Monday, July 31, 2023

The New Conditions

Conditions change—society
Changes. It’s value-neutral, but

If you want society changed,
Don’t change people, change conditions,

Then hope for fine consequences.
Demography, technology,

Geography, discovery,
These are what shake societies.

The results are usually mixed—
Maybe less inequality

And/or bloodthirsty violence
But more surveillance and control—

Greater in-group charity, but
Greater out-group hostility—

You can find your own examples.
But you have to change conditions.

Unless . . . The time may be coming
When the individual flesh

Can be altered permanently
With unforeseen consequences

On the life of society.
But there’ll be pockets, even then,

Probably, of people like you,
More shaped by the new conditions.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

The Assembly

They’re down by the water
With folding chairs, awnings,
Paddle boards, rafts, music

From portable speakers,
Children armed in floaties,
Parents in baseball caps,

Bassinet-sized coolers,
Coolers big as cupboards
Full of sodas and beers.

They laugh and play for hours
While their pickups stand guard
On the ridge above them.

The music never stops,
And then, like that, it does.
The families are trooping

Up the slope, carrying
Coolers and folding chairs,
Awnings and paddle boards,

Having agreed they’re done,
Loading up the pickups,
Throwing in their towels.

Saturday, July 29, 2023

The Act of Consciousness

Self awareness is behavior.
It’s an action like the beating
Of the heart. It’s never the heart.

It starts. It stops. You wake. You sleep.
You’re something happening or not.
The flesh that keeps you happening,

The society that keeps you
Happening, they’re always changing.
At some point they won’t perform you.

Dwell on it, while you’re happening.
You could be the wind, reflections
Of the moon on a midnight lake,

Always a series of events
Going on, the flex of a pine
In that wind, the electric lights

As they come on in Manhattan
At dusk, the synchronous fireflies
Deep in the Great Smoky Mountains.

You are being generated,
Orchestrated by everything,
And frequently, daily, switched off.

Friday, July 28, 2023

The Road Runner

Large and angular bird
Like a hood ornament
Strutting just past the door,

Almost impossible
For those of a certain
American era

Not to think of in terms
Of a cartoon bird drawn
So poorly, nothing like,

So that’s the meaning brought
To the present creature,
And it’s not just bringing

And making of meaning,
Assigning of meaning,
That’s striking, it’s how much,

No, how little, really,
The meaning has to match
The object, this spiky

Desert bird, half handsome,
To the trickster cartoon
Symbolizing escape

From that would-be trickster,
Coyote, predator,
Acme of destruction.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

The Warm Night

Large and near and palpitant,
Desert stars hug horizons,
And the day’s heat, reluctant,

Backs off a little, but just.
All afternoon the hot winds,
But where are the evening gusts

To blow out the heat and creak
At the windows? The insects
Seem extra elaborate

And the birds to bed early.
Up the slope, the biocrust
Maintains its ragged blanket,

And the desert plants content
Themselves with their strategies
For exactly this much heat.

The humans, who have goosed it,
Avoid it, staying indoors
For the most part, with machines.

One sits out on a stone porch
Watching the stars grow thicker,
Almost a taunting quiet.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

The Vignette

No, not a flash fiction
On a cocktail napkin.
No, not a description,

Portrait with blurred border,
Picture in the center,
But that’s getting closer.

Older. Little vineyard,
Hard years, unharvested,
Overgrown, heavy dark.

And older. Just the vines
Named as the source of wine,
Named in some far-off time,

Uncertain which was first
Language family, first
To ferment wines for thirst

That went beyond wanting,
What wanting left wanting,
Merry, addled, haunting,

Yes. That old. Older yet.
Words grown over what’s left
Of having lived. Vignettes.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

The Tide Will Go Back Out

Maybe gravity is special.
Maybe it’s not part of the set—
Weak, strong, electromagnetic—

Maybe gravity made the set,
Makes the set, makes it possible.
Maybe gravity is nothing

You can include in any set.
Strings and loops clutter up the gap
Between the ground and the weather.

Why do we feel that this is so?
We’re not running the equations.
We sense that something is opposed

To the way the best stories go.
The weakest becomes the greatest.
The past fell out of the future.

