Friday, May 31, 2024

The Last Tenth of the Law

Pushed in a corner adjacent
To outlaws, the shrunken tenth sits
Still, unclaimed by definition.

From its cramped perspective, the rest
Of the law is madness, possessed,
Not law at all, all unjust strength.

But who asked it? It looks around,
Knees to its chin, arms around them,
Thin neck holding a heavy head.

Ten percent. A tithe. A digit,
A pretended philanthropy
Granted by greed to be legal.

Tiny, but not insubstantial,
A permanent minority
Where society intersects

With freedom from society,
Not antisocial, not angry,
Not forceful, not even feeling

The myth that anything is owned.
Who wants to be this, vestigial
Anchor of camaraderie?

The last tenth struggles to its feet
And contemplates oblivion,
Then sits itself back down again,

The elder in the wattled hut,
The small child with strange legs watching
The world through the dusty window.

This is the role. To own nothing,
To feel no pride in ownership.
Not to have, not to take. Stay small.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Dusty Afternoon

Even the names of winds
In English carry on

Cartographic concerns—
The zephyr, the mistral,
African scirocco—

As absurd in England
Where the poets loved them
Despite those North Sea storms,

As in America
Where, thanks to the English,
They suggest old-fashioned,

Flowery poetry
Dragging in adjectives
To account for themselves,

As in, gentle zephyrs
Or, the fierce scirocco.
Standing on a mesa

In the desert southwest
In an alternating
Fierce and then gentle wind,

It’s odd to contemplate
How association
With being poetic

Can both extend the range
Of an old, working term
And make it seem foolish,

How each wave of poets
Disavows poetic,
Remuscles the language.

Then, whatever they use
Well to do so becomes
Another fancy word

Ordinary language
Wouldn’t be caught dead with
To name a dusty day.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Poems Before Words

You thought of the poem
You’d dozed composing.

Turns out, you hadn’t
Started the phrases
At all, not even

The ones in your head
It felt like you had thought
But hadn’t yet said.

That would be something
To compose—phrases
You’d felt you’d gathered

That were smoke shadows,
That hadn’t yet formed—
Is it possible

To think honest lines
That don’t exist yet
Before giving them

Words, syntax, rhythm?
Not a visual,
Not squiggles, but lines

Of language before
Language for them formed,
Verse pre existence.

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Meaning Your Soul

Meaning is the power of attention,
And the attention doesn’t have to be
Magnificent, collective, curated,

Or sustained. Attention is valuable,
But it’s not a resource, not endangered.
Whatever it is in other species,

Among symbolically minded humans
It’s a sort of spinneret of meaning,
And it will make meanings, wanted or not.

This seems to have an adaptive function—
Meaning’s special for humans, and is tied,
Almost invisibly, to all structures

Involved in the species’ outbreak success.
But meaning’s more than a special trick,
More than echolocation, webbing, flight—

Whatever it does for modern humans,
All busy making it by attending
To whatever captures their attention,

Meaning is ontologically unique.
In a universe in which everything,
Even pure information, is conserved,

Meaning comes into being from nothing
And to nothing returns—it can be lost,
Genuinely lost, more lost than the light

A black hole swallows that somehow persists.
Meaning is the only thing that exists
That doesn’t continue as something else.

When humans speak fretfully of their souls,
Struggling to hold immaterial real,
They mean the meanings that attention brings.

When people speak of soul as profound core,
As essential, immortal, transcendent,
They’re clutching exactly what no one holds,

What can and will go for good, but also
What mere attention, while memory serves,
Keeps making from nothing—and more, and more.

Monday, May 27, 2024

Spear Horizon

It all seems very, very close, in a way, even though it was such a long, long time ago

Not the jump back from now
To then, long ago,
Humans around a hearth

Working on hunting tools,
Coordinated groups,
Humans being humans,

But the number of lives
It has taken to fill
The interval since then,

Almost all of them lived,
End to end, and then sunk
In the past of each next—

Time’s linear neighborhood,
A city’s worth of lives,
Strung out one at a time.

