Thursday, August 31, 2023

The Liver

Having had part of your liver cut out
And examined for cancer, is that not
A medical type of extispicy?

Might as well have been a Sumerian
Divining for divine information
About your chance of assassination.

It’s the same question, really, isn’t it?
Do these guts betoken imminent death?
The answer returned is never certain.

Diviners and diagnosticians know
Every future is probabilistic,
As every future will repeat the past

Inexactly, leaving some small fissure
Wherein living could outlive the liver.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

The Cloud, No, That One

Black-eyed Susans, purple sage,
Where’s the use In naming names?

Maybe just describe the clouds
Of detailed crowds as common

Nouns and boring adjectives.
The stone with the dry, green lichen on it

Sits in fallen needles near the cliff’s edge—
No that’s not working either. There’s an urge

Once words start congregating together
To narrow the naming, make it precise,

And, once that’s started, there’s the addiction—
Sites, then species, then individuals,

Until names aggressively substitute
For all that names pretend to indicate

For triggering imagined memories.
Then again, where’s the use in not naming?

There’s a vast cloud overhead
Wasn’t up there yesterday,

Won’t be up there tomorrow.
Winds will push in something else,

Nothing created, nothing
Lost, only something borrowed.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

The Flower Petal

Part of the blossom or on the ground,
It still keeps busy with exchanges.

In bloom, it releases molecules,
Organic molecules, no longer

Themselves part of its life. On the ground,
Voracious littler lives ingest it,

Lifeless petal, in their liveliness.
Life’s a steady trade in lifelessness,

And gardener you are you should know this,
Troweling decomposing petals.

With every breath, you drag in something
Lifeless you convert to living flesh.

When breezes evaporate your sweat,
Living water leaves as lifeless wet.

Monday, August 28, 2023

The Real World Can’t Be This World

One of the loveliest aspects
Of that nearly universal
And loveliest of fallacies,

The illogical argument
From incredulity—Can’t be!
That’s absurd! That’s ridiculous!—

Is that, whenever someone finds
Circumstances beyond belief,
They ease their incredulity

By cooking up something truly
Incredible as alternate
Explanation, usually

Sorcery, secret weaponry,
And/or some vast conspiracy.
Whenever asked for evidence,

They say they have it already
And will reveal it all shortly
But not now. They’re still collecting.

Pressed again, the response is to say
A crazy world can’t be explained
Any other way. Then they snort

And cut things short, condescending,
Incredulous—do you really
Believe xyz could happen

In any ordinary way
Without some malign wizardry,
Without secret technology,

Without a vast conspiracy?
Ah, isn’t it just wonderful
That what is found incredible

Must be explained away by means
Of some tale more incredible,
Since the real world can’t be this world?

Sunday, August 27, 2023

The Blind Drawn

This one’s never opened,
Only lifted to peek,
Or shadowed by the cats

Who slip back behind it
Along the narrow sill.
The window’s by a bed

And unfortunately positioned
Such that pedestrians
And neighbors can look in.

So the blind remains drawn
All hours for privacy,
And neither exposure

To the street nor daylight
On pillows and blankets
Will ever be complete.

Saturday, August 26, 2023

The Acorn Cluster

Pulled from scrub oak
A year ago,
Two years ago,
Something like that,

Brought to the car
As memento
Of a good day
On the mesa,

The day itself
Long forgotten
Anyway, they
Are fossils now

In the car door
Where they’ve rested.
They didn’t sprout,
But are they dead?

Friday, August 25, 2023

The Meaning of Ezra

Ezra could be poetic
And generous with poets,
A champion of the arts.

He was also self-righteous,
Obsessed with conspiracy,
And a despiser of Jews.

A lot of his energy
He spent on tirades ranting
Against perceived enemies,

Including, of course, the Jews,
Democracy, factories,
The modern world generally,

But somehow he made his name
With modernist poetry
Made of fragments and edges,

In which the lyricism,
And the aesthete’s name-dropping,
And the buckets of venom

Were collaged in a mountain
Of weird associations
Peculiar to Ezra’s thoughts.

