Thursday, November 30, 2023

Auspicia ex Diris

Warn us when spring
Geese wing soft sails,
When cats jump clean,

When dolls sing brave
Songs in town’s streets,
When clouds wheel scarves,

When rules feel vexed,
When shame’s costs step
Out of work's dark.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Perseus Cluster

Do they, though? Dreams.
Let’s find out. Let’s
Take more pictures
Of deepest space,

The galaxies
In their thousands,
Tens of thousands,
Each with billions

Of stars like ours.
If you can dream
What’s plausibly
Out there—better,

If you can dream
What really is,
All praise to you
Whose dreams come true.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023


Unsure whether isolation
Made the breaking morning final
Or that night the first, the maker

Of invisible creation
Perched in hospital impatience,
Waiting for the soft hosannas

Promised unseen demon angels
Gathered bedside should be singing
Wordlessly beyond all hearing,

Knowing only darkness blinking,
Counters pulsing, drippers sighing
Their admonitory comments

For the wholly unknown maker
Making for the whole unknowing.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Time in Real Time

Trends converge. It’s hard to find
An arena of human agreement
That doesn’t harbor human
Disagreements from other,
Larger arenas, escaped
Feuds that turn up everywhere,
Such a quarrelsome species.

Nuns sing Ave Maria
In fury at activists
Protesting their mega-church
Carved from a national park,
And delegates debate time
In an argument over
International standards,

With faith and military
Objections to suggestions
Bringing teams to loggerheads,
And for every hushed meeting
Of silver-tongued diplomats
There’s an active killing zone
And ten fault lines under stress.

Attendees boo candidates
At their own party’s forum,
Where every side’s accusing
The other side of lying.
There’s nothing left in the bank.
There’s nothing left in the tank.
But this will go on, you think.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Every Fresh Last

Lightly lapping water,
Hawk scream, a water bird’s
Call following at length,

And all lost in a wind
That ruffles up the hill
And then dies away back

To waves. To take apart
The terms of memories,
Terms and their memories,

And then realign them
Carefully, Ashbery’s
Way, so the lines balance

On the phrases, stepping
Stones to lead you away
From one sensible shore

To another, without
Ever quite falling in
To mnemonic meaning—

No, that way lie paintings
And conversational
Asides, while here the sun

Is mentioned only since
There was one once, so there
Must be more than one now.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

You Like That

How long, exactly,
Can likenesses last?
Will something seem like
The early cosmos
When the universe
At last collapses?

Maybe the through-line
Of all existence
Is nothing much but,
Nothing other than,
The extension of

Open with a bang,
Bang all the way through,
Exploding in bangs,
Collapsing in bangs
Star bangs and black bangs,
And bang at the end,

Universe over,
Likenesses never.
Don’t worry. Whimpers
Have their likenesses.
There will be whimpers
If everything ends

And likenesses don’t.
Maybe likenesses
Will chase likenesses,
Have chased likenesses,
Must chase likenesses,
Waves of likenesses,

As though nothing could
Ever be other
Than outside of what
Remains nothing much
But verses like more
Verses forever.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Just Listen to the Music of the Traffic in the City

At an anodyne franchise cafe,
Menus from corporate headquarters
Specified choices, and a pop song

Recorded some six decades ago
Streamed over the standard sound system
At an obligatory volume.

One of the two folks in a booth said,
That’s the first hit song I ever heard,
Or at least that I remember hearing.

At home we only listened to hymns
On evangelical radio,
But I was playing at a neighbor’s,

I think I was maybe about four.
It was just me and the other kid
And his mother somewhere in the house.

We were playing with plastic letters
With magnets that stuck to a white board,
A pretty boring activity,

And a radio was on somewhere
And I heard that voice soaring, you know,
“Down-town!” over and over around

The lyrics that meant nothing to me,
And to tell you the truth, I was spooked.
To my ears it sounded so eerie.

It still sounds eerie, eerier now
Since it’s that same exact recording,
Just falling out of the air somewhere.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Now Again

Oh no, not the now again.
But for now, the words remain.

For now, the words stay, waiting
For some intense attention

From some animal human
Or some sentient machine

Or alien to bring them
Into the realm of meaning.

