Monday, February 28, 2022

Goodnight Biography

Beneath a pleached paseo,
The author of children’s books
Wandered, slightly pensively.

Like anyone fond of tales,
Hearing them and telling them,
Reading them, making them up,

She had lived so many lives,
Only one of them her own.
She was a little surprised,

To be honest, that she had
Only the one to herself.
She tried to peer through the leaves

Tightly woven overhead.
The stars would be out. The stars
Were always out. She wondered

If anything had become
Of her stories in other
Lives, after hers had failed her,

Had collapsed into the one
And been buried like any
Other. She had no idea.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

The Good, Short Life of Mouse the Cat

Gravity’s always got its gun
At your head, so, you know, no false,

Sudden moves, ok? Mouse, the cat,
Disappeared a few days after

Turning two. She was a hunter,
By birthright, but uncommonly

Good and fearless from the get-go.
Barely weaned, she killed a house mouse

And tore the hand that tried to take
It from her. She jumped on walls. She

Prowled on roofs, scaring the neighbors,
Leaping lightly off of ladders.

Birds she killed at a pounce. Lizards
She toyed with for hours. She gulped down

Scorpions, tails and all, to gag
Them back up. She was a sleek cat,

Happy to eat, happy to sleep.
We think a coyote got her,

But it could have been some mistake.
Gravity’s gun jumps with mistakes.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Evergreen Jello Sonnetale

Even the wildest anecdote,
The most ridiculous fable
Made up of whole cloth, holds some truth,
Whether or not it’s valuable.

Since there’s nothing you can invent
Without drawing on memory
For ingredients, recipes
For fantasies contain events

In every concoction. Something
Happened, some experience formed
The substance of sheerest pretend,
The unintended truth in it.

The lightest, whipped-cream topped jello
Confections have horse hooves in them.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Myths of Gods and Rockets

If you believe in miracles,
If you live in an age of them,
Then by god you have to have them.

Any stories about your side,
The history of your people,
Would look stripped naked without them.

Mutatis mutandis, the same
Goes for ages of wizardry,
Nuclear bombs and moon rockets.

If it’s assumed they’re possible,
Your people’s story will look weak
Without some for decoration,

And of course some will be tinsel
And cardboard, DIY, pure lies.
But that’s part of the entrance fee

For cultural competition
And any sort of bragging rights
In whatever age you live in.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

There Is No Such Thing As a Sky

From the outside, the patient
Was difficult to talk to.
From the inside, she spoke fine.

Un poco allegro, eh?
She thought to herself, watching
The stars conversing up high.

She was trying to get words
To move on their own, from side
To side, the way stars would slide

In their great counterclockwise,
Night after night after night,
Four minutes further each night.

But words in the head aren’t stars,
Aren’t sky, aren’t sidereal.
They’re more like people. They lurk,

Pounce, quarrel, and grumble. Aiii,
She sighed, somewhere deep inside.
How do I get this story

To write itself? And meanwhile,
She frustrated visitors
By strange grimaces and smiles.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Spec

What does that dark eye in the ear’s husk see?

Indigo woke with nothing to do
And perfectly happy about it.

We never get tired, thought Indigo,
Of feeling good and feeling content.

Why is that? Then Indigo pondered.
Indigo was the creative type,

Fond of speculation, fantasy,
Sheer imagination. Indigo

Concentrated, contemplatively,
Closing owlish, feline eyes. Let’s see.

What if we turned the world inside out?
Imagine an unhappy cosmos,

But not entirely unhappy.
In a world entirely unhappy

Would anybody really suffer?
How could they know what they were missing?

No, what if this world held a balance
Alternating joy and misery?

No, not quite, not exactly. A soul
Could get used to that, as well, always

Content to anticipate future
Happiness, capable of belief

That when one happiness disappeared,
Another would return, orderly,

In the natural orbit of things.
Then Indigo shivered with a thought—

What if in this alternate cosmos
Everything good derived from the bad,

And not only that, but bad as well
Derived from any good? How awful.

Imagine a world in which no one
Could savor even perfection long

Before it curdled into boredom,
Where every good thing grew tedious,

Even dangerous to possess long.
This thought was dreadful and delicious,

Just right for speculative fiction.
Indigo could almost see it now.