It was aspirational
And vicious, and it failed, but
It accumulated shards

Of occasional brilliance.
Now what do you make of this?
In defense of a dogma

Of an omnipotent God
Who is also pure goodness
And the omniscient maker

Of a world of suffering,
Theodicy’s logical
Lunacy was invented.

An inverse theodicy
Could try to deal with Ezra—
How could this hateful person

Think of himself as moral,
Sometimes practice real kindness,
And compose some stunning verse?

One trick’s been to separate
Good Ezra from bad Ezra,
Although his poems unite them.

Another’s asserted art
And politics are different,
Although his poems unite them.

Or you could not be bothered—
Say all of Ezra’s worthless;
All of art is politics,

And to admire anything
He wrote makes you complicit
In all of the things he said.

He might more or less agree—
He fused art and politics;
He believed in what he said.

But aren’t all these approaches
Sandbagging and barricades
Around your own moral self?

You forgive Ezra or don’t
Based on how you see yourself,
How you think you should be judged

By the judges you’ve approved,
Given there’s nothing hateful
Nor truly awful in you.

Why not judge knowing you will
Be judged by other judges
Than you’d want or imagine,

If you are recalled at all?
How does any wickedness
Coincide with any art,

And why do both grade smoothly
In and out of each other?
What’s the meaning of Ezra?

Thursday, August 24, 2023

The Text of Consolation

Actually, there was a stack of them
Picked and arranged by an editor,
And through each one you could imagine

Some person half talking to themselves,
Half to no one in particular,
In more or less strictly patterned lines

Making more or less articulate,
More or less explicit, arguments
For how to bear some dreadful event

And how to bear up against knowing
The world’s full up of dreadful events.
Some advised, chided. Some simply grieved.

Feeling them move around in your head,
You noticed there were no people there,
Only words, the voices of the dead.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

The Book in Your Stack

How far into your day are you
Right now as you encounter this
Disembodied question composed
In an earlier time and place?

Is it a long time since you slept,
Or did you wake up just a few
Hours or even minutes ago?
Either way, some things are settled

Events, permanent history
Already for you on this day—
How you woke up, what chores you did,
Any big or small surprises—

Anything that’s happened happened,
Each newest moment forever
Now part of your adjusted past,
Now another book in your stack,

And even forgetting’s like that.
What happened was that you forgot.
You may re-remember later,
But that won’t change that you forgot,

And, if you never remember,
Which most of your moments you won’t,
Those moments go on gathering.
Events sum forever. You don’t.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

The Dread Necessity of Breath

Fear of wastage torments people,
You mutter while you waste away.

The neighbor who can’t bear to throw
His dead pet’s pet food in the trash,

Determined to give it away
To someone with a living pet,

The adolescent with all day
To spend, pure waste without a friend,

The woman who won’t clean the fridge
Until it reeks of rotten fruit,

The writer who’s done no writing
In the free hour of that morning,

The terminal patient who failed
To make special another day—

And all the other forms of waste,
So what? To breathe makes waste of breath.

Monday, August 21, 2023

The Teacup

From a set of what used to be
Some of grandmother’s good china,
Handed down some decades ago,

Already partial, to furnish
Your first on-your-own apartment,
Having survived dozens of moves

Around the continent and years
Of storage in flimsy cardboard,
Unlike most of the long lost set,

The teacup, now one of a kind,
Fits your hand as you put it up
On a shelf of miscellanies.

