All horror is built on distrust—
Often of people and often
Of your unreliable mind
And unreliable senses—
Shadows, disembodied voices,
Someone else’s gaze staring back
At you from your own mirrored face—
Information can’t be trusted,
Nor anyone who’s dealing it,
Especially those you trust most—
Your body shudders, distrusting
Your own, horripilant thinking—
Your thoughts distrust disgusting flesh—
It’s all a horror show, distrust,
This shadow of uncertainty—
And, just when you relax, there’s us,
Rebarbative, glaring you down,
Your own words from your mother tongue,
Coiled like whipworms, sated on you,
Slipping in and out of your skull.
Saturday, April 30, 2022
All horror is built on distrust—
Friday, April 29, 2022
Old Chaos, Dependency, Solitude
On the planets of immortal life
(There are several, though they’re rarer
Than the planets where life requires death)
There are always those few who decide
They’d like to bring an end to their lives,
Which sometimes involves bureaucracy,
So that it’s nearly impossible
To die without getting permission
And still complicated, even then.
Living as waiting for permission
To die’s tedious, to say the least,
And some give up and go on living.
Every so often, an immortal
Who’s forgotten the application,
Maybe even forgotten the wish,
Receives surprise notification
And has to once again think through things.
It’s a stressful time for them and kin,
Given the window of permission
Won’t stay open long, and immortals
Are unused to urgent decisions.
On occasion, someone will linger
Until the last minute, then give in
And keep living, knowing it’s likely
They won’t get as good a chance again.
These ones often end up regretful,
So much so they take the maddening
Journey of relative centuries
In capsules, doing next to nothing,
For the chance to tour, as aliens,
One of those worlds with the envious
Tendency to swift mortality
In all or almost all living things.
By the time they land, they’re half insane
From the solitude of the journey
And beyond desperate to end things,
Which of course is frustrating to them,
As every attempt to go native
Only ends in fresh resurrection.
There’s rumored to be one wanderer
Whose mind is so chaotic, so lost,
That he’s tried planet after planet,
Even returning to some of them,
Attempting endless violent ends,
Dependent on hope for redemption.
Thursday, April 28, 2022
Wednesday, April 27, 2022
Another Story of No Character
A couple of house finches
Had renovated the nest
They had used successfully
The prior summer. It sat
On the top of an upturned,
Long-disused rowing machine
With a protective cover
Against the weather, which sagged
Open for a fine shelter,
Propped in shade under house eaves.
It was precarious but
Only if you knew someone
Who lived in the house might come
Outside some day and decide
To cart off that old rower.
Quite unaware of this risk,
The pink-headed male started
Singing trillingly in March,
And by the end of the month
The beige female had joined him.
The spot was still a good spot.
The machine remained, unmoved.
So the courtyard filled with song,
Eggs were laid, and life went on.
Tuesday, April 26, 2022
The Garden at the Edge of the Sea
It was too far for awareness to travel,
So we remained unaware all the night.
When we came to and endured the final waves,
We saw the little garden as a circle
Shining against the flecked darkness of the sea.
Perfect! We thought, who wouldn’t want to live here?
And we landed, and we entered the garden,
Which proved to be puzzling, as it was thriving
But also everywhere blighted by disease.
It was the disease itself that was thriving,
The disease was the whole life of the garden.
It was a garden of nothing but disease.
We paused and considered. Could we add some life
That would be free of the disease? It seemed not.
The essence of the disease was replacement.
If we replaced it, it would only triumph.
The thought of prolonged unawareness made us
Shudder, but the thought of this garden was worse.
Reluctantly, we climbed back into our ship,
Carefully removing traces of disease,
Then posted a warning about the garden,
Before setting back out through the vacant sea.
Monday, April 25, 2022
Planet Fanfic Suggestion
What so many love
Of the post-plague kinds,
Is the elbow room,
The world to yourself.
Less pleasant are those
Where Earth’s a prison
Some dictator built,
One-party world state,
No buildings at all,
No feral nature,
Just hordes of humans
Like Australian mice
Pouring from a barn
They’ve emptied of grain,
A tide of squirming
Life turned cannibal
That can’t stop eating.
Are there few of you
And plenty of food?
That would be Eden,
No matter how hard
All the gardening.
Mobbed masses of you
Crawling all over
Each other for food?
Not a bestseller.
