
Worse and worse for you,
With occasional
Moments of relief
As the screws tightened

Before, at the end,
Only at the end,
At the very end,
At their very worst,
Things suddenly got

Better! Do you think
Maybe this tells you
The truth of stories
As mirrors held up
To show life reversed?

Monday, October 10, 2022

Tale of a Distress Signal

The antenna on the top
Of the tank kept wondering
About each small decision.

Well now, what should I do next?
It was a fine, sensitive
Antenna, no doubt useful

To the tank, especially
Here, in the smoke of battle.
This antenna, however,

Was unaware of being
Useful to the tank, a tool
Among many for the tank

And its crew. This antenna
Was unaware of all that.
It felt the signals coursing

Through it, and it thought it was
The tank. The poor antenna
Felt responsible for all

The tank’s maneuvers, firing,
And misadventures in mud.
This could be a long story

Of the clueless antenna
Until the tank was blown up,
But it’s even worse than that.

At some point the antenna
Found out. It should have felt freed.
All this cumbersome nightmare

Of a fiery tank battle
Wasn’t its fault. Antennas
Aren’t tanks, or turrets, or tank crews.

It wasn’t responsible!
But it was stuck to the tank
Anyway, and signaling

Played a part in the nightmare,
And the antenna still guessed
Whether the tank should do this

Or that, still felt like the tank
Itself, still felt the burden
Of deciding—only now,

As impacts bent it in half
And it could hear the screaming
Of the burning crew, it knew.

Sunday, October 9, 2022

To Narrate a Set of Nonnarrative Texts

The object makes a history
Of itself, if you can declare
That all within the set of it
Came into being the same way

Or as part of some extended
Process—or if you can at least
Define it all within borders,
Within some sturdy boundary.

You can examine this object
Now for its history, teeming
With particulars, inquiries
That will emerge as narrative.

To define an object fully
Enough is to make it a wave
Carrying history it makes
Over the ocean, not a part

Of the uncountable ocean,
But apart. You must labor, then,
To comprehend the entire set
That makes itself its history,

Its origins, trajectories,
Its shifting contents and patterns.
Here, again, narrative tempts you.
If not the first technology

For compressing transmissible,
Restorable information,
Narrative was nonetheless one
Of the earliest, the one most

Rooted in the way your mind works.
So. You have collected a set
Of phenomena as object.
Objects make stories. Don’t forget.

Saturday, October 8, 2022

Let in the Underworld

Tranströmer imagined books
Giving an empty bookshelf
The baleful glare of a mob.

Inanimate objects spring
To life in many fictions,
Reaching their most ominous

Manifestations in tales
Where items such as grimoires
Begin to whisper themselves,

Which is so sweetly naive
Of both reader and writer,
Since what is such a story

But a story warning you
What your stories want to do?

Friday, October 7, 2022

The History of the Visible Universe as Seen from a Black Hole

If our photon rings contain
An infinite collection
Of copies of the cosmos

In conformal symmetry,
Then all those rings could be where
Our holographic dual

Lives, and wouldn’t that be sweet?
Somewhere in those rings would be
One brilliant infinity

Each to match each inner dark,
As when the serious child
With the wild head of ink hair

Sat in the barbershop chair
One morning, decades ago,
Astonished by reflection,

A sense of a ritual
More hermetic than holy
Dizzy within that wild head

Seeing itself spin away
In mirrored shining copies
Forever, one ghost’s first glimpse

Of what’s wrong with this picture,
One infinitely thin slice
Of the whole of history.

Thursday, October 6, 2022

Holiday from Memory

Most memories are useless
Or, if not useless, boring
Nevertheless. Poetry,

Storytelling, adventure,
Wish to fillet memory,
Leaving the feathery flesh,

The heavenly aroma
Of caught trout on the hot coals
In the hearth under the stars

On that perfect camping trip
In the grandest wilderness,
Alone with your new lover

That never really happened.
Even if for you it did,
However much edited,

There had to be, of that trip,
A lot of sweaty hiking,
Squatting behind trees to pee,

Setting up camp, breaking down
Camp, troweling dirt over
The ashes of last night’s fire.

And where did all those fish guts
Of your memories end up?
Entrails. Do you remember?

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Before the Day

Once, there was a planet not
Without mercy but never
With enough to go around.

Mercy was rationed. Creatures
Worked in alternating shifts—
Close to mercy, far from it.

Eventually, everyone
Found some. That was the nature
Of mercy, always to be

Eventually merciful.
But it was never enough
At any moment to cloak

The whole planet in one grace,
So the world teemed with creatures,
More and more and more around,

All in need of some mercy
But making do, best they could,
Until that day came for them.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

And He Sang His God Damns in Despair

Maybe you knew what your old
Giant dreamed, James. Maybe you
Knew but pretended not to,

You, stopped more than four decades
Ago now, yourself. We can
Dream some of his dreams for you,

And no, they weren’t of slender
Girls and sycamores. The bruised
Plum image was just for you.

