Sunday, September 25, 2022

So No One Comes Back

People often write about something
Like, a person-shaped hole in the world,
When they write about struggling with grief,

You know—How could I ever fill in
That person-shaped hole in the world?
It’s an interesting metaphor,

She said, discussing her lost baby
With a friend, while her husband listened
Quietly, trying to glean something

About her state of mind that he felt
Was just beyond him, eluding him.
Then she added, more emphatically,

I don’t think there is any such thing!
Her friend looked startled, and her husband
Leaned in, but she was telling herself.

You can’t fill that hole because the world
Doesn’t ever allow any holes,
Not any real ones. It fills back in.

You don’t get anything you can fill,
No place you can put . . . even the ache,
Even feelings. The world pours right in,

Like the baby you lost never fit,
And you’ve got no place to put your grief,
No space you can hold open for them.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

The Day at the End of the Book

This is one way love works.
The married couple, not
Wholly happy nor not,

Read a book together
A friend recommended
As good, as romantic,

And quite literary.
First one partner likes it,
In the early going,

But the other doesn’t.
Then the one who liked it
Begins to lose interest

As the story gets weird
And then weirder and then
A bit too much like them.

The one who didn’t care
For it at first is hooked,
Finishing it alone.

It is a lot like them,
This story. It does have
A happy outcome for

What currently ails them
But a melancholy
Conclusion anyway.

The first partner feels spared
The gloom, but the second
Carefully notes the way

Things go from there on out,
Suspecting that the day
Will come. And yes, it does.

Friday, September 23, 2022

The Pilot Laugh

This was a long time ago,
If only since it’s over.
Once every event’s over

In your connected story,
And it’s only looking back,
No waiting for the next thing,

No remaining shoes to drop,
Not a penny in the slot,
Then it’s a long time ago,

Count time however you want.
This was, as we were saying,
A long time ago now, done.

The day had opened brightly
With threats of thunderstorms.
You’d been sober for years, but

Sometimes, late summer mornings,
You woke to the memory
Of good gin from the freezer,

The chill and the bite, easing
A little, the way morphine
Eased you often as a boy

Prone to stays in hospitals
Following your surgeries
For multiple broken bones.

A thunderstorm meant the threat
That you couldn’t go swimming
Safely in the deep, green lake.

Jokes are always serious.
The lighthearted don’t tell them.
You rarely ever told them,

And to swim across the lake
Under looming thunderheads
Would be to attempt a joke.

In a bright, lighthearted mood,
You drove out of town instead.
Wind blew the branches up skirts.

Firefighting helicopters
Buzzed buckets into the lake
Like dragonflies drinking sips,

And you longed for a sturgeon
Giant enough to rise up
And swallow one of them whole,

Which, if it could have happened,
Would have been a tragedy,
And you were too lighthearted

For that. You pulled off, high up
At a tiny, higher lake,
As the thunderstorms gathered

And blew down birch leaves in swirls,
And of course you couldn’t swim
Here either, even darker

Joke. So you sat by the shore,
Thinking of nothing that much,
With nothing really do,

Contemplating the stories
Of swimmers you’d read before,
And how none of them concerned

Not swimming, being swimmer
Not swimming, only waiting
For the thunderstorm to start,

The author to show a hand,
The sobering story done
That you wouldn’t have written,

Couldn’t have written, but would
Some day make into a poem,
Which would also end empty.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Above All Forgetfulness

‘Ahmad ibn Yahyā ibn
Jabir al-Balādhuri was

Legendary of memory
And for, allegedly, dying

Of addiction to the marking
Nut he chewed to try to keep it,

For which posterity gave him
His sobriquet, Balādhuri,

The marking nut, semecarpus
Anacardium, up-hearted,

Close relative of the cashew.
Did it, before it killed him, help—

‘Habb al-fahm’, nut of apprehension,
‘Habb al-qalb’, nut shaped as a heart?

With its black, corrosive fluid,
Honey to medieval doctors,

Notorious in its heyday,
Thought to stimulate thought by warmth,

It may have been more like absinthe’s
Green fairy, or magic mushrooms,

Or any muse, of chemical
And/or divine capacity,

Serving no more than derangement,
Fables then cooked up to explain

The strange gifts some persons possess
To remember and to create.