Sunday, April 24, 2022
Lost Life Lesson
The teacher wanted to ask the boy
Why it was the boy ran away.
The boy answered something that struck
A nerve with the teacher, so much
So that the teacher remembered it
For years, a couple of decades,
And tracked down the boy as an adult,
After the teacher had retired, or was
Contemplating retirement, to ask
The boy about his life since he’d come back
From running away, to see how he’d done,
And also to ask again about that answer,
But the thirty-something boy had no scrap
Of recollection what it was he’d said
As a teenager in excuse or explanation,
No idea why it had left his teacher impressed,
And although he’d done well enough,
Since then, or so one would guess, he felt
Bad for the old teacher after their follow-up
Conversation, since he could sense he hadn’t
Helped the old man, who had hung up
Saturday, April 23, 2022
Every Day She Writes the Book
Friday, April 22, 2022
Equilibrium’s a Myth
The first equatorial aurora
Was just an astonishment. What was that?
What could generate an aurora there,
Far from the poles? Scientists set to work,
Renewing their acquaintance with the sun,
But it seemed to be behaving itself,
And historical records were no help.
As more auroras occurred, they became
Subjects of intense study in themselves.
They spread in ever more serene colors
Over wider, longer, and more frequent
Bands of equatorial night. The sky
From dusk to dawn became a show that drowned
Out the signals of all the satellites,
All the radio and cellphone towers.
Undersea and underground cables turned
Out the last reliable conduits
Of data around the Earth’s waist each night.
They were geomagnetic storms, alright,
But no one could figure out how they worked.
Then they began to introduce seasons
In parts of the world that hadn’t known them.
When the hemispheres were in equinox,
The equatorial nights grew so bright
And their iridescent interference
So dense that everyone in those regions
Lived as isolated insomniacs,
While at both solstices, the lights eased up,
And it was possible to carry on
A more familiar, traditional life.
It wasn’t long before there were pilgrims,
Especially to tropical islands
And equatorial mountain ranges,
Mauna Kea, the Mountains of the Moon,
And the like, people who would sequester
Themselves throughout the season of the lights,
Hauling up months of supplies, preparing
To sleep in only daylight, to stay up
Through the magnetic storms, dazzled each night.
Many of the pilgrims died, which only
Encouraged stories, romantic accounts,
Of loneliness, madness, and survival,
Which in turn resulted in more tourists
In the tolerable months and more young
Dreamers to come for the enlightenment.
Religions and monasteries were built
Under equatorial auroras,
But no one noticed how they were changing
Even people and other species far
Removed from the endlessly glowing nights.
People in rural temperate zones grew
Insomniac as well, congregating
Even under uniform, cloud-pearled skies
In hopes of a sign that would tell them why.
Thursday, April 21, 2022
Lament Subject Experiment
Small children in a big town found
One lot where runoff from the rains
Formed a semipermanent stream
Filled with filth, edged with living things.
Empirical as all children,
They conducted experiments,
Dropping odds and ends in the stream
To see where and how far they went.
Uprooting a few living things,
They made a little raft of blades
And twigs to carry caught insects,
Then floated it while narrating.
We were on that raft, dreaming it,
No idea what was happening.
We tried to keep it together.
We could feel everything moving
Under us, pulling us apart.
We couldn’t climb off. We were trapped.
Frantically, we clung to our lives,
Attempting every behavior
We could to keep going, but how
Could we know how we were carried
To this, how we were swept along,
What sent us to sink underground?
Wednesday, April 20, 2022
It lay in the egg,
Determined to stay,
To hold fast inside
Its calcium shell,
That chicken. No one
Would ever find out
What lies it could tell,
How tall it could grow,
That tale. Just as well.
Tuesday, April 19, 2022
Where Warning Stories End
Monday, April 18, 2022
The Persistence of Branding Memories
The Dodge Caravan with one
Middle-aged white male driver
And his three teenaged children
Plus their middle-aged mother
Whips into the pullout turn
To claim it as parking spot,
And then they all clamber out,
One boy with Tik Tok haircut,
One girl in blond ponytail,
Another in tight French braids,
All wearing sweatshirts printed
With clothing brands and slogans,
Parents in Northface jackets
And Wranglers. They heave on packs
Dangling large water bottles
From carabiners also
Branded with matching logos,
And tramp off to the trailhead.
They’ll be back in a short while,
Having accomplished their hike,
Climb back in their van, and leave.
