Tuesday, October 31, 2023

The Ghost Light

At night, or, for that matter,
Whenever the theater
Is closed and otherwise dark,

The body, superstitious,
Puts a ghost light on the stage.
Sometimes, nothing much happens,

But usually the ghosts
Of the waking theater
Feel invited to the light.

What would you say they are like?
The traditional reply
Would be moths, but no, not quite.

They’re less substantial than that.
There’s no life in them to burn.
They can’t be seen in the light.

They do flutter weightlessly.
They do take circular flights.
They’re costumed by memories,

But they’re not. So what are they?
Or, again, what are they like?
Wind, maybe? Discarded trash,

Empty bags spun in the air
By that wind? That’s the problem.
They’re something. They’re in this world.

They’re not nothing, but you can’t
Say anything true of them
That accurately defines

Them as they are. They return,
Whatever they are, full flight,
And, if they don’t, you will die.

Monday, October 30, 2023

The First Week of October

The first week of October
Held the mountains every day
Since the mountains couldn’t stay.

You could say they wanted to,
But let’s not patronize them.
Leaves brushed by wind’s winter hem

Blushed, as usual, and fell.
The mountains would follow soon.
The mountains were not immune.

Winter mountains aren’t the same.
They have some things in common,
Just like your generations.

You don’t sense the same people
In your continuous waves.
Neither were those mountains saved.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

The Road

You and your relationship
With the road you love so much
When you’re sitting beside it

And hours go by with no one,
No vehicle, not even
A cyclist riding down it—

Doesn’t it occur to you
That affection is absurd?
The road’s built to be driven.

You found it by driving it.
You’re fond of its smooth asphalt,
Its flawless curves in the pines.

What idiocy to want
The road for contemplation,
Mostly for just looking at,

The road with no one on it,
The road to sit down next to
And savor its emptiness.

Would you want time with a wash
When it’s dry from summer drought?
With an airport without planes?

Ok, sure, maybe you would.
The road falls silent. Only
Wind and your grin crossing it.

Saturday, October 28, 2023

The Menace to Fine Arts

You only have
To make it ring,
Make your nonsense
Nonsense that sings,

To know that you
Have done the thing.
Doesn’t matter
How well it swings,

If it’s profound,
It it’s truth stings.
You’ve done it now,
You’ve done the thing.

You only need
To wind the string
That pulls the wheel
That flaps the wings.

All crafts are toys,
The ones with springs,
The armored ones
That sling and fling,

The snake-eyed ones
That cling and wring.
You’ve done it now.
You’ve done the thing.

Friday, October 27, 2023

The Teapot Rock

What’s the way to be small?
A jagged basalt chunk
Sets in a scree of them

Ponderosas have grown
Up around. It’s been there
Long enough for lichen

To have encrusted it,
Probably longer than
Humans have had writing.

The shape of a teapot,
Roughly, it has a lid—
A small part of the rock,

Palm-sized, can be lifted
Like a cap. It still fits
Precisely, so that

When set back down, it looks
Contiguous, no seam
Visible where the part

Fits to its former whole.
Every few months, starting
In spring, ending each fall,

You stop to walk that cliff
Through the ponderosas
To that basalt boulder

To check if the broken
Tip still sits as snugly
In its precarious

Spot, like a fitted lid.
No matter what blizzards
Or summer thunderstorms,

No matter the lizards
Scampering over it,
The deer browsing by it,

The traffic of ravens,
Turkeys, and coyotes,
It’s been there, whole at rest,

For years now. That’s one way
To be small. Lift the lid.
Settle it back. Just so.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

The Falcon on an Aspen

Not an object, surely, not concerned
With whatever to itself it means—
Bird on a lookout, watching for prey,

Something to kill, live another day.
That’s too much. The falcon feels hunger,
Excitement if it spots living prey,

Pleasure if it strikes and gets its meal,
Satisfaction afterward. And soon,
Hunger again. There is no next day.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

The Night

It’s just enormous,
The amount of life
You’ve lived if you’ve lived

For a few decades.
It may not seem so
Moment to moment,

But cast your mind back
To a random year
And let it fill out

The differences
Between then and now,
Hazy as they are.