Somewhere on the path to dying,
Moving on, you think of long life,
Your grandmother nearing ninety,

Widowed, felled by a sudden stroke,
Your last visit, still years to go,
A shadow with a gaping mouth

Silent in a hospital bed.
All those other dishes that broke,
And here’s this teacup, on its own.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

The Decoration Rock

She likes to browse through crystals
In the rock shop, searching out
The perfect combination

Of an odd shape, rare color,
And the right feel in the hand.
She’s building her collection

Of inexpensive prizes.
You peer over her shoulder.
For you it’s combination

Of pieces, not the perfect
Combination of the piece.
What could lines of small stones do,

The dull and ordinary
Phrased between the unusual?
You don’t want a mosaic,

Just a suggestive pattern
That could attract attention
Enough to yield a meaning

That no one could have foreseen—
Not the owner of the shop,
Not the crystal collector,

Not your imagination
Arranging combinations—
Only the nonexistent,

Other you, arrived later,
Puzzling over the pattern,
Ascribing meaning to it.

Saturday, August 19, 2023

The Soap

Sometimes meaning’s written about
In terms of aboutness, in terms
Such as intentionality,

Which come close to conflating it
With significance—what is this
All about? But information,

Whether inherent or read out
Like the label on this soap bar,
Like knowledge that this bar is soap,

And soap is all about cleansing,
And so forth, can’t encapsulate
All the meaning attention gives,

When you give the soap attention,
The bubbles that mean the cosmos
Is ephemeral, as you mean.

Friday, August 18, 2023

The Nameless Plant

To you at least.
You know it’s named—
English, Latin,
Paiute. Silvered

Green, scrubby thing,
You could name it
To please yourself,
But it’s better

Unnamed. You watch
As the late light
Slips over it
And wind bends it.

It’s working hard
To stay alive.
It can’t help it.
That’s what it means.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

The Cushion

Even a pillow, a cushion,
A random bolster or back pad,
Can become entangled in meanings
If one or more of you spin them.

The functional significance
Isn’t terribly relevant,
But if one of your family,
Since deceased, clung to that pillow

Or carried that damned seat cushion
With them everywhere, then later
You may project all kinds of thoughts
Onto the sight of that object.

If asked why you keep the cushion,
Unused, in some dusty corner,
You will explain its importance,
Its wealth of associations.

You may throw in an anecdote,
Something about the departed,
Amusingly illustrating
Their attachment to that cushion

That might yet end up in the trash,
After you’re gone, or a thrift store,
Be used as a movie-set prop,
Gain still someone else’s meanings,

Meanings being like that, webbing
Cast by human attachments, weak,
However—so weak they can’t cling,
Evaporative, true spirits.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

The Rain Veils

They signify uncertainty,
The middle way between zero

And one. Dragging their blue curtains
Decorated with dry lightning

In the distance, they could touch ground—
A storm’s a possibility

In the immediate future
But a coin flip from certainty.

That’s why such weather’s ominous.
It’s not that there will be a storm

But that there might be, might not be.
When something doesn’t signify

A more-than-likely yes or no,
That’s when it can be meaningful.

You scrutinize the fine blue veils.
Was that wet you felt on your neck?

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

The Obituary

An obituary’s an odd
Misdirection, all about life

Once the life is already gone.
If you didn’t know the person,

It’s not much different than reading
A profile of a scientist,

Say, or a new celebrity,
Someone living you’ve never met.

Celebrities and scientists,
For that matter, are popular

Topics for obituaries.
You read about someone, they live

In your thoughts, and a great many
People you know, you know this way.

You read the obituary
And, like that, someone comes to life.

Monday, August 14, 2023

The Plastic Sack

White and light as a ghost
Floating across the road,

Tenacious as a bat
Flapping from a tree branch,

Mobile as tumbleweed
Piling against fences,

Basin of attraction
For the bleakest meanings,

The sense of pollution,
Impurity, and waste,

It stays true to itself
As carbonaceous shell.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

The Cat Basket

It’s likely to end
In a garbage dump,
One of the middens
That will never be

Having gone extinct.
The bereaved owners
Of the cat who died
After thirteen years

Gave it to neighbors
With two youthful cats,
But the young cats sniffed
At the old cat’s scent
And more or less shrugged.