Monday, July 24, 2023

The Park Parking Spot

It gains significance
From getting morning shade,
From birdsong and stream sounds

In sight of the water.
It’s the same twinned white lines
As outline every spot,

Signing you can park here
Without being at risk
Of getting ticketed,

So you could say the lines
Rule the significance,
But only the way jars

Rule what the jars contain.
The stream sounds, the birdsong,
The shade—coincidence

Signifies more to you
Than the rules containing
Such coincidences.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

The Pine Shade

Is it an object? Most would
Object. It’s an interval,
A pattern that comes and goes

As the Earth rotates below,
A phenomenon, but not
A thing in itself. But park

Yourself in sun and study
The shade you wish you were in,
If not object, objective.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

The Cap

They come with signs, logos, words.
Blank ball caps are rarities.
They’re meant to identify,

To signal, but there’s the rub.
What you signal is never
What you get. Your signs are read

All kinds of of unintended
And often unkind ways.
You’ll never mean what you meant,

The meaning you brought to it,
Putting the cap on your head.
You’ll mean what they bring to it.

Friday, July 21, 2023

The Cuff

Does the job it was designed for,
Measures the pressure, yields numbers.

What it means depends on context,
Including whether it was used

Correctly, applied correctly.
It could be a portent of doom.

It could be mildly concerning.
It could earn congratulations.

It’s not all that easy, telling
A tale signifying nothing.

Thursday, July 20, 2023

The Advice

The advice in your head
That your head gives itself
Is all human stuff,

And most of it is recent
People advice, and even
The ancient scraps you’ve gleaned

Have been filtered by recent
People and opinions and
Was just people stuff to start with.

Small wonder you want to believe
It’s from spirits or saints
Or unique prophets and sages

Or God. Then you trust it,
Although that’s quite the risk
Isn’t it? Maybe you shouldn’t

Trust any advice you give yourself
No matter who the source was.
Just a word to the wise.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

The Last Independence Day

Rare sound in this neighborhood,
Dog barking in the distance.
The birds are going to bed.

Poor creatures. Fireworks up next,
A cruelty from the gods.
Doubtful the animals know

That the human animals
Are responsible. Just boom,
And the horror is on them.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

The Playlist

It’s many someone elses’ art.
The deer wanders across the view
In twilight as you pick songs out.

Life is a half-dammed stream these days,
If streams could be dammed by water.
Why not? A huge influx, a swamp.

You are in your car, you influx,
And the deer and bacteria
Flow around you in this new swamp,

Them and all the rest of the lives
Your kind of life has just flooded.
Well, what’s your new playlist tonight?

Monday, July 17, 2023

A Type of Scene

Small, sunny morning cacophony
Of the house finches, wrens, and kingbirds
In the prickly pear and junipers

And a couple of neighbors talking
Quietly, crossing the parking lot,
Concerning illness and survival.

These were facts, events happening, some
Of what was going on that morning
In that corner of a tourist town.

A propeller plane droned overhead
While black-chinned hummingbirds squeaked and hummed.
You see the deception here, don’t you?

Be they never so confessional—
Lyric poets and memoir writers
Who report on the facts of their lives—

Be they never so conscientious,
Intimate, precise, and accurate,
They can’t catch experience in words,

Only trigger your own memories,
From which you draw a vivid picture
(Or a dull one, which you don’t care for)

Of whatever scenes their words describe.
Types of scenes distinguish the writers,
But never capture the writers’ lives.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

The Wind

People talk. It’s most striking
Anywhere scenic, quiet.
There’s maybe the wind, a bee,

Maybe a few birds calling
Or not. If a car pulls up,
Like as not, a door opens

And out comes the sound of talk.
A lizard may be doing
Chin-ups on a rock. Beetles

May be exploring a spruce.
They all communicate, but
People talk. Two people talk,

Families talk, hikers talk.
When they get back in their cars,
It’s noticeable again.

Again the dominant sound
Is the wind, which you notice
Since you’re alone and don’t talk.

Saturday, July 15, 2023

The Great Democracy

An object without an object,
A thing with meaning not a thing.
Close to God, here—see what we mean?

Imagine a society
In which every adult body
With the capacity to vote

Actually voted and the votes,
Like each unit of currency,
Carried exactly equal weight.

Imagine all accepted this,
Society as a giant,
Parallel processor system

With a yes/no binary code.
Would it be worse than what you know?
Would it be better? You can’t know.

It’s not a thing beyond language.
It’s like God, remember? Meaning,
If you say so, it can’t be shown.

