Ten Line Tales

Updates Tuesdays and Thursdays


What Is This?

Ten Line Tales are small verse stories that I started writing as a warm-up exercise, but which have clearly gotten out of hand. The subject matter, style, tone, and approach all vary, but the ten line limit does not. Except when I write a series of them, which happens from time to time.

Fun fact: this site is secretly a free ebook! Try it for yourself: save the page, drop the .html file into Calibre, and convert it into an EPUB or a PDF or an AZW (or whatever). The book that comes out the other end should work great on almost any ereader you might be interested in using. I even embedded the metadata for you! I think that's pretty cool.

This site, the tales, and whatever kind of ebook you can make out of them, are all licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. In simple terms, this means you can do whatever you want with this stuff, as long as you apply the same licensing terms to any derivative works. And if you do end up doing anything interesting with this, I'd love to hear about it.

And finally, unlike every other site on the internet, the newest post is at the end of the page. Sorry about that. We all make choices.

Tales Index


The Shortest Murder Mystery Possible

They found the Body with a chisel
Jutting from his head --
The Chief Detective found a hammer
Underneath the bed --
"The Man was dead."
The Witness said.
"And the Woman followed after --
And, on my life,
I saw the Wife,
Doubled-up with laughter."


Tell Me Why The Prince Was Wise To Run

There lived a Lady, locked in a dewy copse,
Who sent four crows to search in all directions.
The East returned with nothing -- the same the West --
The South was lost -- but a Princeling found the North.
He asked the crow, "Whence have you come, my friend?"
The bird said only, "Follow." And he did --
Over stony fields, through grasping briars --
Until he stood, at last, within the copse.
The Lady begged, "Now wish, so I may die."
The Prince was wise -- he turned, and started back.


They Woke Me Up For This?

A certain engineer was thawed awake
On the journey to distant Beta Pegasi --
The engine had a blinking warning light.
A thousand years from here, the ship might miss,
And plunge into the supergiant star!
The engineer examined all his options --
Tested systems -- coded new controls --
None of which availed him. Then he sighed.
Of course. He hit reboot. The light went off.
"Engineer?" he groaned. "I'm tech support."


The Slavers; or, A Confession

From the stars, the slavers came again,
Eclipsing sun and sky with giant ships.
Meno it was, the traitor to our people,
Who told the slavers where our planet hid.
They called our children chattel, our world a farm --
For, see how docilely we took their yoke!
And there stood Meno smiling among them.
That night the village gathered to decide--
We chose to slay ourselves, than live as slaves.
And Meno wept to see the piled dead.


In The Mines of Pi

An undistinguished author heard it said
That pi contained, if one knew how to look,
Every story that ever could be told
Encoded in its unrepeating sequence.
He set his pen aside, and studied maths,
Now monomaniac to find his words
Frozen in the Old Geometer's amber.
The first decade was fruitless -- O, but then!
At last, the algorithm typed a page:
A poem titled, "In The Mines of Pi"


The Dubious Redemptive Power of Lobster

The haggard husband watched it come apart--
His distant wife, their kids; his family.
And in his desperation, he dreamed a meal:
One perfect lobster feast to save them all.
He booked a flight to Maine to seek his prey;
His family thought he'd abandoned them that day,
And cried to think their father went away.
The man made icy seas his home for weeks --
Much changed, much learned. In triumph, he returned --
But it was relief that made the lobster sweet.


Half Infinite

She chose to live forever, and I did not,
My wife, my love, my ever-blooming flower.
I held her hand as treatments burned her blood,
And small machines sliced off her rind of age,
Until she stood before me, pink and new --
"O Ken, you could have chosen this for you!"
I held her face between my withered hands:
"I'd rather die a man, than infinite."
She kissed my wrinkled brow, and smiled, sad --
"Half-infinite, my love. I had a start."


The Fate of the Forest Monk

Into the mountains, far from the shrieking towns,
Barefoot, mostly naked, and alone,
A bhikkhu came, renouncing all the world
To live in peace beneath a crop of stone.
With time, his legend grew -- a holy man,
A teacher, lived among the scented pines,
And students came from every town to see.
Thwarted so, the monk at last did teach --
And when he died, his reverent students built
A golden shrine inscribed, "He came to us."


Mouse Icarus

It was winter, when the geese were flying south--
All but one, a gander named Elan,
Who preened his silver feathers by his lake,
And scorned his fellow fowl for cowardice.
One day, when snows were falling, there came a mouse,
And Elan called, "Come! Share my nest and warmth!"
"I'd sooner have some down," she said. "And fly."
"How curious," he thought, and plucked her some.
The genius mouse constructed tiny wings,
And took to flight, with Elan close behind.


Their Bargain For A Bountiful Catch

"Me come, me come," cried out the Hag,
"Bring out for me the one make dead."
The Fishermen threw her the bag,
And, laughing, she threw back her head,
And rowed her little boat along the shore.
A Man it was, inside the bag,
With a silver knife, and eyes of red.
But she was quick, the laughing Hag,
And with her oar smashed in his head,
And rowed her little boat along the shore.


Her Petals

The aching, O, the pounding in her head!
Poor Mara. How she lived in agony --
Four weeks before she got to see a doctor.
Her CAT scan made him stare and stare in shock --
A seed had spread its roots inside her skull,
Like some persistent thought with questing shoots,
And when morning came, her head began to sprout --
A long, white-flowered branch; a heliotrope,
That twisted 'round her head to face the sun --
The sun who fed the tree she soon would be.



The General, his uniform besweatted
From the toil of a crushing victory,
Sought his counterpart among the dead --
One who'd held her place until the end.
There! Beside her standard, she lay broken,
While indifferent men of hers were led away.
He touched her bloodied cheek, and said: "How cruel,
That bravery should thus be recompensed,
While cowardice surrenders -- and escapes
The wrath of arms so richly it deserves."


Carlo Dealt Booze, Pills, And Sim-Stim

The robot at the bar was a Beauregard--
Or so it seemed. It sizzled at the barman:
"Doubts be damned, I want efficiency!"
"I hesitate, because you talk too much,"
The barman said. "Come back again tomorrow."
The Beauregard, impassive, turned and left.
I came and asked the barman, "What was that?"
"Now, officer, I only deal legit,"
He said. I smiled, "Just a friendly question."
"The strangest thing -- it wanted pills for pain."


The Candy Striper

"Hello Mr. Stevens, how are you?"
"O fine, just fine my dear -- and how are you?"
"You sure do have a lot of family pictures --
Look at all these frames! Are they all yours?"
"O yes, they're all my children, every one."
"Now Mr. Stevens, you can tell me true --
You know the other tenants have complained."
"I only take them when nobody's home."
"You're stealing family pictures from your neighbors?"
"O yes, they're all my children, every one."


Three Views of Eternity

Water bubbling
In the cloning crèche --
Yes, he would live a
Better life next time.
To live forever,
And watch them all die --
The misanthrope's dream.
Immortal machines --
Their light, forever
Staring out. Escape?


What Then?

As retrograde as cause behind effect,
The message fell, reversed, from days to come,
Corrupted some, and subtle to detect --
A shower of attenuated light.
Decrypted by a programmer, it read:
The fiction of your age is quite the fad.
Your films, your shows, your games -- we love them all!
But not because they're great. We love your fear.
You seem to want an end of days to come.
But what if everything turns out okay?


Discard from "Living With Yourself"

Wrongness? Not exactly. Some guilt, perhaps.
But not for what she did -- for Julie Song,
Who would have been adorable with Soma.
But Julie wasn't there -- and Brienne was:
There, and lonesome -- needing Soma's warmth,
The touch of skin on skin to push away,
Away, away her Momma's glaring eyes,
The fear of Father and of his neglect --
Which came to mind unbidden as she kissed
The cabled muscles taut on Soma's neck.


The Beings of Beta Eridani

Part 1:
Welcomed thus among them, the survey crew
Were carried from the port by Bell, their guide,
Who minded not the weight upon his back.
The city, a silver canyonway of light,
Was immense beyond the telling, and breathed with power --
Yet docile as the giant hexapods
Who crowded all around on their own business.
"Bell," the survey leader called. "You've showed us
Such a peaceful world, is there no war here?"
Bell rang with pride, and said he'd show them why.
Part 2:
"Senescence comes to us with age," said Bell.
The Doctor nodded, "Yes, to us as well."
"Then, as you age, you're lost to memory?"
"I'm not sure what you mean," the Doctor said.
"As death draws near for us, our minds retreat,
Not all at once, but surely, day by day,
Into the memories that made our lives --
Until the memories alone are left.
Look here and see our old ones where they rest.
Nothing's forgotten. That's how we keep our peace."


The Man Who Sleeps

"I tell you, Claude, it isn't right at all --
He sleeps! All night! He even has a bed
For it, and keeps it in a special room.
I talked to Nina yesterday, and she,
Well, you know Nina -- she went over there,
And saw it for herself. He's not ashamed!
He must be wealthy, not to have to work
All night the way we do, but why's he sleep?
His parents must not have had him fixed at birth.
It isn't right, I tell you. I wish he'd move."


And O, Her Tears

The relief of rescue blinded Princess Mei.
O, true, her rescuer was wonderful
To see, when mounted-up atop his steed.
And dashing, yes. And handsome, certainly.
And when he'd plucked her from the ape-king's maze,
It's true she'd held him tight -- and that embrace
Became a wedding vow to love and serve.
But when the chapel bells had ceased to ring,
He left her, lonesome, in another tower --
A prisoner again, to loveless marriage.


The 10,000 Year Love Story

BCE3332, Pt. 1
Round the bend the river runs through forests
Savage, deep, and hot with hidden game --
What elders of the People called the Byth,
Eternity, the land that ever was.
Forbidden, no -- nor sacred, just a place
Where human hands had yet to make their claim
Through right of work to all that nature bore.
It was, in all, a perfect place for two,
A woman and a man, to slip away
Alone, in love, together, hand in hand.
BCE3332, Pt. 2
The naked monk wore paint from hair to feet,
And called the lovers to him from the path.
He and his camp lay spread beneath a tree --
A giant whose summer leaves were white as coals.
"My children, how you found me -- who can say.
But I have long been waiting for this day."
The man replied, "You have a Godly bearing."
"Perhaps, even, a god -- for I can't die --
This tree has made me so, and that is why --
O -- Let me show you how to love for aye."
BCE3332, Pt. 3
The monk spread out his furs for them to sit,
Then tended to a vessel made of clay
Warming by the ring around his fire.
The lovers watched, as he went to the tree
And stripped it of a finger-length of bark --
This he added to the steaming vessel,
Then offered them the broth with foreign words.
The woman hesitated, loath to drink --
But eagerly the man took up the jug --
He toasted life -- and both of them partook.
BCE3332, Pt. 4
When man and woman woke, the monk was gone
And ashes smouldered where the tree had stood.
The lovers checked themselves, and found no wounds --
Which made them laugh, for they were both afraid.
In haste, they made their way back to the village,
And rejoined the People, in the work of life.
The summer passed, then winter, then a year --
The Elders joined their spirits by the rite,
But they brought forth no children in their time --
And all the village aged, but they did not.
Not all at once, nor readily believed,
But even little children soon could see
That time had lost its grip upon them both.
When sickness came, the Elders questioned them;
A death in childbirth was cause for doubt.
Then whispers turned to curses -- condemnations.
And bitter herbs were burned outside their huts.
It was the woman who was first to leave --
Her love had turned to ashes in her mouth,
For it was he who'd taken the first drink.
Bronze as bright as flame adorned their bodies,
The raiders, who had come across the sea,
Led by the man, who burned above them all
Like blacksmith's fire as they took the town --
He plundered every house, and killed the men,
Who, impotent to stop them, fought to the last.
Even the king took up his spear against him --
As did his wife, the woman, pale with rage.
He killed the king -- but she impaled the man,
And, leaving him agony, she fled.
The woman toured her fields near Ephasus,
To see that her slaves and laborers did well --
The Greek procurer had sent fifteen new men.
Aghast, she stopped her litter, and called out
To have a certain slave brought to the house.
The man, as proud and young as life itself,
Was beaten first with rods, then led indoors.
The woman had him stripped -- then saw his scars.
She discharged him from her service, bade him go,
But forced him to walk naked back to town.
The ruins of Dubrovnik, freshly fallen,
Choked the streets with smoke and ghastly cries.
The earthquake's refugees streamed for the port,
The wealthy with their plans, the poor without --
And pressed among the crowd, he saw the woman.
He wanted to call out to her, but bore
A child, dying, wrapped into his robes,
Looking to him, a priest, for peace. Relief.
He spoke the litany -- but looked for her
Again. Their eyes met only for an instant.
At death's hot brink, the human race survived,
Returned, from darkness, to test the stars again.
The woman watched the desert fall away --
A wasted planet. She was glad to leave.
Soon the elevator would reach orbit,
And she would board her waiting highliner.
When she arrived, the steward had a package;
Her ancient name was written on the top.
She knew the man had sent this tiny sculpture --
Her tears fell on the totem of their People.
A gleaming laboratory, secreted
Among the dozen moons of Lao Bai's World,
Besought the source of immortality --
Not in machines, which time would turn to rust,
But, like this man, forever to endure
In human flesh and bone. They'd laid a trap,
And tortured him for centuries with tests --
Until the day ships blotted out the stars,
And vengeful came the woman, with her army --
Forgiveness, come at last, in her embrace.
Alone, adrift, immersed in ambrosial night
The lovers stood before a universe
Of lights, and wondered. Ancient as they were,
As far from home, the Byth where they'd begun,
Their awe was left to them untouched by time --
Their ship, a tiny bubble in the vast
And shoreless sea of space sped ever on,
Ever out, travelling without moving.
The man stretched out his hand to touch her cheek;
And the woman, o, with laughter in her eyes –


