Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Delirium

How many words do you need
To stitch together a ghost?
A case can be made for one—

Ghost, or any synonym.
A better case for just one
Can be made by countering

The first. Just as you can say
The word ghost isn’t a ghost,
Only a label for one,

The way the word chair is not,
Definitely not, a chair,
An actual chair, you’ll note

That the word chair is the ghost
Of any actual chair,
And now there’s an argument

That any language label
For any tangible thing,
Anything experienced,

Is a ghost of that thing, that
Experience, as Plato
In the dreaming of ideals

Both suggested everything
With a name carried a ghost,
Or just was a ghost, because

It wasn’t the real ideal,
And meanwhile, the ideal real,
Never quite experienced,

Was the ultimate haunting.
Let’s say every word’s a ghost,
But that’s dissembling. The ghost

Isn’t the word. The word God
Is a most material
Thing in every offering,

And yet, if used as a name,
It drags a ghost, many ghosts,
All its possible meanings.

No word does that on its own.
The ghosts that words can conjure
Are infinite as meanings,

Infinite in every word,
But the whole system, the whole
Method of making meaning

Must be in place for one ghost,
Any ghost made of whole cloth.
Words haunt you. You must haunt them.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

A Little Tisane at Bedtime

Proto-weeds from the Last Glacial Maximum—
Including wild barley—at Ohalo II,
Already in small-scale cultivated plots,

Perhaps—certainly in dense concentrations
Around grinding stones at the site, but it takes
More than half of all the years from then to now

To get to Jarmo farmers in the foothills
Of the Zagros and find primitive barley
Varieties among emmer and einkorn

Wheat and the bones of domesticated goats,
Sheep, and dogs, along with sickles and pottery.
The nonshattering mutations of barley,

Reducing the brittleness of hairy spikes—
Latin hordeum, horrere, to bristle—
Rendering barley grass helpless without us,

Then spent the next few thousand years being spread
In combination with various other domesticates
Through increasingly agricultural worlds—

Useful for beers and whiskeys, of course. Also,
Here and there, barley-water drinks, kykeon,
Agua de cebada, or jau ka sattu,

Robinson’s barley water at Wimbledon,
Which brings us to barley-water teas themselves—
As pearl, that is, peeled, barley—the origin

Etymologically, of herbal teas,
From the Ancient Greek ptisánē, peeled barley,
All these worlds held in this tisane you sip now.

Monday, April 22, 2024

This, Clearly, Isn’t Language

Any communication
That can say what isn’t is
As easily as saying

What is isn’t, and be known
To be communicating
A state that isn’t the case—

To the communicator,
To the receiver, to both—
That can propose p, not-p,

As easily, regardless
Of the experienced state
Of p or not-p outside

Of any statement, isn’t
Simply communication
Or effort at deception,

But is language. The presence
Or absence of some agreed
Complexity of syntax,

Symbolism, or abstraction,
Is not the criterion
To vet a proposition

That the communication
Is or isn’t echt language.
Can the proposition state

Of itself or anything
The opposite of the shared
Experience of the case,

State p when not p, not p
When p? That proposition
Is a statement in language,

Not a communication,
Not only one. Every poem
Is genuinely language.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Getting to Do Stuff

That’s really what you live for,
Isn’t it? Not getting stuff
But getting to do the stuff

You, whoever you are, think
Is important stuff to do.
Raise your children. Lead people

To Jesus. Write a novel.
Tend your garden. See Tibet.
End late capitalism.

None of it’s unimportant.
The importance comes from you.
You think that Mars gives a damn

About peace or war on Earth?
About who holds the record
For the longest-lived human?

But somehow it bothers you
To be told what’s important
Is what’s important to you.

You want importance to stand
Above and apart from you,
Like that peak you meant to climb,

One of those things you may not
Ever get to do. Stuff shrinks
In importance in your mind

If it’s only important
To you, even if it’s just
Important to everyone

Else in your important boat
Of a species arguing
Over what’s most important.

Imagine the sun wishing
All the light from its planets
And from all its planets’ moons

Wasn’t its light bouncing back.
You live to get to do stuff
You find important to you.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Evening Reading

Sweep the room and clear off the table.
Palm leaves, birch bark, papyrus, vellum,
Bamboo, baked clay, acid-free paper.

This is a dream, and everything’s blank.
No, it’s only imagination.
Dreams are like falling, falling itself.

Imagination is like lifting,
Carrying the images uphill.
Entropy’s in favor of dreaming.

They’re out there somewhere. You know they are.
You know this is lying to yourself.
It means you want them to be out there.

Palm leaves, birch bark, papyrus, vellum,
Bamboo, baked clay, acid-free paper.
Why do you care that they’re written down?

Inhuman. That’s what you really want.
You aren’t expecting ancient wisdom
And won’t mind any lack of beauty.

You want something your small mind can read
That won’t remind you of anyone,
Which is impossible, inhuman.

Friday, April 19, 2024

Only Yesterday

End stories concentrate
On the few survivors,
Since that’s where stories thrive,

And, however many
Deaths a story tots up,
Who wants a tale that’s died?

Nonetheless, a bent mind
Imagines a novel
Made udystopian,

Blank of all characters—
Say a huge solar flare
Or nuclear warfare

Did just as you’d expect,
But you focused tightly
On, let’s say, a prison,

Deep in the Midwestern
US, some maximum
Security fortress,

Completely dependent,
Of course, on its systems
And global supply chains.

Inside, emergency
Generators held up
A while, but the guards ran

And/or supplies ran out,
And the radiation
Drifted steadily in.

For a brief while, maybe,
Days or weeks, you’d get some
Trapped survivor drama,

But once everyone died,
Most still locked in their cells,
Your novel settled in,

Not searching for stories
Of horror and tension
Where there were revenants,

Just sticking with the prison
Through nuclear winter
As the bodies decayed,

Writing how bugs wandered
Through each widening crack.
Recalling deaths as deaths—

Suffering, horrific
Deaths, as deaths tend to be—
But just deaths. Just the past.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Mot

What you can’t find to read, try to write.
What you can’t write, try to find to read.
If you grow too suspicious, give up

As long as you can stand to give up,
And then let yourself get back at it,
Searching libraries of amassed texts,

And then, by turn, scrutinizing blanks
The way you used to spend afternoons
Carefully built with nothing to do,

Waiting to see whatever emerged.
There is an arrangement of phrases
Somewhere, mother tongue or translated,

That will click into place in your thoughts
Like the clicks of pins against your palm
Tumbling into a whole you can hold.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Lathe in the Ribs

When the kindness of feeling
Pretty damn good for a change,
Not too bad for this body,

Slips in, it glides as subtly
As the proverbial knife.
Contentment, like injury,

Apparently, can be swift.
How often do people think
Of their lives as a series,

An oscillating sequence
Of sensing comfort or pain,
Bodily alterations

Naked of storytelling
Or contextualizing
Social data? You felt bad.

You felt good. You felt better.
You felt worse. Who knows why then.
The shifting has its twilights,

Its sunrises and sunsets,
And is as often ignored,
Occasionally fawned over,

As days’ changing of the light.
The sphere of feeling rotates,
Whether or not you notice,

A slightly wobbly spinning
With no character to it,
No plot, no destination,

Other than that, at some point,
It will stop. The pleasant knives
And the painful alike then

Withdrawn. The body won’t feel.
The enculturated self
Won’t notice feeling again.

In the meantime, how is this
Not as important to life
As any rooting interest,

Any planned accomplishment,
Maybe, even, any love?
Like the days and nights themselves,

If not so neatly balanced,
Contentment and pain remain
The ground your figures pace.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Insufficient for the Surplus

The stories aren’t good enough.
A man drives a truck by you
With a message on the back

That reads, Jesus Is Enough.
The stories aren’t good enough,
Not anymore. The best ones

Present small worlds carefully.
The large worlds implode in dust.
The stories aren’t good enough

To cope with everything known,
To hold half of what is known,
Anymore. There’s a hit show

About aliens, a film
About a galactic war,
And many, many, many

More. There are warnings about
What you’re doing to the world
From new religions and old,

Stories about origins
And ends, systems and villains
And villainous systems,

But they don’t begin to hold
Water under scrutiny—
It’s not that they’re bad stories,

It’s that stories can’t carry
The ore. They crumble to dust.
Stories just aren’t good enough.

