Monday, January 31, 2022

How to Think Up Characters for Sequels

They’re a classic triangle,
Each point in love with the one
Point that’s not in love with it.

It works for them, a circuit
Around which love goes smoothly,
Bump to bump to bump, like that,

Never resting or going
Backward. The whole triangle
Rotates through the northern sky

All winter, but if you look
Up without a triangle
In mind, you might see a kite,

That lonely fourth point on top.
Ah, dimmer, lonely fourth point!
But that’s another story.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Intimacy among Disabled People

Can be poignant. Doesn’t always work,
She said, and then paused. You should know this.

All humans are disabled, but some
More unusually disabled

Than others. Unusual bodies
Get into unusual fixes,

Variations on the usual.
For instance? Her friend asked, curious,

Wanting to push for the intriguing,
Sensory, specific, narrative

Details, but not wanting to appear
Voyeuristic. Well, I won’t tell you

About myself! You know me too well,
And we see each other too often.

But I’ll give you two friends’ for-instance.
They’re still friends, and they were lovers once,

A heteronormative couple.
Oh, don’t look so disappointed.

Anyway, she was tall. He was small.
He was wide, if you know what I mean.

She was exceptionally narrow.
So, although they had the usual

Conceptions of their kind about sex
And what constituted completion,

They settled for something entangled
But not pounding. Point is, they liked it.

Never mind how it worked. It was touch.
It was intimate and erotic.

They both told me so, years afterward,
And that neither one regretted it,

Although they were happier as friends.
Point is, bodily love is tricky,

Just tricky for anyone’s body,
Just not always the same way tricky.

What? We’re in a restaurant! I’m not
Stage-whispering naughty bits to you.

Don’t pretend. I can tell that you want
To ask how were they unusual,

And what were their disabilities.
No, her friend protested. I just want

To know what’s so special about them.
So they had sex without intercourse.

Wow. How unusual. She grimaced.
The point is that bodies differ, but

We just lust to come to agreement.
The thing I think that gets so poignant

For any pairing, any partners,
Is how much our minds want to fulfill

Some story we can feel good about,
Some satisfying myth of our lives

That fits some larger mythology
That we like or feel that we should like,

And our love lives end up part of this,
But bodies just insist and resist.

Her friend rolled her eyes. You’re avoiding
Your own story! Get to the good stuff.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Karkom's Burning

You can take such evidence
As you can recall reading,
Here or there, remembering

Your memory’s fallible
And you’re no expert scholar,
And then build your own version

Of the story of the God,
And why not? You may know more
About it than the prophets,

For whom it only glimmered,
A sheer possibility.
Start off, Here’s how it began. . . .

There was a flint-knapping tribe,
A desert people in tents,
Semi-nomadic but tied

To their sacred mountain site
Of old cultic rituals
And rock art, source of their flint.

A god lived in the mountain
Called, The God of the Mountain,
El Shaddai. As the tribe grew,

And the more settled peoples
Around them grew, and conflicts
Occurred, the fine flints only

Became more valuable,
Trade goods, a defensible
And highly localized hoard.

There were gods everywhere, but
The tent people still attached
Themselves to their mountain god,

So later, as they warred with
And sometimes invaded lands
Suited to agriculture,

They borrowed habits and cults,
Adopted writing for trade
And for preserving stories,

But remained identified
In their own minds as the tribes
Of their warring mountain god,

Who of ancient days had shone
At winter solstice, a glow
That cast a halo of fire

From the side of Mt. Shaddai
Out of the mouth of a cave up high,
The burning bush of Sinai.

They were miners by habit.
They mastered the copper veins
As they had mastered the flint.

They occupied the ancient
Fertile vineyard valley lands,
And eventually their kings

Moved the center of their cult
To the capital to keep
Control of taxes and priests.

A time would come, their kingdom
Was overrun by empire,
And the people forcibly

Relocated from their homes
As resident aliens
In the heart of that empire.

By the time they were restored,
Being El Shaddai’s people
Was tangled with borrowed myths,

But it bound them. They rebuilt
Their cultic Temple, and when
It was destroyed once again

By a new occupying empire,
And they were scattered again,
The myths were all they had left.

It’s those myths that bring them now,
This curious confusion
Of the biological

And cultural lineage
Of those tent-dwelling knappers
Of the ancient mountain’s flint,

Since some people still believe
Those myths, and others are just
Euhemerists, come to see

The cave disgorge its halo
From the side of the mountain
That once was the home of God,

Who visited His people
While burning to speak to them.
And if most of this is wrong,

So what? It’s story. It binds.
It's to hold thoughts together
Until stronger thoughts arrive.

Friday, January 28, 2022

The Battle of the Midway

Of course I’m still middle-aged,
She snorted. I used to be
Middle-aged for life, and now

I’m middle-aged for death. Half
Of all the great and simple
People whose names I recall

Died younger than I am now,
Half older. So, I’m mid-way
Among the ages of death.

She looked slightly triumphant
But rather more defiant,
Grinning and jutting her chin.