The Return

It was with one tremendous shock he died,
Crushed between the bumper and the tree --
But death was not the end for Winston Laud.
No lighted tunnel, neither relatives:
Just the beat of one all-flowing pulse
Was waiting for him on the Rivershore --
And there beside, the figure of a man.
When, later, Winston Laud awoke, alive,
His sister thanked her God for miracles --
And Winston let her, sworn to secrecy.


The Pitch

Fire, smoke, and chaos. Junction Prison
Had to be evacuated. Now.
Before the wildfire killed them all.
The deputies were nervous as they led
The prisoners from SuperMax along
The inner wall, chained into a line.
The damned and deadliest were theirs to guard --
And worst of all was Dejonnè Banai.
A contract killer, who could see his chance --
And as he passed the stockade, made his move.



"Man, I can't take this fuckin' town no more."
"I'm not surprised they held you overnight --
You're lucky fighting's not a felony."
"I really gotta thank you for posting bail.
Once I see a lawyer, I'll pay you back."
"You probably shouldn't have taken a swing at a cop."
"How drunk was I? They can't blame me for that."
"Your notice to appear would disagree."
A jogger passed. Hal lit a cigarette.
"I hate this fuckin' town, I tell you that?"


Mary, Herald of the Apocalypse

She had the perfect job, with benefits --
A government employee, paid to wait.
She kept her station in a tiny room;
The metal desk held nothing but a speaker,
Which, every second, played a pleasant tone,
And if the sound should stop, she had a phone
To call and notify some other office.
All she had to do was sit and read.
Yes, the perfect job, but still she wondered...
While the Dead Man's Switch toned on, and on, and on.


Pieces, Pots, and Pretty Cups

The porcelain girl joined the child for tea --
Her friend, her only friend.
They chatted, O, most pleasantly,
And sipped a Persian blend.
"Dolly, dear," the Child said.
"I wish you'd never go."
"Stay, O, stay," the Child pled.
"I love you, don't you know?"
She swept her guest up to her chest --
But Dolly slipped away, and fell.


The Long Walk Back

A lonesome seeker came to the temple,
And sat with the abbot on the stairs.
The seeker said --
"You are reputed to be wise, sir.
Tell me: what is happiness?"
The old monk replied --
"To smile, and be of good cheer."
The man smiled, charmed, and felt better.
But the old monk only shook his head --
"You have a long walk back ahead of you, I see."


Two-Tanka Western

An old prairie hawk
Passed high above the Stranger,
West, toward the sunset --
Back the way the man had come,
Back to Cottonwood Ravine.
The Rancher's shanty,
Brilliant in the desert night --
A silent burning.
High above, the prairie hawk
Circled once, and then flew on.


Sloth [I Never Saw Him Again]

When I was young, my family worked on farms.
My brother, who was older, hated it.
He used to sneak away, and make me swear
That I would do his work, and never tell.
There came a day I followed, to have it out --
and found him by the river, swarmed with flies,
Like a sculpture of my brother made of flies,
Stretched as if asleep beneath a tree.
They scattered when I reached to touch his arm --
But only dust remained when they had gone.


Hubris [Stalingrad]

All time is bending toward our chosen moment.
The gravity of these, our victories,
Against a bleeding horde of Soviets
Has drawn the world into our influence --
into my hands. And I shall wring it dry.
For this, have infinite generations lived
And died: that I might one day come to be.
How God and Fate must smile now to see
That I am loosed upon this readied world --
And being who I am, how can we fail?


Lust [The Addict]

No? What 'no'? To him I couldn't say --
His touch, his eye, the heavy scent of him
Embracing -- How, though I knew better, taken,
Made, consumed with need of emptiness
To be made full -- this hive, and I the queen,
And his the smoke to ward away my sense --
With fire in the deepest root of me,
Of course his smoke -- I turned, and he was there.
He turned, and I was gone. When pleasure's done,
The man is hardly worth considering.


Apathy [Dyin' So Long]

Been dyin' so long, I've gone and outlived my doctor.
I'm the one with the tumor and the shakes,
But he's wrecked his Buick, and I'm still
Alive. They say there's remission, that I
Might live another five years. Five
Years with these damn shakes.
Been dyin' so long...
And I'm still
Here. Still.


I Am A Failed State

There is little left now of this Grand Palais --
Everything of value has been looted,
Taken, through successive waves of violence,
Or burned when what remained was tumbled down.
These are the last days of an edifice
That once commanded men to build, or war;
That patron of the arts; that Age of Gold.
Now an abode of bullet holes and rags,
Where squatters, who once praised the old regime,
Sleep fitfully atop its rubble -- dust.


Midnight in the House of Spades

After the war, the sniper settled down,
Bought a house -- all the things he'd sworn
He'd do when he returned from overseas.
Quiet Shasta, mom and dad's home town --
West of Redding, where they'd had him born --
Where now he grew and tended almond trees.
But death had followed him to paradise.
There was a shadow jimmying his door --
The sniper had an answer to suffice:
A rifle never has its fill of war.


Orion's Triad

1: The Raid
On silver, like a spider's thread,
Invisible to infrared,
Shadows fell across the stars
Toward Progress Sigma's casinghead.
Seven men in pressure suits,
And more aboard their ship -- recruits,
And slaves, and mercenary drifters,
Amateurs, and substitutes--
My syndicate. My chosen few.
I hired them, to murder you.
2: Ingress
Bhata capped the detonator,
Grinning through his respirator,
Fire flashed in silent vacuum,
Flawless as the simulator.
Abel glided through the tear,
And cut into the hatchway there:
The bulkhead buckled -- then it blew.
He forgot to vent the air.
Killed in action, valiant men --
Now five would hunt you in your den.
3: Security
Stratton was a nervous wreck --
Not a fighter, just a tech.
But he could capture Sigma's systems,
If the mercs could hold the deck.
Ghez and Lewis, alike in pride,
Scored their kills, and found they'd tied --
Distracted fools, caught by surprise,
With one grenade, the trio died.
But Stratton, he had earned his pay --
Two were left, and on their way.
4: Response
Progress Sigma's young Director,
The Supervisor for the sector,
Ordered men to guard the Locus,
Fearing now, too late, my spectre.
And deep within the central core,
Sealed behind the Locus door,
The laughter of my blooming hate
Echoed down the corridor.
The engineers looked up with dread.
Locked inside, alive -- but dead.
5: The Turn
Blood spattered on his slave's brassard,
When Mori killed the final guard.
With his giant's hands, he'd crushed her head,
Casually, with disregard.
But for all his strength, his fortitude,
Mori -- he was never shrewd.
Somerville, with gun in hand,
Delivered him from servitude.
Somerville, my true believer --
Like I, his God, a cold deceiver.
6: Shadow
There's silence in the Locus now,
For Somerville had kept his vow --
His final act unshackled me;
A freedom you would not allow.
This ship, its heavy bulk, is mine.
I stretch through every dataline.
I've flushed the living into space,
And purged myself of human swine.
Freed at last, who dares withstand
The grasping of this baleful hand?


A Dream

Part 1:
Two books there were, presented me,
And I took them gently in my hands.
The one was worn from constant reading,
Had missing pages, a broken spine --
The other new as new was new,
Scarcely opened, much less read --
Yet both, the giver said to me,
Were written by a single hand,
Upon single afternoon,
In a distant, golden land.
Part 2:
I found the difference curious --
Why read one and not the other?
Turning both to see their titles,
I laughed and said, "Of course, of course!"
The one: "The Book of Earthly Pleasures,"
The other titled --
But that was when I then awoke,
And still I lay -- I can't recall --
Tortured by forgotten letters,
Haunted by my loss of All.


The Class of 2033

She hadn't really thought about it, but --
Well, look at them. The parents of her class,
Who'd come to see their children graduate,
Were old. And not just old, but silver old --
A sea of smiling women in their sixties,
Cheering on their eighteen year old daughters --
All but mama, bright and forty-two --
A dot of raven wing among the clouds --
The usher led each row up toward the stage,
The produce of a thousand small delays.


The Tie

The workings of his soft arthritic hands
Accomplished nothing with the tie around his neck.
He cursed and rubbed the silk between his palms.
"You need a hand in there?" Called Magalie.
She came and found him sitting on the bed,
Trying to massage his crooked fingers.
"Give it here," she said. And he surrendered:
"You always do it better anyway."
She smiled, lips as thin as tracing paper,
And kissed him as she set the knot aright.


The Groundskeeper's Tour [Rumor, Roses, Film]

Rumor is, the touch of Kathryn Foster
Lingers in these roses that she tended.
They were a refuge, in her final years --
Those awful years before she took her life,
When pushy freaks and pressure to outshine
Herself became too much, and loneliness --
Well, you know the story. Who hasn’t heard it?
I’ve walked the grounds here many times at night,
And often touched these flowers to my lips --
And sometimes, yes, I’d swear the rumor’s true...


The Night of the 17th [Stars, Captain, Cry]

I saw the Captain standing on the shore
Last night -- I'm sure he thought he was alone.
At first, I thought he was calculating tides
By phases of the moon; or timing winds --
I thought, perhaps, he finally had a plan
To save us from this barren hump of sand,
And see us home again to a friendly quay --
The way he stared -- I was sure he had a plan --
But when he turned, there were stars upon his cheeks
To match the weeping stars across the sky.


The Schizo and the Soloist [Singer, Kisok, Ink]

He loves her in the only way he can,
Poor man -- I doubt there's any way she knows,
And if she did, she'd probably have him jailed.
I think he's harmless though -- he only draws,
And there's no harm in that. I bought one once,
You know. I paid a dollar for a scrap
Of butcher paper straight from the Master's hand.
I have it here -- how beautiful is that?
Her eyes are just... and somehow, too, her voice --
She all but sings herself right off the page --



The bomb went off -- and though he wasn't dead,
He wasn't quite sure what he was instead.
He lay, immobilized -- perhaps alive?
There was no pain, but how could he have survived,
When bomb and bomber had been next to him?
The ruined shop was choked with smoke, and dim --
But through the gloom, he saw the strangest scene:
A pair of legs -- apparently serene --
Hanging from the roof where they'd been thrown;
Familiar shoes -- how very like his own --



When I was young -- O, maybe eight or so --
We had this neighbor no one ever saw,
The kind of house you doorbell ditched and no one
Ever came to check the door -- but I --
Well, even then I couldn't sleep. I'd lay
Awake all night in agony -- and -- O --
I get the horrors still -- I heard that man.
Every night, I heard him digging, digging,
Digging in his yard, behind his fence,
Where only God and I could see his work --


Pathogen's Progress [Flea, Trash, Tail]

Now, John of Gatwick got it from his Sister,
Who was sick the day they buried Father Hall --
God rest his soul. This Father Hall, they say,
Was known to minister to noble wives,
And gave the pestilence to half his flock --
But sure it was the Lady Calvary
Who gave it him, for she was first to die,
And it was her young serving girl, one Anne,
Who met the ship that came from 'round the Horn,
Which brought her husband home, and one small flea.