It was a whole world,
Wasn’t it? A world
And then another,

Another before,
Another after,
Worlds to remember,

More worlds than you can
Ever remember,
Too large to recall.

If memories were
Stars, points of light, then
Your life was the night.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

The Morning Cloud

Optimism’s a peculiar proposition.
In the short term, it makes good sense.
Most days turn out not so bad
And tend to get better by evening.
In the long run, optimism’s cruel.
The body, which wants nothing but
To feel nice and go on living,
Is guaranteed to feel awful and die.
The awareness, which coasts the body’s
Pleasures and pains, has to go
Along for the ride, meanwhile deciding,
For some reason, being human,
If its actions are good or wicked or alright.

Outside, the morning starts out in light.
Could be bare blue and sunshine,
Could be all one glowing, pearly,
Ceiling of convoluted cloud. Sigh or smile.
This day will likely be better by night.

Monday, October 23, 2023

The Fulgurite

An unexpected lightning bolt
Binds the ground to blue horizon.

You can see it for what it is
For that instant, a link, transfer,

Therefore, clearly, a metaphor.
A bolt of lightning is a word.

It delights. It frightens. It hurts.
It candles trees. It fires up grass.

There are so many ways this works.
Anthropologists still debate

About charred spots that could be hearths
Or just where lightning struck the earth.

Was this controlled or accident?
Then you wait for another one,

But words don’t make you wait like that.
Your head’s more Jupiter than Earth.

Layers of clouds all the way down
And lightning linking all at once.

You like that. You’ll take that. You can’t
Keep waiting for another word.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

The Drop

You could focus
On it. You try
To keep in mind
Which drop it is,

Among them all
On the window.
Platitudes pile
Up in your thoughts.

It means nothing.
Don’t make it mean.
Small drop of rain.
It’s changing shape.

It’s going soon,
But not as soon
As you first thought.
Still there, that drop.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

The Nameless Allegory

The allegory lies on the table,
Partially brought to life, which is to say,

Dying. The allegory is dying.
The surgeon, with arms folded, contemplates.

Previous interventions came to this,
An existence extended for a bit.

The allegory is nearly breathless.
Memory’s complicated life support,

A mass of external machinery,
Does most of the work. The allegory

Gave no directive. The surgeon decides
To try once more to delay the dying.

Carefully, the surgeon slices the name
Out of the heart of the allegory.

Friday, October 20, 2023

The Ferrari

What does it do? What
Does it signify,
Red as wax apples,

Rumbling and gleaming
Like a predator?
It can go faster

Where roads are smoother.
It can show better
Where people can stare.

So why is it here
On this scumbled tar,
High in fall colors?

Suspect a story,
A scene in the head
Of the one inside

Who brought it up here—
The beautiful beast
Up the winding road,

An advertisement
For beauty itself,
For the gorgeousness

Of the life owning
Such scarlet leisure,
A thing of command,

An object that, owned,
Turns the whole landscape
Into display case,

The world just a frame,
Mere setting, mere
Ring for a ruby.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

The Reality of the Anti

the anti-hydrogen atoms drifted down like maple leaves in October

Even antimatter falls
Toward a heavy body—
There is no exotica

That avoids needing to join
Together with greater mass—
Not even the opposite

Of objects can be immune
To gravity’s fond embrace.
Ashes, ashes, all fall down,

Which is to say all gather
For the cosmic, crushing love
That leads to exploding stars,

Vast galaxies, and black holes.
Why this should be so, who knows?
But if there is one true law

That governs all, it must be
Gravity, curved compulsion
Of all to fall together—

Even entropy can be
Locally, a while, reversed,
But gravity never swerves.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

The Canvas

A Scythian word, maybe,
Since it was once made from hemp.
It was already cotton

In India, three thousand
Or more years ago. You can
Also make it from linen.