And just what is attention?
Predatory, watching prey,

Prey intently listening?
It’s a sifting, the recent

Past drawn in for winnowing.
Attention is for something,

But can it be for something
Unknown in advance? Waiting,

Sifting passing sensory
Information, but for what?

It’s attention to nothing
That generates the meaning

People think of as meaning,
Not predatory, not prey

Attending to definite
Patterns. The unknowable

Haunting mere information,
That’s what attention encysts

In the hard galls of meaning.
For now, that’s all nothing means.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023


You may think you’re prepared for death,
Decided you’re neither fighter
Nor a fortunate outlier.

You may ignore the horizon,
Stoic toward the dark rider,
Relaxed before its arrival.

Your death isn’t coming for you.
It’s coming for those who love you.
The suffering’s for survivors.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Vanishing Travel Companions

Once, on a tour
Carting students
Through the Highlands,
Two teachers talked

About travel
And memories.
When no one can
Share yours, it’s sad.

One teacher then
Went to Alaska
With a lover
And discovered

Sometimes you can’t
Share what you shared.
The other died
Later. It’s sad.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Someone Always Partly Hidden

Bending to circensian,
Circular competitions,
Which means, really, all of them—

Gladiators and weddings,
Juridical traditions,
Elections, executions—

Each individual joins
In the human condition
Who can manage submission.

It’s a double existence,
Or triple, triune, living
First as anything’s living,

Second as part of the games,
And third, pursuant to them,
As something of a person,

Teammate, kin, participant,
Someone burrowed in the folds
Of those stitched-together skins.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Preparing the Remains

It’s not that all the dying
Busy leaving instructions
Necessarily believe

They’ll care themselves how death goes,
How the aftermath plays out.
They’re feeling some tenderness

Toward the life they’re leaving.
They want to give it the gift
Of good ending, good finish.

They’re trying to wrap it up
In a bow so the living
Left behind won’t pity it,

The story that has to stay
Alone and stand on its own,
Once the living of it goes.

Saturday, November 18, 2023


An apparent aphasic
With a head full of language
That has no way to get out,

Not even the notation
That let Beethoven write down
Years of internal music—

Not immobile, not locked in,
Still capable of crying
Or whistling a wordless tune,

But incapable of speech
Or sign or written language
Except inside one’s own thoughts—

What would that be like to be,
The truest rumination,
Solitary confinement

In mental conversation,
In prayer that could only be
Answered by insanity?

Somewhere there’s a poetry
That will never be released,
The best for never being.

Friday, November 17, 2023


One day, a mathematician
Came up with an explanation
And the proof for the prediction

Of prime number distribution
Through infinity forever,
And then no one had to figure

Whether a number would prove prime,
Not ever. Unfurling carpets
Of numbers unrolled glowing primes

Predictable as wallpaper.
And then? Some other puzzlement
Found itself newly important,

Once primes were nakedly defined.
Prediction knows no peace of mind.

Thursday, November 16, 2023


Maybe you’re young and communal.
Maybe you’ve never lived alone.
Still, you must have some memory

Of yourself you share with no one.
Do you ever consider it
And wonder what renders it real?

That vivid moment in your room,
Up on the roof, out in the woods,
Wandering down an empty road—

That epiphany in the stall
Of a restroom where the light fell
From a high, grilled, tinted window

After school, no one at the sinks,
No one shouting out in the hall,
Just silence and sunlight, that’s all—

That sort of lonely memory,
That sort of memory detached
From company, which you must have—

What makes it real? No one can check,
Not even you. The solitude,
The thing you knew and never said.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

The Holdout

Winter comes, so what,
Says weather, you wrote
All that already.

The best belated,
Most celebrated,
Cerebral, famous,

Or pop-song writing
Lyricists of all
Sorts of media

Can’t resist seasons,
And why not? What lives
Safely ignore them?

Prepare or migrate
To bear with the change
Whose shape is certain.

Oh, you don’t want to
Be ready? Don’t want
To write lines on snow?

You will, said weather,
Once I’m back and you,
Fool, forgot to go.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Der Schlafteil und Der Wachteil

Old, outdated research terms.
What can you do to make sense

Of your experiences,
Others’ experiences,

Via names and narratives,
Both the soft underbelly

Of all science and the start
Of all scientific thought?