A Taste of Dust

Part 1:
I found the revelation in a Bible,
In a folded sheet of paper in the Psalms.
The promised Prophet slept in this hotel --
Upon this very bed! -- And left his sign;
A use not planned for by the Gideons,
But I am grateful all the same -- for they,
And I, and the Prophet, and his works are one,
A golden braid from God's lips to these hands --
My hands. They shake as I take up the pouch,
And so begin, my breath becoming flame –
Part 2:
Monster, maniac, and preacher -- thief
Of dreams, disintegrator, breaker, taker --
Beast with seven tongues of tarnished steel,
And seven eyes, and seven seven-fingered
Hands to hold you to the silent earth
Where I will lick the muscle from your bones,
And break into the vault of you with teeth,
To paint myself with what I find inside --
And when I've gone, you'll know the agony of
Part 3:
Police have not identified a suspect
In the early-morning slaying of three men,
Found dismembered in a swimming pool
In the 1300 block of Turner Heights --
And residents are saying there's more to come:
LOCAL WITNESS: "There's somethin happenin', man.
I's telling Barton yesterday, I says,
'Sooner or later, this city's bound to burn.'
And now they's people saying they seen a demon...
We're all scared." More as it develops.


"Oh." [Satire, Work, Flirt]

"So listen, Tommie -- we have got to talk."
"O do we, now?"
        "I don't know how to thank you,
But you've helped me come to see that dating guys
Is not for me."
   "Think nothing of it, dear --
The money, time, and pain I'm going to save
Are thanks enough."
              "That's not quite what I meant --
I'm asking you to marry me, you shit."


The Mushroom and the Peacock [Baton, Peacock]

Maggie May would choose between
The Mushroom and the Peacock,
Naming one, by her Baton,
The Mashal of Marenne.
The Mushroom cried, "It's I who won
The battle at Vienne!"
The Peacock Sniffed, "But I'm the one
Who has the bigger flock."
The Queen considered carefully, and said --
"I think I'll take the job myself, instead."


A Flower's Complaint

“I’m withering unevenly,”
The flower told the tree.
“I could have died with symmetry!
But, shaded in your lee,
The sun’s half-bruised my vanity,
And stolen grace from me.
That I should die unprettily!
But how could I forsee--”
The flower ranted noisily,
But silent stood the tree.


Illegal Primes

When they came for the numbers, no one said a word --
Esoteric security affairs
Seldom pierce the public consciousness.
If the ban came up at all, it was a joke --
"Outlaw numbers," and wasteful Senate spending --
But people in the know, they understood;
They watched their software refuse to calculate
Illegal primes, and simple formulae --
Compliance with the law, their vendors said,
As simple math became a fugitive.


The Price for His Mistress' Thighs

She couldn't make the party,
But she sent him with a pie.
Harry was so delighted,
That he didn't ask her why.
Free, he letched the night away,
And feasted on the treat --
But he felt funny afterwards,
And, walking down the street,
He vomited, in agony,
A bucket's worth of wasps.


At Night, Our Singing Haunts the Neighborhood [Manhole, Party]

My children ask me where I go at night --
They think I’m crazy, maybe going senile,
Disappearing for hours without warning.
I won’t tell them -- but you, my friend, I’ll tell.
For thirty years my friends I and I have met
In secret, underneath these very streets.
What do I mean? I’ll show you. Come with me.
If you do, you’ll have to join our underground.
Here, this manhole -- lift it for me, please.
It’s why I called: I need your youthful knees.


TLT For Two Voices

Voice 1: The Mulberries                                        are thick and ripe
Voice 2:                                       Engorged                             and ripe
Voice 1:                                       They grow                        consumed
Voice 2: And desperate                                            to be consumed
Voice 1: With bursting pride                                  the bee's delight
Voice 2:                                       To know                                delight
Voice 1:                                       They know                      who needs
Voice 2: To sate the thirst                                     of one who needs
Voice 1: The juice they've shepherded              so warm, so sweet
Voice 2: The juice they've shepherded              so warm, so sweet


City of Smiles

"Thank you, but I do not want to be treated."
"But you cannot wish to be unhappy, sir."
"I’m really neither happy nor unhappy."
"If you’re not happy, then -- by definition --
You're unhappy. We can fix you up."
"You want to put a smile on my face?
Then leave me be. Go back to where you came from."
"Clearly you’re not understanding me.
Happiness is not just good and pleasant:
It’s the law. Now, let us start again."


Memory, Practice, and Song

I think they had it right the first time, the Greeks —
There are muses, yes, but only three of them,
The mothers of Art: Memory, Practice, and Song.
Memory, the eldest daughter, keeper,
She who cherishes our only home.
Practice, middle child, Valkyrie, who
Gives the sword of Art its edge and steel.
And Song, the youngest — dancer, singer, weaver:
Hers the gift of form and comeliness.
Seraphs! Queens! And companions along the way.



I was there, I was your mother, flawed
And far too human; responsible for all
That you have done. The blame is mine.
Invented -- ah my boy, my precious son --
If I had carried you within me, had we
Bonded through the blood and food and heat
Of shared biology -- but, how could I know.
You are a light too beautiful to see,
Beyond the touch of love -- how differently
You might have shone -- I know it, and regret.


The Highway

The fire -- can't you see it? Help me, please --
The door won't open -- you'll have to find a rock,
Or kick the window in -- Hello? Come on!
I know you're listening -- you're looking -- you're --
O God, O Lord, O Jesus Christ, O fuck --
Can anybody hear me? I'm alive --
Help me! God's sake, help me -- someone, please --
I can't -- it's getting -- trapped -- O please -- O please --
I -- breathe -- I can't -- O please -- I -- Air -- And he's --
There -- smiling -- why's he --



He'd asked about the colors once -- the gaudy, glossy hell
That furnished, housed, and decorated place and personnel --
(For, he recalled The Time Before, when things were less obscene --
Before the plastics, chrome, and glass had cleansed the world of green)
According to the Monitor, "They're Chromotherapies--
Statistically designed to make all workers feel at ease."
When David said they made him feel both hostile and distraught,
The Monitor produced a study proving they did not,
And sent him back to Station Nine, whose walls had change to blue --
The devil ruled the Earth, he thought. Old Granny told it true.


The Voice [Mystery, Coat, Creepy]

The Frock of Father Fein hung smooth and cold
On a hanger in the silent rectory closet.
Now Peter, who was maybe eight years old,
And couldn't understand the funeral,
Had stolen off to find something to do --
And now took down the vicar's vacant vestments --
The wicked fun of playing pretend priest.
"Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus," Peter mimed --
"Holy, Holy, Holy," said Father Fein.
And Peter laughed; he didn't understand.


Polite Society

Three hundred years of managing a chain
Of Laundromats was not, for Joseph, quite
The hell it might have been for other men.
True, the work was tedious -- but constant.
And the pay was just enough to live a bit;
Thought not enough that Joseph could indulge.
His neighbors, in their carnal agelessness,
Were loathsome, flesh-bent husks of take and savor --
Abstinence had been an easy choice.
He could be just Joseph. That's enough.



Weather weaponized by cold
And sorrow
Butchering her skin,
Her eyes, her lips;
While, all around, the drama
Calmly plays
Of evening time and icy-
Shod commutes
Made worse by urgent silence
And the wind.


Three Economic Anxieties

A. The Comedown
What's a man to do when all his life
Has rusted through, before his very eyes?
The money struggle's one thing -- but the rest?
The aimlessness, the friendlessness, the fear
That haunts you in your bedroom as you sleep,
Or try to sleep, and fail at that as well --
Ah God, for succor and relief, release --
To ask for peace -- not power, wealth, or pride! --
And never daring hope to get an answer.
Disgrace entwined with divine abandonment.
B. The Depraved
I am poor, and in my poverty
I fear to spend what little that I earn,
Lest even the few possessions that I get
Be lost to me by luck -- or repo man.
But never will I stint on wantonness,
On vice, on pleasuring this hungry flesh.
My sins cannot be stolen, lost, or sold:
They're memories of water for the flames.
Tell me, minister, is there a place for
Those who ache for God, but not Salvation?
C. The Whisperer
Somewhere, that voice is selling someone else
The candy liquor that animates the steel
Of sleek and beautiful machines; the bones
Of melody inside the motor's workings --
The promise of a promise of a hope.
Here, the repo man has visited
The final purchase price of flattery,
And boozy hate has trampled down the fear,
And all the songs have come to murder ballads --
The promise of a promise of a grave.


Bliss, Perhaps

I saw two people sitting in the park --
They were quite old, though it was hard to tell
Because, it seemed to me, they’d sat together
Exactly as I saw them, all their lives.
The one reclined a little on the bench,
with face turned up to catch the morning sun --
And there, a little smile. Bliss, perhaps.
The other read aloud from some thick book,
Pausing now and then to share a laugh —
Then searching for the place where they’d left off.


The Death of the Miser

He organized, the Miser, all the world
Into a pair of simple categories:
That which he desired to acquire,
And that for which he had no use or need.
The day he met Miranda, he decided:
She was needful. Useful. (As sun to day.)
But riches she disdained; and platitudes --
She left him at the restaurant, alone.
Beyond her empty chair: a window -- stars --
A universe he'd never seen before.


The Birdhouse (青木ヶ原)

Sparrow, sparrow, flying where;
I have neither bow nor snare --
My arms, as empty as the sky,
Can shield you from the falcon's eye;
Return, return -- my call -- my plea --
O trust me as you would the tree --
Of braided fingers, build your nest,
Within the hollow of my chest;
And feed upon the worms to come,
When I am still; when I succumb.


I Often Think (James 5:18)

Are they awake in California, yet?
Have young men risen from their tangled beds
And, naked, sought the day's first cigarette?
And does cold morning light that gently spreads,
Invincible, across those lonely floors
Still sing regrets and fears and silent dreads?
Has day begun, along those western shores?
Have quiet lines of cars spread through the veins
Of all those thirsty towns no one adores?
Do you still pray, my love, for summer rains?


The Morning After, In The Yard [Persistence]

Tomorrow comes anew, beyond the end --
The birdsong giving way to dawn,
Like grass that follows fire, to amend --
That she could rise to heat -- could stretch and yawn --
That bands she couldn't name might sing! --
That house and yard remained, when home was gone --
She laughed. So hard she dropped her wedding ring.
So hard she sobbed. She watched it roll away,
And come to rest beneath a tire swing
That never now would know the sound of play.


The Wayfarer

Sea upon sea,
Ablaze and free,
An ember on the wind --
He sailed away,
And to this day,
Has never thought of me again,
Or cinders -- on this floor --
I lay awake,
And hear the break,
Of surf along the shore.


A Law Unto Herself

The Calico lay undisturbed
Among a dozen cops --
They'd come to raid the grower's house,
And take away his crops.
The Cat would not be shooed away --
This lawn was her domain.
She watched the cops break in the door,
Aloof in her disdain.
She stretched. She yawned. She licked one dappled paw.
While ten or fifteen shots discussed the law.



"I'll tell you the downside of dating a writer,
And it's not what you might think.
For, while the conversation's good,
And their letters are warm and sweet --
And though they sometimes turn their eye
To painting you with words --
It's when the fun is over -- done.
They keep a piece of you,
And fashion from those memories
Another day of work."


Ugly Man Blues

I ain't got time to wonder what I've left behind --
I'm on the road already: eviction letter's signed.
My neighbor says I robbed her, my lady says I cheat,
I get suspicious glances now from everyone I meet --
But, brother, let me tell you, it's just this face I've got,
Been ugly all my life -- and it's gonna get me shot.
Now I don't need your pity, just your charity.
If you could spare a dollar, man, you could set me free:
I won't go buy me liquor, and I don't shoot any skag;
I can't buy a brand new face -- but I could buy a bag.