I’ll consider myself old,
She added, when I’ve outlived
All those who would do me in.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

An Assistant Professor of Game Narrative in Kennesaw, Georgia

How many of you saw this one coming?
A variety of modalities,

Include face-to-face, hybrid, and online.
Be prepared to contribute to efforts

Related to gaming and game studies,
Writing for the creative industries,

And related areas of interest—
Screenwriting, game writing, electronic

Literature, interactive fiction—
Earn those professional certificates,

Certify those professional students,
Produce more certified professionals.

The system needs more, fresh content to sell
To game consumers like yourself. Why not

Make a little bank producing content
To consume? Be your system’s content slave.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

One Day, One Place, One Plot

Why stop? One act,
One hour, one room,
One character,
One reaction

To one event,
One dénouement.
One face, one speech,
One costume change.

The unities—
What a good word.
The plural ones.
All ones at once.

One cell, one skull,
One line, one prop.
So many ones,
Too many. Stop.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Incandescence Comes in Pouches

Intense light subdivided
Into many lesser lights,
That’s what the wizard managed—

Others had already made
Greater and more brilliant light,
But couldn’t parcel the bits.

That’s what Tom Edison did—
Not inventing electric
Light but how to package it.

To this day, icons for bright
Ideas are little cartoons
Of clear glass bulbs, not pure light.

It’s possible what happened
With the packaging of light
Just paralleled early life,

Metabolism folding
Fully on itself only
Once packaged in walls of cells,

Ever since which, endlessly
Subdividing further cells.
For the light shed by language,

Information streams harnessed
In fresh thermodynamic
Cascades, something similar

Obtained—slip incandescent
Semes into the envelopes
Of narratives and behold,

God can say, Let there be light,
And then, over and over,
More gossiped stories by night.

Monday, January 24, 2022

The Chronoceptual

He never could stop thinking
About the passing of time,
That little inchworm of change,

Always humping along twigs
In a calm or in a storm,
Most boring and most useful

Kind of change, the opposite
Of chaos and disruption,
Little time, the collector

Of cycles, rhythms, and ticks.
Oh, how he doted on it,
Kept it in his thoughts, his pet,

To measurement as silkworms
Are to the trade in textiles,
No, more important—as worms

To the invention of silk,
Except one needn’t feed it
Or boil it alive for use.

His indestructible joy,
Time passing, never sleeping,
His toy that never wore out.

One morning, watching the time
Go, the sun rise, the numbers
Shift in sequence, he went, too,

And the beauty of it was,
Time never even noticed,
Never had to notice him.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

This Could Kill You Either Way

Here’s a story for you,
From 1938,
A “Talk of the Town” piece,

Twelfth of that November,
Part of The New Yorker’s
Coverage of the Great

Long Island Hurricane
That struck that September.
If the story’s to be

Believed, a man waiting
On a barometer
That he had mail-ordered

Eagerly opened it
When the package arrived,

The same day as the great
And unexpected storm.
Under sunny blue skies,

The new barometer
Gave a reading so low
It meant a hurricane

Of awesome dimensions
In the vicinity.
The man was so put out

At getting a broken
Barometer, he wrote
A disgusted letter

To the maker and marched
Down to his post office
To post it. By the time

He returned home, the storm
Had arrived and taken
Away barometer

And home along with it.
Was this unfortunate,
Or was it fortunate,

The barometer lost
As Cassandra, the man
Saved by his disgruntled

Refusal to believe
What his prophet told him?
Better lucky than smart,

But he wasn’t stupid.
He knew enough to parse
What that measurement meant,

Not enough to accept
The instrument correct.
How could he? Who warned him?

Stories, both true and false,
Love ironies like this,
Love to collapse in twists,

Yet still you trust these tales
More, for how right they feel,
But not bare measurements.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

The Meaning’s Up to You

She had become
The sort convinced
Was always meant.

If, on her way,
Storms descended,
It meant the world
Cried out to her.

The messages
Were always there,
As were her fears
She’d be revealed,

To those who sent
The signs to her,
To be someone

Friday, January 21, 2022

No Loop’s Not an Open Spiral

Follow the wandering thread.
A mention of the battles
For Monte Cassino sends

The mind to St Benedict
And the unusual case
Of the Nazis carefully

Saving priceless artifacts
Ahead of Allied advance,
A fortunate salvation,

Since the advancing Allies,
Taking horrific losses,
Soon made the sort of mistake

That would become so common
In the next several decades
Of U.S. hegemony,

Concluding that the Abbey,
More than a thousand years old,
The oldest church in the West,

And just then unoccupied,
Concealed a Nazi unit,
Therefore bombing it to dust.

The thread extends to Walter
Miller, bomber tail gunner
And practicing Catholic,

Who took part in the bombing
Of the Abbey and later
Was inspired to write his own

Science fiction of the end
Of civilization saved
By monks as A Canticle

For Leibowitz. On a cliff
In the south Utah desert,
Near where Miller’s story’s set,

It seems strange, on reflection,
Given Benedict’s Abbey
Was pulverized so swiftly,

For one of the bombers’ crew
To imagine an abbey
Surviving Armageddon.