There’s a woman half in tears,
Smashed groceries at her feet,
The burst sack still in her hand

When you come out of the store.
These stories aren’t good enough
To carry us anymore.

Monday, April 15, 2024

So Like You

It’s not awful, whispered
The skull voice to itself,

As usual, It’s not
Awful, but it’s not that

Good. And a little flame
Like a propane pilot

Blue light flickers in thought
Not quite reaching to voice,

Pleased at first, the pleasure
Of comparison, of

Self-flattery, snuffed out
By the cold follow-thought,

That’s what you’re aiming for?
Better than not that good?

Fire up hot and bothered
When you find one you see

Is both better than good
And awfully like you.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

The Unholy Stone

A side of cliff calved
A slab of sandstone
That slid like a sled
Downslope and smashed.

The pieces scattered
In a cloud of dust
That settled over
Earlier rockfalls,

Rubble on rubble,
That’s all. A prophet
Picked up a fragment
Of broken sandstone,

The waves of the old
Wind-built dune in it,
And brought it to town
And hammered it down

In irrigated,
Weeded, manicured,
Soft green temple ground
To make a statement

About holiness
And unholiness
And hypocrisy.
Eventually

The prophet’s new faith
Spread, until the stone
Became considered
The true sacred ground,

Although by that time,
No one was certain
Which stone was the one
The prophet put down,

And competing claims
Divided pilgrims
Among holy sites
Scattered around town.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Project

Some say, Every day
We get a little
Closer to the end.

That’s not true. The end
Isn’t out there. No,
The end is behind

Everyone, something
To be imagined
From previous ends.

The body typing
A poem may, to you,
Have previously

Ended. To itself,
No, never. And you,
Your end, no, never.

The end’s not out there.
You extrapolate,
My dear, you project.

Friday, April 12, 2024

You Are But Yesterday

And yesterday refuses
To stay still for one moment,
Being always yesterday

And never itself again.
You’d like to think you’re just slow,
Too slow to catch the changes

In the exact act of them,
As if you experienced
Now, but just caught it a beat

Late. There’s no now, not like that.
You’re not approximating.
Now’s past, with or without lags.

You sit in an unlit room,
Nothing but how twilight bloomed.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Somewhere Along the Way

Someone in earshot
Notes, All journeys end,

And first you think, yes,
While imagining

Repeating that phrase
By way of last words.

But then you’re bothered
By the thought, It’s wrong.

Journeys never end.
They decelerate.

They change direction.
They lose companions.

You’ll say your last words,
Probably a gasp,

An incoherent,
Inarticulate,

Air-hungry gargle,
And then the journey

Of everything else,
Of everyone else,

Even the body
Still shedding its cells,

Will continue on
With and without you.

Would it be better,
You muse, if journeys

Really did all end?
But then, if they did,

With everything still,
Who would know? Nothing.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Job Lite

The details of the fable—
How many cattle he had,
How many children, so on—

How everything was taken
From him, including his health,
Everything except his life—

All of that, even the fact
That he was a patriarch,
Really don’t matter, nor do

The details of the doubling
Of everything on return,
A whole fresh set of children

To go along with double
The cattle, etc.—
Wondertale mathematics—

Once he proved he was faithful,
So God could win his throw-down
Against the Adversary—

Not once the unknown poet
Interpolated the poem
To make it universal,

So far as humans can be
Universal. Anyone
Can feel the anguish of Job

In those verses, and decide
For themselves how much to trust
The Voice out of the whirlwind,

And who hasn’t had to bear
Sanctimonious advice
About tolerating life,

Sometimes from interpreters
Of Job’s poem itself, as if
These pains were only Job Lite?

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

The Living

Lives end lives,
And it’s rare
That lives end
Otherwise.
Predators
Are alive.
Parasites
Are alive.
Murderers
Are alive,
And tumors
Are alive.

An earthquake,
A flash flood—
Volcanoes,
Asteroids—
Can end lives.
No surprise,
However,
Having fed
Yourself on
Others’ lives,
If others
End your life.

Monday, April 8, 2024

Poem of the Weirdly Weak

No one that you know of carries
Your identical mutation,
Although surely someone must have.

Estimates of mutation rates
And of global population
Together would put, at random,

Maybe half a dozen living
People with a point mutation
At that same location. Given

Negative selection pressure
For such a deleterious
Variation, random seems right,

And of course, the substitutions
Of that nucleotide wouldn’t
Likely all be identical.

So, here you are, in the decades
Since your father died, possibly,
Perhaps probably, the only

Possessor of this tiny quirk,
This one base-pair alteration,
Changing one amino acid

In the chain of one long protein,
Among your thousands of proteins,
The bricks of your bones turned to glass.

You’re like some thought experiment,
In how different one life could be
With only a minimum twist.

You’re everything ordinary
A human can be—desirous,
Affable, humorous, feckless,

Greedy, conniving, generous,
Hypocritical, hard-working,
Corner-cutting, conscientious,

An all-in-all typical mess,
With minor characteristics
Producing your particulars,

Similar to anyone else,
Typical given your priors,
Maybe, tangled variables

That mostly add up to human,
Largely unsurprising human,
Impossible to correlate

Precisely with that mutation
Since there is no, and will be no,
Set of lives for comparison.

Well. Unique but ordinary,
How ordinarily unique.
And yet you pour twelve thousand poems.
And yet your bones are weirdly weak.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

What?

Granted, everything’s still
Quiet on this spiral

Arm of a galaxy
With a nice, black-hole core,

But something’s a little
Head-popping, no matter

How many times witnessed,
About being aware

Of even one other
Spiral island out there,

NGC 1055,
For instance, in dark space,

Large as our galaxy
With its billions of stars,

Just sitting quietly
Out there, like what . . . like what?

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Exhaustion, after Saadi Youssef

A shadow never falls
Not at your feet

Not in the corner of the room
Not from the trees

Not between the towers
In the narrow cities

Never at noon
A shadow is always a lighter

Version of whatever light
An interference pattern

Reminding everyone
Light travels light

Is always traveling
And not all the light

Makes it back from reflection
Light travels until it gets absorbed

And interrupted
By fascinating digressions

Like you there standing in it
With your shadow that’s the light

The light left after you
That went around you

To stop at something else
To sink down somewhere else

Friday, April 5, 2024

You Had a Dream of What Dreams Are

Dreams are other people’s lives
Intermingling with your own,
Fused emotions overblown.

That explains the certainty
As well as the confusion.
They’re memory perfusions,

Recall passing through itself,
Your own mixed with substitutes,
Hybrid to the very roots.

It’s someone’s experiment,
Someone’s or something’s project,
Mixing up lives as you slept.

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Impossible Happenings

Are what—what can
Be told but not
Witnessed, or what

One group believes
As a matter
Of ancient faith

But another
Group dismisses,
Or what no one

Can be unearthed
Who does believe,
Or what can’t be

Told or thought of
At all, and thus
You’ll never know?

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Granular

Used twice in one short article,
A word like granular will pop
Out from among the other words
The reader is registering.

It will trouble the illusion
That the reader peers through the text
Into another person’s mind
Or into a far-away landscape.

Now the text looks more like a hedge,
A thicket of words, abstract black,
And the reader will be reading
Aware of that, granularly.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Lineage

On this pebble, peculiar
Equalities carry on—
There’s life, but no lineage

Is more ancient than others.
All have extinct ancestors.
No organism survives.

Lines go extinct all the time,
But the remaining make more.
At any moment, all lives

Have a common ancestor
And all will die but only
Some will leave offspring behind,

And any given being
Is likely a collection
Of such equally ancient,

Equally doomed storylines
Competing, cohabiting,
Parasitizing themselves.

Whatever they leave behind
Will be increasingly changed
And go on equally, the same.

Monday, April 1, 2024

Meanwhile, Lives Tick Over Regularly

One kind of Apocalypse
Rushes after another,
Flood or fire. It’s tradition,

And not of one religion.
Everyone has their vision.
No one runs out of new ones.