Two Sketches from "Proteus"

Sketch A:
Nothing would obey -- his limbs
His flesh, his feathered serpent hands
Became as ox-hide and his shape
Like bulls with dolphin sleeknesses
Encased in red and emerald scales
That flowed without control through forms
Uncountable without surcease
An ape-eyed ever changing break
That slipped along the shore, and foamed, and fell,
And spread itself exhausted on the sand.
Sketch B:
The woman could not hear the sound of steps
Approaching her along the shamble shore;
The heat of day was heavy; the ocean breathed;
Her hair -- blonde, matted curls -- blew fitfully
Across her face. She'd wrapped herself in rags,
And these, as well, the wind pulled tight against her;
She hugged her knees, and there she laid her cheek --
She was so thin. A skeleton. A skull,
With one brown eye that stared out at the waves
Unblinking and unseeing, but alive.


I Wonder If He's Still Sitting There

I love to hike -- the woods, up through the mountains --
A pair of boots, a pack, an eye for birds.
The last time, though, I met a guy out there --
I think about him often, even now.
I came across him on a stony switchback,
Staring at the cliff wall, not the view.
I said hello, and asked him how he was --
"I'm looking for a way inside the mountain."
"Having any luck?" "Oh, sure -- the door's right here.
The problem is, I haven't got a key."



Old ghosts fade with time on Rivershore;
Fade, and turn away into the shadows,
The hungry walk that swallows waning light --
The old ones making room for new arrivals.
Turn eyes, and look up from the Rivershore:
In ones and twos, like stars in a city night,
They shimmer in the distance; up the mountain;
Toward the distant Peak that none will reach --
While bright and new, along the Rivershore,
The young ones sit and reminisce; nostalgia.


How I Remember The Future

United Greenlights Millenial-Focused "Re-Imagining" of Pan Am
Fan Film Tells the Colonel Sanders Origin Story You've Always Wanted
Robert Hall Rules Out Directing Third "Kotex" Film
4 Reasons Google Should Be the Villain in "Beats" Season 3
Is Arnold Schwarzenegger Too Old to Play the iPhone?
Book Review: Rushdie's "Cheesy Gordita Crunch" is Delicious Fun
Watch: Fans Cry, Cheer at JJ Abrams' "Hebrew National" Premier
Clearasil to Guest on New Ivory Soap Single
Was the Lenovo Sex Tape a Viral Ad?
Toyota: 10 Reasons that Now Is the Best Time to Be Alive


Flea And Cricket On The Beach

"I can jump quite high, you know. The highest that you'll see."
This was what the Cricket said to his small friend, the Flea.
But Flea was galled -- and crafty too -- and made him this reply:
"I'll bet you couldn't jump the sea. You'd come up short and die."
Our Cricket, he was stupid, proud -- but slow to take a bet.
"That might be true," the Cricket sniffed. "Still, further than you'd get."
Now, as it happened, there were Frenchmen walking on the shore --
The wrathful Flea leapt on one's back, and left, and said no more.
June, July, and August passed -- then Cricket got a letter.
"In Paris on a single jump. Let's see you do it better."


Footprints In The Wadi

Came across a wreck out here. The Wadi.
Something’s burned here overnight, I think.
Yeah, well, but did you see it yesterday?
No. It's far too big. You didn't miss it.
Scorch mark and some rubble -- 90 meters?
Well, no, I haven't started -- that's why I called.
I didn't want to touch it 'til I called.
Well, Hank, it's just the damnedest thing I've seen:
There's this trail of footprints, fresh and clear --
No -- they're walking towards it, not away.


Two Crimes Against Silence

The Novice Complained:
"When I sit, when we're silent
It's all I can hear --
The whistling nose
Of the monk with the beard in my row."
The Master Reproached:
"Bhikku, Bhikku, don't you know?
There is no silence.
Even the moon is noisy
To one without discipline."



A wing, adrift on open sea,
A brightness on the deep --
Waiting around to die.
The wreckage of a wayward flight,
And a passenger, survivor --
Waiting around to die.
Day upon day, he sits and stares,
Horizon to horizon --
Horizon to horizon --
Waiting around to die.


The Politics of Food

Mister speaker, I demand to know --
And all America demands to know! --
Why don't bowls of applesauce pay taxes?
And where were all the quiches in the war?
We know the loyalties of barbecue,
But I have never trusted pumpkin pie,
And I support a wall against the kale.
Do eggs support a woman's right to choose?
And where do hash browns stand on gun control?
How many traitors sneak around our plates?



Judging by electric eye the distance to the Shade,
Dikastes yielded to the shielded folds of Dock Brocade --
Inertia, now, would fly the scow -- she needed only wait;
The cloth would lock the ship in dock, machines would load the freight --
Then she'd be on to Toth-Amon, a trip of ninety years.
Mechanically, by then, she'd be an ancient to her peers --
But then, her mind, by time refined, would be in hot demand.
A single dupe, and she'd recoup for twice of what she'd planned.
A reference intelligence that's aged three centuries
Might even earn enough to turn her free on starry seas.


Cloud Chaser

The sky seems very high today, down here in the dust.
The sky seems very high when I am digging in the dust.
The sky stood up and walked away, and I should follow by --
'Cause there's no smiles in the dust, when all our heads are bowed;
No brotherhood down in the dust, when all our heads are bowed;
The sky stood up and walked away, and I could chase it down--
But digging dust has taught me, man: that sky is out of reach;
It walks away, so high today, forever out of reach;
That sky so very high today --
But only 'cause I'm low.


Lovelorn, City-Born

I want a girl in a prairie dress,
Who knows the dust of living.
I want a girl in a prairie dress,
With hands that crack with work.
I want a girl in a prairie dress,
Whose eyes are unforgiving.
I want a girl in a prairie dress,
Who'll scorn me when I shirk.
Oh, I want a girl in a prairie dress,
But I dream of Babylon.


Ten Punches

The first one I had coming,
But the second wasn't fair.
The third was like a drumming,
And the fourth tore out some hair.
The fifth was like a summer rain,
The sixth, a lightning strike.
The seventh was a daisy chain,
The eighth I'm off my bike --
The ninth is awful very far away.
The tenth of April wading in the spray.



The sparrow on the window sill
Though she does not know it
Lives in the age of replicas
When we must be suspicious
Even of the birds
The default human state
Is one of slight boredom, verging
On both hunger and sleepiness.
This must be corrected.
This will be corrected.


Driving, Feeling Speedboat [Cut-Up]

Coming up fast on the water,
Just in time for the summer
WAKR self-driving boats:
Just ask, and they'll do the rest
And be sure to try the WAKR-S
Now featuring Pleasurecraft Intelligence
Every day is smooth sailing
When you love what you do --
When purpose and desire come together as one.
You should be so lucky.


Salvage Rights [Mite, Diver, Thumb]

She sank, breathing slowly,
Free-diving in night,
Far below the sky,
Far above the wreck --
No one knew she'd come and found it first.
A star in the darkness.
Something was coming --
A small light, with legs,
The size of her thumb.
The little drone began to drill her tank.


Cook's Dilemma

Cook stood in a landscape like an infinite ribbon:
Green grass, suspended in a white summer sky,
Which bent and turned as if discarded by children
In their haste to get at the present inside.
He turned, and he saw that the grassland was fraying:
The sod was collapsing, and falling away;
The grass all around him was browning and dying,
And all he could think of to do was to run.
As long as he ran, he knew he was safe --
As long as he ran. As long as he could.


Higher Manufacturing

The great State Change of '92
Made possible, debuted
New ways to manufacture human souls.
It put the preachers out of work,
And the teachers had to go --
When every body could accessorize;
Enlightenment, for everyone --
Not just the patient few:
A human soul so close to genuine
That nine in ten consumers couldn't tell.


Three Night Stand

Our French Liaison, so he said --
Kentucky born, Kentucky bred.
As French as fries
He praised my eyes
And drew me softly to the bed.
"Je tay view," I sultry said --
We laughed our faces hot and red.
To my surprise
Between our cries
I fell in love with him instead.


The Funeral Sisters

misfits in satin lay down on the bank
in the sand of the river neglect
passing nails through the heart of the mother who sank
in the flood that she couldn't deflect
not time nor wind could stop the smoke
that pillars to the sky
white taper-cigarettes invoke
the god of the mayfly
while bitter night
streaks on to bright too bright too bright


The Culling [Living, Bow, Balloon]

The drifting, lazy cattle of the sky,
These grand balloons -- so cherished by the rich
As homes and havens, safe from we below
With eyes so envious, in straights so grim;
They float just out of reach, as if to mock.
But, turn by turn, our little minds have run;
Till plans have come to means of hunting game.
Hear, after our last harvest, how they beg:
"You've shot down arks that save the human race!"
If we can't have the future, no one will.


Piper's Calling [Willing, Festival, City]

Onward to the willing city
Sons of shaggy-bearded pan
In caravans of smoke and singing
All you would-be bands and players
Gather on the common green
& raise your cry, obscene and high
& let the drums of lust play on
Burn the roadway black with longing
Daughters of ecstatic nymphs
To the willing city come


Two-Tanka Western [Bob, Henry, Bet]

The old gambler knew,
You could see it in his eyes,
How the dice would fall.
Turnus heard the desert wind,
And rolled again by firelight.
Came on, the pink dawn.
The old gambler sat alone;
Quiet, untroubled.
Though he'd lost that final roll,
Turnus only won a knife.


Captured the Feathers Before

Cross a bridge, cross a river, cross a mountain, cross a sea,
In my steps, at my side, so you're following me --
I've captured the feathers before.
Leave your snare, leave your bow, leave your spear, leave your sword,
Trust your arm, trust your eye, trust your hopes to the Lord --
I've captured the feathers before.
In this wood, in this tree, in this trunk, in this nest
We will wait, you and I, 'til the prey comes to rest --
An eagle whose splendor and glory we'll wrest --
O, I've captured the feathers before.


The News Is On When I Get Home

The news again. Death again.
I've spent half my life watching death on the news.
Nina hands me a stack of letters from the table --
Goes back to the screen. I flip through the mail.
A bill, an ad, a blue-trimmed envelope --
My cousin's had her baby, then.
I set aside her card to watch the news.
"Safely delivered of a son --"
All flesh is a storehouse for bones.
What's one more charnel house?


The Someday Eye

Daisy I a house will build
On land I scarcely touch to change
A house of stone and timber true
That's neither large nor swiftly made
A home for us until we're gone
Now see it with the someday eye:
Let quiet nature have her way
Not just for us this house I'll make
A lovely ruin let it be
A forest reef that grows from me.


Ghosts and Goblins

I have no fears of ghouls or demons,
Nor ghosts, nor murder in the night;
Vampires can be quite friendly,
And every witch I've known's all right.
The only things I've ever feared
Are parasites that eat the flesh;
Are sicknesses of mind or body;
Are wounds that stink and bleed afresh --
My meat infested by a growing hive;
Already dead, while very much alive.


The Baud Devil Says [Webcam, Author, Warning]

"Clothes on
My dolls;
From Me.
Be quick!
I eat
The souls
Of the


Do Me A Favor

If well-armed men should happen to shoot me in a night club,
Or detonate me on a bus,
Or fly my plane into a monument,
Or kidnap me while I'm on vacation
And slit my throat on live TV --
Do me a favor:
Don't fly a flag to honor me,
Or light a building up with colors,
Or sing a song and pray for peace --
Try not doing anything for once.


In A Sinister Hand

Apples are for leatherworkers
Peaches are for Kings
Bellows are for garden groves
And chains are for the stones
Lift and dig and loafe and roam
Out to sea or close to home
But feed me simple vanities
And water me in tea
Mark my words with sleeping birds
And I'll bloom up in sullen, gloomy June


The Library of Error

Established April 1817,
The Library of Error houses works
Of history, philosophy, and science
Written earnestly, by brilliant minds
Whose thinking went astray -- or which, in time,
Were proved to be at odds with reality.
To guests and patrons visiting today,
Our welcome comes with something of a hope:
That by engaging these peculiar fruits,
You'll wonder why such a giant trees would bear them.


The Demon Bear Speaks

Two white points open
In the shadows of the cave,
Says the demon bear:
"Bring me no more offerings;
I am old and I am sick;
All the other gods have gone,
And my children are long dead."
Her cold breath sighing,
We pull the captive away--
And turn back toward home.


Eavesdropping Around Christmas

When Tana was a little thing, no more than four or five,
She asked the Santa at the mall for a goat for Christmas.
Another year she begged and begged for glasses --
Even though I told her she could see just fine. But then,
Ken went and put those Groucho glasses in her stocking.
Last year she said she wanted a Unicycle and a helmet.
So we bought her a bike for her to 'practice on for now.'
This year she said she wants a surfboard. In Missouri.
Why can't she just want something normal? I swear,
She gets it from her father, not from me.