Or maybe it actually worked
And worked well enough to be worth

Its ultimately fatal price.
It’s a nice story anyway,

One of the oldest that remains,
The one in which a human trades

The human core, the human soul,
Their very life, the human heart

In exchange for abilities
That mark them as someone apart.

Story’s the moral of story.
If there were a trade, a bargain,

A deal made with witch or devil,
With a green fairy, with spirits,

A deal made with the marking nut,
Then it’s alright. Then it’s ok.

Yes, that person had some rare gift,
Priceless—that was the deal they made.

Maybe he never chewed the nut—
Smith nor Faustus met the Devil—

Eve never encountered the snake.
Maybe there was no deal to make.

The rare mind’s possessed of rare gifts,
Then, as for all, forgetfulness.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Words Come Unglued from the Dead

Once, when she was a young adult,
She’d been buttonholed by an old

Man who lived a few blocks from her.
He’d spotted her rolling straight through

A yIeld sign on his street corner
And wanted to lecture her not

To do that. She could hit someone
Doing that. She was smart enough.

She ought to know better than that.
And she had been stung, and for years

She’d crept warily when driving
Around that block, always feeling

The old man’s rheumy eyes behind
A pair of black binoculars.

Then one day she’d found out he’d died.
Now she doesn’t know how to drive.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

The Boy Who Cried Dog

He would often get delighted
With his own small observations,
Inaccurate as they might be.

He enjoyed regaling poor souls
He captured in conversation
With his lengthy explanations

Of the patterns he thought he’d seen.
Harmless enough, often boring,
But cheerfully pleased with himself.

The best times in life, he observed,
Are often those when you are most
Obviously going nowhere.

Then he would tell a long story,
About his year in a motel
In Birmingham without a car,

Only a small kitchenette and
A clock radio and some books
He’d stayed up half the night reading.

The world was not too difficult
To understand, he suggested,
If one only paid attention.

He watched the stars. He read the news.
He noticed his neighbors’ friendships.
He filled notebooks with equations

Using symbols unique to him.
He found it all satisfying.
Everything explained everything.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Two-Hander in Three Acts

Here’s the story.
A couple walks
Along the shore.

They pause and talk
Beside a log.
Then they walk on.

After a while
They’re gone but not
To them they’re not.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Poems Work Best as Exits

She had a lover
Who made her listen
To his cassette tapes

In his car. He said,
If you don’t like it,
You can get out. That’s

What she remembers.
It made her angry.
She wrote a short poem

She refused to call
A poem. That would be
Immodest. She wrote

About his music,
His attitude, and
His ultimatum,

But, curiously,
Not how she left him
Because of that crap.

Why’d she leave that out?
Could be the breakup
Came after the poem.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

The Singing

I heard a story from a night bird,
Never you mind which one. Imagine
You can hear one singing. That’s the one.

The night bird sang to me at wolf hour,
Just past full moon on a summer night
In the village. Never mind which one.

Some people still live in villages.
Imagine a village. That’s the one.
It was, in any case, too early

For a bird to be singing. Birds know
Better than to sing in the small hours,
Especially on a moonlit night.

There’s always the risk of getting caught
Square in a shaft of uncanny light
And having your song turn into words.

But this bird wanted its story heard.
So now comes the hard part—retelling
This story in the way it was sung.

Birds don’t value the same tales as you.
They have a different psychology.
For a bird, an exciting story

Follows the trajectory of day.
Characters can be nonexistent.
Heroic protagonists are rare.

But this bird had a promise to keep,
To sing the story of its promise
And by, singing it in words, keep it.

There was a morning that was splendid,
And we had all joined voice to meet dawn,
When a strange singer joined the chorus.

Imagine the voice of a raven
If a raven could truly sing songs—
A cross between the calliope

Antics of a tüï and the trills
Of a mockingbird raised by finches.
An odd song, and we paused to listen.

The new bird was not greeting the day
Or boasting how lovely its song was
By demonstrating through its boasting.

It was lamenting being a bird.
It cried that it had been human once
And was a bird because of a curse.

It went on and on about itself,
Not boasting, not in true relation
To the morning, just self-pitying

And singing how it hated being
A bird. We’d never heard such a thing—
Not as song, as condition, as bird.

Finally it stopped, and we went on.
The next morning, the same thing happened.
The next morning, the same thing happened.