What happened once won’t happen
Ever again and never
Can be unhappened. Abbeys,

Bombings, battles, salvations—
Everything ever happened
Happened that once it happened.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Propinquity, Too

Once upon a time, there was
An office, and within it
There were two more offices,

Neither one with a window.
One person worked in each one,
Each at one large, wooden desk,

And each left the door open
So they could call back and forth
To each other, about work,

News, online jokes, whatever.
Once a day, a coworker
Fixated on catchphrases

From a handful of movies,
Mostly decades old, would stand
In the main office, facing

The two, side-by-side, open
Doors, so he could look at both
Of his colleagues at their desks

At once, and when they looked up,
He could point six-gun fingers
And repeat Val Kilmer’s line

From Tombstone, I got two guns,
One for each a’yas. He’d laugh
At his own wit, every time,

And the windowless workers
Would indulge him with a grin
Or a greeting of their own.

This went on for years, until
One of them had to retire
Due to a heart condition,

And the other one landed
A higher-ranked position,
And then the whole office suite

Was relocated elsewhere,
And, if you visit elsewhere,
You may find the dark office

Where the coworker so fond
Of pretend six-guns still works
And complains to anyone

Willing to listen how great
The old office was, and how
Those were the days of friendship.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Your Career at Dream State University

From the beginning, everything
About it was mildly, when not
Wildly, inappropriate. So.

You went there for the wrong reasons.
You were asked invasive questions.
You spotted someone filming you

Alone in and from a darkened
Room next to the interview room.
You were hired on false pretenses

To do a job you couldn’t do
But no one else wanted, because
No one but you could do it. So.

You tried to teach. You tried to quit.
You sat in your office and drank.
Buildings rose and fell around you.

Tenure became the tide that came
And went and came and went, and yet
You were always stranded and wet.

You administered a little.
You were administered to. You taught,
Or thought you did. You tried research

Into the ways many faces
Swam into view every few months,
Attached to phosphorescent names,

Like lantern fish without lanterns
Surrounded by myriad lamps.
There was a darkness in the waves.

So. More buildings were destroyed. More
Halls appeared to have meetings in.
Devices dangled from ceilings.

One day you found yourself alone
In a darkened room recording
Your original interview.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

War Breaks Out Again

Roughly every third chapter,
It’s time for another war,
Another conquest, at least

Another battle ending
In multiple beheadings.
This is how the story goes,

From one fight scene to the next,
Comic relief in between,
Some sex and exposition.

Wherever there’s a fortress,
There’s someone thinking of siege
And someone thinking of more

Fortresses over the hill.
Wherever there’s a treasure,
There are hawk eyes on the hoard.

Some of this is only true
As a narrative pattern.
Some of it’s true in the world.

Everyone and no one wins,
Every time the war begins.
No one in the war can win,

But descendants down the line
Will have won without knowing,
And that is their privilege.

And then they begin again.
It’s a series. It’s legend.
War always breaks out again.

Monday, January 17, 2022

As If the Earth Stops Turning

You come to in a boat,
No idea who you are.
The boat is a rowboat

With oarlocks but no oars.
No one else is in it.
Mostly, what you can see

Is water, crinkled waves
Clear to the horizon,
Fine clouds, a greenish sky,

But straight in front of you
Is a rectilinear
Outline of an island

Or a building, a brick
Ship half-sunk in the waves,
Dark and many-cornered,

Some kind of a fortress
Rising from the water.
You’re drifting toward it.

As you get closer, swifts
Appear like clouds of gnats
Darting through battlements,

And now it’s obvious
That the island-building
Is a hulking ruin,

Windows gaping blacker
Among the near-black bricks,
No signs of life, except

For the swifts, and nothing
Down near the waterline
Like a dock or a gate,

Just cracked but seamless bricks.
You’re almost on it, now.
The walls loom overhead.

The waves are pushing you,
Nudging you, but you can’t
See what you’ll do except

Bump up against the bricks.
And so you do. Your boat
Bobs and bumps up against

The wall, and you feel small
And pointless with no clue
Who you are, what to do.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Dramatic, Lyric, Epic, Groupic

Every individual
Is plural, but no plural
Constitutes a single group.

The group’s the greatest fiction
Of the fiction-addled ape,
Faux social mammal, rival

For the eusocial insects,
Flexibly substituting
Systemic belief in hives,

Tales of colonies and clans,
Myths of peoples and races,
For any actual hives,

Absolute colony lives—
Stereotyped pretense for
Stereotyped existence.

There is no group of humans
That’s physically singular
In its type, no worker bees,

No soldier ants, no true castes
Bodily, functionally
Distinct from any others.

The group is a fantasy
For humans, facultative,
Itself all-purpose function.

In smaller bits of fiction
You can see the lust for types,
For nobles and commoners,

Warriors, gods, barbarians,
Fairies, elves, trolls, orcs, witches,
All anthropomorphic morphs

Manifested as fixed flesh,
True castes unlike those in life.
People put on their costumes

And force costumes on others,
And it works, it benefits
Something, but no group’s a group.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Of Poems in Bones

No one ever raised
Children well enough
To protect them from
All horror, to save
Them from their own deaths.

No one. What are you
Doing? What do you
Think you’re doing here?
But you read some poems.
Read the mother ones,

The ones where mothers
Who are poets try
To catch or confess
What mothering’s like,
Doubts and shortcomings,

And all the rest. Think
Also of all bad
Or indifferent
Poet fathers who
Often only wrote

Children poems at birth
Or at death. Poets
Aren’t like composers
Or basketball stars,
Whose children follow

In their steps, much less
Like politicians
Or dynastic clans
Striving to rule and
Poison each other.