It’s been left sitting
By a good window,
But it’s never used.
Soon the new owners
Will throw it away

To outlast them all,
A crushed artifact
In the enduring
Strata of waste heaps
Weathered into cliffs.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

The Canopy of a Nameless Tree

Writers love to sidle
Up to it, the nameless
Tree, just at the moment

Its canopy is full
Of afternoon shadows,
Just before the shadows

Fade with the loss of light.
It’s the moment after
The loss of light writers

Actually want to write,
But they can’t. Witnessing
Is impossible then

With no one and nothing
To write. They imagine
Anyway, bird shadows

In the thick canopy.
A shadow theater
Always requires the light,

And takes place on the side
Of the light. Only lies
Made of varying light

In the language of light
Speak of the loss of light.
Still the writers sidle

Up to the nameless tree,
As close as names allow,
And there the writers write.

Friday, August 11, 2023

The Shade Tree

Each particular person,
Every societal wave
Undergoes continuous

Change. So everyone alters
And everyone fades away,
Every idea and nation,

Not just from mortality
Per se, just from becoming
At every moment other

Than at the moment before,
Until what was was estranged,
An alien to what is.

The process is mostly slow.
Change is so full of the same.
Yesterday, you were dying,

And the world was burning up
As you hid under a tree
To get some shade from the heat,

While today, you’re still dying,
And the world’s still burning up
As you sit under the same

Shade tree to wait out more heat.
But today it’s not the same.
Same’s somehow never the same.

Your particular person,
Your temporary standing
Wave collapses in the shade.

Thursday, August 10, 2023

The Line

In a short time, this will be
A long time ago. Always
True, that line from an oater,

Spoken by a character
Not so long ago. But soon.
Already another world,

Or rather, many others,
Have passed over the planet.
Long ago rests in access—

You have to know some of it
But not see much left around.
Comparative long ago

Is for clocks and calendars.
Absolute is memory
Of the recent allowing

A partial reconstruction
Of what’s not much left around.
Without that information,

There’s no making long ago.
Long ago can’t be never,
Can’t be completely unknown.

In a short time, this will be
Long ago. In enough time,
This, and you, weren’t, were never.

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

The Night Is an Awfully Deep Well

Won’t anyone wager there aren’t
Any universal laws of
Nature, that somewhere in spacetime
Your local fundamentals fail?

Don’t the mathematical clues
That led to the suppositions
Of dark matter and energy
Hint maybe foundations can change?

What if nothing’s missing? It’s not
Dark matter but strong gravity
Binding galaxies together
Better than their mass would suggest.

What if it’s not dark energy
Accelerating expansion
Just a shift in expansion’s laws
Spinning things outward faster now?

Sure, some of math’s rules fit so well,
You’re reluctant to let them go.
It must be the empirical
Observations making mistakes.

But given your analogy
Of laws suggests the universe
Could be ruled as capriciously
As human societies, well. . . .

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

The Puddle

In this context, it signifies
That it has just rained a little,
But what could this transient thing,

This brief collection of water
Swimming with microbial lives,
Evaporating by moon-glow,

Mean? You bring your information,
Your memories to bear. Climate,
You might think to yourself, changing

Climate. Or, tonight it will cool,
Before the heat starts up again.
Or, e.e. cummings, in just spring.

But are any of those meaning
Or just more signification?
If the transient puddle seems

To glow with more than reflections,
If it seems like it’s telling you
Something you don’t already know,

Then that’s its meaning, the meaning
That you feel inherent in it,
The meaning that you brought to it.

Monday, August 7, 2023

The Great Dumpster

It’s capacious for such a remote place.
You’re used to seeing it empty, even

Just before the weekly emptying rite,
When the dump truck labors up the mountain

To forklift the great dumpster
Like a kid draining a cereal bowl.

On this day, however, it overflowed.
A mountain of trash rose over its rim,

Some of it already scattered by winds.
A hard job for the dump crew this week,

You thought, realizing seeing this changed
The meaning of the dumpster in your mind.

This must have happened before. This is why
Emptiness is left here, most of the year.

Sunday, August 6, 2023

The Box of Tissues

Between signification
And meaning lies intention
Entangled with memory.