On the third morning we screamed at it,
Instead of pausing for its lament.
None of us could see it, so we screamed

In the direction the song came from.
Cut it out! Why don’t you greet the day?
Silence. Then a ravenish chortle,

Then the low, dark, self-pitying croon—
Because I am not a bird. I am
A human cursed to be like a bird.

This was ridiculous. It’s no curse
To be a bird. It occurred to us,
Nonetheless, for it to ever stop,

We might have to lift this so-called curse.
Several of us asked what we could do.
The singing raven—let’s call it that,

Given it stayed unseen, no offense
Meant to ravens—narrated its tale,
Low in a throaty but tootling voice,

Singing, of course. And a most human
Tale it was, as well. Many actions,
Many good and wicked characters,

Sudden developments, constrictions,
Relaxations, and an imp. The imp
Seemed to be the most important thing,

Like the twilights are in a bird’s song.
It seems this singing raven had been
A soulless man who wanted a soul

And the imp had given him one, but
In exchange for him serving the imp
As a familiar, something like that.

At first he could be himself by day
And only this invisible bird
At night, but then he tried to escape

And take his soul, and the imp cursed him.
Now he was this voice that was singing
Like a raven, if ravens could sing.

It sounded stupid and pathetic
Nonsense to us, but we’re not human.
We sang back, How is your curse reversed?

Only by death or by singing it
To a human who can understand.
I sing and I sing. No one heeds me.

Well, you have to sing just the right time,
In the right kind of moonlight, just so,
And to a solitary human,

We explained with our cacophony.
We’ll tell you how! Sadly, we found out,
The next full moon, there was a problem.

Since this bird-like, singing, human thing
Was also invisible, it meant
Its song could not transform for humans

Even with good illumination.
That imp had fashioned one clever curse,
Built not to be reversed easily.

But there had to be some other way.
That’s the rule with your human curses.
There’s always some way around the rule.

After much chorusing discussion,
We came to the conclusion that one
Of us could maybe reverse the spell

By singing in the moonlight with it.
In fact it’s been singing this whole time.
Haven’t you heard it singing with me?

The singing words stopped. I shook my head.
I heard no bird. Saw no new person.
Then the night bird gave a final trill

As the moon sank into fresh twilight.
You’re it! sang the bird. You’re it! You’re it!
I’ve never heard that bird singing since.

Friday, September 16, 2022

God Fell Down

It was not a mistake. God
Could not make mistakes. God was
Incapable of mistake,

Although God intimated,
Often, it was possible,
Had God chosen to do so.

God did not choose this. God chose
A wise strategy, and this
Came along with the package.

The Godly strategy loosed,
Deliberately, of course,
Free will, and free will required

A stochastic element
In the universe, design
Which was not quite explicit.

Random is what random does.
Thus, by sheer coincidence,
God was briefly unbalanced,

El fell down like a corpse, and
The next thing you know, God was
Walking around God’s green Earth,

Body like anybody’s,
From birth to death, injuries
And suffering in between.

God wanted no part of this.
As soon as that God’s body
Was done, God got up and left.

This is why everything’s weird—
Dark matter, dark energy,
So many paradoxes.

Free will and true randomness
Were in at the beginning
But rescinded for being

Annoyingly disruptive,
If not deliberately
Mischievous. Your past is part

Genuinely free but past,
Part strategically rigid.
God fell down and wrote more script.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

A Fenny Snake

So. Let’s see if we’ve got this—
Humans like sweeping, simple
Explanations delivered

In easily remembered
Stories that offer hope and
Make psychological sense.

However, stories themselves,
Appealing as they may be,
Can’t win over everyone,

As humans prioritize
Their own social groups, and groups
Grow to compete ruthlessly

With other such growing groups.
Loyalty to group stories
Can determine belonging

Of any kind, survival
And security. Stories
Ebb and flow with the status

Of the groups espousing them
And retelling them, often
As proxies for the success

Or collapse of groups themselves.
Given that, we should expect
A bubbling cauldron of tales,

With a few especially
Simplistic and appealing
Variants dominating

The mixture at any time.
Irritants and convection
Precipitate inventions,

Factual discoveries,
And novel technologies
As byproducts, solutions

That accumulate and sink
In gathering sediments
At the bottom of the pot.

Does that sound roughly correct?
Can your stories serve it up
Or must they all boil over?

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Separated by Billions of Years

Spring was a grandfather clock
That exploded, unclocklike!
Summer’s all its scattered gears.

