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


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


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,
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,
From trying self
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
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.

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.