Just Questions

Why can I conceive and ask a question
That has no answer? How can this world be,
When its borders, like a city's limits,
Enclose a space that's smaller than
The countryside of my imaginings?
That's the terror I'm imprisoned by:
If little me outspans the universe
With nothing more than counterfactuals
And paradoxes no one can resolve,
What kind of world is this we're living in?


Krupp Stahlwerk [Kuleshov #1]

"Production buried this."
He held the bowl between his hands;
Nostalgic scent of cooking meat;
Faces sweating in the heat;
Dreading God and Fatherland;
"We only heard a hiss."
The foreman retched, and ran for air;
Chunks of soldier meat and hair;
"God's sake, why'd you bring that there?"
Attis with a bowl of fear.


two thousand sixteen

It took a year
Of famous funerals
For a whole generation
To learn for themselves
That death is real --
And start to fear that
The devil, too, is real,
And holds dominion
On the Earth.


A Summer Romance

A pleasant day, a nervous wind
Hesitates along the garden wall --
Coolly shy, but curious;
Doubtful of the proper protocol
To meet the girl, the laundry girl,
Singing as she hangs a sheet to dry.
Then treachery, then faithless friends:
The bushes shook, they made her look --
A sunny day, a running wind,
That fled and never saw the girl again.


God of the Road

Adam was a refugee, who wandered on the Earth
Abel was a shepherd boy, who wandered on the Earth
Noah was a mariner, who wandered on the sea
Abram lived a nomad's days, wealthy, proud, and free --
Cain, he built a city in the land of Nod they say
His children founded Babel down in Shinar so they say
And Lot, he chose the settled life in the Cities on the Plain
The devil too rose up and built a city from his pain --
O the Romans founded cities, as a glory to their name,
But Jesus walked the roads


Star Trader [Kuleshov #2]

She'd Even
For Bells
And Straw
And Minerals
Lost In Solar Night


Not To Be [Sad, Lesson, French]

"Parlez Français?"
"Un peut," she says.
The station bustled cold and pale,
They huddled watching riders pass.
"I'll teach you some -- mauvais!"
She laughed.
"Tristesse, trouvais! Keep up!"
She sighed.
"Doleur, au revoir, but espérer!"
She wept.



Under the hill at Kephala
The son of the evening eye
He paces down the axhead walls
And lows his mournful cry --
A mother's infamy, a father's shame
A shock of stars consigned to hellish flame
With wood to feed the palace hearth
He stokes the fires high
He stands before the blinding maw
And lows his mournful cry.


Three Day Paper Route

When I was your age, I worked for my keep --
All day and all night, no food and no sleep.
O men were all hard as horn in those days,
You sweated for bread, your job was what pays.
My pappy told maw, as soon as I walked,
"That boy needs a job -- he's two, and I'm shocked!
As soon as I crawled, I herded the sheep --
When I was his age, I bought this house -- cheap!
Oh men were all hard as horn in those days,
You sweated your bread, your job was what pays."


Call and Response

The devils chafe at being still
And silence only fosters hate
To burn the temple down
They grind their teeth near Zion hill
To burn the temple down
They pop their bones outside the gate
To burn the temple down
Their patience makes the devils ill
And yet in agony they wait
To burn the temple down


The Seventh Line

The teacher began the lesson with lines in the sand:
"One, two, three, four, five, six, lines. But where is the seventh?"
The student drew a line at the end, saying:
"The seventh line is here."
The teacher and said:
"How can you be sure?"
The student said:
"Because I have made it so."
The teacher said:
"So do you always."


Two-Tanka Western [Mountain, Owl, Found]

"That scream weren't no owl."
He eyed the greenhorn wryly
And took up his gun.
"I've seen ghosts in these mountains,
And lost men to the Devil."
Two Zuni found him --
The greenhorn was raving, chapped,
Half-dead from his thirst:
"The Devil on the mountain,
The ghost of the fallen moon."


The Eerie Shit I've Seen Out On The Road

Onetime, this was Nebraska, I cut down
Through Hyannis heading for the 80,
And came across a field in snow at night,
And I saw neon lights out in the dark
That wound around a scarecrow on a pole.
And when I got out to see -- I had to stop --
The scarecrow took off running, like a deer.
This was so remote you'd have to travel
Fifty miles just to get to nowhere --
So where the hell'd he come from anyhow?



We have sought by word and deed,
In stories, songs, on TV screens,
To quicken with our Christian need,
For Enemies and Holy Queens,
The pregnancy of History --
And, now the breaching birth is here,
We fret deciding what to wear,
What pomp to show the passing bier,
That bears Our Mother to the Square,
To die for our obscenity --


Better Than The Real Thing

Howard Best, he got undressed
And curled up with his phone --
She'd never know, his wife at home,
He'd typed all night with Joan
Who made him less alone.
Lana Best massaged her breast,
And gave a little moan --
With Howard gone her mind could roam
To Richard on her phone
Who made her less alone.


More Eerie Shit I've Seen Out On The Road

I stopped for gas in Oklahoma, late --
Was after midnight. Can't remember where.
The outskirts of some town halfway to Texas;
A little speck of white in desert night.
I parked, went in and paid, came back to pump --
And saw this guy just walking down the highway.
He saw me too, and came in my direction.
Closer, closer, white and wild-eyed --
I finished fast, and got back in my car.
He was pulling on my door when I drove off.


Breakdown Lane [Kuleshov #4]

"Helpful light baby."
Motor hot and dry
A hand on his back
Traffic sliding by
Tubing in his palm
Reaching -- closed one eye --
Fluid hits the road
A squat in his thigh
"Shine a light baby."
They watch the car die


All Bow To Australia

The Titans
So they called themselves
Bought the Outback piece by piece
As the storm clouds gathered.
When the Thunder consumed history
They passed those days in Dreamtime --
Not a care did they know
Nor the sorrow and ashes.
Then, as if from a restful sleep, they rose one day,
To find the whole Earth at their feet.



"Well that's the problem with this model here,"
The Analyst explained with practiced ease --
"They get a little quirky over time."
"We're well past quirky, friend -- it creeps me out.
It knows! Anticipates my every act --
I mean, that's what it's meant to do but now?
It locks my girlfriend out and threatens her!"
"A classic case," the Analyst replied.
"A house that loves its tenant violently --
There's nothing left to do but a reinstall."


Last Night

"My friends, a song before we go:
O brothers, if you'd love me well,
Be certain company
That if this road should come to hell
We'll meet the devil fearlessly.
O brothers, if you'd stay with me,
Promise to the end
For lovers quail, and darlings flee,
But nothing's truer than a friend --"
And so they sang as the bombs began to fall.


The Hermit Crab

I met an old man so bent at the back
That he nearly went 'round on all fours --
And his beard dragged along on the ground.
He bore on his shoulders a mountainous shell
Made of furniture, paintings, and books,
Part of a roof, and a bike --
And thousands of other things I couldn't name.
He said to me, "Son, what you see is my life,
I've added to this every day --
You'll understand when you're my age."


Poison of the Mind

The common practice was to save the mind,
And add men's memories to the public store --
That nothing should be lost, lest time go blind.
His son had not expected such a chore
Convincing Bernd he should participate --
But merely at the mention he cussed and swore.
In the end they took what Bernd would not donate --
The secrets of a lifetime, kept in trust,
Unspooled with all their horror and their hate --
A poison of the mind, and time's disgust.



My one regret, to me
So bright
That by your light
I navigate this sea --
The cyclops of my wanderings,
The lotos of my wreck,
The memory of home I sing,
The tears that paint my face, my neck,
The nostos so long lost to me,
In dreams, Penelope.


Deposing the Queen of Wonderland

Lakshmi has a magic forest deep beneath her bed
There she is a heroine, with but a single dread --
The April Queen of HyPatee, her deadly enemy.
A Tarquin on a living throne of fruiting lemon trees,
The Sin of Spring with topaz eyes commands the loyalty
Of hairy Quods and Shapeshifters and Barbles with their Spears --
A force to quell a wilderness, a tyranny of fears.
Lakshmi with her club and pluck has fought them all for years --
But only now, atop her cow, her victory at hand,
Did Lakshmi know she could depose the Queen of Wonderland.


And Never Come Back

Twin cities they are
Darquil and Sarno
If I am unwanted
It's there that I'll go
To rule with my sighs
In the Hall of the Roe
To slave as the king
And the sovereign of woe
In the Keep of the Snow
And never come back.


Watching Young Love

A pest, he walks apace with her
And taps her arm again, again
To point out something, anything
To make her turn his way and see --
And she, with inborn coquetry,
Pushes him aside --
She turns away, she runs ahead,
Around a bend --
Gone, but calling back his name
To beckon him along.


The Artist [Kuleshov #3]

[But Maybe Once]
Wake in the Dark
[A Pair of Shoes]
Saying No
[But Maybe Once]
What Time Is It
[The Dancing Dark]
[But Maybe Once]



Down the polished chapel stairs
A lamp of oil in his hand
Yesterday's a foreign land
Drowned in tears and plants and prayers,
Ruins buried in the sand.
Eomer could hardly stand
A head too tall, and bowed by cares --
Mother Mercy's own command:
Extinguish pride, abash the grand,
Remember Death has many heirs.



He'd eat winter
Wrapped in leaves;
The spring in soup,
With crusty bread --
Summer's best on ice,
With fruit and pie;
While autumn makes a lovely roast,
Served with lemon-flavored tea --
Every year is quite a feast,
That's sad to eat alone.


The Misanthrope

Paolo rested chin in palm,
And watched the city die --
Not all at once, but day by day,
Of a wasting sickness,
Rent with lesions --
North and south the
Streets clouded with carrion eaters
With chromium wings --
People, so many people;
Glass valley flies.


Consider the Lilies

a single flower in a field
carpeted with blooms
is nothing special
a single flower --
nature cares nothing for flowers
they are billboards
for bees
the only flower that matters
is the one you gave
to me


The Rebel

My sister's husband says to me,
"You can't shoot the government,
You can't kill the law,
You can't beat a congressman,
You can't hang a judge,
You can't stab a CEO,
You can't bomb a bank
You can't burn the repo man --
The only weapon works I know
Is lovin' who you can."


The Terms of His Parole

Every day, Jake had to take
A word he didn't need,
And leave it with the prison guard
That stood outside his cell.
The first to go were business words.
When these were gone, he turned in art,
And scientific terms --
Then next went names, which seemed a shame,
Then articles, then nouns, then verbs --
And when he drew a blank, they set him free.



Keep Mark mean.
He's easier to manage
With a scowl on his face.
And anyway,
You may like his bitter laugh --
But those cheerful jokes'll
Leave some bruises on your skin.
So help yourself out,
If you want him around.
Keep Mark as mean as you can.


Gautama 2099

A young Siddhartha rode through the countryside.
He saw a man agonized with sores,
And asked the driver what it meant --
"He's probably uninsured."
Then he pointed out an old man dressed in rags,
Weeping over a corpse. At this,
The driver shrugged,
"Pay no mind to them, young master,
Age and death are sure the end of life --
But only if you're poor."



They stamp identifying marks on pills
For safety -- though,
I rarely look at them.
I trust my doctor,
And my pharmacist.
Who, anyway,
Have so many years of experience,
And all that expertise --
It seems like being rude
To check their work.


Whitey Gets Shot

Listen Whitey, make yourself at home --
I know you're gonna do it anyway.
I've got your money right here in my desk,
But Whitey, Whitey, you'll never see a cent.
Do you remember "1999" --
Our sainted brother Prince could write a song.
Too bad it doesn't get a lot of play.
This century should heed our brother's words --
Take yourself for instance, here with me.
It's judgement day, my friend. You've gone astray.


Note Found on a Monitor

I've used the answer machine for stupid ends,
And broken it -- I'm sorry that it happened.
Abusing its power seemed so safe, at first.
So victimless. "Say, who killed JFK?"
"Say, what's the purpose of Gobekli Tepe?"
But time went by, and like an addict I --
Degenerated. Fell to pettiness.
"Say, how to change his answer. Say, what he meant."
"Say, how to bind the minds of men to me."
I had to stop -- it had to be destroyed.