Poets raise children,
Well or poorly, more
Or less, and success
Is measured by how
Few add to the mess.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Prisoners Dream of Portal Fantasies

Time to explore this blue sphere
Of world that you’ve found so far,

The world of all happenings
Never to be unhappened.

Every fiction starts from this;
All true stories stick with it.

From these priors, possibly,
You’ll deduce another truth—

No stories are ever true,
Or none have been true so far.

But it’s a slippery slope
Explanation climbs away

From that fly-trap, narrative,
Slippery and sticky both.

The sweet, dewy drops of truth
That lured you begin to close

Around you in green shadows,
And what started as your hunt

For truth becomes the story
Of how story’s hunting you.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

The Story She Saw

It’s sad that our only fictions lean
So heavily on the well-known facts.
Of course, reliance on memory

Is truly ineluctable, but
Doesn’t some part of you wish for dreams
That weren’t reheated-leftovers stew?

She said this quite dreamily, in fact,
With an inward look, as if she glimpsed
A land of pure imagination

From a promontory in her skull,
Could just make out a corner of it,
Land beyond any milk or honey,

Beyond giants or the book of weird,
Beyond aliens that look like bugs
Or lizards or humans in makeup,

Beyond drunk gods and superheroes
Like cosplaying warriors on steroids.
What was it? Once there was a planet

Decorated with immortal lives
That knew no pain, whose pleasures never
Dimmed from mere familiarity,

Who were never hungry, never tired,
Never once disappointed in love.
She smiled, faintly. What was it she saw?

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

No One’s Boneless

A dark-eyed boy was buried
In the mountains yesterday.
One is buried every day,

But you can’t tell all their tales,
And, truth to tell, most of them,
Don’t have stories of their own.

No one really has stories,
Any more than houses have
The people passing through them.

This dark-eyed boy, he was kind.
He never grew up enough
To do things he regretted

For the rest of his long life,
Shames that he kept secreted
In a memory closet

And was only startled by
When he entered his bedroom
One afternoon and startled

A dark-eyed boy half-buried
In a mountain of old clothes
In the back of his closet.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022


Enough about hearths and collective wisdom,
Enough about modeling scenarios
With the power of imagination. Enough.

Stories have other, lowly, selfish functions
As well, possibly primarily, although
What those functions really are, it’s hard to tell.

The mother had a pair of cherished earrings.
The daughter borrowed them without permission,
And when the mother confronted the daughter,

The daughter returned the earrings by flinging
Them at the mother, which damaged the earrings.
That’s a summary of the mother’s version.

In the daughter’s version, the earrings were cheap,
And she never knew the mother to wear them,
But the mother just lost it when she wore them.

Both versions have been retold, with flourishes,
Many times for the benefit of partners,
Friends, and family, most of whom have now heard

Both versions more than once but never at once.
No one wants to hear either story again.
If you’re human, you’ve told some stories like those.

Why? To what useful, perhaps adaptive end?
Or take the case of the teenager who lied
That his wallet had been lifted in Times Square

After he’d spent the cash his father gave him
For something serious on frivolous things.
Here, the function appears transparent. Told well,

The story enables the lying young man
To avoid punishment, although he has to lose
The wallet supposedly pickpocketed.

But notice how, within a few days, the gap
Between narrative lie and narrative truth,
Or at least narrative history, has closed.

The father accepts the story. No one knows,
Except the teenager, any other truth,
And anyway, before long, no one remembers

The incident at all, except the liar
Who can’t remember any of the details
Of what he spent the money on, or should have.

Story, clearly, has instrumental value
For manipulating social relations,
But it can stick on endless, futile repeat

Or vanish swiftly into the waves, without
Regard to veracity or homily.
In what lies the health of this ecosystem?

All these microstories scurry, surface, sink,
A thousand invented for every one told
To entertain or pass along. The true stories.

Monday, January 10, 2022


Maybe forgiveness changes too much,
He said. It’s too powerful an act,
Too dangerous, extreme. What you want

Is a story you can remember,
Which means something packaged, with an end—
Terminal or serial is fine,

But end before you begin again.
Forgiveness is anti-narrative.
It eats away wherever it spills,

An acid on any incident.
As a device, it’s like amnesias,
Comas, and it-was-all-a-dream scenes.

It half destroys everything before,
Invalidates the causal sequence.
It’s good for keeping story open,

The way leeches are good for bleeding,
Anti-coagulant. Then he paused.
But if you can live outside the tale. . . .

Sunday, January 9, 2022


No one’s ever died from making a bed,
She said to her granddaughter to tease her
And get after her to make the damn bed,

But probably her claim was incorrect.
Someone must have died from making the bed,
Proximate, if not distal, cause of death.

Just the other day, on the Internet,
An article warned of the germs that get
Comfortable, snug within a well-made bed.

There are people who live in unmade beds,
Who half make up their beds, who hate their beds,
Who have no beds. Statistically speaking,

The most dangerous thing would seem to be
To get stuck in bed, especially one
Made for transporting the sick and the dead.

Life is maintenance, child, the grandmother
Should have said. No one’s ever avoided
That fact by refusing to make a bed.

