Saturday, December 31, 2022

Consequently, This Taxonomy Can’t Explain Anything

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 30, 2022

The Specialist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Or Tales Could Have Invented Words

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Against Relentless Living

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 27, 2022


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 26, 2022


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 25, 2022

The Boring Hills

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

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

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

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

Produce explanations
For your human habits
And dissatisfactions.

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Whoever Finds This Bottle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 23, 2022

High Cold Noon

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 22, 2022

The Sweet Spot Remains Ancient, Strange, and Familiar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Previously unknown tales
Involving motivations
Of character families,

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

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

Wednesday, December 21, 2022


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

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

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

A new prophecy,
Invented magic
No one distinguished

From technology,
Was moral in ways
We admire today,

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Eighty Days Sixty

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

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

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

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

The candle numbers on his cake
To 21. Supposedly.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Writing Great Code

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 18, 2022

For a Piece of a Minute’s Peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 17, 2022

The Story Behind That Stern Face

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

Some found disturbing,
It was hard to place,

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 16, 2022

Rearranging Plot Device

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 15, 2022

To Perch in the Soul Another Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Regarding Semblance

Mirroring is always,
Very nearly always,
Interesting. Mirrors

In the wild are largely
Symmetries. Actual
Mirroring, reflections

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 13, 2022


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

That is, he wound up
In Barcelona,

No companions, no
Wristwatch or guidebook,
Not an innocent

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

Of La Sagrada
Familia, never
Having heard of it,

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

This curvy stonework,
Gorgeously ugly
As the cover art

For some alien
Fantasy novel,

Serving piety
On an urban plate?

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

Monday, December 12, 2022

A Day on the Lake a Decade Ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 11, 2022

The Empty, Careless Universe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Sometimes Words Escape You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 9, 2022

The Stories Winter by Themselves

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 8, 2022

The Phosphorus Stone

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

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

Not longevity,
Not lead into gold—

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

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

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

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

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

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

Half a billion years,
Won until humans
Industrialized bombs.

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

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

Such a system is not fiction,
Noted the astrophysicist,

But good heavens what temptation
For anyone stitching fictions.

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

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

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

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

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

Even if they are aliens—
Have humanoid predicaments,

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

Successful writers realize
Everything in the universe

Amounts to theatrical props
And elaborate prosthetics

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

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Anna Laughed Even Though the Correct Answer Eluded Her

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 5, 2022

Mostly White-Out Outside

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Defaced in Antiquity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Poor Weary’s Hovel

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 2, 2022

This Is the BBC News

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

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

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

Thursday, December 1, 2022

The Tree Disease

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

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

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

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

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

Whatever hadn’t burned
Of the abandoned world
Of civilizations

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

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