Friday, July 14, 2023

The Wind in the Car

Parked at the reservoir’s edge,
Windows down, watching the waves,

Thinking about collectors
Of data reading data

From their collection machines,
Their faceless collective gaze,

Watching a wood-duck mother
Swimming with seven ducklings,

You wonder why no one links
Omnipresent surveillance

Of people with equally
Continuous, exhaustive

Surveillance of the cosmos
(Decades to catch gravity

In the act of waving back)
Or this planet, whose axis

Has been caught tilting slightly,
Or life on this planet

Triggering camera traps,
Infiltrating garbage,

Plastic, sewers, and seaweed.
Could it be, collecting dust,

Data, and sifting through it,
Remains the same obsession

Whether tracking customers,
Surveilling the populace

For threats to the government,
Or monitoring patterns

Of currents in the ocean
And of the songs of the whales?

One bird watcher on the shore
Compares notes with another.

The ducks keep paddling around.
Gusts of wind rush through the car.

Thursday, July 13, 2023

The Evening Cooling Slowly

You come down the hill.
You don’t want to go
Back in the house yet.

You stall by parking
In a public park,
A small one but green

By a small river,
just more than a stream.
The direct sun’s gone

And the desert air
Cools slowly, turning
Pleasant with twilight.

You and some tourists,
Traffic and birdsong
And water murmur.

As you are, body
Displeased with itself,

No sheer contentment
Descends, but you’re not
Trapped in a bed,

You’re not shivering,
The pleasant is mixed
With the discomfort

And you’d leave the world
To its devices
To stay here—you’d leave

The world through this door
If it would take you
Like this, if you could.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

The Decision, That Is, Already

What should you do? No should. Did.
Done. What next? Deciding is
One of the done things you did.

You’re deciding again now,
Aren’t you? That’s ok. You can’t
Actually decide not to

Decide. Deciding’s in you,
Part of what you have to do,
Even if it’s done for you.

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

The Swallowtail

For itself, its own life,
Divided in two forms,
Including a smidgen,

Maybe, of awareness.
For you a brief grace note
Flitting through the morning,

Crossing near where you sit,
Butterfly in sickness.
How to read anything

When death’s toying with you?
World news, travel brochures,
Your living surroundings—

In what scenario
Do you last long enough
To celebrate the end

Of the war, abscond on
Indulgent holiday,
Watch next year’s swallowtails?

Monday, July 10, 2023

The Western Kingbird

Tyrant flycatcher,
Gold from a distance,
It makes its squeaky
Claims as it settles

In the twilit tree.
The Moon and Venus
Pass over the cliffs.
The kingbird chatters
Through one more outburst,

Then it’s just crickets,
The compressor sounds
Of ac units,
And the wings of bats
On the evening shift.

What are you doing
Out here in the world
Of things with their lives
In competition
For what makes more life?

Haven’t you had yours,
Lived your life, enough?
You squeaky tyrant,
You still shrill your call,
Let them know you’re here.

Sunday, July 9, 2023

The Paper Tape

You try to pull yourself together
With more paper tape under your clothes,
A kind of last resort to look neat

And not so much like you escaped
A hospital bed on your own,
Cords and collection bags dangling.

You have to go down to the store.
You’re in desperate need of supplies.
The fight to be independent

Isn’t over yet, but you can
Feel the exhaustion closing in.
Who will you turn to when you can’t

Keep pulling yourself together,
When even strips of paper tape
Can’t hide your extruded insides?

Saturday, July 8, 2023

The Traffic Cones

You borrowed a couple
And put them in the back
Of the car for practice.

Each day you’d set them up
In the bare cul-de-sac
And let your kid practice

Backing through, figure-eights,
Using mirrors to steer.
It was only practice,

Too young for a permit.
It was something to do,
Good habits to practice,

A skill to imagine,
A sliver of freedom
Contained within practice,

To feel how much a car
Could do with some steering,
With well-practiced control.

Friday, July 7, 2023

The Pill-Wrapper

Bit of discarded foil
On a bedside table.
Unless something happened

That shouldn’t have, a death,
An overdose, something
Problematic, the foil

Couldn’t interest even
A confirmed detective.
It will go in the trash.

It was beautifully
Designed to hold one pill,
To peel by fingernail,

And it was produced
By smooth machinery
In the thousands, millions.

This world yields such surplus
Of all kinds of design.
It will go in the trash.

Thursday, July 6, 2023

The Feeling Objects Are Few

This is ridiculous, of course.
Objects sprawl all over the place—
This evening, middle of nowhere,

Shows an enormous range of stones,
From sand grains through gravel, boulders
Through two-thousand meter mountains.