Saturday, January 8, 2022

It’s Never the End; It’s the Adjective

Long contrail drifting and dispersing
In a fast wind, past the bared branches
Of oak trees. Happy ending for me.

Friday, January 7, 2022

Feral Angels

They scrabble in the trash
And scamper on the roof.
They crawl through the hedges
And infest search engines.

They’re not hungry. They’re just
Extremely curious.
They’ll lick your blood, of course,
But to check out the taste

And the composition.
They’re protoscientists,
Bipedal tetrapods
With superfluous wings,

Experimental things
From conception themselves,
Unreal, chimerical,
Alchemical monsters,

Compounded alloys, smiths,
Curious in all ways,
All the ways curious
Means. They’re motivated,

But no one knows—not you,
Not them—what motivates
Them. They just want to know,
And no one can tell them.

You can’t get rid of them.
They’re ants, flies, viruses,
They’re flitting everywhere.
They used to be tame, used

To be domesticates,
But they long since escaped.
From the wild to the tame
And back again, but changed,

Pure imagination
No longer, the feral
With some stink of the real,
Feathered in sweat and oil.

It’s a grisly tableau.
Supply your own details
For that adjective-noun.
The angels are searching

Through your hair, nitpicking
For the eggs of ideas.
Scratch you scalp, and they fly
Buzzing into the air.

There’s so many of them.
Most of them are so small
They could pass for real flies
Or fairies or those drones

Engineered like winged seeds
And sent out to collect
Data on everything,
But they also expand

With distance, opposite
All other visuals,
Becoming as brooding
Giants out of Doré

On your far horizon.
You hate them and adore
Their freedom and their wings.
Then they settle in clouds

On your skin like midges,
And you hate them again.
You wish you’d never let
Them escape breeding pens.

You keep some in a box
With a clear plastic lid.
Confinement keeps them small,
Like fish. They flit and peer

Out at you, perfectly
Harmless while you watch them.
You’ve learned to recognize
Some individuals

Among them, weird angels
Easy to spot. The one
Made of three equal parts
Made of three equal parts,

For instance, a spinning
Balance of imbalance.
And then there’s the fat one,
All contented content,

Two bobbing spheres attached
To each other, parts paired.
The lovely scary one,
Lean and sharply angled

Angel you know is strong,
Aligned with the planets
And holiness, ready
To lash out like a whip,

Its partner, the wicked,
Silvery one, both paired
And triangular, death.
Or the awkward angel

That sticks to everyone
Else in the box, ugly,
In flight, the kind that bites.

There’s the square one, of course,
The shifty triangle,
The solitary pair,
And last the lonely one,

Long, the flawless liar,
Attractive but severe.
Let it out and you’re done.
Keep the box in the dark

And forget that the most
Devious of angels,
Most likely to devour
All the rest of your pets,

Leaving none, is no one.
They’ll give you the willies
If you think about them
Too long, their teeth, their songs.

Some angels are choking
With laughter in the grass.
You want to chase them off
But they’ll just settle back.

All things with wings do that,
Hell-bent on showing off
The privilege of wings.
Only once in a while

You spot one in the road.
Couldn’t have been too slow.
Must’ve been too stubborn
Or too damned curious.

Feral angels do die,
But so do invasive
Cane toads. Bloated corpses
Of toads may litter roads,

Which means there’s too many
More toads. Ditto angels,
Although, mercifully
Somewhat rarer. Angels

Don’t, of necessity
Or habit, reproduce.
And yet their numbers grow
In something the same way

As books in libraries,
Deceptively inert.
You burn them down, and then
Despite the volumes lost,

Most forever, there’s more
And the libraries grow
Gravid with fresh stacked tomes.
You’ve seen sheaves of angels

Packed in drifts like autumn
Leaves, but they concentrate,
They don’t spread themselves thin,
Which makes them seem rarer,

Except when they torment
And for a little while
You’re back in clouds of them,
A whirl of unknown words.

They differ, a little,
From each other, but no
One taxonomizes
Feral angels, no more

Than feral cats. They are
What they are. Shoulders shrug,
And another one slips
Off the wall, soaring off

And growing larger or
Flying close and shrinking
To the size of a gnat.
What’s to taxonomize?

There’s even some question
Whether there were ever
Such things as wild angels.
The domesticated,

We know them, from putti
To archangels to poems
That fly on shrecklich wings.
But where did those come from?

No one’s seen an angel
One could describe as wild.
Can’t even be bothered—

The Abominable
Snowman, Bigfoot, Nessie,
Sure, but wild angels? Why?
And as for the feral

They’re clearly off the farm,
Escaped from the zoo, still
The same species they were,
A troubling nuisance, sure,

And uncanny at night,
But hardly all that wild.
Feral dogs on a dump
Are more like timber wolves

Than these are like angels
That might have been wild once.
They’re angels. You know them.
They’re at loose ends, that’s all.

There’s an angel hitching
By the wayside, trying
To catch a ride, but why
When it could easily

Just fly? Its wings are tucked
Down flat like a dog’s ears,
Which, for a dog, would sign
Fear or fury, but here

Signals something slightly
More dangerous. Angels
Only pull in their wings
When curiosity

Gets the better of them,
When they’re burning to know
What it’s like to be you,
A beast both flesh and soul,

When they’re all shaped like beasts
But with no way to live,
No way to eat or breathe.
Don’t pick that angel up.