Reaching out for writing implements,
Indigo smiled, eyes opening wide

On a vast and featureless story
To fill with detail. Let there be light.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

A Bear in Mind

Bear in mind told you
You should bear in mind,
While you can, science

Isn’t prophecy,
Prophecy isn’t
Science fiction. Words

Will have no meaning
Once you’ve none for them.
How the story goes

Is, when stories go,
And nothing makes sense,
And language leaves you,

If you’re still here then,
The world won’t be voiced.
You’ll only listen.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Beachcomber

He used to swim in it,
When he was young and fat
And sleeker than a seal,

But now he’s bony, old,
And prone to chattering
Uncontrollably, cold.

He still lives by it, though,
And watches the breakers,
And strolls along the shore,

Picking up the odd bits
Of colored, polished glass,
Rusted tools, and driftwood

With which he decorates
His ugly, shambling shack.
He tries to stay away

From the authorities,
Vacationing tourists,
And archeologists,

Any of whom might stop
Him from his enjoyment
Of what the waves can wreck.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

The Way

To paraphrase St. Félix,
It’s the American Way
To bully when you’re in power
And play victim when you ain’t.

Might not be exclusively
American, but this Way
Suits the country’s politics
To a t-shirt. It’s a game.

You scoot ahead when you can
And cry for justice only
When you’re certain you’re behind.
It’s fraudsters scamming scalpers,

Jostling lines at big-box stores,
Cars at the Lincoln Tunnel
Edging and beeping their horns,
Every lane a bank account.

The Way loves a good story.
The Way knows it tells stories
In order to win, and not,
As it might, to remember.

All fun with hypocrisy
And ruthlessness is engine.
The Way is a marvelous
Form of relentless fiction,

A back-and-forth narrative,
Dominating, then pleading,
Then dominating, by turns,
Not circular but linear

With a decapitated
Linearity—there’s no End,
No conclusion, no return
To a cyclic beginning.

The Way’s a vibrating string,
Situation tragedy
Repeated week after week,
Filmed season after season,

Flesh always aging too fast
For characters under glass,
Taking turns trading put-downs,
Complaining, and catch phrases—

I won because I should win,
You won undeservingly—
Ending always in bingeing,
History coming unhinged.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

In Theory Narrative

In a model game of Chicken,
The highest payoff outcome goes
To the player who does not swerve
But lets the other player swerve.

You survive, and you win the dare.
The worst outcome is to not swerve
When the other player doesn’t.
Mutual assured destruction—

That is if you play the version
Where you both drive at each other,
So to speak. In-between, chicken,
You lose. The other player wins.

But you live, at least. Modelers
Assign abstract outcome values,
Then behavioral researchers
Award monetary payouts,

Obviously not life or death.
But life has accidental games
As well that don’t model as well.
A student frustrated with games

And mathematical models
Erupted with a narrative
About his night drive through desert
And how one night a semi-truck

Was approaching him in the dark
On a high-speed two-lane highway,
Pitch-black world except for headlights,
And just as the truck was passing

Another pair of headlights popped
From behind and around the truck,
Attempting to overtake it.
There wasn’t a thing I could do!

The lights were coming right at me.
There wasn’t any time to brake.
The truck was flying right by me.
I knew I was about to die,

Then the lights coming straight at me
Went off the road and around me.
I shot right between the middle,
Gravel spraying me from the side

Where the other vehicle ripped
Right through the desert, just missing
Hitting me, the taillights rolling,
And then everything behind me,

The truck still roaring down its lane,
Disappearing, and I don’t know
What happened to the other one.
I didn’t look back. I just drove

On down the dark road, muttering
Something like, Well, that was fucked up.
So I won? I wasn’t trying.
Did the idiot who tried die?

And which player was the big truck?
In your model games, everyone
Either gets a decision or
Has no choice by definition,

But in that split-second Chicken
My non-decision wasn’t choice,
And who knows what those drivers chose.
How do we model my story?

Friday, February 18, 2022

Slowly Dissipating Epigram

Like gas uncurling into vacuum,
The human mind expands within time
To fill whatever’s available.

Only later does it seem like waste
Or madness. At the time, it seems fine,
So long as the mind can find more time.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Mangier Travel Narratives

Tell us one about one
Of the places you went
Where you didn’t belong,

Maybe shouldn’t have gone.
How did the sun smell there,
Warming that kind of earth,

That smell of local soil,
That smell of the locals,
That estranged stink of you?

Tell us about the time
You stopped on a Monday
Just outside of the fort

The colonials left,
Converted to an inn
For tourists with money

To spend in. A few folks
Loitered at the crossroads,
Running little hustles.