Wouldn’t it be something if
That never happened, the world
Turning into something else
Before then, this quiet flung
Without any gear shifting
Into a different scene?
That’s how it would work in dreams,
But this is just a turnout
In what might be called the real,
And that family, branded
By clothing, hair, hiking gear,
And vehicle, will be back.
Sunday, April 17, 2022
The Smoke’s Perspective
I has power. So does you.
They, too, has its stronger points.
But none of them feels quite right.
We’ll stick with it. It became
Aware it was in a street,
Paved but narrow, with brick walls
And fire-escapes crowding it,
No idea how it got there,
But happy to be aware.
It looked down to where its feet
Might be expected to be
But only saw its shadow.
It drifted to the corner,
Turned into another street
Until it reached a window
In one of the walls. It looked
For its reflection. It saw
Nothing but a shadow. Smoke.
It looked to itself like smoke.
There was a body in rags
Huddled on a sidewalk grate
A little ways up the street.
It floated softly that way
Meaning to ask a question,
But when it reached the rag heap
It couldn’t produce a voice,
Couldn't even try to weep.
Saturday, April 16, 2022
Friday, April 15, 2022
Thursday, April 14, 2022
Norm and Nat
Wednesday, April 13, 2022
The Winning Argument
It came as a complete surprise.
If humans agreed on one thing,
It was that humans disagreed.
Even devout missionaries
Of the fiercest win-the-world faiths
Knew they wouldn’t win every soul.
Fighting for a better future
Were always quarreling themselves.
It was part of being human—
To be pretty sure you were right,
Hold your ground, but not expect much.
How many great rhetoricians
Flipped whole enraged crowds with purely
The dazzle of an argument?
But when it all came to an end,
It came as if there’d never been
Any debating beforehand.
The argument itself is lost
To us, unfortunately, since
It succeeded too completely.
The whole complicated species
Began shutting down its systems,
Wars, and then its machinery,
While individuals bravely
Went about shutting down themselves,
Driving their kind to extinction
As swiftly and efficiently
As they had passenger pigeons.
We’ll never know what convinced them.
Tuesday, April 12, 2022
You swim in your era, and as a child
You hardly notice how stories shape you.
If you grew up in a remote village,
Or in a hermetically sealed nation,
You hardly noticed story poverties.
How much could trees really notice the wind
That contorts their stretching branches differs
In a meadow, on a sea cliff, in gloom?
They swim away from the waves that buffet,
Or toward the calm glade that buffers them,
And so do you. You’re only more mobile,
A little, and if you fall in love hard
With someone your age from the other side
Of humanity’s dark, contesting woods,
And find that all their childhood wonder tales
Differed from yours, don’t assume that their souls
Will be unlike yours, too, although the shapes
Of their outcomes and stories will seem strange.
Imagine if an oak from a meadow
Stood next to an oak by the sea. You see?
Monday, April 11, 2022
The Story of the Blank
Sunday, April 10, 2022
Stories Make Lousy Alarms
What if the boy who cried wolf
Was just trying to protect
Everyone else and their sheep?
Ok, so maybe he did
His job a little too well,
Yelled too many false alarms.
The night the wolf pack arrived
To eat sheep penned, folks abed,
Only the boy woke in time,
And he screamed, and he screamed, but
No one would listen to him.
That’s one village done. The end.
Saturday, April 9, 2022
Friday, April 8, 2022
Not So You’d Know
They had a fun game in that universe,
A model-universe generator
That could churn them out by the billions,
And any soul could enter one of those.
The first rule of the game was surrender—
Participants gave up all agency.
The second rule involved amnesia—
While in the game, no one knew it was one,
Or remembered being anything else,
Or having chosen to enter this game.
The only memory players retained
Was agency—not actual freedom
To choose and shape worlds, just the memory
Of having once had that ability.
Choose a world, dive in, forget you chose it,
But remember the feeling of choosing,
Even though now you’re totally helpless
And have no idea whatsoever why.
They did it for the terror, for the thrill
And relief of waking up from the dream.
Thursday, April 7, 2022
A Wailing Charcoal Left on an Abacus Below Lovers’ Volcano
Up until a time, we were
Used to govern an empire
From a valley surrounded
By high mountains with steep cliffs,
For nearly two hundred years.
In the valley was a lake,
And we ruled from its stone shores
By calculations, taxes,
Calendars, and censuses.