The glory of God rises,
Promise climatologists,
When the sea that is right now

Will be filled by fresh waters
That cover that sea. Long time
It’s been since there was no ice,

Maybe a longer time still
Until there is ice again.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Manifest Cacophony

If you’ve been human, anytime,
Anywhere, since the invention

Of ways of writing requests down,
At least, you’ve likely conflated

At some point spiritual forces,
Political, military,

Or socioeconomic
Outcomes with your own personal

Desires. Have you not? Not ever
Begged higher powers to ensure

Things go the way you think they should,
A helping hand for you and yours?

Even if prayers were effective,
You’d all cancel each other out.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

That Moment You Are

Sometimes, living inside of you,
You forget what you are and are

Startled when a glass reminds you.
Outsiders neglect some persons.

Some persons forget their outsides.
What a strange shape in the mirror.

More and more, odd whiffs delight you.
A diesel smell from a highway

Leaves you smiling. You don’t know why.
You don’t like the smell of diesel.

Then it occurs to you you were
Young once in various cities

Adventuring, wired, and that whiff
Fools some part of you that you’re back,

You must be, young and wide awake,
Alert to the moment you are.

Friday, March 29, 2024

The First Person Always Returns

He’s out there weeding again.
It’s not even his garden.
The neighborhood ignores him,

Given it’s no one’s garden,
And he doesn’t seem to be
Doing any harm to it.

He’s got it in for tall stalks,
So the garden looks leveled
But otherwise not much changed.

Why is there a garden there,
Anyway? It’s property.
Properly needs an owner.

But no one thinks about it
Really. There’s that guy again,
Pulling all the tall stalks out.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Poor Tree Allegory

This tree’s so inconsistent.
It messes with perspective.
At night, it’s next to a lamp

That creates its own versions.
Maybe we’ll get back to those.
By day, well, it’s either green

And apparently growing,
Or gold, growing beautiful,
Or so bare lopped branches show.

And the weather! The weather
Intersects all the above,
Windy, rainy, sun-drenched trees

Of this tree, in all seasons,
Each with day and night versions.
It’s an epic catalog,

Poor tree, stuck in a lyric
With no real music to it,
Sighing, creaking, and rustling.

You don’t want to look at it,
But it was planted for you
Or with you, something like that.

It could come down any day.
In winter lamplight, after
A snow, it mimics a ghost.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Not What Is the System, Who?

Whenever there’s a picture
Of people somewhere public,
Gathered to make a statement

In support of a hero
Or in protest of crackdowns,
And they’re being arrested,

Study as much as you can
Of the faces of police,
Often physically obscured,

Carefully blank when exposed,
As if they’re playing poker,
Not cuffing a protester.

A police apparatus
Is the backbone of a state,
And the cells of that machine

Are breathing human bodies
Who wear the body armor,
Monitor the monitors,

Obey the orders, go home
Or to their barracks to sleep,
Eat, clean themselves. Tomorrow

Is another day, next week
Another paycheck, next month
Maybe a small promotion.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Wood Shop

Sawdust, wood glue, varnish, turpentine,
Table saw, band saw, nail gun—the suite

Of the garage-cum-cabinet shop
Anchored the rhythms of the ranch house

Never intended to shelter work
That now kept the house from being sold

Out from under the children it held.
Built deep enough into third-growth woods

That the din remained an annoyance
No more unbearable than the planes

Flying from the recreational
Airport built over swampland next door,

The transgression of residential
Zoning laws had been half-forgiven.

Everyone knew about the children,
Adopted, disabled, most of them,

And the carpenter in his wheelchair
Who built cabinets to support them.

And somewhere in there was a fable
About strange roaring in the deep woods.

Monday, March 25, 2024

What Are You Doing Here?

The real deal crosses your path,
A truly black cat in sage
Wilderness down by the creek,

Not a cougar or bobcat
Or something vaguely cat-like.
A black domestic shorthair,

Medium-bodied, solid
Shadow, crosses, left to right,
And vanishes in the brush,

Miles from any residence,
Any trailer, cabin, house.
If the supernatural

Ever intended to send
A message via black cat,
This would have to be the one,

Unmistakable omen,
Where a black cat wouldn’t last a night
On coyote’s hungry ground.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Where Does the Story Begin?

There’s a map of infinity on the wall,
Compressed and distorted to cover it all.

The landscape’s so jampacked with categories,
There are no boundaries to territories.

In fact, from a short distance, the map looks white,
A white gap, a blank expanse, glowing at night.

Get some darts. Throw one at infinity’s map.
It might bounce back or vanish without a gap,

But if it sticks, start with that. Begin from there
Where the story begins. There were storms in the air

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Literature

Ash and silence might be better
Than any arguments, but still

If you found a book carbonized
In old ash you’d crave translation.

Any writing becomes worthwhile
If fragments endure long enough—

Ritual prayers, divinations,
Palace accounts, sheep exchanges,

Even indecipherable
Languages, seals, rows of scratches.

Etch anything on anything
Likely to outlast your era,

Your corrupt civilization.
Your cri de couer may awe someone.

Friday, March 22, 2024

Grave

The tenderness with which people gather
Human remains, delicate reverence
Reserved not only for kin but strangers,

Even strangers whose remains are ancient,
Surfacing from grassed tombs, dunes, and black bogs,
Lies in striking contrast to the fury

With which people may dispose of remains,
Piled up, mutilated, as in the case
Of those ancients found in bogs, for instance.

Revere the dead, fear the dead, handle them
Gently or use them for fertilizer,
Jump scares, and mockery, it’s all the same,

At least in that the same species does this
And just that one species. Yours. You did this.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

In the Dark Room

Does the white guitar require a whammy bar?
Get a hanger and abort the toilet duck.

Translation’s where it lets you down—not from words
To words, not from languages to languages,

Not even from the imaginary world
To words, but from the world just now arriving

In the past. The saplings haven’t budded yet.
The dusk is settling as upstairs a toilet

Flushes. Can you recall that Kodak pocket
Instamatic you got when you were thirteen,

How the beautiful stuff you tried to capture
With it never looked as you remembered scenes,

And yet somehow the snapshots always dragged in
Some ugly details you hadn’t seen at all?

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Null Finch

Hermit who works on nothing,
A bird who chirps for nothing—

No verses in your garden
Can be as terse as nothing.

The heart will burst with living,
While your notes thirst for nothing.

What could be less worth loving?
What could be worse than nothing?

Thoughts warp themselves unknotting
The love-knot quirks of nothing.

There’s no first-place for wanting,
Hurting the worst for nothing.

No verses lined in longing
Will leave their mark in nothing.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Milling

Every head in here is grey,
Which is a good thing, since it’s
A cancer treatment center.

Kids with cancer go elsewhere,
But you’d notice young adults.
Young adults would look like kids

In this context, even those
Fortyish or thereabouts.
Here, there are the elderly,

Far side of the recent plague,
Most far side of retirement,
Many far side of mean age

Of death, all here to survive,
The pile-up of reluctance
At the last lip of the cliff.

These are not those who sail clear.
These will stumble down the slope,
Bump and tumble off ledges

Before the fall. Look around.
Which do you think, in this room
Waiting, will be the last one,

Last body, self mostly gone,
Clinging to a twiggy branch,
Floating above the abyss?

Monday, March 18, 2024

The Watercourse of Ghosts

In ghost stories, the dead
Are generally not nice
To the living, but are

Usually excused
On the basis of some
Sorrow or injustice

They’d suffered when they were
Living creatures themselves.
Want to know a secret?

That injustice derived
From cruelties of ghosts
Tormenting the living

With their moaned messages,
A suffering those lives
Carried once ghost themselves,

Haunting and afflicting
The next generation,
They the next, they the next.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

The Devil’s Still

You think of your world
As incredibly loud,
And it often is,

Most often in ways
Where older worlds were
Much quieter—less

Machinery, no
Jets overhead, no
Percussion thumping

In loops out of cars.
But the countryside
Itself is weirdly

Quiet, when no trucks
Or jets are passing,
So much quieter

Than it used to be,
Fewer birds, fewer
Bees, almost no beasts.

Even the peasants
Are gone. No one works
At foraging. No one

Lives in a village
Here or hikes to cut
Wood to survive.