Sunday, May 26, 2024


You wouldn’t expect machine code
To bear an obvious likeness
To the applications it runs,

But of course you could reconstruct
The working set of instructions
From what appears inscrutable

If you had to and knew how to.
Imagine waking a writer
From suspended animation—

Could you feed them all they needed
To recover themselves from the code
Of their complete collected works,

Even the sides of them the works
Don’t seem to have in evidence,
Those bits of personality

Known well to friends and family
That made the living person seem
Another creature than the words?

Saturday, May 25, 2024

You Are to Life as Chatbot to Chatter

It may be worth recalling
Most life on Earth is just that—
Life, and one big vat of it.

The old primordial soup
Still serves the mess hall of cells,
Singular, prokaryotic,

Maxing out as mats and slime,
And the lion’s share belongs,
Really, to bacteria

And bacteriophages,
Not to blue whales and sea lice.
Before you say what life’s like,

Consider what most life’s like.
Fierce minutiae in the waves.

Friday, May 24, 2024

Do Not Insult the Being

In the end, the end’s not dead.
The moon’s not dead. Mars isn’t.
Asteroids and comets aren’t.

They are. They exist. They move
Around as they must, and who
Among you isn’t moved thus?

Do not insult the not dead
By saying they’re not living
So far, as if mere being

Were lesser stage to living
And living must be progress.
Don’t pity the molecules

That used to live for being
Only molecules again.
Pity they went through living.

Thursday, May 23, 2024


Been hot, so when the evening
Cools, it’s pleasant to open
A porch door and feel soft air.

A couple of famous lines
Attributed to Sufi
Poets keep circling the mind,

One using reason to cut
Reason off at the knees says
One’s own intellect cannot

Be used to comprehend one’s
Own creator—the other
Is similarly clever

But more intimate, I shall
Hide in my poem to kiss your
Mouth as you read it. The thoughts

Play with these plays on reason.
And if you never read this
Aloud, where have I kissed you?

The soft air wraps around us
As the evening sun goes down
To play its own creator.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Mass Matters

One physicist calls gravity
A journey . . . that may never end.
Tempting as it is to request

Of this poetic physicist
That she remain in her own lane,
These words are already in hers,

So let’s just attempt to steer clear
Of figurative collisions.
Gravity is not a journey,

But it is always in motion.
Perceived as gravitons or curves,
Falling isn’t truly falling,

It’s more like joining an embrace
That can be weak as anything
But gains strength in joiners joining,

Which would be fine, would be lovely,
Resembling love in poetry,
Except that, as with poetry’s,

Gravity’s love is dangerous,
With even worse asymmetries.
All hearts of little mass are crushed

By the clutch of massed collections
Already madly embracing,
More like a mating ball of snakes—

If those snakes all clumped to make one
Giant coil attracting others
To its single, possessive self,

Until that self itself got gripped,
Compounded in yet another.
Poets haven’t understood love

All that well yet, and physicists
Don’t, yet, comprehend gravity.
There is that clue of the movements,

The motions without which the laws
Would not only be different, but
Not discoverable at all.

Love loves the language of falling,
The metaphors of attraction,
But human love doesn’t require

Asymmetry for love at all
To ever be caught in action,
Does it? Dark matter, if that’s it.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The Last Ferry

You would have thought it stopped
Once the bridge was finished,
But it didn’t. Eighty

Years, a full human life,
It continued to cross
Daily, keeping schedule.

An epic catalogue
Would sink carrying all
The changes of those years.

Then, finally, it stopped.
There was only the bridge—
Well, bridges—after that,

And those bridge crossings were
Themselves celebrated
And nostalgic by then.