In his dreams he was walking
Normally as any man.
He was upset by something,

Conversing with a woman
He took to be his late wife,
Although this dream figure looked

Nothing like her and the age—
Both hers and his in the dream
And its historical age,

Victorian—was all wrong.
His dream was awful, awful.
That’s why he talked in his sleep.

That’s why your poem described him
Talking softly in his sleep,
Why your poem still talks for you

And for your Martins Ferry,
And why we’re talking for dreams,
Softly, since dreaming’s awful.

Monday, October 3, 2022

The Widower

Wasn’t much narrative left
He could hold in the corners
Of his small life for himself.

He smiled in the shady room,
Blinds drawn against burning sun,
Recalling how she’d put it.

It was her world, he just lived
In it. It would still be hers
Long after he had left it.

He frowned, as he tried to stomp
A desultory cockroach
That picked up speed. So he missed

Her. So what. This was his world.
She just haunted him in it.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

You Can Say It Means Whatever You Want, But You Still Can’t Work It Out

In Herbert’s version,
Composed in Polish,
The authentic tale

Of the Minotaur
Was in Linear A.
Short story shorter,

The Minotaur had
Daedalus couldn’t

Make him learn despite
A labyrinthine
Education, so

Theseus was brought
There by King Daddy
To assassinate

The Minotaur, which
He did. No problem.
It’s a favorite

Thing to do with myths
And legends—flip them.
But the Minotaur

Is still in the maze
Of Linear A,
Biding monstrous time,

And we know this as
The monster always
Waits for meaning, no

Matter how many
Ways you make it mean.
The monster, we mean.

Saturday, October 1, 2022

What Is Plot?

An English word of unknown origin
With the basic sense of a bounded bit
Of land. Eventually, that boundedness

Began to include the sense of measure,
Of land laid out in certain measurements,
And from there to the layout of a room.

You can see where this was going—measure,
Lay-out, plan, a sense of something arranged,
Not simply left to sprawl haphazardly,

Not just from here to over there, between,
Say, the river, that hill, and the forest,
But measured and abstracted boundaries,

Confined by the composed, by agreement,
As the plot. We’re the last ones to complain
About the crimes of the artificial

Against the holy natural, itself
A lovely artificial distinction,
But clearly plots are human artifice,

Species-specific, not landscape features,
One reason they’re so frequently compared
To webbed artifices of arachnids,

Know what we mean? We’d like to lose the plot
Sometimes. Sometimes we want to dare someone
Fond of story to sprawl through sprawled events.

Leave the plotting to surveyors, merchants,
And archeologists who need to know
How your ruins lie. Let them lie. Just lie.

We know it will make a terrible plot.
We’ll never see your character struggle
And climb up along firm, stepped terraces.

Be the river that floods the plot, the flash
Flood that left such ruins in the first place.
Be the true protagonist. Wreck all plots.

Friday, September 30, 2022

Tale of a World with an Actual God

Would a god require
A prophet? Prophets
Certainly think so.

Imagine a tale
Of a god who lacked
Prophets or the need

For any heralds.
God just strode the world,
This god. Whenever

Someone was in need
Of a divine word,
God spoke it clearly,

Straight up, face to face,
No one and nothing
Blinded or burning.

In the beginning,
Things were chaotic,
But as the divine

Conversations worked
Around the planet,
Things quieted down.

People understood,
Finally, what was
Going on and why.

Everyone praised god
And agreed this god
Was very helpful,

Very clear, and nice.
With this god, no one
Needed telling twice.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Ballad of the Sad Matryoshka

She had a little universe
She had to hide away.
She needed to keep it secret,
But there was nowhere safe.

She took her little universe
And hid it in her dress,
But stars peeked out from all her seams,
Winking an SOS.

She wrapped her little universe
Tightly in a towel
And stuffed it in her dress again,
But it began to howl.

She took it out and rewrapped it
In plastic, and she swallowed it,
But the world got stuck in her throat,
And her voice grew weirdly thick.

Now thanks to one small universe,
Matryoshka barely talks,
And when she tries, her eyes shine,

And there’s a slight howl in her thoughts,
And you may notice that her hands
Clutch at her throat when she walks.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Broken Ant Farm

Every minute you spend both
Being and remembering
Is another minute spent

Living life based on a true
Story. What would you look like
To a storyless creature,

One that was clever but not
Only without a story
Of its own—wholly naïve,

Within real intelligence,
Regarding storytelling?
Maybe something like an ant

Looks to any one of you
Innocent of the knowledge
Of the scented ways of ants—

Have you ever watched one long,
How it seems almost random
And redundantly random

At that in the way it moves,
Back and forth and in circles
But circling furiously,

Intent upon some business,
Some form of exploration
Makes no sense at all to you?

Is this an experience
That sounds familiar to you?
It’s based on a true story.