Boxes of tissues are new
Technology, more recent
Than ubiquity suggests—

Cardboard cartons of pages,
Thin, flimsy, disposable,
Absorbent squares of paper

Haven’t been around that long
Compared to mousetraps and wheels,
Never mind language and fire.

Look at a box of tissues
With eighteenth-century eyes.
Isn’t this mysterious?

Through your own eyes you see use,
And what the tissues are for
Blurs to what they mean for you.

Saturday, August 5, 2023

The Propane Tank

No ideas but in names.
Common names seem like things,
Special names like people,

Places, or big events,
While numerical names seem
Like universal truths.

There’s a hierarchy then
Among the names, and when
Someone insists on things,

They’re only challenging
That hierarchy (a name).
By the way, an idea

Is a name for theories
Needing names to express—
No ideas but in things,

The only way to God
Is Jesus, a black hole
Swallows information,

Propane tanks signify
The Anthropocene’s here,
With their shapes all the same,

Industrial metal,
Fossil fuel extracted,
Refined, shipped globally,

Thus exemplifying
Economic theories.
No theories but from games.

Friday, August 4, 2023

The Bag of Bones

Picture it. What do you see?
What does the phrase call to mind?
Maybe a corpse. Old roadkill,

Still in its deflated skin.
Maybe something personal,
The elbow joint you shattered

So thoroughly, the surgeon
Was near apologetic
After reassembling it.

There wouldn’t be much range left
Even after the therapy,
But he’d done the best he could

With what was a bag of bones.
Bag and bones, just common nouns
With common equivalents

In nearly every language.
Bag of bones, bones in a bag.
You could imagine a sack,

But whatever you picture,
The magic is what you bring
To it—not your ekphrastic

Description of that picture
But the meaning you give it.
Words. Then interpretation.

Then, somewhere in there, the ghost,
The wraith of meaning you bring
That’s rattling your bag of bones.

Thursday, August 3, 2023

The Picnic Basket

Picturesque on a blanket,
Nicely stocked with blueberries,
Cherries, cream cheese, smoked salmon,

Lemonade, and sandwiches,
Perfect for when the sheriff
Arrives to investigate

A complaint about a fight,
Or a shouting match at least,
Among the scattered campers

Occupying shady sites
Up high by stream and aspens
While the heat wave bakes below.

Nothing says just a picnic,
Officer, like a basket
Of food on a checked blanket.

A picnic is signified
To everyone, including
The sheriff, who leaves to quiz

Irritable tent campers
Instead. The picnickers play
A board game on the blanket

While the day gains new meaning
From the sheriff’s small drama.
Now the picnic basket glows.

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

An Alternate Account

The world slips suspiciously
Into more frequent beauty,
More frequent noticing it,

The clouds above the desert
In curling, virga towers,
The crisp edges of the cliffs—

It’s not mere handsomeness, it’s
Beyond satisfactory,
Delicious. That’s suspicious.

Are you dying already?
Have you started dying well,
That much celebrated phase

Of life appreciation,
In which the terminal find
The wonder in everything?

Let’s hope not. Let’s hope you are
Just appreciating things
Well worth appreciating,

Maybe even getting well.
Yes. Everything seems so good
Now that you’re getting better.

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

The Background

The smart eye edits the scene.
Are there garbage cans, buildings,
Power lines, trucks, and wildflowers?

The smart eye selects wildflowers.
The rest of the scene remains
But remains irrelevant.

Or maybe the smart eye likes
Architecture or maybe
Is hoping to buy a truck.

The smart eye selects those things.
You have a smart eye. You have
A smart eye for poetry,

For what you want, which topics,
Which attitudes, points of view.
Pick your foreground, your background.

Do you like a memory,
Some scenery, some trauma,
Some astonishing wordplay?

Sometimes there’s nothing you want,
But you’ll focus just the same
Or turn your smart eye away,

And even if the purplish,
Madly invasive wildflowers
Between the buildings and trucks

Are just what you want to see,
The background always remains,
Blurry irrelevancy.