This world’s emptier,
However noisy
In most of its parts,

However many
Times as many heads
There are as there were,

Altogether. You
Don’t want to say so,
To say this barren,

Artificial wild
Is to your liking,
But you know it is.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Nameless

Whenever you can, you go
Looking for it, wandering,
Trying to get close, although

It always surprises you
That when you do, you drift off,
Losing what’s in front of you,

Back into language static,
Silent language, like the kid
You were once, in the attic,

Ruffling through dusty bookshelves,
Ignoring your surroundings
Until the coyotes yelp,

And you look up from reading,
As if you could see the howls,
And there it is, the breathing

Of the unmagical world,
The just-there mud, stones, and air,
Earth, the disenchanted world

The coyotes are singing,
The language of everything
That doesn’t spell anything.

Friday, March 15, 2024

Epea Pteroenta

They had a little shop
Where they were artisans,
Their specialty being

Tying flies for humans,
Words cleverly kitted
Out with delicate wings.

By day, they worked in sun,
By night, under their lamps,
Always at the same bench,

Picking out all sizes
Of words and tying them
With strong, translucent wings.

Every few hours, some words
Had recuperated
Enough to fly away,

And out they went in sun
Or rain or moon and stars
To find homes in new skulls.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

There’s That That You Lived There Is That

What is the value of anything good,
Once it’s been followed by anything bad?
The happy afternoon before you knew
The unhappy evening that followed it?

It will happen, it does happen, it has,
And one path is just to get to the next
Good clearing, to go on, get past the bad.

What is the value of memory then,
Just something that steers us along the paths,
Nosy little creatures tracking the good,
Avoiding the turns that shocked us with bad?

The good can do, should do better than that,
Should be there, soothing the trembling creature,
Humming, yes, there is this, but there was that.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

None

Can there be any between
Nulls, any infinity
Between zero and zero?

Thoughts skip to finite vacuums,
Separated vacuoles
Of space-time continuum,

Which seem intuitively
As real as bubbles in froth,
Each empty and each distinct,

But one null and another,
Nothing distinct from nothing?
Those finite nulls aren’t wholly

Empty, are imperfect naughts,
Prone to invasion, collapse,
And endless subdivision.

Infinite infinities
Bloom between zero and one.
The instant anything’s not

Nothing, not zero, it is
Divisibly infinite,
And finity only marks

Changes as if boundaries,
Arbitrary as you please.
Nothing’s only unity.

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Slip Under

Furmanski’s correct,
And not only for
Mothers. Fathers, too,

And even children
Know, although they can’t
Articulate it

As well as she did,
Every lullaby
Has the elegy

Blowing through it. Each
Generation hears
Bedtime whispering,

This sweetness could fail,
Mit Näglein besteckt,
Schlupf unter die Deck.

Monday, March 11, 2024

You Can’t Change Your Mind

Once someone spots you,
Once someone’s noticed

You, what you do, or
Are about to do.

Of course, you can freeze,
Turn to fight, or run,

But being noticed
Cannot be undone,

And once noticed, what
Has been on your mind

Will have always been
On your mind, will be

Whatever was on
Your mind for all time.

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Full Head

The past has plenty of time

All the time in the world, odd
Cliche, once you dwell on it—
Metaphor’s classic mistake,

A concept as a substance,
A resource that can be spent,
Time as something can be had.

And yet, given time as kind
Of rhythmic change, its sameness
Periodic, countable

Waves not wild, the past contains,
Must, all the time in the world.
Even if time’s only God,

Concept uncorrelated
With material something,
The concept’s material

And all in the past, the past
That has all of it, along
With any everything else.

The past has plenty of time,
All of it and all of you,
And you have a little past.

Saturday, March 9, 2024

After Osip Mandlestam

Too honored, too richly dark,
Loam in clover, coveted
Since stallions stampeded out

Choired chariots and wagons,
Earth’s soils of power aren’t freedom.
The plow is never freedom,

Labor’s never without tools,
And gutting rumored riches
Only proves fecundity

Depends on compost music.
The limitless has limits.
You were one of the recent,

Irregular invaders.
It’s sweet you felt joy, but dirt
Turned returned desperation.

Friday, March 8, 2024

What Do You Think of God and What Does God Think of You?

Your grandfather’s sermon
Printed as a leaflet,
Photograph of his face

Smiling on the first sheet
Right under the title,
Saved by your grandmother

For the half-century
Of her widowhood once
He’d died at forty-five—

How devoted of her,
And how cheeky of him,
Sermon title like that,

What does God think of you?
To presume you don’t know,
But he, country preacher

From rural New England,
Knows what God thinks of you
And will enlighten you.

God’s mind’s a drafty manse
To rural Protestants.
Anyone can wander

Inside, Bible in hand,
And start speculating
On the moldy contents,

Then get down to preaching,
Arguing, and splitting
Splintered congregations.

He farmed a few acres
To make ends meet when tithes
And donations couldn’t,

And you never knew him—
Not even your mother
Could ever have known him,

Dead three months before
She was born—but you think
You can imagine him,

Milking the cow, working
The plow, composing thoughts
Knowing the thoughts of God.

Thursday, March 7, 2024

Taking Care of the Waste with Complete Sincerity

Ai Weiwei wrote poetry
Is against gravity. He
Then went further, suggesting

Poetry’s transportation
To another place, away
From the moment, away from

Our circumstances, soft praise
Common for storytelling,
Sometimes any kind of text.

Let’s get back to gravity.
Let’s pretend he hadn’t meant
Some escapist fantasy.

Let’s take him literally.
Poetry doesn’t escape
From gravity. Poetry

Remains against gravity
On principle, which would be
Brave and helpless. Poetry.

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

You Stay Out of It

Were hoi polloi
The gods, they could
Crowd in the house
Of Zeus to watch

Hotshot warriors
Battle it out
Down below them,
A Super Bowl

Where the viewers
Controlled the view.
In short order
They would group up,

The many, pick teams
And off they’d go,
Just like the gods,
Combatants all.

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

To Be Poor in Gorgeous Places

Beware of imitation
Of the lives that you admire.
You will not live them. You will

Live your own. Admiration
Of ideas is fine. They help,
Sometimes. But when you select

Ideas to admire because,
You think, you admire their lives
As role models for your own,

You forget the disconnect
Between what to think and what
To expect. Some of the best

Ideas come from those who fought
To wrestle out of train wrecks.

Monday, March 4, 2024

And Yet It Fools Everybody

You have a cowlick mind
That stubbornly resists
Whichever way combs go.

It’s ridiculous. You’ll think
One twist’s your position,
And then someone’s words brush

In just that direction,
And your hair stands on end,
Suddenly offended.

Try to flatten your thoughts,
They’ll point helter-skelter.
Grow them out; they fall flat,

Still swirling but oily,
Surly eddy, vortex
Plastered around your skull.

Someone writes, illusion,
You think, how could you know?
Someone means to listen

To the world by taking
Humans out of landscapes,
You think, that’s not the world.

Sunday, March 3, 2024

Not a Few Crimes Led to You

Which of your ancestors do you choose?
Careful now. You’re telling the story
Of you. Watch writers open closets

On family past. The lurid tie
To the recently dead patriarch?
Beloved mother’s favorite dress?

Further back, people get blurrier,
Skeletalize, turn into fossils,
More of them to choose from, less to know.

The bottomless back of the closet
Is less portal than a projection.
Strain to picture the ghosts that please you.

How do you want to define yourself?
Maybe don’t dwell on their binaries.
Maybe don’t dwell on their moral worlds

Or on how you would count some of them
Among your enemies, some your saints,
And most, sadly, petty and boring.

You can pretend ancestors made you,
But you’ll probably want to make sure
You know how you’d like to remake them.

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Warm Body

Living is the process
Of becoming aware
You’re only postponing
The end of awareness.

You woke up with the phrase
Death body in your head,
Having just dreamed someone
Sweet slept on your shoulder.

Why would anyone sweet
Snuggle themselves against
The frail catastrophe
That is this death body?

That’s how your thoughts phrased it
As you surfaced. But then
You thought, no, it's not death,
However death hovers,

Or you wouldn’t be here.
It’s breathing, pulsing life.
You’re still a warm body.
And you thought of the joke

Phrase that means, to settle
For anyone, any
Warm body is enough.
Morning postponed the end.