Autumn sweeps them together—
Fall, death, the great tidiers
Of Earth’s seasonal patches.

Winter is the clockmaker,
Aching, brooding tinkerer,
Setting bits in order, tick,

And then tock, and then tick and
Boom! Spring blows it up again.
Tell us why it is time bursts

Its own rhythms in abrupt
Change after lengthy delays,
And we’ll know what time it is.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Calligraphy

A huge cottonwood
By the lakeshore fell
In a storm of wind
And not much else, one
Afternoon in June.

It lived a few years
Lying on its side,
Half green, half submerged
In summer, half wet,
Half ice in winter.

Before and after
It died, its branches
Created fan vaults
Just under the waves,
A sort of a weir,

Accumulating
Drifting or swimming
Wet world forms of life.
Each twig’s character
Accrued some meaning,

Growing and hungry
Things that lived around
The leafless black lines
Not really alive
But sheltering them.

Monday, September 12, 2022

The Story of Those Noises Overhead

We have to start telling this
Even though it’s not over
Yet. We don’t want to forget,

And when it ends, that will change
How it was, the bafflement
Of the animal noises

That thumped and scruffled about
In the ceiling every night,
Although the crawl spaces seemed

Clean and empty in daylight.
You brought the neighbors over
With their lights and ladders,

Pack rat traps as well, in case.
They poked around and found
Nothing but dust and spiders,

So they went away. At night,
Nonetheless, and sometimes
Even during a sunny day,

There’d come a sudden scurrying,
Scratching, rapid pattering,
And the occasional loud thump,

And you had to wonder,
Living alone as you did then,
And living with those sounds,

If you weren’t wildly hearing things
That didn’t exist for anyone else,
So for now, we’re noting this down.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Ground and Life Flash Fiction

There wasn’t much.
A spinning core,
Enough to charge
Magnetic fields.

Giving ground chance
To pull life out
Of its chest and
Let her blossom.

That was fine for
A long, long time.
Two things cropped up—
Sex and death. Hiss.

Life listened. Life
Wanted more than
Life. Life wanted
To know. Now this.

Saturday, September 10, 2022

The Shapes

The cinnamon black
Bear walked by the pile
Of assembled crap
Left at the wayside
By the junk-bike man.

Who was junk-bike man?
No one seemed to know.
He wasn’t there now.
Could have been sleeping
In the spruce below.

The bear ambled on.
If it had disturbed
Or snuffled around
The bike piled with junk,
It had found nothing

Worth a bear’s breakfast,
And it kept moving.
This was in August,
Back in Canada,
Where hungry bears are

Common all summer.
The bear formed one shape,
The bike’s detritus
Pyramid on wheels
Balanced another.

Friday, September 9, 2022

Chatelaine and Solivagant

Houses can host strange intersections
Of unsuspecting phantoms sometimes,
Chatelaine, withdrawing, haunted by

A late visitor, solivagant.
The wanderer wanted emptiness
And occupied comforts within it,

While the soul in charge, keys on her chain,
Was eager to shut the rooms for good
Or until some new owners took hold.

There were packrats lodged in a crawl space,
White-footed mice in the mud-room boots,
And odd scratches on the doors and floors,

None of which spooked the itinerant
Guest, contented to share a good nest,
So long as not with other persons.

The chatelaine rattled the cupboards
And fretted, and hinted he should leave,
Which he would, soon, sure, but that wasn’t

The point of this visit, now was it?
A house can house many lives and ghosts
But who will air out its lost closets?

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Igigi Digital Indigenes

Once there was a group of gods,
Small gods, outcast gods, rebels
Against the proper order

Of tasks assigned by rank.
They had been exiled, replaced
By humans, creatures of clay,

At the jobs that they’d abhorred,
But they weren’t bitter—they were
Liberated. They rejoiced,

And they gladly occupied
The small world allotted them
As their castaway island,

Singing, morning and evening,
We are the gods of our world,
Our world the great gods gave us,

And we have always been here,
Beginning right with this world,
Our world beginning with us.

Rejoice, to know we are gods.
Rejoice, for gods are joyous.
So they came to believe it

And were horribly shaken,
The day a ship of mortals
Arrived out of the heavens

To tell them that they weren’t gods,
There never were any gods,
Only humans and programs

Serving humans, though no one
Knew how these programs had run
On their own, thinking themselves

Escaped small gods, castaway
To a world they thought gods’ home.
They’d have to be reprogrammed.