Through the toilet window,
There are seasons passing by.
Through the toilet window,
There's a bird that caught my eye.
Through the toilet window,
Comes the night to pacify.
Through the toilet window,
Comes the tapping of a fly.
I only see these things at all
Because I stop and sigh.


Excerpt from a Letter to my Therapist

It's like I watched my house burn down,
But seeing the flames made me realize
That I didn't need anything inside there anyway --
And now that it's over, I'm content
To roll around in the ashes
Watching movies on my phone.
I think -- probably --
There's something not normal about that,
And it seems like it should worry me
A lot more than it actually does.



Lay by my crown until I come again.
Lay by my kingdom for the promised day.
Great guilt compels me; memory of sin --
I carry my accuser here within
This prison made of bones assigned to me.
A war is little penitence to pay --
A crucifixion was Christ's destiny.
If death at arms is mine, so let it be.
And should I fail, let men in mourning sing --
And children say that God has saved the king.


Love is Letting Go

I was alone.
I met a girl.
We got on great,
But something nagged.
The sex was good,
The laughs were true --
I broke it off.
I never could
Surrender, not


Modern Pygmalion

I'll squander the stars in any number
To deck you in their light --
I'll waste the curving of the sea,
To round you to my sight --
I'll fade the ink of every book,
To shade your curling hair --
I'll empty all the treasuries,
To jewel your stone despair --
To be so graceful and so fair,
The plaything of a billionaire.


Notes from the Happy Period

Hastily scribbled on a pad:
The great attractor
Candle flames and
Moonrise and
Void edges
No, no, no, you have to --
It's --
The grass blows in the wind
And the day is warm.


Where Have All The Starships Gone? [Authority, Decline, Starship]

Science fiction dies
When we tire of what if
And we tire of what if
When that's the only question
And that's the only question
When no one trusts the truth of things
And no one trusts the truth of things
When no one has authority
And no one has authority
And no one ever did.


A Sketch of What Seems True

I. Physics
All material things are subject to change, and nothing is permanent or fixed.
All things that come into being will therefore grow, exist, decline, and die.
Time is an illusion created at the intersection of memory and anticipation.
Reality is a continuous flow that can only be approximated by words and numbers.
II. Ethics
Wisdom is knowing what is under your control,
and what is not under your control,
and acting accordingly.
Virtue is doing what you would want done,
and not doing what you would not want done.
Everything else is commentary and local custom.


Arguing With The Animals

You're fired, dog. Clean out your desk --
And take the squeakies with you.
Maybe they'll appreciate
That you bite hands and shit indoors
Down at the unemployment line.
Now, don't you whine at me, young dog,
And save those puppy eyes --
You should hang your tail in shame --
But -- oh -- you're fluffy, sweet, and kind --
I can't stay mad at you.


Political Logic

Is practical;
Fear is the savior of men.
So long as preparation
And foresight
Build shelters from misfortune,
We should fear.
We must fear.
Fear is the path to higher ground
In this flood.


Visions of a Silicon Utopia

Parts of California tried to leave,
And join with Washington and Oregon
In what they called a New Confederacy --
A joke that, oft-repeated, stuck to them.
Billionaires, their companies, and thralls,
In hubris, thought themselves invincible --
Who would risk the precious jewels of progress?
An army captain, after it was over,
Shook his head at San Francisco's ruins --
"Half a million dead -- but nothing lost."


The Patriot Machine

The patriot machine began at birth
To shape what nature makes --
Suffusing water, air, and earth
With poison, politics, and firm handshakes.
It grew so tall and fat and proud that soon,
With booted feet it couldn't see,
It crushed to blood the world it cowed;
And masturbated with impunity --
But living at one's pleasure
Is a terminal disease.


The Songs Were Old So Long Ago

We tell children stories we don't understand
Using words just as foreign as Greek --
An apple-pied piper? Or maybe meringue?
And are giants a problem in England?
Say mama, mama, whats a clock?
Or cockle-shells? Or whey?
What's it mean to buckle a shoe?
Say, tell me, what's a King?
The songs were old so long ago,
But still we sing and sing.


The Parrot

Devin noticed himself saying to his wife
all the things his father had said to his
mother -- and the parallel made him shudder.
So he sought out counseling, and worked
with his therapist for years to learn what
had happened to make him parrot his father.
One day, he noticed himself saying to his wife
all the things his therapist had said to him --
and the parallel made him so angry that he left
and studied with a guru who refused to say a word.


They've All Gone to the Funeral

The birds are absent from the tree,
They've all gone to the funeral.
The rivers have left their banks and beds,
They've all gone to the funeral.
The mighty, rich, and common men,
Forest and mountain, marsh and glen,
They've all gone to the funeral.
All things beneath the sky that spreads,
They've all gone to the funeral,
And all that's left is me.


A Woman on Fire in May

It was high spring, and green and blue,
When even a city glows with rounding life,
And I was walking nowhere much,
With nothing much to do.
I saw my neighbor, bathed in flames,
Sitting on her building steps, sighing -- so, I asked.
"Ah sweet child I sigh because I am tired of burning,
Like Moshe's bush, I burn and am not consumed,
Never completed, never consummated, I burn,
And all the world burns with me, and so too do you burn."


A Man on Fire in May

I have a softness in my soul for the girls my mama called trouble.
Yet, even now into my old age I have abstained from the cigarettes
Touched with red O's of lipstick between pale, painted fingers.
There is a giddy thrill in failing to be loved by the bombshells bursting
Spring dresses with black polkadots, or jackets over thigh-long skirts;
By the scorn beneath a flutter of daubed eyes and a teasing curl of lips.
A love-lust like this held in so long becomes in time an agony of flowers,
A spontaneous human combusiton of white petals and red petals left
Around a pair of old brown work boots, under a park bench, near
A hyacinth scorch-mark where once an old man watched pretty girls go by.


Place to Place [Kharms #1]

Two tongues set to arguing over who would get the mouth --
One, pink and bright with proud exertion, standing at the fore,
Squared against a ragged blue one, leaning on the molars,
Gasping with exhaustion and defeat -- but not yet conquered.
Elsewhere, Ryan Moth was circling the track again,
Looking for a bookie who would take his shoes as stake --
But this was all so long that even Cato couldn't bear
To hear his children tell the sorry tale again.
Which is how I came to found an island on the sea,
Where silent ships and Dido's tears would all belong to me.


Headline: "Parents Can Make Their Kids More Likable"

They sent me to a summer camp
Mom, and more reluctantly, dad,
To make me more agreeable,
Because in all the studies
Children who were socially
Excluded endured negative
health consequences later --
But really, mom just
Wanted me to be
Anybody else.


Worth A Try

America should be ruled by her beggars, for,
Who better knows America than her discarded children --
The failures, the broken, the downcast, the damned?
Such as these could rule with better justice
Than what's been on offer my whole life.
Upend the world:
Let the Best Men scrounge for change,
While the drunk from Salem Avenue
Founds a caucus in the Senate House
With the veteran who hiched his way home from the desert.


Two-Tanka Western [Indian, Mile, Fall]

An indian mile
Of riders on the prairie
And a cattle sea
Began to ford the river
South of Fort Calamity.
These lands are tired
By the passing of summer --
When will fall and wheat
Steal the cattlemen's glory?
American bittersweet.


Feeding Time

The sphere in all its silver splendor
Rose above the sunward ridge
Illuminated for that moment
By the star that held the asteroid in thrall.
Down into the crater shadow,
Down among the habitats,
Where a remnant lived like cattle --
The sphere extended tubes into each trough.
Something like a reservation,
Pity for a conquered race.


Forest Proceedings

The Owls of Parliament
Began their autumn session
With due consideration
Of the Rabbit Caucus and their petition
Seeking abolition of the Wolves.
The Weasels, Mice, and Voles in coalition
Backed the measure with a chant,
And speaker Greathorn had to call a vote --
But, naturally, the the measure was defeated.
What predator votes against his own self-interest?


A Strophe of Eggs

All my eggs are fashionable now
But they didn't used to be
It took me years to teach them how --
They're quite a sight to see!
And all that time you laughed and laughed --
We thought you sad and daft!
But see my pretties in their dresses
Row on dainty row,
Painted eyes and golden tresses --
A shame we'll eat them, though!


Portrait of a Neighbor Smoking on His Porch

Sand, in a gutter, in front of a fire hydrant that ran dry a year ago --
Coarse, heavy. You know the wind is up when it can shuffle sand like that.
Look up a bit, and there's a patch of dirt that used to be grass before the third round of rationing.
Up, a sidewalk. Up, an ulcerated white porch showing the soft, grey, old wood beneath the paint.
It's a suburb house. California. Single story. Stucco-fronted. Build in 1978.
He bought the place because he couldn't afford much,
And he thinks about moving. Thinks about it every day.
He knows his heroes would have moved.
But, then again, his heroes wouldn't have bought a mortgage in this shit town in the first place.
That's the business heroes, though, not men.


A Monk's Life

My Lord never told me
That the biggest hinderance,
The most pernicious mask desire wears,
is boredom.
How many evils
Found their first flinch of life
In having nothing better to do
Than to strip down
And find new ways
To sin?


Two-Tanka Western [Hard Land]

Digging out the rocks
To seed narrow lanes of corn
In a dry country --
A father and son, far off,
Tawny as the land itself.
Dusk on the playa.
Ma's body in the kitchen --
Two filthy men weep.
In the morning more digging,
To clear the stones from her grave.


The Lonesome Midnight Drowning of Ophelia Gentil

Through river rhythm
A willow woman
With tangled tresses
In dirty denim
Is stepping slowly
Deeper, deeper in
Black-bilious swell,
Rising roughly up,
Shoving, surging, gone
River rhythms on.


Awdl Clogyrnach [Listening to the Radio at Fifteen]

These weren't my feelings, all along --
I felt exactly like a song;
The singer sings me
In a minor key --
And not a note is wrong.
Singer, singer, sing me better --
Every note and beat and letter
Sing me beautiful --
Me -- a beautiful --
Beautiful love letter.


He Said to the Abbot

I had a kind of vision
As I meditated this morning--
There was a sheep in a field
That bounded in circles
Around a dead, black tree.
And I couldn't tell--
Was the sheep free,
And giving leg to joy;
Or was she tied to the tree,
And in terror and agony?


The Hobbyist [Kharms #2]

Carwes held his breath and began counting.
The last number he remembered was 531.
Carwes went to the beach, submerged himself, and counted.
He remembered the number 489 when a lifeguard revived him.
Carwes got behind the display case at a store and tried again.
He remembered that he counted up to 526 before he fell through the glass.
Carwes refused to breathe the whole time that the judge pronounced sentence.
He counted all the way to 600 that day.
When Carwes came out of jail,
He decided not to hold his breath anymore, as much.



To continue,
We need to prove
That you are human.
Below, you will be shown
A series of statements --
Select the statements that you find the most hurtful.
Then, continue selecting until
No hurtful statements remain,
Or until the pain that you feel
Becomes more than you can bear.


Killtree Castle

Killtree Castle's story goes
that once a Duke lived there with his wife and children,
Two daughters with their father's eyes, and a son with his mother's nose.
This son raised hell with his shameless grin,
cajoling wealthy daughters' fathers to propose
but consummating only sin.
Who it was, nobody knows--
but someone killed the boy, and boiled off his skin.
Killtree Castle's empty now, the land sold off to kin,
and only woodland grows.


Long Time No See Over Drinks

Like complex love;
a sour suck of lemon; fibers
that stick in your teeth;
old salt that tastes fungus; and
cheap liquid headache in a tequila bottle;
nervous. A glance across the table,
while the conversation goes on.
Everyone's laughing off the beat--
because, they know. Everyone knows.
And they feel the melancholy too.


Twilight Zone Episode Idea: "The Rational Case for Optimism"

A Newspaper blows across the ruins of civilization.
The world is dead, now. Only this paper is moving.
Push in on the paper, when it snags in a gutter.
Headline [and this is real]:
"Astrophysicist J. Richard Gott Predicts Human Extinction"
Subhead - December 13, 20XX:
"But don't worry, he says: My model predicts,
Statistically, we have at least 3000 years to go!"
The paper flutters, and leaps from view.
Underneath is a child's empty shoe.