Thick fibers, tight weave. Heavy
Textile, in any event,
Good for sails, jackets, and tents—

Stretched, as a surface for paint.
Canvas on frames for painting
Inevitably suggests

Blankness, as in blank canvas,
Possibility, the lack
Of prior experience,

An artistic jape in which
The blank canvas is the art.
What else? A strangely white sky

Without any clouds, not blue
As you would expect, not grey,
But looking faintly woven,

Like this sky, not luminous,
Flat, blank, hinting at some snow,
But it’s autumn and still warm,

And is this even the sky
Or something else entirely,
Some stupid blank abstraction?

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

The Hummingbird Galaxy

As usual, the huge
You’ll never encounter,
Never experience,

Looks like the small to you—
The familiar, the shape
You know outside your door.

If narrative makes sense
Of the world for humans—
Makes it social, moral—

Metaphor makes it small
Enough, more portable,
Caressable, tactile.

Metaphor lassos clouds,
Planets, stars, galaxies,
As if you could pull them

Close. Hold them in your arms.
Dark matter and black holes
Build cornucopias

You paw through in your thoughts,
Savoring the riches
Of what you’ll never touch.

You started this with gods,
Ancestors everywhere,
Spirit animals, sprites,

All your little creatures
Deep, dark night resembled,
As if night could be held.

Monday, October 16, 2023

The Missing in Everything

Everything outlasts everybody
Since anytime anybody dies,
You look around a moment later,

And everything remains. Everything
But the deceased per se is still there,
In the room with the deceased’s remains.

Everything outlasts everybody,
Since after everybody has left,
What’s left’s still complete as everything.

A little suspicious, isn’t it,
How the world always rushes back in,
So full itself, of everything?

Why’s everything so good at hiding
Whatever it is that’s gone missing,
As if going missing is never

Really what happens, as if missing
Is myth, is rumor, as if missing
Isn’t, when missing is everything?

Sunday, October 15, 2023

The Blue Suitcase

She wanted new luggage,
Good luggage. She wanted
It to be distinctive,

Not just more black cases
Circling the carousel,
Arrival passengers

Clawing like scavengers,
Like a cloud of vultures,
Trying to snag their own.

She chose a powder-blue
Set, the most expensive.
The next year, she traveled

The world with her lover,
Then partner, fiancé,
Husband by their return.

The luggage held up well.
By then, she hated them,
Those powder-blue cases,

So ugly, so tasteless,
So heavy to drag through
Airports around the world.

She became a mother.
She traveled less and less
By air, more overland.

More than a dozen years
And a divorce later,
The last of that luggage,

Extracted from storage,
Served now as her daughter’s
Sturdy, powder-blue case

Packed for every exchange,
From mother to father
And back again, covered

In cool stickers, useful
As hell, expandable,
Durable, well-loved shell.

Saturday, October 14, 2023

The Portable Vacuum Cleaner

Black and yellow as a hornet,
Left on the ground, outside the door,
Someone’s idea of a present,
A hand-me-down cleaning machine.
Someone has a better one now.

You can have the discarded one.
The motor still roars buzzily,
Although the traction’s pretty weak.
You haul it inside, gratefully.
You’ll get your carpet halfway clean.

You’ll carry on with maintenance,
And your domicile will remain
Habitable a little while.
Every magical invention,
From oxygen’s first digestion,

To flight feathers, indoor plumbing,
Soon, maybe, nuclear fusion,
Every trick, major and minor,
Making maintenance easier,
Giving survival some new means

Of standing against entropy,
Eventually tumbles downstream,
Another item eroding,
Remnant testimony leaning
Against the currents for a while.