One asked you for your name
And, in the few seconds
You stood talking to him,

Swiftly whittled a nut
With the date and your name
And the name of the fort,

Then offered to sell it
To you for a pittance,
Pittance for a tourist,

For a mere wanderer
Even, half the money
He’d make on that Monday,

Hustling by the crossroads,
Since there were no jobs left
Cleaning rooms at the inn.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

New Forest

There’s a bluegreen, pea-sized pebble
In the sandlot behind your block.
It’s too trivial to notice,

If you’re not a kid in the dirt,
But there’s a kid thinks it’s pretty,
Takes it home, sticks it on a shelf,

And promptly forgets about it.
Today, there are several pebbles
In the lot, plus three on that shelf.

Some of the pebbles are bigger,
One as big as a tennis ball.
A dog mouths it and runs with it,

Then drops it in a gutter when
There’s a sharp whistle from the lot.
Today, there are leathery spheres

Big as beach balls, heavy as sacks
Of wet garbage, in the sewers.
One turns up in a city park.

Today, they’re blooming all over
The place, all around town, in streets,
On sidewalks, on stoops, on parked cars.

They stink. They smell like dirty socks.
Their skin’s tougher than runway rubber.
They seem to ingest where they sit.

It’s a crisis. It’s a clean up.
Parks and Recreation’s on it,
So are the sanitation crews.

Today, the city’s giving up.
The parks look like installations
Raised by some demented sculptor,

Stacks of bluegreen globes, big as trucks,
Big as buildings some of them, big
Enough to hide trees and smash walls.

They’re in the buildings. They’re breaking
The buildings, pushing people out.
Today, the plan to burn them down

Failed and actually burned down
Only what was left of the town.
Today, holes opened up in them,

And people started climbing in.
The region has been quarantined.
No one who goes in comes back out.

Today, what was a nation-state
Is a landscape of bluegreen spheres
Crammed and piled kilometers deep.

If any of its citizens
Are still alive, they live inside.
Other countries cower in fear,

And try to keep their people home,
And haul back caravans and boats.
The rumor is there’s room in there.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Gigantomachy Elevator Pitch

Here’s the concept.
You have to touch
To spread the thought.
You have to hug,

Hug quick or die.
But if you hug,
You’re immortal.
Except that now

The next person
Needs someone else
To hug or die.
Spoiler alert—

Most people die.
Then immortals
War with mortals.
Then the sequels.

Monday, February 14, 2022

True Love’s Eternal Desire

Darling, gravity always
Wants you. Gravity never
Pushes back. Other forces

Switch directions, change their signs.
Gravity’s love is always
Only either weak or strong,

Always in you and in all
Matter—all phenomena,
Really—and it’s always on.

There’s no choice for gravity,
Only craving more or less,
Fully polyamorous,

So reminiscent of both
Its cousin, your future tense,
And its other cousin, death,

Gravity, you should suspect,
Is a little more than kin,
Just a touch incestuous.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Fables Mostly Unpack Proverbs

So, you know the proverb
Attributed to God,
Claiming it’s easier

To get a camel through
The eye of a needle
Than it is for the rich

To get into Heaven?
God, the richest of all,
Would know—would also know

What’s less often remarked,
That those camels are owned,
As those needles are owned,

By the rich who order
Flogged poor camel jockeys
Condemned to try to coax

The camels of the rich
Past the eyes of the rich
Glinting like small needles.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Here’s One

There was a planet
Positioned just so
That the stars seemed spread
Evenly most nights,
And twinkled slightly.

This affected life
As it evolved there
Little, if at all,
Until one species
Evolved fairytales.

The fairytales spread
Like bacteria,
Like viral phages,
Like evolving life
Had spread before them,

Until every star,
Every point of light
Simply there each night,
Had a tale attached,
Attached here and there

Around the planet,
So, so many tales
Hanging from stars’ lights,
A webbed chandelier.
The stars disappeared.

Friday, February 11, 2022

But That Was Only the Beginning

For a little while,
Only old people
Lost their memories,
But the disease spread,
Younger and younger.

Those who could read well
Held out the longest.
Either reading helped
Slow the disease or
Simply served backup.