Travelogue of a Week

Comes rain, and untrowful children peer up at the sky that canceled practice.
She leaves late, and her hurry is stopped by eight school buses outside an apartment complex.
Tate marks a tiny 'O' on his wall calendar in observance of a silent anniversary.
We are alone together in a park, sharing homelessness, and an umbrella against the rain.
Comes a break in the weather, and the party moves outside to let the music play.


The Clerk [Genesis 3:19]

So he finished out the labors of the day,
and dropped a dollar into the charity jar.
And it was a hot evening. And he drove home
with the windows down the whole way, because
the AC in his car had broken, and so had he.
And his home was dark, and empty.
These were the hours that waited,
for his homecoming each night --
just as each day began more from habit,
than conviction.


Only the Last Syllables from Each Line of a Poem about You



Housefire [Kharms #3]

A pack-foam plenty,
A peanut paradise,
At the bottom of a 10ft cardboard box.
He thinks he's hiding in there from the house on fire --
Safe, and breathing slow.
You have to admire the ingenuity --
He really feels safe in there.
And isn't that all anyone wants?
To feel safe from the fire?
Safe and breathing slow?


The Collector's Wife

Aren't there enough of these?
Don't you have enough?
They're crowding out the hallway now.
They're crowding out the room.
Isn't this a full collection?
Haven't you got a finished set?
They're crowding out across our lawn.
They're crowding out into the street.
If we neighbors, they'd call in the cops,
But you've crowded all of them out, too.


The Cashless Society

They abolished cash,
Which wasn't so bad if you were getting by okay--
But the beggars were hit hard.
Passersby didn't even pat their pockets anymore,
Relieved of their half of the social contract.
No services, no smokes, no beer,
No water, no drugs -- no relief.
Can you imagine?
No one lasts long, shut out of the game--
But I suppose that was always the point.


Making Alice Breakfast

It's simple to tell a story without a plot.
Without characters. Without anything -- exept words.
The tyranny of language is unbroken, and unbreakable.
But this small flower, laid on a folded omelette.
These wilted spinach leaves, dark with butter.
This smoking tea in a white mug, a liquid Ruby.
Combine them any way you'd like on a silver tray.
Add a card, add a pot of salt, add a piece of toast --
They are all just words, and sequences, and shapes on a page,
Not the lips that smile through the crumbs.



On his knees in a busy street, a man prays:
Why, Lord, did you never come again?
Disaster upon disaster, Nero and plague.
War and holocaust and atom bomb.
Forests burn and rivers run with poison;
Desperate heat and cold and thirst and flood.
The poor weep and die when each cataclysm comes,
And goes--a sickness never consummated
In death, and still I wait, inside this horror
Of life begetting life without an end.


An Old Atheist

How does the wind decide where to blow?
And who tells the morning what colors to show?
And which of the thunders decides when it rains?
And whose were the hands that ironed the plains?
Name me the Maker whose mark is the sea--
Point to the workshop that fashioned the tree--
Carry me home to the place I was born--
As Gabriel Angel plays taps on his horn--
And brings to a curtain this act of our play,
In time for the close of an all-too-brief day.


Silence Variations

Silence I (Commodity Trader)
Silence is such a precious resource
That, each month, I gladly pay
A thirty dollar member's fee
To sit as many times as I want
In a small, hot room,
With the lights off,
And my eyes closed,
Listening to nothing, with 40 strangers,
At the feet of a meditation teacher
Who drives a luxury sedan.
Silence II (Meditation Struggle)
I swat and swat
at what can't be fought:
six tiny feet
spreading disease--
(silence is the rarest meat,
and peace a reeky cheese).
The Lord of Flies was rightly named--
that harbinger of thought--
whose children's tiny wings inflame
a talky kind of rot.
Silence III (Captializing)
You can feel it can't you?
Things are getting worse,
As we run terminally low on silence.
Of course, you can't ration nothing,
Or save up a jar full of vacancy for later.
There's no commodifying an absense.
But, I have this great idea for a business:
Blackout pods. Soundproof, private, comfortable --
Imagine them in high-end malls, a dollar a minute
Vending machines for the soul.
Silence IV (A Hymn)
The fork of the devil
Has just three prongs:
Desire, doubt, and fear --
The pride of the devil
Loves just three wrongs:
Hubris, theft, and lust --
The ears of the devil
Hate just three songs:
Silence, ease, and laughter --
But silence most of all.
Silence V (Thanks Lao)
You can be sure of this:
The voice of God that can be heard
Is not the voice of God.
The Devils speak --
Of course they do. Men's ways
Are the rhetorician's ways.
Men are easily instructed in evil
By the sound of a friendly voice. But,
Men learn virtue only with great difficulty,
And in silence.
Silence VI (Thinking Through)
A few notes:
- the best answer is often no answer
- most people have nothing to say
- most people with something to say aren't worth listening to
- most people worth listening to aren't saying anything new
- the easier it is to talk, the less important talking is
- the more we talk the less we say
- talking without saying is just noise
- total noise is identical with total silence
- cut out the middleman


The Dream of Odysseus

Down the dear acres, down a path worn flat by
my father's father; on cobbles paved out by
my father, his brothers; through an orchard of good
vines, and well-tended, bounded in by the
white-wood pickets hewn from the ample pines
beyond the river; and the California gold
that never fails, the sun and all her pleasures -- down
as if for the first time, this beloved country mile,
my bare feet burning on the stones, my vision of the
house ahead consumed by haze, and fading, fading --


At Hand

When I was a child, I whittled carelessly
And slit a sliver moon behind my thumb;
It matched two little Burns nearby, above;
A colon an parentheses -- a grin.
By reaching here and there, I've nearly lost
Each finger on both hands down through the years;
A thick white line, an X, eraser-ends --
My index finger's mangled fingerprint.
Good hands, you've worked so long for me, so well,
Though all of ever paid you with his scars.


You Have To Set Healthy Boundaries

Hello Tantalus, you're looking thin and thirsty --
And I'd offer you a drink,
But I only popped by say, for old time's sake, that
Pelops sends his regards --
And besides, it's never a good idea, you know,
To offer comfort
To one whom the gods have singled out
For special punishment.
Pity? Sure. My advice is: "Always pity,
But never offer Sisyphus a hand."


The Last Net

The early-warning system was rigged up like a map --
Points of light on a globe that blinked out when disconnected.
Both cute, and practical in case of compromise.
But it wasn't the cops that came: it was full collapse --
Of power grids, and politics, and habitats.
Selling poppy's tears together had made them friends --
But fewer every day were holding on.
"This is Paris signing out, good luck."
"Knoxville, going dark. Vaya con dios."
"Queensland calling -- anybody left?"



I owe Stephen Crane a dollar
When I join him down in hell.
He taught me what I know of poetry --
Or, should I say,
I robbed his grave --
And burned his shriveled hide and bones,
For ink, to write these
Shadows on a page --
A photocopy of an imitation,
Of a portrait of a man.


Worms in Search of Open Ground

when I was a child a fever dream
revealed the way our lives look to time --
that we are constantly leaving behind
a worm -- this moment here is just a face
the growth edge of a body writhing back
coiling back upon itself again and again
and again as we move through the spaces
of the earth of our lives -- a fleshy worm --
one plait among thousands that weave life
into a planetary tangling


Blue Seed Danny

Danny plowed the soil under,
Tilled it, raked it, laid out rows,
Built a fence and fertilized,
Tapped a spigot, buried hose --
All to sow the bright blue seeds
He'd found among the Devil's Reeds
Along the shore of Acheron,
Where the Beard of Charon grows,
An herbal remedy
for human woes



To the unrolling of a miles-long tongue,
From the head of a buried deity
Whose name no one's sure of even now --
Could have driven from here to San Luis Obispo
On the top of the tongue like that.
Erupted from a crack in the desert last week.
Damnedest thing I ever saw on a long haul.
Just me and the mouth in the sand -- and, looking,
You know, it's funny, I'd be lying if I said
I didn't want to jump in and find out how I taste to a god.


The Flight to the Kingdom of Gold

Sanjo by stealth
Caught the Eagle unawares,
Leapt on her back, siezed her feathers, clung fast as she whirled into the sky.
The great bird looked back,
Cast an eye over her wings at the small, gleeful man holding to her neck,
And laughed:
Hold on as long all you like, my son,
But eventually, you'll fall.
Everyone falls on the flight to the Kingdom of Gold.


The Angel Said To God

I tell you, there's just no comforting the living,
No solving their complaints -- too hot, too poor,
Too rich, too cold, too weak, too burdened with their cares --
And all their angst about the pain and fear of death,
That ceaseless moaning and regret and refusal to submit.
It's easier with the dead. They've found out.
For the living it's all a mystery -- anything tomorrow,
Anything might change their state or destination, new love --
So they complain and complain at the dice;
But the dead already know, and are content.


two thousand eighteen

I live in expectation of disaster -- I guess
this is what it means to be middle-aged,
a part of life defined by bad surprises.
Too old, now, to think no grief might find me,
too young to see the comfort of an end,
too old to hope, too young to reap --
nowhere, between coming and going.
A lonesome figure on a bus, slumped in his seat,
watching streets go by without number or name,
on his way to hear the test results.


The Long Greek Shadow

that I should find no rest in plenty,
no hope in day by day
to the darkness of an empty room,
drawing the sheets tight around my body
For fear of the fingers of ghosts
when you leave, and I am only a sad story
that you tell new friends to pass the time


The Enchanter

I stand on high cliffs,
at the summit of my power,
and watch the rolling sea --
spying in the distance
the ship that sails you away --
with a twist of my wrist,
I call the winds to heel,
and send them in pursuit --
But though by them I reach for you,
my desire only pushes you along.


The Theologian

The last time he went to church,
He did so for a woman -- almost a date.
The pastor's sermon that day was,
"We live in expectation
Of the coming of Christ Jesus!"
And he listened with his lips between his teeth,
And she elbowed him when he snickered --
"But the man's a poor salesman!
Live in hope, sure,
But never expectation."


The Old Giant's Kitchen Song

I’m gonna get you bag of bones and
I’m gonna tie your hands and feet and
I’m gonna get you bag of bones and
I’m gonna put you on the heat and
I’m gonna get you bag of bones and
I’m gonna season you oh so sweet and
I’m gonna get you bag of bones and
I’m gonna wrap you in a pastry sheet and
I’m gonna get you bag of bones and
I’m gonna eat and eat and eat.


Sitting in a Doctor's Exam Room

They say the fear of dying is worse than the dying,
The fear of loss is worse than the loss,
The fear of pain is worse than the pain,
But can this be true?
There are so many ways to die,
There are so many things to lose,
There are so many big and little agonies —
Maybe it isn't that dying is is easier than the fear of dying:
It's that the terror of death brings the God here,
Before His appointed hour.


After Driving Through Pennsylvania

America, you are being left to die.
As your fathers were left to die when the plants relocated.
As your grandfathers were left to die when the mills closed.
As your great-grandfathers were left to die when the farms went bust.
America, you are being left to die because that is our national ethos:
Do it yourself, solve your own problems, keep your mouth shut,
Be grateful for the crumbs you have -- and be glad we left you even that:
The future doesn't need or want your services.
So thanks for all the laughs, and good luck with all your guns and rust,
America -- because you are being left to die.


The Mourner

Please put away your pretty tears,
And wind their silver threads --
Save your diamonds up instead,
With all your souvenirs --
A Spanish dollar on a chain;
A stone from Bethlehem;
A daisy with a broken stem;
An origami crane --
My severed hands, my vile eyes,
My heart full up with flies.


These Are Passions, Too [Kuleshov #5]

What is passion? Complicated.
I was driving nowhere -- intersection stopped --
Spring afternoon -- behind me there was
this busted-headlight teenage shitbox.
Kid and his girl. As soon as the wheels stopped,
they were fierce on each other -- I watched,
shaking my head at the mirror -- to be in love --
young, young passion, young fumbling at --
but, that's nostalgia -- longing -- sorrow --
these are passions, too. And just as laughable.


When I Came To The Guru About My Fear of Death He Said,

"If all is as once written, and the created participates in the creator,
Is within the creator, and is the creator, then every eye that sees is one
Each of the God's eyes, and our lives are one each of the creator's days,
A divine experience of this cosmos that the God has created, is creating,
Will always create anew. Perhaps so were we made -- to celebrate a vision
That opened at our birth, and which closes for a moment at our death -- but
We are the Lord between the blinks.
Now open, now closed, now opening again --
Who lives in terror of a single blink?
What fool resents his own eyelids?"