Friday, March 1, 2024

Of Being Left Alone

If you were in shadow,
Had always been immersed
In shadows, would you then

Risk detaching yourself
From the shades to walk out
Where people would spot you?

Judge not, that ye be not.
Be not, so no one feels
Their desire to judge you.

In the shadows, you may
Remain a sacred wood,
A gap without a god,

Perhaps, but not trampled,
Sacred in the small sense
Of being left alone.

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Designs on the Air

Irrelevant as blackwork,
These unlyrical lyrics,
Physically electric,

Mentally lampblack and soot,
Grime on pulped, boiled, and pressed rags
Of others’ discarded thoughts,

Stamping their geometries,
Their fleur-de-lis-like pattens,
As if patterns could make poems,

What’s there left to do with them?
A god by a leafless tree,
An abstract tangle of lines

With a jar at the center,
Mad satyrs and maenads,
Nothing but decoration—

They might be interesting
In a world without stories,
Music, or song. They might be.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Extraordinary

The primal aberration
In this sequence, most likely,
Was the highly unlikely

Error in a single base,
The single point mutation,
The single substitution

At a significant place
In a germ cell that happened
To end up in utero

In a working embryo.
It rode all the way to birth,
Baby born with broken bones

And from there things just got worse.
Now that’s an aberration—
Elfin child, legs in braces,

Carried everywhere, large-eyed
And waifish in early years,
Later like a small barrel,

A keg with short, twisted limbs
And a triangular head,
Pushing around a wheeled chair.

Doctors tried a few dumb things,
Sawing and straightening bones,
But there was no fixing this.

So the boy was raised and kept
Mostly at home, and yet not,
As was the norm at the time

For middle-class family
Freaks, institutionalized.
Not putting him in a home,

But raising him in their own,
That was the second, counter
Aberration. He grew up,

Attended regular schools,
If only on the first floor,
Learned to draw and draft blueprints,

Work at a wheelchair-height bench,
Build things, so on and so forth.
A double aberration,

Eventually, then, errant,
Vulnerable to the bone,
And yet present, visible,

An actual person who
You could get to know, talk to,
Ask to build something for you,

Something like a disturbance,
A ripple in your normal,
Extraordinarily true.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Aberration

Admittedly, it’s an odd,
Compound word with a complex
Etymology, largely

Unnecessary except
For its weird intensity.
Just say, something that went wrong,

Something that went strangely wrong.
Other language groups manage
To indicate like concepts,

Each their own semantic clouds.
Penyimpangan. Piralvu.
Shī cháng. Lose, miss, fail always.

For Indo-European
It has a tap root in *ers—
To move, to wander around,

From which err, to go astray
(And, sometimes, to be angry).
The near-redundant prefix,

Ab-, to go off or away
Serves as intensifier.
You can err and lose your way,

But if you are aberrant,
You’re permanently off the path,
Off-track somehow at your core,

A compass that can’t point true,
An algorithm that can’t
Land on the correct output.

Twisted is more common now,
Mutant, occasionally.
Perverted is declining.

Aberrant leaves wiggle room
For redemption, but not much.
Aberration leaves no room,

Is a noun, is what this is,
That was, or maybe the whole
Of what you are. A sequence

Of aberrations risks ire,
And eugenicists, and myths.
Consider your sequences.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Question Mark

Not who am I
But what is this
Ghost awareness
In a bundle

Of nerves, flesh, hair,
Bacteria,
Battered organs,
And folded bones

Under blankets
In a dark room
Before daybreak
Trying to think

Without waking,
Without moving,
Without getting
Up in the cold

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Electricity’s Second Century

Daylight slips away quietly
From the village that seems to take
No notice, other than to glow.

Even tiny clusters of homes
In small towns with few vehicles
Shoulder on into the evenings

Bravely, indifferently, these years,
All soldered to their global grids.
The gas station stays lit all night,

And someone like you will pull in,
Oblivious to the fading
Heyday of this infrastructure.

Daylight will glide back behind you,
The village barely note the dawn.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Dropping Slow

It doesn’t matter nowhere
Is where your awareness goes.
You might as well imagine

It as somewhere to have peace,
Since peace is all it is, peace
That recovers you at last.

Pick the most peaceful settings
From memories of never
Absolutely peaceful life,

The mornings in sleepy rooms,
The afternoons at the lake,
The evenings with books at twilight.

Those, but more than peaceful, lost.
Not one interrupting thought.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Faces in Photographs

Millions of them spanning
Nearly two hundred years,
Living, dead, or long dead,

Equally still patterns
Formed by reflected light,
The photographed faces

Are everywhere, growing
In number each minute,
Each second, more and more.

Here is someone smiling.
Here’s a heartrending stare.
Here’s one that was lifeless

Already when captured.
Here’s one mostly makeup.
Here’s one posed, one candid.

They don’t stop. They keep on
Getting made, the living
And the fake. Still. Faces.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Traum Narrative

What’s the raw material here, really?
The phrases or the experiences?
It’s not like dreams where you experience
Something that you didn’t experience,
And it’s not as if you approach a cliff,
An upthrust slab of language, ages old,
With a trowel or a backhoe and dig in.

The raw material is the unknown—
No, not the fancy, ominous unknown,
The tremulous mysteries and all that—
Just this small square of unknown on the floor,
Afternoon sun on unswept detritus
That will have to become something that was
Or almost was but now is almost raw.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Looking Like Is All You

Like seed pearl fish eggs in a cloud of milt,
The Pleiades illuminate their fog,
Backlit tapioca crystals in cream.

Oh, it’s always fun to look at the stars
And swirls in terms of humble, earthly things.
Or, if not fun, it’s nonetheless tempting.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Dying’s Not an Orchestra under Your Baton

Some people get excited
To find out that they’re dying,

And suddenly start vowing
To make the most of each day.

Relax, friends. We were always
Dying, dying all the way.

The days, as such, remain days—
Some will be wonderful, some

Shit, the way it’s always been
Around and around this sun.

You don’t have to perfect it.
Each day’s your day, dawn to gone.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Children, Cats, and Cancer

You can faintly imagine
How the details of your life
Might present themselves in poems

Of various well-known types.
What would be left of your days
In a Tang poem? Wine? Farewells?

A confessional poet
Might whittle you down to sex,
Grief, and suicide’s effects,

And coward you are, you’d hope
For a Romantic who liked
To sketch your long country walks,

But in a conversation
With an old, poetic friend,
You noticed cancer, children,

And cats got mentioned a lot.
No, what your life really wants
Isn’t il miglior fabbro.

You want to have your longings
Sung then run through a shredder.
You want Sappho’s editor.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

No One Expects the Past

People in the distant past,
As humans count, wrote down things
About omens, auguries,

Divinations, their futures
Lying in the laps of gods,
Often when telling stories

Of events deep in their pasts,
And now what they wrote about
And what they wrote about it

Are likewise deep in your past,
And you probably don’t think
Much about their futures now,

All the omens that didn’t
Anticipate anything
Like the past you’re living in.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Fooled You

Children in middle school
In northeast New Jersey,
In sight of Manhattan,

Just after the middle
Of the last century,
Spoke English or Spanish,

Most of them, and shouted
Locally learned taunts carved
From American slangs

Within recent years or,
At most, recent decades.
Whenever anyone

Triumphantly suckered
Someone into thinking
Something fact that wasn’t,

Some feeling genuine
That had been wholly faked,
Or some high-five coming

That then got yanked away,
The go-to cry of glee
And easy mockery

Was always, Psych! As in,
Sucker, I psyched you out.
You’ve been played. You’ve been punked,

And I did it. I win.
Thus the ancient Greek soul
Kept on transmigrating.

Friday, February 16, 2024

Overheard Under the Bog

What’s going on? asked the bones.
Bones feel entitled to ask.
They’re treasured, and they know it—

Of all the parts of a corpse,
What’s most likely to be saved,
Most likely displayed? The bones.

Even the brains are ashamed
Of the way they look, pickled,
And all lymph nodes know they’re loathed,

But the bones fancy themselves
A community alone,
An afterlife of their own.

What’s going on, asked these bones,
Bored. Liquefaction, saps,
The cold, acid tongue replied.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Who Your Ancestors Were

No one really wants to know
What their ancestors were like,
Anymore than the holders

Of raffle tickets for some
Coveted prize really want
To check the winning numbers.