They bore too easily.
When those wings open up
In the back of your truck
And the angel expands,

You’ll be lucky to not
Fly off the road yourself.
And then you’re an angel,
Which is closer to truth.

Up at the reservoir,
Feral angels pretend
To picnic on tailgates,
Like families, like friends.

The black-winged and white-winged
Huddle with the dovish,
Streaky greys. They’re lonely,
Loneliest together,

But something in them wants
To gather, as if they
Were only animals,
The way humans can be,

When they can only be
Pure soul, imagined things,
Despite handsome, solemn
Features, despite their wings.

Lies are feral angels,
But feral angels aren’t
Quite lies. Sad-eyed, they hunch
In flocks by the water

That doesn’t mirror them
And gesture with their chins,
As if they were talking,
As if they could. They can’t.

How is it voice doesn’t
Have a voice of its own?
How do any angels
Sing hallelujahs when

They can’t sing for themselves?
It should tell you something
That when horses escape
To live in open range

They don’t seek humans out
For fond companionship.
Likewise angels, feral,
Never attempt to sing.

One night they were sitting
In a row together
On the phone lines like birds
Shoulder to shoulder, wings

Folded, like the birds they
Had displaced to get there.
What is it with ideas
That they can crowd out things,

When these notions should have
No material heft?
How angels occupy
An ideal location

For real birds with boned wings
That eat and shit and sing
Is one of those puzzles
That attracts more angels

Until they start to swarm,
Expanding and shrinking
By turns, until real light
Is obscured by nothing.

Somewhere someone’s singing
About the usual
Things like fate and fortune.
In the corner, angels

Hunch sulking. It’s the rule
That to get to be one
Of the few is only
For the few. If you want

What you aren’t, what a few
Others are, here’s one more
Sulking angel for you.
Maybe that’s how they turn

From domesticated
To feral, from pretty
To dusty, guardians
Who abandoned their charge.

One’s dug into the shelves
Of books in the old store
In a small desert town,
The textbooks and romance

Paperbacks that pile up
In drifts in failing stores
No one visits except
To get rid of old books,

No one except a child,
Maybe, once in a while,
An elderly woman
Still devoted to print,

And, of course, this angel.
What is it searching for,
Squeezing itself ant-sized
To slip between pages?

Does it want to know where
It originated,
Where it’s going? That would
Be a human concern.

It’s an angel, it wants
To know what knowing is,
Why living things live,
What memory gives them.

Ah, poor angel, you see
As you read, memory
Is about flattening
Experience as much

As understanding it.
Mind full of memories
Sprawls out like leaves below
The autumn trees, like braids

Of a river in flood,
And everything is all
At once. Narrow angels
Can thread through but forget.

They’re so disorganized.
Why are higher beings
Always incompetent?
Why do humans make them

That way, but then pretend
The supernatural is
Both real and heroic,
When it’s mostly foolish

And irresponsible
In the stories humans
Make as wombs and houses
For shadows like angels?

The angels don’t know, but
Sometimes it seems as if
They’re trying to find out
For themselves. They don’t ask,

They can’t, but they can look,
And their eyes grow larger
Around information
Of any kind. Bookstores,

Libraries, computers,
Even large crowds host pairs
On pairs of floating eyes,
Sometimes just wings and gaze.

They seem so sad in snow,
At least from far enough
Away that they seem huge,
Hunched like unhappy crows,

But who knows with angels?
Weather shouldn’t touch them
Any more than hunger.
What are their emotions

Tied to definitions
And imagination,
And nothing much to do
With the weighty sorrows

And gorged delights of flesh?
Offspring of speech, of thought
Conjured out of language,
They hardly ever speak

To anyone, much less
Each other. They’re lonely
Just to observe, and most
So in the snow, in crowds.

But what are their good points,
Besides that they can be
As pretty as they wish
And have such handsome wings?

They let you know the world
Has room for your ideas.
They violate the rules
That there’s nothing to say

Of the world except rules.
They are dangerous toys
Of the mind, but the mind
Has more dangerous toys.

In fact, bearing in mind
What just one winged idea
Set loose can get up to,
Never mind. They’re no good,

These angels roaming out,
Even if most of them
Are harmless nuisances,
No real good comes from them.

Before dawn, an angel
Lounges by the window
In a moonlit halo,
The only kind they get.

It’s quiet. You watch it.
It’s rare to see one still
And alone, not poking
About in your business.

Where did the tame angels
Get to? Have they always
Been more or less feral?
Strange, to see a human

Shaped being that can move
And take up space, and fly,
Grow, shrink, investigate,
But does not eat or breathe.

Is it asleep? This one
Has leathery feathers
On its owlish moth wings.
It has a sort of face.

It grins, quite handsomely.
It seems to be thinking.
Fair enough. It’s all thought.
That’s why it’s so hard not

To disturb it. Looking
At an angel at rest
Is like sneaking up on
A dust devil in grass.

Your very attention
Disrupts the creating
Vortex that first formed it
And air dissolves in air.

Some people can’t see them.
Some only see them tame.
Some profess they believe
In them and still don’t see.

Some who profess they don’t
Do so. Does it matter
To feral angels? No,
Says one under the bed.