What can you do with language
To anchor your datapoints,

Lodge your findings, let them root
Down deep enough in the mind

Of human conversation
Where they’ll be hard to weed out?

More memorable language
Isn’t necessarily

Replicatably robust.
Usually, it’s less so.

This is a problem with fame
Among experimenters.

Ah, here is your lab dog now,
Fistula for saliva

Measurements cut through the jaw,
Wagging its tail, nonetheless.

Measurements are the Wachteil.
Lab dog’s life is the Schlafteil.

Monday, November 13, 2023

The Soft Shoe

Sondheim insisted
On a distinction
Between song lyric

And the lyric poem.
Maybe what he knew
Was not to compare

What he was doing
With successful work
In cousin art forms.

That could destroy you.
Doesn’t make all dance

Ballet or ballroom.
Practicing quiet
Shuffle and soft-shoe

Alone by the road
Isn’t an effort
To open a show.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

The Spinning

Sometimes it seems like the greater
The reality, the lesser

The relevance to mere living.
What’s out there in the night is more,

Beyond your lights, of everything,
And could crash through every small thing

That’s important on this planet,
But you can stand there under stars

All night in a patch of dark skies,
Craning your neck so patiently,

As the zodiac does nothing
Much but shine cosmic jewelry

From your sore and brief perspective.
Maybe you’ll see a meteor.

You need sleep. You crave survival.
Your relationships with people

Entangled with other people
Feel the real center of your world,

Not some possibly infinite
Reality beyond living.

Everywhere’s equally center,
Unless infinity’s spinning.

Saturday, November 11, 2023

The Terrifying Figurine

Very pretty, pretty small
Tchotchke underneath a rock
In the middle of a field

Of irrigated desert
Growing grasses for a herd
Of cattle every winter,

Someone must have placed you there.
But was it someone impish
Who forgot and wandered off?

Or was it one of those types
Who always come back to check,
To see if their gift’s been moved?

It’s not God, it’s human mind
That glints weird little angels.

Friday, November 10, 2023

The Strip of Paper

Bad pennies, bad memories,
And the most annoying tunes,
There’s your eternal return,

Herr Nietzsche, Mr. Zeno,
An attribution error
About the disposition

Of the universe, grounded
In your own situations,
Where nuisances seem to turn

Up again and again just
Since they never went away,
Except from your perception.

The cosmos returns nothing,
And all will remains costly
But still indeterminate.

A white strip of paper tape,
Dirtier and dirtier,
Keeps showing up on the floor

In various locations
Where a gust of air blew it
When it avoided the broom,

Where a cat dragged it, playing
In lieu of murdering birds.
You’re too sore to pick it up,

You tell yourself, too lazy—
Further misattribution—
But you intend to toss it.

Then next time you look, it’s gone,
And next time it’s somewhere else,
And you think it has returned.

Thursday, November 9, 2023

The Nature of Connection

All may be connected, but
The connections still vary

In strength and tenacity,
And when tenuous links break,

The routes between what had been
Necessarily grow more

Circuitous. Everything
May be connected, but this

Says next to nothing about
The nature of connection.

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

The Pond Before a Storm

The surface is receding.
It leaves behind new surface
Of dirt instead of water,

Wavering in a slower way
Unless that gets dry enough
To lift off as waves of dust.

Celebrate your arrival
At your clock of survival,
Surface that gets happier

Almost with every visit,
Whether freshet-fed in spring
And advancing up the slope

Or receding in late fall,
The purest hope of the pond,
A harsh winter deep in snow.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

The Thing

No one is the thing itself,
Though Woolf decided all were
And Stevens pursued the phrase,

The thing in itself, the thing
In itself, obsessively,
To crown imagination.

It is just that, after all,
A phrase, various phrases
In various languages,

A cluster of likenesses,
That echt Ding an Sich.
It’s effortful in English,

Also aspirational,
The unquestionably real,
The real deal, the thing itself,

And that’s when you can feel it,
How it’s something that’s not there,
Something only to be sought,

Not any of the many
Phenomena you meet with,
No, the dream, the thing itself.