People cherry pick, of course,
Stress the ancestors they like
Or think would impress others,

Imagine admirable forbears,
Fantasize those early lives,
Find a line to emphasize.

But getting one number right
Means you that you can’t claim the prize.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

The Manyness of Rain

A salutary reminder from the rain
Drops—the world is staggeringly multiple.

You can give a number to them, model them,
But nobody actually counts drops of rain,

Not the ones in the puddles under the cliffs,
Not the ones running down your car’s cracked windshield,

Not the thin lines like translucent Mandarin
Verses on weather, not the ones on your skin.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

People Will Come After You

The thoughts feel shrouded
The thoughts fill up
This is the nature of daylight

A rising tide of details
Among the memories
Of the haunted mind

Someone Swedish
Is carrying on a stilted chat
In German with someone English

A bartender takes exception
To a joke about the Guinness
And he and the customer have words

A tenant is evicted
A tenant is evicted
A tenant is evicted for the last time

The concrete is darker
On the sidewalk where it’s wet
Or from oil splotches in parking spots

And the red twigs of bushes tremble
In the wind outside the hospital
Of the nature of daylight

Monday, February 12, 2024

Your Daughter Thinks You’re Middle Class

Security is something
You don’t want to talk about
Too loudly. Whisper your wish

For it among friends. Promise
Some of it to potential
Romantic partners. Provide

A sense of it, a pretense
Of it, to any offspring
Who is dependent on you,

But don’t go bragging on it.
The secure understand this,
And that’s how they fool the frail

And truly precarious
Into thinking we’re like them,
Fairly safe, if they’re like us.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

They Would Go Nowhere at All

Along narrow ways, running
Errands while ruminating,
You feel the long shadow first.

Who is that person, what do
They want, are they dangerous?
Sickness, death, and poverty—

Sickness and death in people
You care about, poverty
Of your own. The government

Always has people in it,
Always people running it,
And you can’t see all of them,

So they become one. Any
Organization, any
Institution becomes one,

Once it has enough people
In positions you can’t see,
Becomes their shadow person,

Elongated and grotesque,
That overtakes you before
You can see the shadow’s source.

Every human knows humans
Are predators, and humans
In groups are group predators,

Predators whose only prey
Are other people, other
Potential group predators.

And how do humans survive
Sickness, death, and poverty?
With help from group predators.

Approach the till of a shop
In a city of shadows
With your purchases and trust.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

More Lovely Light

When Paula died
Aged forty-five
And far away,
Septicemic
From trying self
Medication
For an ulcer
Through consumption
Of enough booze
To put herself
Into a coma,
Her erstwhile spouse
Posted Millay
In memory—
My candle burns—
Which was heartfelt
But seems mawkish
In retrospect.
But ah, my foes,
And oh, my friends. . . .
Kaveh Akbar
Suggests you can
 
Cut the body
In half / like a
Candle, just to
Double its light,
But brace yourself,
Then, for certain
Unspecified
Consequences.
Millay awkward,
Akbar tidy.
Just try holding
A candle lit
Both ends at once,
But cut it in half,
A solution!
Two short candles.
Still twice as fast.
Won’t last the night.
But useful now.
They’ll stand themselves
Until they melt
In consequence.

Friday, February 9, 2024

That Room Was Torn Down and Those Adults All Died Decades Ago

You don’t remember anything
About the trip, the visit, or
Even the interview, except

A dark, wood-paneled room, leaded
Glass, a desk where you take a test
Writing answers with a pencil,

Sun through the leaded-glass windows,
And the test doesn’t bother you,
Although it has no clear subject,

Then, a general sensation
Of amiable pleasantness
Among the adults, with no one

Telling you whether you have passed,
But all things seeming to go well,
One of the hinges in your life

And you were already thirteen,
But that’s all the memory left,
And you can’t quite trust your recall

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Have a Good One

The ways in which a day can
Differ from day to day are
Both vast across a lifespan
And trivial day to day.

You may chart your ups and downs,
But, on the whole, you’re never
Much better off than you were
And mostly quite a bit worse—

You’re better in having lived
And added those extra years,
Always better in that way,
Still descending long-jumper.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Red Plastic Heart

Alone among the lichen

Have you decorated graves?
Many cemeteries look
Almost like birthday parties,

Bright flowers and mylar balloons
Bobbing over the headstones
On a windy winter’s day.

What happened to the lichen,
To letting them grow over
And slowly digest the stones?

Well, what’s happened to the stones,
You might retort, graves going
Out of fashion here and now,

This age of urns and ashes.
The single body interred
In its own casket, its own

Rectangular resting place,
Its own plot, is getting rare.
No ritual long endures—

The centuries placing flensed
Skulls of kin under the floor,
Of leaving them on scaffolds

As alms for the birds, are gone.
The cemeteries will go,
But some lichen will go on.

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Frail, Gaunt, and Small

This one isn’t singing,
So let’s not assign hope,
Known or unknown to it.

It’s still a winter bird,
However, a wonder
As they all are, whether

Winter’s truly bitter,
Built from blizzards, or just
This snapping desert cold.

You read explanations,
But you still can’t see how
A fistful of feathers

Around a palm’s span
Of thin bones and acorn-
Sized heart can manage warmth

Enough to keep flying
And foraging these months.
It wings into the dark.

Monday, February 5, 2024

Dawn Heartbeat

People keep going
While the bodies pulse,
And when bodies stop,
The people stop, too.

That leads to common
Cases where bodies
Are still going while
Their souls want to go,

And to cases where
People scream, knowing
The body’s stopping
When they want to stay.

Sometimes the body
Just tiptoes away.

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Years Are Rare

When you learn to count the days,
Count all the days, count each day
As soon as it’s passed under

The boat. It takes attention.
It takes a sustained focus.
It’s a complete waste of time

Except that it creates time.
Time spent attending to time
Places wedges in the stone

That will begin to split lines
Open, expose time to air,
Find any fossils in there.

The stone is made of the waves.
Attention opens the waves.

Saturday, February 3, 2024

Sleepwalking While Awake

She tiptoed down the carpeted
Steps at just half past seven,
Having been lost in her tunes

And her shows and her drawings.
She’d become vaguely convinced
It was later, everyone

Sleeping below her, midnight,
Maybe, more her usual
Time to be alone awake.

It was dark enough outside,
But she could have checked the time.
She caught herself paused mid-stairs,

Was she dreaming and the world
Awake, or did the world sleep
While she, lightfoot, haunted it?

Friday, February 2, 2024

The Light, the Dark, and the Dust

There’s a little melted snow,
Water in the gutter by
The highway wayside. Passing

Swiftly, you can glimpse the sky
As if it were fixed, the clouds
Flickering one reflection.

A photograph of night skies
Taken through a telescope
Is titled, The Light, the Dark,

And the Dust. For once, the dust
Has nothing to do with Earth.
Electromagnetism,

Electroweak, however
Gravity ties into it,
Skies collapsing, skies tearing

Themselves apart, reflections
In a meltwater puddle
On a wayside, in passing.

Thursday, February 1, 2024

More Reminder than Insight

Whatever the narrator
Finds perplexing is the true
Subject of any story,

Sometimes stated, sometimes not—
Milton’s Satan, Shiji’s truth,
Or Barbie’s patriarchy—

Sometimes buried so deeply,
Especially in folktales,
It’s more of an atmosphere

Of something hard to fathom,
The bizarre consequences
For inconsequential lives,

So typical of the world.
It’s there, though. It’s always there.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Evening with Side Effects

It’s early, but the eyes burn,
And the fingertips are cold,
And even the old futon

With its worn sheets and mismatched
Blankets might be a haven
For a few hours from living

The hard work of not dying,
Not tonight or tomorrow,
Anyway. Oh, tomorrow,

That will require more hard work.
Declare today over, done.
Don’t think of another one.

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

There’s No Living Any Words Long

Go ahead and seek the answers,
Whether you can live them or not.
Answers are all words and numbers,
Insofar as you can learn them,

And you’re a flicker in the flesh
That can live with or without them
And will pass along without them,
So go ahead, why not seek them.

No advice from an old poet,
No matter how charming, should be
Determinative. Old poets
Are just skillful with the language,

And all contradict each other.
Rilke was gone by fifty-one.