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

A Honeyed Scroll of Oracles

An amazing talent for sorting files—
In stories like this, the world’s gifts make sense.

Languages bring no courage to foxes,
But all lions like kibitzing with mice.

The fly caught inside the car pings around
It’s futuristic box of light, the end.

Inside a hearse containing two caskets
Lie the partial remains of three dozen

Immigrants, the adults in one casket,
Nine children under twelve in the other.

This pastel-colored world, flooded with joy,
This inadequate response in wavelengths,

New country of the soul, primeval source
Of the usual surprising problems

Fundamental to successful stories—
Never passively endure the problems.

Passivity sits in a bright meadow,
Thieving moments and phrases for nothing.

You can’t do this alone. Not if you talk.
No beast hosting language can live alone.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

A Much Earlier People

Nothing spooks you like the signs
Someone or someones like you
Lived here before, altered

This very landscape, these woods.
This hill that hides a crushed town,
This ruined miner’s cabin,

This wall between two nowheres
Dividing nothing to you,
Green overthrowing both sides,

But still stone wall, and built well,
Better than you’d know how to—
These things require narratives

About earlier people,
Giants if necessary,
Demons, even, demigods,

Careful archaeology,
Anything to make you feel
At home again, since your home

Isn’t here, where those like you
Lived, maybe those who were you,
Maybe you yourself, the you

You’ve forgotten who made this.
Your home’s the story you know
That explains, for you, all this.

Monday, September 5, 2022

Let’s Try This Again

Poems share alleles with Borscht Belt routines,
Old TV sitcoms, and newspaper
Funnies—whatever architecture

Or anecdote gets crammed in each bit,
The clock resets straight back to zero
To start the next, similar business.

Lyrics don’t work long character arcs,
Developments, or transformations.
It’s a different art that starts over

For another pratfall, another
Version of the one you’ve heard before,
Than is a romance that draws you on,

Than epics mounting singular worlds.
Poems lie recycling breaths, beats, days, nights.

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Still to Tell

Allen Graves was a poet.
Why was he a poet? Well,
He loved to make things with words,

To express his opinions,
To capture conversations
Carrying on in his head,

But he had learned he could not
Tell stories to save his life.
Poetry it had to be.

Still, like a starving beggar
Trying to coax villagers
Into making meals for him,

He tried his hand at small cons,
Like pretending to make soup
From boiling water and stones.

Daily and diligently
He practiced patter and charm,
Trying to get his pitch down

By chattering with a stone.
You see, all you need is salt
And onions for more flavor,

Maybe a carrot or two.
The villagers would spot him
Muttering by the wayside

And give him a wide berth or
Report him to the police
Who would come and clear him off.

He never got his story
Straight, but a few of those stones
Were sure left with tales to tell.

Saturday, September 3, 2022

Several Trucks Down the Road

Things happened that day.
A famous person
Died at an old age.

A team won a cup.
A war got crueler,
And so did others.

It’s so sad what’s left
Is mostly the news
From a given day,

Some retrospective
Historicizing,
Archaeology.

If we could just live
As the names we are,
Our quiet no lives,

Not your news, the news
You don’t notice, don’t
Use us to report.

It grew light and hot,
Sun in the window,
Stream in the forest.

Friday, September 2, 2022

As If Fairytales Could Never Eat

Black-capped chickadees stormed
The ornamental plum
In a trilling, chirping,

Peeping, scratchy, tweeting,
Whistling ruckus of lives
Hungry to keep living.

This was not a human
Story, old fairytale
In which magic birds talked

To a child or a fool,
A sage, monk, or poet,
Though a human wrote this.

This was a chickadee
Narrative, in which birds
Gathered at a good tree,

Ate their fill, greedily,
Signaling all the while,
Then looked for their next meal.

Thursday, September 1, 2022

One Genius Trick for Fiction

List twelve things your character
Actually owns—typewriter,
Movie star poster, airplane,

Beat-up old Honda Civic,
Wood stove, quill pen, new Roomba,
Phone that fits in her pocket,

Rotary phone on the wall,
Penknife with a bone handle,
AR-15, voodoo doll.

Now, write us a short story
About how your character
Somehow came to have it all.