Monday, November 6, 2023

The Dog

The stereotypical
Dog delightedly playing
Fetch on some random bright lawn
May be the embodiment
Of happiness, but isn’t

That happiness greater than
The life of any one dog?

It’s the happiness you spot,
The leaping body language.

The dog is specific, but,
Whatever the specifics,
It’s the leaping and loping,
Tail wagging and tongue lolling,
The joy, that outlasts the dog.

Sunday, November 5, 2023

The War to Extend All Wars

Because you birthed that crazy
Daughter, because you are the
Parent of this deadly child,

War complains to Father Zeus
In Wilson’s new translation,
Of the Iliad, asking,

As all the gods are asking,
Help in counterbalancing
The acts of the other gods.

If there’s an unintended
Message in that massive poem
Of back-and-forth gore, it’s that

Balance enhances bloodshed,
That equally matched forces
Are horror multipliers.

With Strategy on one side,
Flashing her commanding eyes,
And Havoc on the other,

Each pleading with their father
That it’s unfair to support
The sister or the brother,

Carnage can be maximized
And suffering extended.
Or maybe the poet meant

That message--if you can’t be
Victorious instantly,
Pray for the swiftest defeat.

In the high country each fall,
Bucks with the worst injuries
Met the most evenly matched.

Saturday, November 4, 2023

The Glory on the Highway

Uncountable electromagnetic
Objects bounce off smoothed surfaces of tar
Into any eyes in a passing car.

Attend to them, and they’ll turn prophetic,
Which is to say, meaningful, mystical,
Wildly inaccurate, nonsensical.

Attend well and be blinded by the glare,
Maybe wreck your vehicle. Why photons,
Quickest, littlest wavelets, shine out so strong,

Too strong for your gigantic nerves to bear,
Is a dark question can’t be answered here.
Drive on until the glory’s less severe.

Friday, November 3, 2023

The Reversion to the Meaning

What happens in the long run
Will never be exactly
What happens in the short term,

And the regularity
Of aggregates will never
Rule all individuals.

All exceptions get swallowed
Back into norms they defied,
But the norms never prevent

Exceptions from occurring,
And in this ramifying
Prison of paradoxes

Where all rooms can be broken
While altogether no one
Can actually escape,

You continue to invest
The relentless patterning
With magic you call meaning.

Thursday, November 2, 2023

The Local Scene

If you depict your local scene
In just the right combination
Of what people can remember

Or reconstruct from memory
Who’ve never seen your local scene,
Mixed with incomprehensible

Strangenesses for the minds of same,
You may get credit for being
Both local and universal,

Both of your time and for all time.
Do you feel a little shiver
Of the fine hairs back of your neck

At the thought of earning such praise?
Don’t believe it, if it happens,
And better yet, don’t seek it out.

No one can be wholly local
And communicate beyond that—
No one can be universal

At all. You know what you can do?
You can depict without striving
For vivid locality or

Universality, or truth,
Ugly word, cudgel for liars
Who lust to pound each other flat.

The atmosphere disturbs your peace.
Waves with various sources race
Across the wreckage that you face.

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

The Ache of Limitations

A distant relation to awe,
If only orthographically,
Ache wants synonyms for itself.

Why? There’s no language with enough
Various words for ache’s shadings—
Pain, pang, twinge, throb, stabbing, spasm,

Soreness, tenderness, discomfort.
It’s irritating there’s fewer
Terms for ache than there are for snow,

And, unlike all the words for snow,
Ache’s terms are poorly organized
By actual, specific traits.

They should lie on a graded scale—
Ache minuscule, ache persistent,
Ache majeure—and at every scale

There should be terms for types of aches—
Hollow, wringing, background humming—
And for location, specific?

A generalized bodily ache?
Long, black cloud? There should be distinct
Terms for emotional salience

Of aches—the aching of longing
In the guts is no stomachache,
And chest pains differ from heartaches.

But there aren’t. There are just bolt-ons,
Modifiers to the Ur-ache,
And you’re too old, tired, and aching

To start inventing new words now,
Even if someone might adopt
The things, which, of course, no one would.