Monday, January 29, 2024

Polyincarnate

Most of the body’s past lives
Overlapped the body’s life,
Whether the body held you

Or any human ideas
Or was another species—
Many lives lived that ended

And contributed substance
To the body’s life. They weren’t
Layed end to end, prior lives.

They died and were taken up
Into already living
Life again, part of that life.

And the body’s future lives
Aren’t waiting ahead for it.
While the body continues,

Littler lives consume small bits
To fuel themselves, components
Of the body that become

Components of the bodies
Living and dying in it,
Some of which return to it.

So yes, you’ve been an insect
A bacterium, a fish,
Even while you still exist.

Sunday, January 28, 2024

No One Knows the Reason for No One’s Existence

The rock wren, porch familiar,
Had fluffed up against the cold
And was moving so slowly,

It was almost another,
Puffier species. It trilled
A few repetitive notes,

However, near the window,
For identification.
Inside of its awareness,

You would guess there was no self
Duplicity. It wasn’t
Occupied by a fungus

Of songs and self-reference
Floated in from outside lives
Like you. Your homunculus

Is real, is not a fiction,
Except in myths it controls
Your actions, is wholly you,

Is a monad that outlasts
The body as solid soul.
It’s a little onlooker

Constructed of other minds,
Every human’s Frankenstein
Recreation, the Golem,

The no one inside the brain
That sat watching the rock wren,
Thinking how solid it seemed,

For all its fragility
And faintly feathery fluff,
A life with no one like it.

Saturday, January 27, 2024

The Fortunate

The words lie still as stones,
Still as notches in bricks,
Charcoal stains on bamboo.

Writing systems should still
Be seen as magical,
The borderline beings

No more alive than gems
Of solid minerals,
And all the life lives left,

Hair-trigger fossil spores
Ready to spring to thought
In any skull’s wet soil—

To carry so much life
Without having to live.

Friday, January 26, 2024

The Social Construction of Illness

It’s cold downstairs.
Upstairs it’s hot,
So they tell you,
The ones who can

Run up the stairs
And down again
To report back
That, yes, it’s hot.

Downstairs, winter
Fingers windows.
Upstairs, the sun
Floods a glass box.

They complain and
You shiver, since
You can’t go up
The stairs with them.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Seagulls

You are, after all, a child
Who came to the beach at low tide
And spent the afternoon building

A long chain, a dragon of sand castles,
Imagining maybe someone would notice
And compliment you, and stand in awe

Of your incredible construction.
But no one ever did. And now, the day
Is over, and the tide is coming in.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Sunrise in the Waves

The body appears to bear
No allegiance to the world.
It lets its mind, connected

To other minds outside it,
Worry about grave matters.
The body just keeps living

As selfishly as allowed.
The mind is put out. Other
Minds manage to get bodies

To do extraordinary,
Helpful, selfless, or at least
Terribly ambitious things.

How is it that this body
Can’t be bothered to do more
Than ache, eat, and sometimes sleep?

The body’s not listening.
It’s paddling madly as it
Disintegrates in the waves.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

The Year You Noticed Delights

Not only are you unaware
Of most of what is happening,

Most of what you are aware of,
What you think of as happening,

Isn’t. The good news or the bad,
The earlier than expected

Unpleasantness, overdue bills,
The bright morning that lifts your mood,

The extra opportunity,
The surprise letter from a friend,

These aren’t actually happening.
What’s happening is only you

Interpreting, vis-a-vis you,
Things that have already happened.

Those who live joyfully are good
At leaving happening alone,

Mostly, since it mostly isn’t
What is actually happening.

They notice whatever delights
As nothing grander than delight,

Nothing of important import,
Sometimes something to savor. Nice.

Monday, January 22, 2024

Between the Chairs

Following his stem-cell transplant,
Keyboardist Andreas Staier,
Replied to an interviewer,

It doesn’t look bad, but things don’t
Look really good either. Right now,
I’m sitting between the chairs. So,

Seems about right. Sound familiar?
Of course, it would be nice to have
Only the cancer to think of,

Or to not have to think of it,
But there’s life in the long twilight
That won’t hint if it’s dawn or night.

You wake and there’s music to make,
Or there’s something to read or write.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

It’s Not Going to Kill You

To do this or that,
Or if this or that.
You’re not going to die.

It wouldn’t kill you
To do whatever’s
Under discussion.

Common expressions
And commonly true
Within their contexts.

It’s not often acts
Prefaced by, it won’t kill you,
Do kill anyone.

But out of context,
What eerie phrases,
You’re not going to die

If etc.,
Since it will kill you,
Sooner or later.

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Sing Fuse

There has to be a verse in there,
In one of those seen or unseen
Machines, that could answer to this

Moment, this passage when all things
Hang between the remarkable
Endurance of organisms

Doing the old loops, the two, three
Billion years’ worth of traditions,
Marvelous however vicious,

Life on Earth, and the invasion
Of mechanisms newer than
Yesterday. It’s their turn, it is,

For them to actually create
Or generate or do something
That is not only echoing

But a patterning of novel
Existence—not only being
Not living, not only living—

Something as new to Earth’s habits
As the first single-cellular
Lives were, and something more than life.

Friday, January 19, 2024

Why You’re Like This

Personal history can be used
To weave all kinds of explanations
For someone’s personal behaviors,

But the strongest motivation is
Inertia. You do what you do since
That’s what you do, and so you do it.

Still, that’s not satisfying. Something
In your childhood, something in your genes,
Something about the years you spent poor

As a single parent, holding things,
Just barely holding things together,
Must explain why you buy food in bulk,

Or obsess over pillowcases,
Or attend local protest marches,
Or avoid all participation.

The love of spinning a this-since-that
Explanation is itself a form
Of inertia, a habitual

Way of making sense of your habits,
Personal and peculiar to you,
Since finding causes is what you do.

Thursday, January 18, 2024

A Transparent and Logical Dream

Life reflects. In its smallest forms,
And maybe in its earliest,
Each already carried echoes

Images of their own machines,
Miniature mise-en-abymes.
The larger then echoed smaller,

Although maybe growing thinner
At the vaster, upper levels,
The way Earth thins to atmosphere.

In the midst of all these shell games,
Lies the question, where is the dream,
Where did the dream go, which shell holds

The dream? None of them do, it seems.
The dream is not a shell itself,
Not an echo or reflection,

Not mirrors mirroring the scenes,
Not even funhouse mirrors, since
Those are distortions and repeats

Contiguous to their sources,
While the dream is nothing itself,
Transparent and logical dream.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Radioactive Weak

Poets, in general, are easy
For generals to arrest or kill.
It’s their weakness that makes them a threat,

Since if any such piddling persons
Can get away with thumbing noses
At the authorities of great states,

It makes powerful leaders look weak,
And we can’t have that. But even then,
At their worst, they’re not much of a threat.

Poets get arrested and murdered
Since, of all the threats posed to the State,
Poets are the easiest to catch.

They make the best targets, few and cheap,
And they seem glad of the attention,
When they survive it. Fellow poets,

The ones not arrested, can take pride
In belonging to such a brave tribe.
It’s only the patterns in language,

Of course, that last long enough to fight
Things through—poems against the powerful
Glow longer half-lives than power does.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

The Rest Went Dark

There was a place to eat
At the far end of a row
Of stores that formed a strip mall.

It served the best black-bean soup.
You knew the name of the place,
The mall, and how to get there.

Once a week, you stopped to eat,
To have a bowl of that soup.
It was a part of your life.

You moved states, changed jobs, moved on.
You saw large swaths of the world.
You did not come back. Not once.

What was the name of that place?
They served the best black-bean soup.

Monday, January 15, 2024

Ten Years Old

Let’s just say for once you were
Aware everyone was gone.
Small believer that you were,

Of course you assumed the worst,
Assumed it was unbelief
That had marooned you, left you

Beneath redemption, left you
Behind. All the other times,
You either hadn’t noticed

The hour the house was empty
Save for you, or you’d been told
You’d be a while on your own.

This time, it was the closest
You’d ever come to living
Your life as an afterlife.

You surfaced from your reading
Into the quiet sunlight
Of the empty living room

And knew there was no one there.
The angels had come for them—
Siblings, parents—but left you.