There are houses flanked by parked cars
Of various makes and models.
BBQ ovens. Folding chairs.

And yet it feels a bit bereft.
The lizards and birds aren’t objects.
The weeds and cared-for succulents

Aren’t objects, and of the staked trees
Only stakes and wires are objects.
The trees aren’t. The trees are alive.

So much life and so few objects.
You started a revolution,
But there’s still a long way to go.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

The Insufficient Antidote

Humans being cruel to humans,
Humans baffled by how humans
Can be cruel as that to humans,

Not just vicious, predatory,
But cruel to the point of torture.
Humans protest. Humans invoke

Kindness in the final resort,
Once they’ve seen how invoking God
Can exacerbate cruelty,

One they’ve seen solidarity,
And principle, and liberty
All exacerbate cruelty.

Kindness. Kindness risks cruelty
To the kind, but kindness is calm,
In itself, not a catalyst,

Not checking rules or reasons first,
Not gaming out consequences.
And humans do it. Humans can.

You’ve seen it. Someone helps someone
Before checking whose side they’re on.
Before checking their moral state.

It’s most often spontaneous
And fleeting, but some are more prone
To being kind much of the time,

Their first, not their final resort.
It’s almost always intimate,
Small, and, unlike its opposite,

Cruelty, rarely organized,
Systematized. Systematized
Kindness warps as rules get settled.

Hope leaps a little when someone
Invokes kindness, writes that kindness
Is what divides the night from day,

But you know it doesn’t scale well.
Kindness is to calm as saffron
Is to spice—real, useful, and rare.

But what else in humans is there,
Samaritan, innate to you,
To answer for your cruelties?

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

The Objects Only Seen by Those Who Are New to Seeing Them

The flip side has been much discussed,
What can’t be seen by those without
The terminology to see,

But just as well, your world is full
Of items so well expected
You’ve lost all awareness of them—

The broom leaning in the corner
Where the broom has leaned forever,
The volcano smoking its pipe.

People crave chastising people
For missing things they ought to see,
A craving you no longer see.

Monday, July 3, 2023

The Unpublished Poet’s Inventory

Is it a hardware store
Like the one your father
Had you run errands past

To pick up odd items
With specific functions,
Usually small things

Like peculiar hinges
Or tool accessories?
A hardware store stocks shelves

Of such inscrutables,
Each with its own purpose,
Identical copies

Of rarely used bradawls. . . .
Or is it more a store
For trinkets and tchotchkes,

Whimsical, functionless,
Handmade without purpose
But to please and so sell?

Most poets would recoil
At either suggestion,
And probably rightly,

But imagine a shop
On top of a midden,
Where someone with odd tools

Deconstructs the broken
Chairs and decorations
That once belonged to homes,

Generating neither
Narrowly useful nor
Shallowly provoking

Small monsters suggestive
Of lives they don’t quite have.
What’s the point? There’s no point.

Sunday, July 2, 2023

The Back Window

Irrelevant unless you left
It open, the car’s back window,
Now that the hot day is setting.

How much is meaning, how much is
Significant, not meaningful?
Think of all the anxieties

You’ve known, most long since forgotten.
It’s easy to confuse meaning
With importance. How important

Could a parked car’s open window
Be, compared to an invasion,
A revolution, a backlash?

Some of this is nothing but scale—
The confined are less important.
If murder reaches massacre,

Massacre reaches genocide,
Genocide blooms apocalypse,
Murder grows more significant.

But consult your historians,
Those terrible prophets who prove
That knowing the past doesn’t help

Hardly with knowing the future.
At the vastest scales—
Of importance, significance—

Meaning becomes, if anything,
More impossible to assign.
But at the level of a life,

A single life lost, that meaning
Fastens the nucleus tightly
Shut against the meaningless storms.

Saturday, July 1, 2023

The South Window

Given the size of the frame
And the dusty green and brown
Rhomboids, there’s a Cézanne feel,

Complete with motionlessness,
Complete with orderliness.
Now how much meaning is there,

Now that you’ve dropped in Cézanne?
A lot more, if you’re the sort
Who’s thought often of Cézanne,

None, if Cézanne’s a strange name
To you, a foreign language.
Just what is a Cézanne feel?

The window frame can’t contain
Any meaningful essay,
But you are the south window.