Would it have been likewise,
If it had been a bridge
To start with, no ferry,

No long pole, no obol?
Why ferry, anyway,
As opposed to wading,

Swimming, rowing, sailing?
The real trip stays one way,
So why pick an image

Of endless back and forth,
To belie the only
Sure tour of no return?

In those decades after
The bridge had been finished,
While the ferry still crossed,

What percentage of souls
Never came back to shore
Following one crossing?

Pretty small, probably,
Probably most of them
Passengers for that last

Ceremonial ride.
But the image lingers
Of crowds waiting to board,

One of them a poet
Staring at the river
And rhapsodizing vast

Declarations, since words
Can do that, can leap straight
Over the slow passage

Of experiencing
To sum up all eras’
Black shadows at nightfall.

Monday, May 20, 2024

Old Vehicle in a Gravel Driveway

The events will not pause in arriving,
Even if the Earth itself stops spinning,
Which likely it won’t, not any time soon.

People will continue to find themselves
Somewhat surprised at what’s happened, somewhat
Prone to tell each other, I told you so.

The balance of lives ending quietly
Or violently will go on shifting,
Back and forth. At each moment, survivors

Somewhere will say to other survivors
Of that moment statements to the effect
That, It can’t go on like this! Then it will.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Odd Fish Are the Ones Who Need a Bigger Pond

Take one regulatory gene
Highly associated with
A tendency to explore and
Let loose in an environment

With a range of empty niches—
Watch adaptive radiation
Radiate into all of them.
That’s one regulatory gene,

Triggering greater tendency
To explore what is new—voila!
In an open environment
You’ve got an adaptive syndrome,

And pretty soon you’ve got species,
Colorful and oddball versions
Of the last common ancestor
Everywhere, glittering, galore.

Elsewhere, of course, it’s quite likely
The same gene, or something like it,
Hides in behaviors dull as mud,
Nowhere to dazzlingly explore.

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Here’s Mercy Now

Don’t daydream to fall asleep.
Let the dreaming come to you.

Do you like sleep? Are you glad,
When you’ve slept well, to know that?

Experience is dreaming,
Briefly, in extensive sleeps.

You never had to seek it—
In dreams dramatically mixed,

Experience came to you,
But its setting remained sleep,

Which is being as being,
Existence as existence,

Vast, whole in all directions,
All that holds you, and is home.

Friday, May 17, 2024

Each After Its Own Fashion

Actually, the diversity
Of the orbiting wanderers
Around this one, rather plain star,

Hint Earth’s less strange in being strange
Than Earth’s human descendants think—
Our habit’s to draw the ledger

In two columns, living bodies
Or bodies with no signs of life,
In which case, Earth’s in one column

And all the rest, as far as known,
In the other. So Earth looks strange.
But does Io resemble Mars,

Mars Venus, Venus Jupiter,
Jupiter Mercury, so on?
Beyond small categories—

Rocky, icy, gassy—maybe
Two or three distinct worlds in each—
None of them have much in common.

Humanity, likewise, looks strange,
Listing species with ratcheting
Culture in one column, species

Of any other kind elsewhere.
But the rule could be here, Titan
Isn’t Saturn, lobsters aren’t crows

Aren’t tri-symbiotic lichen.
It could be the norm to be weird,
On Earth as it is in Heaven.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Success Has Success to Blame

Still thinking about the combination
Of virus, egg, and venom creating
Efficiency for parasitoid wasps

While attracting hyperparasitoids
To do you know what to them—not revenge,
Just a new layer of exploitation,

Using the same principles as before
But taking advantage of the signals
The involvement of virus created.