If you couldn’t read,
You had no crutches
For your fading thoughts.
And then it got bad.
It all fell apart,

And everyone starved,
Gabbling and frightened.
One woman was left,
Young when it started,
Old before it stopped,

Who could remember.
That woman was me,
And that’s why
I’m called Memory.
I have to leave soon.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Lyric’s Storytelling

Glück: How quiet it is
now that life has triumphed.
It’s summer in her poem,

Which often mentions dust.
Consider the student
You were, that one student

You knew, too much like you,
Who never had students,
Who still wants to ask, What

Does she mean by saying
It’s quiet, “now that life
Has triumphed”? Well, student,

That’s not what you’re supposed
To ask. It’s not for us
To tell you, either, but

We can tell you this much—
For us it makes the rest
Of the poem fall away,

All of it, out of mind,
Except something about
Dust, an old photograph,

A god and a nanny—
No wait, no—her mother—
In a summer garden.

Because that line, student,
That line, two lines really,
Gets to us. Life’s triumph,

It suggests, to us, is
Death. Small lives might struggle
Against life, best they can.

Life’s just too big for them.
It’s all over now. Life
Triumphed, and it’s quiet.

As with all life’s triumphs,
That’s the end to expect,
Garden gone quiet. Yes.

Oh. I thought she maybe
Meant the war was over,
So, not death. That, too, yes.

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Metametamorphosis

Ordinary, extraordinary,
Dance in and out of doors. Bedroom farce

Becomes unspeakable tragedy,
Tragedy becomes horror, horror

Becomes boring. If he’d been a man,
A human as real as his author,

Gregor Samsa would have turned into
A human living with the body

Of a bug, in an unfortunate
Turn of events which became boring,

Ordinary. Now every morning
I wake up as just a giant bug.

Every night I go to bed as one.
It would be extraordinary if,

And only if, one morning I woke
To find myself transformed overnight

Into a healthy man. Even then,
Would I, Gregor, be any wiser,

Any more serious than the dolt
Among the mob of peasants shouting

About a witch in The Holy Grail,
Claiming, “She turned me into a newt!”

And then, sheepishly, “I got better”?
No, I’m ordinary as a bug,

Everyone knows what a bug I am.
As a man, I’d be that idiot.

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

The Handwriting Gone from the Wall

It’s the things that will punish you,
When you forget the names for them.
Words don’t care. After all, the words

Were the names who abandoned you.
Not actually. It was your brain
That started leaving. You knew that.

That’s part of why you blamed yourself
And a lot of why you panicked.
But mostly it’s the nameless things

Who will set out to punish you.
Hour after hour, you stared at them,
Thought of them long and lovingly,

Hoping names would come back to you.
The nameless things stared back at you.
Without names they were unhelpful.

How could you know how to use them,
All those glowering, surly things
Without names, mutely scorning you?

In those days, those days that will come
For you, what will you, could you do?
Maybe someone will keep you safe,

Someone without a name who cares,
Who seems to have taken some pains
To secure you, who stares at you.

Monday, February 7, 2022

Fictional Nepotism

Metaphorical kin can ensure
Metaphorical kin selection,
And fellow feeling felt for your clans,

However freely you define them,
Likely leads to favoritism
However you may justify it.

It’s the teams that are competing here,
Fact blurred by other facts, such as that
You each belong to more than one team,

Maybe many teams in your own mind,
And your loyalties shift fluidly
Much of the time. The superstructure

Is unstable as a pyramid
On an active fault line, but the gut
Instinct to favor your family

Is older than your entire species.
Feel a kinship bond with anyone
And you’ll glow like heated filaments,

Incandescent, unbearably bright
In the right vacuum, but dangerous
When fictions burst and burn through the night.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

The Arrow-Stork Fable

No one ever lives too long,
If by too long you mean all
That long. No one ever lives

All that long, but some of us
Live long after we could have
Been gone, which could be too long.

Do you know the history
Of Pfeilstorch, the arrow-stork?
He didn’t live all that long,

But maybe for him too long.
Raised from an egg in Europe,
He flew south to Africa,

In the common course of things
For storks. But in Africa,
Someone speared him in the neck.

He might have died for a meal,
But the blade missed his windpipe.
He escaped and sort of healed,

And when, in the common course
Of things for storks, the time came
To head back up north, he flew.

The story of his noble,
Heroic recovery
Would have remained unknown, but

In Mecklenburg, Germany,
Someone shot him down again,
With a rifle, killing him,

Whereupon they discovered
The arrow lodged in his neck,
Which some worthy professor

Identified as Central
African. Now Pfeilstorch’s corpse
Stands, stuffed in a museum.