Friday, October 13, 2023

The Math

Coyotes were quavering
And a toy drone was buzzing
At sunset, over the grass.

Welcome to the interface
Of more ancient and recent
Architectures of the past.

Some people were murmuring
Something about God’s country,
Paused on their way down the path.

The coyotes kept yipping
Invisibly, down canyon,
As the drone came buzzing back.

The hikers went on, and talk
Of their God and his country
Went with them. You do the math.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

The Song

Memory is ruthless
As any heartbreaker
In a break-up pop song,

The lover who comes on
Too strong, seduces you
With plenty, promises

You the world, then ghosts you,
Or leaves you stealthily,
Withdrawing your options,

Shuttering your futures
Together, quietly
Leaving you to wake up

Alone in bed one dawn,
Abandoned, still swearing
You’re going to write that song.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

The Message

There’s a tendency to trust affect
Shared by messenger and messagee,

An assumption that it’s the manner
Of delivery that lets you know

What the message really means—a smile,
A restrained anger, a graceful ease.

Actors make bank as interpreters
Of texts by the way they make lines read,

And lovers quarrel, juries convict
Over posture, tears, or arrogance.

But you know there is the message, which
Is only information in terms,

And you know that you’re responsible
For deciding what that info means.

Reading affect is a meaning cheat,
Since the message is never complete.

You exploit the fact it’s widely thought
The affect is the message. It’s not.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

The Bendy Pen

One day, in the ward,
He went through the few
Books available

With his bendy pen,
The only writing
Implement allowed,

Looking for any
Use of first-person
Singular, striking

It out and writing
First-person plural
Or second-person

Pronouns in its place.
Novels went quickly.
The solitary

Anthology of
Lyric poetry
Ate up a whole day.

Monday, October 9, 2023

The Floor

The forceful blandness of what is
Feels more present quiet mornings
When awareness returns from sleep

To, for instance, a room without
Any other persons in it,
No people just beyond the walls.

Everything in the room is there
And heavy with being just there,
Unalive, with nothing to say

But full of that mere existence,
Not as background to awareness
But massive, up front, in your face.

It fades. You get on with the day.
Human concerns take center stage.
Solid existence drops away,

But it waits. There isn’t a thing
For existence to be but be
The floor still there after the play.

Sunday, October 8, 2023

The Brush

Someone cleared it, piled it up
Between the fence and the road.
For someone it was a chore,

Presumably reducing
The risk of conflagration—
Clearing brush. Decades ago,

Ronald Reagan would clear brush
On his ranch so frequently
It seemed a euphemism—

The president clearing brush,
Whenever the press corps asked,
Although it was hard to tell—

A euphemism for what?
Dozing on his couch? Hatching
Fresh international plots?

Here it was actual brush,
A heap of twigs and branches,
Abandoned as Frost’s wood pile

To the slow smokeless burning
Of decay. Terribly slow,
Actually. Slow enough

Whole lives—families of voles,
Colonies of ants, seasons
Of spiderlings—had lived there.

It’s possible the fossil
Of this brush pile could be found
In an excavated mound

A few centuries from now—
That’s if Archaeology
Survived as a profession.

Probably not. Already
It had become settled past,
Something someone did one day,

The doing of which remained,
However unrepeated,
Cleared brush one side of the way.

Saturday, October 7, 2023

The Day

Seated with a friend
At a coffee shop,
You notice how loud
Other tables are,
Maybe, or how bright

The sun outside, or
How quickly your chai
Got to the bottom
Of its plastic cup,
But do you notice

How many details
Are shifting around
In little motions,
The dust motes, paper
Fragments slid to floor,

The Brownian twitch
And jog of the air?
Awareness rides high
Atop rolling waves
Of the minuscule,

Too many movements,
Too minor, in too
Many directions.
You’ve got no traction.
You float on the day.

Friday, October 6, 2023

The Altar

This one is a cliff,
A couple thousand
Meters vertical,

Not looking any
More like an altar
Than the other cliffs

With different names—
Throne, Temple, Watchman—
In the area.