Here the virus was such a winning trick
For the parasitoid wasp, evolving
To make the host’s immune system weaker

But also to make the host eat faster!
Yet now the host’s host, the poor plant, emits
Chemical distress at being devoured

So voraciously, inviting the new,
Hyperparasitoid wasp to descend
On the hungry, hungry caterpillar

And lay its eggs in the first wasp’s larvae
(It now goes, wasp, wasp, caterpillar, plant,
If you’re keeping score of the hosts at home),

And what’s on your mind, honestly, isn’t
The science or the horror of it all,
Not at the moment, but what you would call

The necessity of unintended
Consequences—if egg-virus-venom
Had been a human invention—the trick

That enhances one problem’s solution
And inevitably somehow invites
A new problem, no kin to the first one.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Heat Approaching

Now the trees bend
Past your window,
Now they’ve leafed out,
Stretch to go.

Skies would join them
In escaping—
See how sunsets
Turn shades green?

All that can’t move
By volition
Grows more restless
Late in spring.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Ordinate Fondness

A sizable black beetle
Of uncertain lineage
Meandered across the road.

The light was low, and the road
Hadn’t seen a vehicle
In half an hour. The beetle

Appeared routinely focused
As any foraging thing,
Proceeding near linearly.

Among common responses
Of anyone noticing
Could have been speculation

(What sort of beetle is that?)
Distaste (ugh, ugly beetle!)
Superstition (an omen)

Or art (let’s take a picture,
Make a sketch, write a fable
About a bustling beetle).

The beetle reached the road’s edge
And continued through the grass.
At what point would the actions

Of a large-ish black beetle
In late afternoon shadows
Have ceased to impinge on things?

Is every event tied up
To every other event
From one scale of the cosmos

To the far ends of all worlds,
Or can actions be absorbed
Whole, as if they never were?

You’ll never know. That beetle
Didn’t know, unless, of course,
You have been much mistaken

About the nature of worlds
And the actual beings
Of sizable black beetles.

Monday, May 13, 2024

Possible to Desire

What are the conditions
Of abiotic states
That make it possible

For such states to desire
To live, for molecules
To hunger to consume?

What is desire to live
When living is desire
Unleashed by chemistry

That had shown no hunger,
Had no hunger in it?
Some of the steps are known,

Some stages have been mapped.
Not where hunger comes from.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Social Construction

In the language of cuticular
Hydrocarbons, identity rules,
And to the extent that politics

Has metaphorical relevance,
All politics is identity
Politics. Does your grease smell like ours?

If it doesn’t, you’re an enemy.
Simple, see? Well, not simple at all,
Molecularly, but functional.

Doesn’t seem necessarily bad
To organize by identity
If you just want coordination.

Where it gets tricky is when you want
Facultative coordination
In diversifying arrangements.

For that you need your identities
More light magnets, less cuticular
Hydrocarbon gluey greasiness.

Saturday, May 11, 2024

Update Your Priors

No evidence of metabolically active
Recurrent, residual, or metastatic
Disease. And there you were, all set for hospice care.

Oh well, time to work on other complications
Arising from being feckless, old, and breathing,
All the small frailties, all the mounting debits.

You might live to see genuine disaster, yet,
The sinking cities, bombing drones, and rising seas,
The drought’s return, the next, more devastating plague.

You fortunate fool. The government may get you,
Or the anti-government rioters, or both.
You always dreamed you were a kind of no-man’s land,

Little hermit DMZ. It won’t be pirates
From the inside, though, not for a while now at least.

Friday, May 10, 2024

A Golden Age

Wonders are sorrows.
They only appear
When someone’s winning

So excessively,
There are resources
And labor galore

To spare, to make work
On their fantasies
Of the wondrous world

They think they deserve.
Royal architects,
Artists, musicians,

Hordes of encoders,
Enslaved engineers,

Armies of workers,
Whatever it takes
So wonders appear.

Thursday, May 9, 2024

Blankness and Grief

Karen Solie implies
Waste’s final form is grief.
The deer on the road’s edge

Browsing spring green in gusts
Of cool, dry wind look up
At an approaching car.

Is grief waste’s final form?
You suspect it isn’t,
Much as you like the phrase.