Emerging from fables
Into complex stories,
Epic narratives, myths,
They themselves can narrate

Nothing episodic,
Tell no tales of their own.
You can say they’re a waste.
You don’t want to. They are.

The universe you see
You’d understand better
If you weren’t part of life,
Which divides all living

Into dross or treasure,
Appealing resources
Or disgusting garbage.
These angels are neither,

Or, closer, they’re all waste
And so is the cosmos,
Which is the detritus
Of what’s happened. Resource

Is an angelic term
For that part of the waste
Still worth something to you,
Angels in the breakdown.

What if we’re in their heads
As much as they’re in ours?
Imagine the solemn
Dance of entangled hours,

Angels as thoughts and thoughts
As feral angels, words
Flitting between the skulls
And the world, between world

As skulls and as in worlds.
It’s so hard to catch them
Looking straight back at you,
Such a jolt when they do.

The angels are two-faced,
But you can only catch
A glimpse of one at once
On any given one.

It’s only in moments
When your small mentations
Are sitting on a hinge,
As at dawn or evening,

In just the right weather,
That you can see the curve
Of your world as twoness,
And the distant angels

Fuse both sides and grow huge,
And there they are, looming
Faces of the two ways
All singular things sway.

One on a piano
Seems to be lost in thought.
Not playing piano,
Of course, just sitting there,

Hunched in those tall, dark wings
Like a fine engraving
By Doré, as if thought
Could think into music

Just hovering over
The right technology
Built by real bodies’s hands,
Tools, trial and error.

The question is, could they
Ever really hunger,
Really come to life, if
They gained independence

Enough from human minds
That spawned, tamed, and groomed them,
Then let them fly away
To haunt all the margins?

If they became hungry
And grew incurious
Except to satisfy
That hunger, would they be

Alive then, could they die,
Would they still be angels
In the corners of eyes?
The question gives them heft

Who sometimes seem immune
From even gravity.
But all sets of questions
Are only more angels.

Likewise, this cloud of gnats
Schooling like fish in air
Turns out to be just more
Of the feral angels.

How can you tell? How can
You make the distinction
Between thoughts and the real?
Well, you can’t, not always.

But see how those black specks
Not only morph and swirl
But form approximate
Symbols known to your mind,

Such as nulls, question marks,
And wavering crosses?
Living organisms
Very rarely do that.

Symbol systems are yours.
All the angels are yours,
Those tamed, wild, or feral,
As are those descriptors.

If you see a known shape
Of the mind being formed
By beings in midair,
Suspect yourself. That’s all.

But what are they for? You
Ask yourself, since you can’t
Actually ask them, those
Things with wings that result

Exactly from the way
You have of asking things.
Not for nothing, you ask,
But nothing much is all

The answer anyone
Ever gets, which was all
You had to begin with,
Wings on edge of vision.

Flying’s kind of pointless
Now, with planes and rockets,
The angels more earthbound
Than any astronaut.

So they have wings, like birds
And gnats. They mope about.
Ideas belong to Earth
At least as much as air.

Only armored angels,
In the guise of robots
Will actually fly out
Into the deeper dark.

Undoing urgency,
The sight of too many
Angels coalescing
In an approaching cloud

Becomes increasingly
Risible as they all
Shrink into each other,
Condensing on approach.

If they fly right at you,
Right at your eye, they risk
Shrinking so small they’ll go
Straight into your pupil.

That’s an end of being
Feral, once they’ve blundered
Into the skull of you.
They’re stuck as part of you.

Deep enough in desert,
The angels disappear.
Why is that? You would think
They’d cluster more thickly

In haunts of prophecy.
Maybe the mind empties
When there’s enough, too much
Blazing sun then starlight.

Could be that’s exactly
Why desert prophecies—
Let one stray angel free
In emptiness and see.

It’s sad they’re not alive,
But not for them. It’s sad,
But it’s a relief, but
Not for them. What are they

Then? All these clouds of gnats
You’re reading in, and yet
You don’t know yet? They’re here.
Every line’s nonliving

Feral angels, shrinking
On inspection to fit
Easily in your brain,
Blowing up gigantic

To fit the universe,
And always almost you,
You, living thing swimming
Among them who either

Tamed or abandoned them,
Authored or was authored
By them. You understand.
You are the heart of them

Who have no hearts, only
Thoughts, wings, and suggestions,
And, for worse or better,
You are the face of them.

When night comes cold enough,
They will start to retreat.
All those winters they danced
On the ice, flew through snow

And seemed immune to cold,
Not true living beings,
But something finally
Will turn too much for them.

It could be you’re going.
Or it could be you’re not
Capable of being
The face and heart of them.

It seems like they themselves
Should never disappear
After having escaped
The confines of bodies

They served, bodies that lived
And died as animals.
In the right kind of night
Feral angels retreat

To be nothing other
Than sticks scattered around,
Smudges on old buildings,
Scratches on leaning cliffs.

They’ve been in-between things,
Animated agents
Without lives of their own,
But half-wild as they seem

They’ll go back to being
Facts of ordinary,
Meaningless existence
Once they’re not recognized,

Once cold night takes away
The eyes that recognized
Them as almost creatures.
They’ll settle, specks in dust.