No one ever lives that long,
But some do live too long for
Them, becoming stories, then.

Saturday, February 5, 2022

The Notes Monterroso Forgot When He Woke

Dreams don’t have on-site narratives.
Dream narratives are all post-hoc.
Objections to Crick-Mitchison
On this head, at least, are specious.

Moreover, narratives are rare
To nonexistent in species
Outside of humans, depending
On how broadly you define tales.

Many organisms employ
Fine mastery of sequences,
But sequences are not stories
Without some narrative structure,

And familiar story patterns
Are exactly what are bolted
On to the memories of dreams
By the dreamer, after waking.

Dreaming itself appears to be
Taxonomically much broader
Than any sort of narrative.
That we’re dreaming for housecleaning

Doesn’t fail as hypothesis
Because we retrospectively
Organize dreams into stories.
The dinosaur’s all you'll have left.

Friday, February 4, 2022

Better Wonder Harder

At first, the city seems abandoned,
But then you notice narrow cowpaths
Made by locals through the undergrowth.

There is no fog. There are no gardens.
There are hummingbirds and a blue sea,
But when you look out, there are no sails.

It’s so hilly, and even the steps
Carved into the hills are green hills, too,
Except where those paths wander through them,

Wearing bare some old stairs underneath
Their mats of life obsessed with living.
You realize it’s the size of the thing,

A city once containing millions
Of human bodies—at the windows,
Sleeping under the bridges, spilling

At all hours out into and over
The parks and the grass and every street.
There’s too few people now to see them,

Except in rare encounters. Wildlife,
That’s what these locals must be. Fauna
Rare as bears, as dangerous to meet.

Fearful for no sure reason, you pause
Under a vine-encrusted alcove
And peer out at the beautiful day.

Were Angkor Wat and Chichen Itza
Most marvelous when most overgrown?
No living city could be this green,

No living forest this imposing.
Would it be possible to live here,
For you? A serious raptor circles

Over one mostly intact tower,
And you console yourself, muttering,
It’s a silly question. I’m not here.

Or, if I am, I’ve died. If alive
I’m dreaming. I don’t have to live here.
I don’t have to wonder. But you do.

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Mara’s Last Para

You should go visit Mara.
She’s been in the hospital.
She’s had all kinds of trouble,
But she’s still weirdly cheerful.

You’ll probably feel better
Because you visited her.
When I went over last week,
She looked like she was dying,

But she was always smiling.
Maybe it was all the drugs,
But she didn’t seem fuzzy,
Just sarcastic and funny.

She was so tickled to talk
And so pleased with her window
With the bare tree outside it.
When I asked her how she was,

She chuckled and said awful,
And believe me, she looked it,
But she laughed, so I asked her
What’s so funny, and she said,

I’m only laughing at Time
Because I never loaned him
Any evil, but the fool
Insists on paying me back!

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Whole Week Parked Low

Determined to be alone
With his lover, the meadow,
The wind in the trees, the world,

Which loves and does not love him,
Which wants and wants for nothing,
Which is no kind of person

But generates all persons,
The mother of paradox
Never paradox herself.

You can see he’s easily
Confused, not unrequited.
You can see him in the grass

Just sitting there, watching hours
Move the clouds and light around,
His car parked by the wayside.

You can, but you likely won’t.
You have your own wants to want,
Your own loves to rush toward.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

The Dangerous Goldfish

It starts out small, as you’d expect
Anything to start out small—specks

Seeds, eggs, dots, even that compressed
Infinitesimal that next

Moment went bang with all the rest.
This goldfish was one of the best

Demonstrations you’d ever get
Of full-strength butterfly effect.

Some kid flung it, tiny and wet,
Little fish once the teacher’s pet,

Into a drainpipe running next
To a ditch near the school’s swing-set,

No good reason, to be a pest.
Later it showed up in the net

Of a man in a fishing vest,
As a meme on the internet.

It was catfish-sized. The man let
The fish go. It wasn’t done yet.

The next thing you know, it went west.
As it went, it grew. It impressed

Alligators, thwarted egrets,
And became such a huge success

Before long it could make a breast
Of the strongest currents, possessed

Whole watersheds, ate with such zest
Soon there were no other fish left.

Then it was too late to protest
The disaster born of dumb jest.

Consequences never forget
To outgrow every trap you set.