Something like a blankness
Of perfect entropy,
Something that couldn’t waste

Any further, had nothing
Left to waste—wouldn’t that
Amount to waste’s last stage?

There’d be no grief in that.
Grief is an animal,
Living thing linked to loss

Like a terrible wound.
It may be the final
Form of love, memory.

The last memory grieves
For memory itself.
Waste is more productive.

The deer move on. The spring
Moves on into summer,
Doe and fawn now in trees.

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

The Trial Is Now upon Us; the Jury Is in the Hallway

The judge is at the bench.
Our fate is in their hands.
We love to set the scene.

We love it to be grand.
Let’s have human drama
And imagine the world

That’s not at all human
As human as we can.
Life can be the trial,

And an omnipotent
Deity can preside—
Serving jury duty,

Spirits or apostles,
Ancestors or angels—
Anything with voices,

Faces, and opinions
About wayward humans
And how to enforce laws.

We’ll pretend it’s this way,
Cosmos as assembly
Gathered to assess fates,

And when we see an end
Approaching yet again,
We’ll nod and we’ll murmur,

Lo, the trial is now
Upon us; the jury
Is shortly to confer.

Tuesday, May 7, 2024


It is the failure of words that makes us repeat them

When someone went to the post office
In Rehoboth with a pile of stuff
To mail back to the United States,

He was kindly provided with tape
To close his cardboard boxes safely
For the trip across the Atlantic,

But many of the items were awkward,
And the cardboard boxes were flimsy,
And he found himself adding more tape

And more tape, guiltily, sheepishly,
Gratefully, knowing the hideous
Wrapping job was unlikely to keep

The contents safe. Some of the boxes
Mailed ended up less cardboard than tape.
Six months later, and back in the States,

He cut open the lumpen objects
And found most of the contents still whole,
Except for one broken-headed cane,

Carved of ironwood, ironically.
Did he blame the tape for that? Did he
Blame the tape for his fragile notions

Of how to box up his awkward things,
The ugly tape that held together,
That had been given to him for free?

Monday, May 6, 2024

If You Hadn’t Paused to Read This

The game if doesn’t exist
Without language. The game if
Needs a way of constructing

The not as definitely
Not but not impossible,
That is, hypothetical.

The game if has three major
Variations, along with
Innumerable subgames.

The pragmatic game of if
Is the most valuable.
It uses past to predict

The way the past is likely
To change. Based on what is known,
What’s expected next, if this.

The forward speculation
Is more hit or miss. Call it,
At best, thought experiment—

Fantasy, at silliest—
If this unevidenced thing
Were to exist, then what’s next?

Then, there’s the backward, hopeless
Game of if. If some past bit
Had not happened as it did,

How would the rest of the past
Be different? One can change
The past, of course. The past is

Always changing, but only
By the addition of new
Things happening. There is no

Unhappening. There is no
Scenario in which life
On Earth never got started,

In which the sun never burned,
In which this or that tiny
Thing someone did wasn’t did.

And yet, in language there is.
In language there always is,
If x hadn’t, maybe this.

Sunday, May 5, 2024

Petal Storm

Can anyone reconcile
The knowledge that the hours spent
Writing, sleeping, anything

Will coincide with the deaths
Of people, thousands of them,
And an interminable

Agony for even more?
No one tries. What people try
Is to focus on the deaths

And suffering that matter
Most to them. Usually,
Their’s, their loved ones’, their people’s,

Sometimes those in the headlines,
Those most horrible, those most
Concentrated, those most cruel.

This is understandable,
Understandable to scream
At others, Pay attention

To the deaths of my people
Who are being killed by yours!
Bearing witness may be all,

May be the best you can do.
But then, the day your people
Stop being assaulted, or

The day your people, yours, launch
Their own premeditated
Assault, or just the merest

Quiet day at last for you,
Can you reconcile knowing
That while your jaw unclenches

Thousands of people still die,
Albeit, this hour, not yours?
The moment you stepped outside,

A huge gust of wind blew through
The trees in your neighborhood,
Showering you in petals,

Millions of thrilling petals
Swirling in clouds around you,
Not to reconcile with you.