We had no population,
We hardly counted one soul,
One fragmentary heartbeat,
But we ruled. Deep pine forests
Grew in our mountain shadows,
Fruit orchards around our lake.
All were tied up precisely
In our notation systems
And sufficient to our needs.
To get a clear sense of us,
Not just of the details but
The reasoning behind them
Is extremely difficult.
We were inaccessible.
We hid tales of the descent
Of ourselves from far away,
How we became hard to reach,
The hermetic devices
Of our rule that shielded us
From boredom, the intricate,
Colorfully woven knots,
Our traditional heirlooms,
Their traditional designs.
Then you came and conquered us,
And now you can only guess
What we meant in our knotted
Hearts before that knife’s descent.
Wednesday, April 6, 2022
Tuesday, April 5, 2022
An actual epic can
Never cohere. The thin strings
Binding the waves of events
In continuous stories
Are real but not actually
Binding. They float on the waves
They seem to constrain, like kelp
Fronds viewed from the becalmed deck
Of the doomed ship that assumes
It’s trapped because it’s held fast.
The surface glimmers at night
With the terrors of vastness,
But nothing is binding it
Into a singular whole.
Any one contains a two,
Any few contains many.
The Iliad, Odyssey,
And the Mahabharata
Link interconnected seas,
Part of more global cycles
And exchanges, and they thrive
Not as single packages,
But thanks to those passages
That run through their linked currents.
You can draw a line around
A continent, an ocean,
An epic kept as ledger,
But the contents won’t cohere,
Not yet, not as you cohere.
Some day, maybe, once words breathe.
Monday, April 4, 2022
The Fate of the Quarreling Village
External change strikes
Just at that moment,
That explodes itself—
The town is shattered.
Collapses and burns.
The flood, the wildfire,
Whatever it was,
Sweeps through one evening
As the families fought
About chores and trash,
While the town council
Quarreled over signs
And zoning issues,
As a brawl broke out
In the last strip club
Just outside of town,
Next to the pawn shop
And defunct motel.
This is all fiction.
That village is gone.
It burned or it drowned,
The consequence of
Modeling a world.
Sunday, April 3, 2022
The Young Person’s Dialogue Debate
How do people really talk?
You don’t really want to know.
No one ever talks like that.
If you wrote the way you talk,
It’s just gonna be boring.
But it’ll sound natural.
No it won’t. Try recording,
Like, ten minutes of your friends.
No one would pay to hear that.
If it’s the right ten minutes.
No, really, it’s what you choose.
But how’s that realistic?
It’s like reality shows
Where they edit everything
For, like, maximum drama.
Some things you shouldn’t edit.
Some stuff you can’t make drama.
Yeh, like, who could edit this?
Saturday, April 2, 2022
Ok, he said, here’s a question.
If you could have one more snippet
Of an unknown Sappho lyric
Or a scrap of conversation
Between a couple of ale wives
In a pub, from the same era,
Just a little bit of gossip
From an ordinary morning
In some empty pub on Lesbos,
Twenty-five hundred years ago,
Which would you take? Not so simple,
Is it? Think of that the next time
You try to achieve perfection
Or revolution in a poem.
Friday, April 1, 2022
This Is Child’s Play
One morning, neighbors noticed
A new kind of sidewalk weed,
Not even green but pasty,
White as a basement mushroom
But curled up with leaves and black
Speckles and curlicues splayed
On the ghastly white foliage.
What kind of nuisance was this?
Were these weeds toxic? Were they
Mutants of some other weeds,
Freak crabgrass, dandelions,
Or spurge? They pulled easily.
They wilted under weed spray.
They burned to ash with a match.
But they always grew right back.
Nothing wanted to eat them,
Not aphids, snails, or dumb dogs,
Not the pestiferous deer
That haunted the neighborhood,
Not old, incontinent cats
That eased digestion with grass.
The white weeds never grew large,
But they persistently filled
Every sidewalk gap and crack,
And so services were called,
And a local meeting held,
And they were easily killed,
But again, they came right back.
The next neighborhood over
Proposed a quarantine, but
What was there to quarantine?
And besides weeds never grew
Past their original patch.
People half got used to them.
Children made up games with them,
Pretending to smoke them, or
Fly them like paper airplanes,
Or read them like secret scrolls,
Like the one you’re reading now.