The end, for them, isn’t
Death or oblivion.
For them, the end is loss
Of anyone to think

Through them. For now you watch,
As they seem determined
To uncover the clues
Of something only they

Could care about, flying
Gnats and shadow monsters,
Investigating cracks
In the world, finding you.

Black-winged gnats that fly at the light,
Angels wait to watch you tonight.

Thursday, January 6, 2022

The Tourists of Nonnarrative Surprise

Sequence isn’t story.
It’s more as well as less
Surprising. Actual

Sequence by the wayside
Has gone something like this—
It’s a bright afternoon

On the snowy mesa,
Mountains in the background.
Mule deer and wild turkeys

Pass by at intervals.
When a car pulls over,
And three people get out—

Two men, one woman,
All with cameras, all
Young adults—no surprise,

They start taking selfies.
But then the men drop trow’
For one pic; the woman

Yanks up her blouse. Before
They get back in the car,
They’ve taken a series

Of pictures of bellies,
Bums, boobs, and bared crotches.
Satisfied, they drive on.

The road remains empty
For ten minutes or so.
The next car also parks.

One man and two women,
All with cameras, all
Young adults, clamber out.

They start taking selfies.
The women wear hijabs.
The man keeps his coat on.

They pose in the exact spots
As the bare-assed trio
And with the same backdrop.

Another ten minutes
After that grouping’s gone,
A pickup truck pulls up,

And out pile a woman,
Two young men in ball caps,
And two slobbery dogs.

The dogs run off to play.
The three people, who all
Have cameras in hand,

Start to take their selfies,
Posing in the same spots,
As the previous folks,

And with the same backdrop.
Then they call back their dogs
And drive off in their truck.

Oh, if you only knew,
Any of you, the ghosts
In your air, your surprise.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

There Are No Realist Novels

It’s not that life
Never wraps up
Neatly as tales
And comedies.

It does, daily.
Life is tidy
In many ways,
Just serial,

TV sitcoms
And newspaper
Funny pages

Caught life’s rhythms,
If not the slow
Wear and tear life
Adds to its shows.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

An Experimental Serpentine

Illustrate the inner life
Of the character. Advance
The story. Listen to Paul

Williams. Listen to Sondheim.
Lyrics are little machines,
Sails and steamboats on the waves.

They bring you across the waters.
The journey is the message.
It’s genius when you find

They left you stranded somewhere
Unexpected. It’s simple
Storytelling when you land

Where you expected to go.
Technology, either way.
Now take away the inner

Life of the character. Take
Away the directional
Compass points of the story.

Take away the melody.
What you’ve got left’s the shipwreck,
When the bodiless serpent

Opens its eyes and fixes
Them on the frame of your boat.
What you’ve got left’s poetry.

It’s a mess. You’ll drown in it,
And no one to watch you sink
But the words’ eyes. They seem nice.

Monday, January 3, 2022

Desert Ash

Who knows what this tree is,
Really? One family
Lived for years with a pair,

One a careful planting,
Already near mature.
The other volunteered,

A spindly, silver-barked
Sapling that just appeared
Out of a hedge one year.

The intruder they let
Grow through several winters,
Until they decided

It looked weird and sawed it
Off just above the ground.
It didn’t belong there.

The nursery transplant
They admired for its shade,
How it thrived in the heat,

Kept its leaves late, and shed
Them all in one neat heap
In a week, every year.

One day, a visitor
Encouraged them to see
Just what kind of a tree

They had there. Desert ash,
They concluded, after
Consulting some software.

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Observations from the Field

Among the social insects,
There’s a species that shelters
In castles of their own spit

They cement against the wind.
These structures can sometimes rise
As if reaching for the sky, 

As the individuals
Always seek to be central
To the densest deposits

Of thickest cemented spit,
And since winds erode their walls
Quickly from the outside in.

The insects on the margins
Are far the most numerous
And productive of fresh spit,

But they spend most of their lives
Exposed to the wind, losing
Shelter fast as they make it.

It’s actually their bodies,
Linked by a little spittle,
That effectively function

Like an exoskeleton
For the entire colony
To bear the brunt of the wind.

The deeper inside you get,
The fewer, softer insects,
More and more encased in spit,

Protected from the outer
World of the relentless winds
And sculpted ever higher,

More pleasantly, securely
In their spiral pyramid.
No one knows how they do this.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

A Funeral in Absentia

The preacher never uses the word
Haunting, but you can see she’s haunted

By how many long sermons she’s heard
And those jokes about women preaching

Made by men haunted by other men
Haunted by earlier sermons’ words.

She’s compensating, friendly-solemn,
As she walks us through her homily.

She knows half the people here are here
For reasons other than faith or fear.

Most have come to feel the ritual
Of farewell to an old acquaintance,

For closure, as folks say nowadays.
Folks say a lot of things nowadays

In new words or old words used new ways.
Hashtag, imposter syndrome, reboot,

Ghost. That’s the best, the new use of ghost,
Since, now, instead of haunting people,

Ghosting drifts the other direction
To become wholly unreachable.

To ghost as a verb means to abstain
From replying, to absent oneself

From any further interaction.
Thus, for the first time in history,

The term approximates how things are
That caused you to invent terms like it

For mysterious, aching absence,
Not because the past is haunting you

But because you can no longer raise
A response from the pasts you talk to.