Saturday, May 4, 2024


Insubstantial futility,
Ephemeral absurdity,

A puff of vapor you exhaled
To haul back in your lungs again,

All flocks of molecules of wind
Circling around this rock since when,

Anything worth calling wisdom
Worries recycled worrying.

What you do with the air you breathe
Matters less than what the air will

Disassemble and distribute
Throughout the daily circular

That like all news compiles and piles
Without arriving anywhere.

Friday, May 3, 2024

Caver Beware

There are chambers in the brain
Consciousness should leave alone,
Awareness never visit—

Not the Freudian corners,
Not Jungian archetypes,
Just basements of memory

So jumbled and waterlogged,
So prone to radon and mice,
That the value of the search

Is unlikely to exceed
The expense to mental health,
Not in terms of emotion

But in terms of confusion.
If you really understood
How memory storage works,

You might could disentangle
The webs from the Christmas lights.
But you don’t. Think of your dreams,

Think of the thousands of years
Spent by millions of people
Attempting to explain them

And still failing, still failing.
Unless those dreams are magic,
Drawing from other sources,

Everything strange about them
Came from memory’s basement,
Your own memory’s basement,

And there’s likely good reason
The brain’s evolved to forget
Dreams by and large. If it weren’t

For language, how it tangles
Facts in syntax and syntax
In narrative, rewiring

Events to wrap up a few
In knots you can’t tease apart,
No dreams would be remembered.

You’re not gaining anything
Spelunking in memory
With language that won’t come back

Except in a monstrous mess.
Something’s going on in there,
Something retelling won’t clear.

Thursday, May 2, 2024

Hold Close

While you remember, while you’re lucky enough,
You can’t help trying to make your memory
Do stuff. Small things (Hera was the wife of Zeus),
Of course, all the trivia, the minutiae
You use to get through conversations with life
And everyone else as they recall themselves,
But also the more substantial, quality
Of awareness of awareness kind of stuff,
Which tends to bin into two categories,
One, the spookier side of recollection,
The other on the side of consolation.

The spookier side you know can’t control,
Can’t even fathom. Way out in the ocean
Of deep memory’s night, you lean on the bow,
And you wait and you hope for what will surface,
Watching for the bioluminescent lights.
You wait and you hope for something to surface,
And even if it isn’t what you wanted,
And it usually is some kind of surprise,
Disappointing, delightful, or frightening,
You’ll take it just for the mystery of it,
Memory out of darkness, you as witness.

But you school memory as consolation.
You feel this is something you should be able
To make memory do, to put it to work on,
To ask of it, within reason. You have lived
A goodly number, a vast number, really,
Of specific moments of especial bliss
During which you were aware, for that moment,
However briefly, that living couldn’t get
Much better than this. And you remember those.
If memory is really worth the having,
Access to those moments should always be close.

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Earth as a View Down a Rotating Tube

It’s a very small whole
We’re all part of, and those
Who struggle to see that

Whole, while struggling to see
Humans whole, are struggling
As part of nature’s whole.

Is a buzz word that won’t
Cut much before too long,

But it’s as important
As carbon and plastic,
As part of the output

Of human behavior.
This is an animal
For whom identity

Isn’t pheromonal
Or visual and done.
It’s constant construction,

It’s an art, a defense,
A feint, and a weapon,
And there is no human

Interaction in which
Identity’s finished
Between them, good and all—

There are no two people,
Socially, who purely
Consist of one plus one.

There is no human whole.
There’s always another
Exceptional person

In competition or
Cooperating in
Each ordinary one.

It’s a terribly small
Whole, this kaleidoscope
Of mirroring fractures—

There’s no perspective can
Keep one eye to the end
Of Earth’s lenseless actions.