Marriage and slaughter,
Smoke and sacrifice,
This sunset for now—

Events at altars
Tend to be solemn,

You could, if you like,
Proffer the altar
To define humans—

The altaring ape.
What other species
Picks a place, a rock,

For ritual ends,
To heighten meaning,
Focus attention?

Power stands behind
An altar, victims
Lie on an altar,

Those undergoing
A symbolic change
In social status

Hold hands, bow their heads,
Embrace each other
Before an altar.

No one, or nearly,
Ponders, why altars,
Why these arrangements?

The question drifts off.
Sunlight’s the scapegoat
Tonight on the cliff.

Thursday, October 5, 2023

The Vector

The carrier,
The direction,
The quantity,
The one who rides

That’s who you are,
You, you pronoun,
Out there riding

From a fixed point
Along a line
Straight to the more

Second person,
Both singular
And plural all
At once, aren’t you?

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

The Pillar Allegory

Holding up one corner of a porch,
As identical to the other
Pillars and porches as construction

Of standardized subdivision homes
Could possibly make it, the pillar
Weathers in brown paint and throws its shade.

Put like that, it seems like an agent
Of its own decay, when it isn’t
Anything other than a feature

Of wood around concrete and metal
Meant to look attractive, to promote
Its building as a good place to live,

Handsome even, with a pillared porch,
Good-looking rental, good location
Under the eroding blades of cliffs.

Most buildings get torn down for new ones.
Others are destroyed by disasters,
Such as earthquakes, fires, and floods. A few

Change much more slowly against the clock
Of seasons and years. It’s weathering,
This drab, unremarkable pillar

On the fringe of a global system
Constructing standardized constructions.
You don’t know how long it might be here.

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

The Scattering

Is it better to receive
Recognition or have done
More work? It’s weird what endures

Of ordinary objects,
Habits and institutions,
Creative arts and fossils,

And what’s dissolved in ashes.
Pleasantest, most rewarding,
One supposes, would be work

Produced freely that also
Earned recognition, rewards,
And resources for living.

One wouldn’t have to rely
On random environments
Of future situations

In hopes that work would survive.
Let it die. It paid off well
In this life, your only life.

Well, but if you only have
The work, the making itself,
Then all that remains is chance,

The thought it might lie around
Until dug up as worthwhile,
So might as well make a lot.

Monday, October 2, 2023

The Luck

It sits on a page. It’s a word,
After all. They do that. Also

On screens and on the tips of tongues,
Fingertips, anything that works

For words as forms of signaling.
Sometimes words are tricky like that.

More words on the page, next to luck.
The words are explaining that luck

Is tricky since it goes both ways—
A stroke of luck is a good thing

But a stroke is bad luck. Maybe
It’s stroke that’s the trickier word.

Writing’s made by series of strokes.
Some say that all writing systems

Max at three strokes per character,
Which seems the opposite of luck,

Necessity, a rule, a law.
Lots of luck with the rule of law.

Sunday, October 1, 2023

The Wing

You don’t want to see
Anyone too young
In the cancer wing,

Since that would feel sad,
But you would at least
Hope to see someone

Who’s younger than you,
Or you’re the sad one,
Too sick and too young,

And somehow that feels
Like failure for you,
Like leaving the game

Of musical chairs,
Misspelling your word
At the spelling bee,

Or not being asked
To the next call-back—
You weren’t good enough,

You crapped out too soon,
You lacked the talent,
No knack for the game.

Wispy, silvery,
Elderly people
Wait all around you.

How many extra
Decades did they stay
Away from this place?

You imagine Death
With traditional
Hood, robes, and sickle,

Showing up for some
Of them, murmuring,
Well played, yes, well played.

You smile, but the nurse
Has come to get you
And take your vitals,

And it seems you might
Not be well enough
For treatment today.