Your unbelief was exposed.
Heaven had opened and closed.
You were on the other side

Of doors you couldn’t open.
As the fear of suffering
That was about to find you

Clutched at your believer’s heart,
There was a weird excitement,
A romance, one last wonder.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

An Attentive Insect

Holub called it the club
Of Swifts, Goethes, Rimbauds,
Horatiuses, and

Death watch beetles, ha, but
Do all death watch beetles
Belong, or only some,

The chanting ones? Or just
The gifted ones? This one
Would like to know. No, no,

That was a joke. This one
Just wants to keep an eye
On death and not to join

Any poets’ club, not
Even one whose members
Count Miroslav Holub.

Saturday, January 13, 2024

Unawares

Angels were gunning him down,
He said, not seeming alarmed,
One of those human moments

When someone you don’t know well
Comes out with a bizarre claim
On the face of it, and you

Feel unsure how to respond.
Is this man hearing voices?
Is this man having you on?

Are you missing some context
That would make ordinary
Sense of what seems like nonsense?

Angels were gunning him down,
He said, adding, in his dreams.
At that you smiled, satisfied.

Anything’s allowed in dreams.
What a nightmare! you told him.
Yes, he sighed, these hateful dreams.

Then he curled over and fell
Without a sound. The dark blood
Pooled around him on the ground.

Friday, January 12, 2024

Still Hovering

The actual afterlife
Isn’t for imagining
Or for experiencing

With the embodied senses,
Although something’s going on
That sometimes smacks of vision

And sometimes appears near sweet
In air. Proprioception
Is almost wholly erased,

But there’s an aspect
Of relative distance, space,
A roughly fore and after

Arrangement of faint presence.
Is there a way to explore
This watered-down afterworld?

Is this just the fading glow
Bright lights leave on retinas?
If so, no retinas here,

Middle of not anymore.
There is that spear-leaved flower
Dense with lines, still hovering.

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Invisible Seeing

Is this a stage, a between,
Or is this the end of it?
So what if few things get through?

What’s here that was never there?
Bruised doors and outlined flowers
Don’t count. They’re too similar

To what was on the first side.
The atmosphere trembles, or
The light. And of course that’s why.

People arrived in new lands
Not only incorrectly
Identify local finds

With familiar forms from home—
Much that is too new to them
They don’t even see at all.

What’s here that appears unseen?
That’s what would be most likely
Something that was never there.

The dead send so few letters
To the living, maybe, since
It’s invisible seeing.

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

The Flower Grows by the Door

So extremely simplified
So far, will it get simpler
Or will more aspects emerge?

Part of what’s missing must be
Memory and sense of self,
But only a certain class

Of memory, anything
Episodic, and only
The self-referential self.

The memory languages,
Words as names, encapsulate,
That’s here. Well-tempered clavier.

See? That was vivid enough.
And perspective. Transparent
Eyeball, if not aware self.

All those afterlives of clouds
And glowing pearly backdrops
Weren’t so far off after all.

Are the blossoming lines signs
Intended to encode words?
The flower grows by the door.

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Lines of Small Signs

It would make sense a not-world,
An anti-world, lacked detail,
In contrast to life’s world filled

To all brims and horizons
With divisible details.
As soon as that thought crops up,

However, a first flower,
Or something like a flower,
A bulbous, spiral chalice

On a thin stem of darkness
Or, at least, more shadowed light,
Appears in the atmosphere,

Which doesn’t seem to be air
So much as a gas-like glow
Inside of incandescence.

Nowhere else is there a clear
Edge or line to anything,
But here are incised petals

Or sheaves of sharp-edged, tapered,
Leafish pages, a twirling
Bolus of lines of small signs.

Monday, January 8, 2024

Sailboats Sinking through Dim Light

This place could use a Harold—
At least his purple crayon.
There are no lines, no outlines.

The door in the wave dimples,
A frameless indentation
In a shining wall of dust.

Wait. It’s not a door for souls
Or for anything really.
It’s a soft spot in the light,

A bruise in the afterlife.
It’s an opportunity
Not to go through, but to push

Messages through. A mail slot.
How did Houdini miss this?
There are no hands to push with,

No throat to shout out, despite
The odd sense of a sweet taste
In the absence of a mouth,

But there’s the feeling of words
Sinking through that spot, paper
Sailboats sinking through dim light.

Sunday, January 7, 2024

There’s a Door

This condition’s appealing,
Kind of. It’s unexpected
To be anywhere being

Aware of anything, if
One was expecting nothing.
It’s enchanting, in a way.

It seems dry. There are shadows
That should be impossible
Since nothing’s blocking the light.

There’s a moving perspective
As the whole, bleached reference
Frame is continuously

Shifting. There’s nothing to hurt,
Nothing to lose, and nothing
Much to observe. There’s a wall,

Or a large wave of some kind,
A slightly less bright feature
Of light emerging in light.

Perspective drifts toward it.
Could it collapse? It’s massive,
Light’s standing wave. There’s a door.

Saturday, January 6, 2024

Something Sweet

The afterlife is awful
When it comes to world-building.
Just look at this washed-out mess,

This overexposed film strip—
Is it heaven? Is it hell?
Is it a desert planet?

Who could tell? The light’s too bright,
The details blurred and faded.
This could be sand or concrete.

The sky has no horizon.
There are shapes on the distance.
Maybe they could be people.

They’re moving, or seem to be,
But too far for signs or calls
To reach wherever this is.

There’s no sense of touch or smell.
Literally unnerving,
But, thanks to that, there’s no pain.

So now what? Eternity
Or some kind of storyline?
Wait—there’s a taste. Something sweet.

Friday, January 5, 2024

How to Be Fragile

Sudden motions, as a rule,
Are not a good idea. Pay
Attention or pay in pain.

Watch out for toddlers and dogs.
Smile warmly while steering clear.
What shines could be slippery.

There are no soft landings, no
Free crunch. Bravery is as
Bravery endures, never

As bravery does. The world
Is not smaller when you stay
Still. It only grows larger.

Stay unbeliever. Recall,
It wants to destroy us all.

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Giving Over

When you were young and among
Your own kind, since whoever
One is among when that young

Tend to become one, one’s own,
There was the frequent advice
People gave to each other

To give it over to God.
Now you consider cancer,
Its wild enthusiasm

To keep living large, larger,
A sybaritic rock star,
A Samson chained and eager

To achieve sufficient strength
To pull down the whole palace
On everyone and Samson,

And you consider Wiman,
Angel of faith with cancer,
Patient with God and cancer,

Profiled in The New Yorker,
As God blinks out brain by brain.
Such an optimistic man.

What if God’s got the cancer?
If God’s own brains are feeding
On whatever’s remaining,

Brain by brain and cell by cell,
More mad enthusiasm
For living, growing larger?

You gave it over to God,
And now God’s dying of it,
Gone, one day, all together.

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

As with Everything

Phi, the Golden Ratio,
The meanest and the toughest
Of all the irrationals

To approximate, swaggered
In and out of written texts,
Mystical speculations,

Visual arts, actual
Architecture, and other,
Contested observables

For centuries and never
Has been brought low, even though
It’s lost some of its magic—

The problem is what it is
Can’t live up to what it means.

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

And More to Come

You enter in the middle,
And you leave in the middle,
No matter when you enter,
And no matter when you leave.

Maybe you were the strange child,
The kind who considered lives
That ended before the great,
Terrible events began—

The person whose life finished
Days before the colonists
Were first sighted from the shore
In their ships like birds of prey,

The person whose life finished
Days before the start of war
And genocide that would smear
Whole villages from the map,

The person whose life finished
In painful old age, just days
Before the start of the plague
Started filling the mass graves.

They never knew, those persons,
Their world’s evisceration,
Which even then didn’t end
More people living more lives,

More generations being
Born in more middles of things,
Ending still in the middle,
Never knowing the next thing.

Monday, January 1, 2024

If Something Is Red

Stomping on cloudy
Ice too thick to crack,
As likely to slide

And shatter yourself,
And what on earth for?
Nothing much under

But muddy water
And whatever strange
Fish monster it was

That circled your feet
The morning you froze.
There’s nothing to see

And wanting to see
So badly you can’t.