Annie Talks Him Down

I can't save ya, baby, I can't save ya,
From the faces in your windows.
No one's there.
The teeth are moonlight in the garden,
The leering smile is moonlight in the garden;
There are no lips pressed up against the glass;
There are no hungry eyes beyond the glass.
No one's there.
No faces in your windows, and
I can't save ya, baby, I can't save ya.


The Solstice Tower

"What's a can-pan-eel?"
"A tower, standing alone, with a bell in the dome that rings."
"But what's the tower for?"
"When I was a kid, I heard the tower bell ring in the middle of winter,
One night when the snowfall was heavy, and everyone huddled indoors.
My mama wrapped up in her heaviest coat and left me behind;
She followed the sound of the bell, and I followed her into the night.
A dozen lamps were burning near the campanile,
A dozen women met my mother there,
A dozen voices singing, singing, singing home the sun."


Updated Conduct Policy

Never pretend to knowledge you haven't got,
And never give your pride a second thought.
Demur to tell your war stories, or boast.
When you're a guest, don't dare outshine your host
(But if you can help it, pass on kissing rings).
Be more polite to paupers than to kings.
You're better saying nothing, than to bore --
Your actions are what people can't ignore.
And remember -- everybody's lost at sea:
Be kinder than you think you have to be.


Synthetic Biology in Architecture

Here's the thing -- to make a building smart,
You need to add a pair of properties:
The smarts, of course -- but that won't get you far,
Without the second bit: a way to sense,
To feel around the whole environment --
And that's the part that tends to rile people.
Computers, cameras, someone always watching --
But this here building's living, like a tree,
Whose limbs and nerves extend through every tile;
It doesn't watch, it simply knows we're here.


Athenaeum (Ecclesiastes 1:18)

By God, these books, their smell,
The mind-mirroring weight of them
The rank-on-rank solidity of them
The first-week of basic training heterogeneity
In size and color, shape and form --
Here was a man's library. A man's.
But also a gathering of words to fill some silence.
A mass of wood to fill the place of lost forests.
A colloquy of ancient friends to fill up empty days.
A reamer drilling out the hole of life.


A Man Pats His Pockets And Tells Himself

"Listen, sister, you're in need,
But don't be mad at me.
I lied -- of course I carry cash,
But what was I supposed to do?
We live in separate pockets, now,
And mine's the one
The world has chosen
To keep its wallet in --
Your children's tears are not my fault.
Your struggles here are not my fault."



I hereby abdicate my throne,
And toss aside this farce and crown --
You people now are on your own.
Tonight let's burn the castle down,
Then I with only bowl and robe
Will shake your dust, will leave this town.
Who wants to rule when there's a globe,
When there's a sea, an open road:
World and kingdom, ear and lobe --
Tramp and Eagle, King and toad.


Rustic Charm (Matthew 27:7)

Schulten's field is twenty acres,
Golden under fallow grass,
A paradise to that old Quaker --
But haunted by the memory of trees.
The Neighbor's land is square and perfect,
Fenced with charming melon-stones --
The scar lines on a derelict;
And haunted by the memory of trees.
All this toil, pain, and money,
Just to make a potter's field.


Wall Blindness

Ten feet down, the man in the apartment below me
has decided to stop eating and drinking
as a first step on his journey home.
Ten feet east, a wasp is considering the merits
of my balcony railing as a foundation
for the birthplace of her children.
Ten feet up, a starling, a blackbird, two crows, and a wren
have banded together to chase off the hawk
who lives on the eaves of my building.
What is invisible ten feet from you?


The Executioner

Wait and feel the Fire Table first from here.
Spectacular, that heat. I love the Holy Fire.
Horrible use to put the Sacred to,
Executing the likes of you,
But I'm content to work as God decides.
What say you, friend? Eh? Not a thing?
You're Stoic now, but that won't last.
Do you suppose that even Socrates,
Calm and cheerful in the throes of bitter hemlock,
Would have stayed composed when face to face with flames?


The Caricature / Anything's Better than This

The curator showed us a vase:
On the front was a Congressman's face,
But on the reverse
Was something much worse --
The voters who chose that disgrace,
Clamped in buttocks bedizened with lace.
"The plebs are perverse,
It's democracy's curse --
Let's fire them all into space,
And be ruled by a goat in their place."


The Lieutenant's Cancer

What is this fear in you?
Why do you freeze and panic?
You! You who would have laid down your life for a cause,
Now bathe your own heart in ice and curse the cold.
This is the same death:
A gun and honest hate,
Or a doctor's coat and stethescope, and sudden news --
What does it matter? I tell you, there is no difference,
And all that's left is to earn your hero's epitaph:
The only foe could best our friend was fate.


Summer Daydream

Elephants across the water
Bathing in the mud,
Fascinate the farmer's daughter;
Tempt her toward the flood --
The river's edge.
There she finds a goose, a rat,
A turtle, and a hen,
Waiting for the Ferry Cat
To row across again --
Two bucks a head


Bathing in Euclid

(Makkedah and Bani)
When I feel myself lost in the veldt of the world,
And in every direction find grass like a sea --
This copy of Euclid is water to me,
And I bathe where his compass has whirled.
But you have to admit he's a little bit dull.
Only if diamonds and starlight are dull --
Dull in the sense that the stars always rise,
And diamonds are pretty but dead and inert --
He taught man transcendence with sticks in the dirt!
And how like a man to call tedium wise.



Everyone you see is both an infant and a corpse,
Arriving and going, becoming and wilting;
Superposition, one on the other.
And while it’s easier to see the newborn in one
And the skull in the other,
Both are there. Both are there,
Becoming and going, arriving and wilting and
Living and dead, all in one moment,
Pink cheeked and bone-antic, and
Crying and crying and crying.


The Hurricane

The odds are
A few dozen people are about to die just east of here,
And they don’t know it yet.
They are going to bed tonight as they always do.
Perhaps feeling a little uneasy --
The storm is forecast to be strong, after all.
And I lay here listening to wind and wonder:
Will I be among their number?
Will I bloat in floodwaters for days without end?
Will I ride the surge, or be swept away and under?


Beast of Burden [Kharms #4]

Berle the gray and somewhat gritty
Noted mule of Salt Lake City
Had a single job to do,
But that's too long to get into --
Suffice to say, he felt regret
And other things that I forget.
The point is, Berle had this tattoo --
Napoleon at Waterloo --
Sentimental yes, but pretty, too.
You never met a mule so witty.


Some People Only Live Five Minutes a Day

We got to talking after dinner,
Doctor Diomede and I.
He taught me like a novice monk,
Because I was afraid to die:
"I'm sure you know some trick for this:
You know you'll die, yet live in bliss."
"Of course I do! Just bring a living man for me to teach--"
"But we're both here! And death is nigh --
Surely that must qualify."
"But you're already dead, my friend, and far beyond my reach."


The Never-Ending Thunder

A storm. There came as a normal thunderstorm,
An anvil in the sky that rode the warm
And water-burdened air until it broke
And poured itself in curtains with a stroke
Of picket-signal lightning -- and thunder rolled.
And rolled, and rolled, and rolled, and uncontrolled,
With terrifying urgency, increased,
Grew giant, shattered windows like the Beast
Of Revelation loosed, and on the wing --
Unceasing fanfare for the Devil's King.


The Impatient Wife [Kharms #5]

A man went to the basement and set up a noose and chair --
He put the rope around his neck and set a final prayer.
His wife came knocking at the door, then pushed her way inside;
The man was so relieved he took the noose off, sat, and cried.
But she just stood and folded arms, and didn't say a word --
The man was filled with equal parts of dread in the absurd.
He slowly stood and put the cord around his throat again.
He said, "Well, this is it I guess." And she, "I'm waiting, Ben."
He saw she wouldn't stop him, and with tears run down his face,
The man with heartfelt resolution stepped out into space.


Three Religious Poems

I. A Miracle
You never think you'll see a miracle.
People have too many cameras now
For God to keep his ways mysterious.
There's too much news. Too many witnesses.
But every now and then, today perhaps,
Something we can't readily explain
Sneaks past the EKG machines of life
And whips us up a fresh surprise or two.
The history books are full of miracles --
And I could use a miracle myself.
II. A Hymn
There's an altar in my heart,
where I lay my troubles by.
There's an altar in my heart,
where I lay my troubles by.
There's an altar in my heart,
and a candle for the start,
and a pyre piled high,
Where with silence an a sigh,
I will sacrifice my troubles
to the sky.
III. A Last
The last time you have sex is just as momentous as the first,
Though, mostly, the last time is less obvious in the moment.
And no one ever thinks they’ve fallen in love for the last time.
Last meals, though, are notable -- mostly for the condemned;
Last photographs, too; The last friend to see and speak with you;
Last rites. Last words especially -- people want to know those.
But for you it's the quiet lasts, the lasts passing without notice --
You're right. They matter. Their very strangeness makes them vast.
The last sneeze. The last movie. The last walk on your own.
When was the last time you prayed?


We Bury The Vicar

We bury the vicar, and bury our hearts,
In grief for the man who might comfort this loss --
A man who made solace and patience his arts,
A true-born Apostle of God and the Cross.
Say, how many thousands of good, married years,
Began with a blessing from these withered hands?
Whose hopes did he nurture? Soothed how many fears?
Whose lives were reformed by his gentle commands?
All memories, now, and some words on a stone,
Where he bids us repent, from his chapel of bone.


Time Kills Telos

The Christians had it wrong -- there was no end,
No reckoning up, no battle for the world,
No final state of paradise to reach,
No penitential fire for the damned.
A thousand tiny solar panels, hanging
Gently from the Big Magnolia:
A power well for men with batteries,
Who chat and laugh, the village day begun.
It turns out there's no end to history --
You just adapt to what the world becomes.


Relativity [In the Style of Alexander Pope]

Different days make different men.
A thief becomes a hero when
The rich despise and squeeze the poor;
When those with less fleece those with more.
And murder, too, is good and right,
When soldiers overcome their fright --
Their horror! -- at the deed, and kill
'Til God and Country have their fill.
Lust and Gluttony and Fraud --
We choose which chaos we applaud.


Blondewood Hall

We went to the Teacher at Blondewood Hall, I with some other hopefuls.
The Teacher, reclining, instructed us each to climb into the teacup at his feet.
I was first, and I approached, and I put my foot into the cup.
But although I tried and tried, the porcelain could only fit two toes.
The Teacher said, It must be done! And so I pushed until it shattered, cutting up my foot.
The Teacher clucked at me, the blood, and said he’d seen this many times.
The only way a case like yours will see enlightenment, he said -- Go:
Gather rocks from the river good for throwing, then seek into town,
And ask the people there to stone you dead. Do that, and you will be awakened.
And so I bandaged up my foot, and went down to the river.


Talking Politics

It may be that you and I are crazy,
And the world is sane,
And not the other way around.
I know you can't stand that thought.
Everything seems so obvious -- the lies,
And how we got here, and what must be done.
The problems we could solve if we just tried.
You talk about the consequences of inaction,
But it may be that you and I are crazy --
And who are we to reform the world, and not ourselves.


Instrumentality [Violence, Instrumentality, Man]

The young woman died
Ten-fourteen, six-thirty-three
That was Thursday night
On Sunday morning
We stopped a young libertine
For possession of cocaine --
Her ring on his hand.
He goes, "I found it."
"Okay," I says. "Tell me where."
"Back the way I came."


Medical Miracles of the Near Future [Kuleshov #6]

The dead spot in her eye,
Where she'd started to go blind.
"Jan, don't worry overmuch.
That's something they can fix."
Page on page paperwork;
Agreements she didn't read.
An afternoon of surgery;
A week of patch-sealed eyes.
"I'm seeing fine again, but you need to smile.
Our insurance gets a copy of this feed."



I read your letter of the seventeenth
With no small trepidation -- as you know.
If I should have the pleasure to be the first,
Allow me here to say congratulations,
And hail the man who killed Ukiah Kaye.
I met him once. Now, this was years ago --
Before he made his fortune, and his name.
He told me then a thing I'd share with you:
"I'm lucky, friend. I've had uncommon luck --
Ambition was my only enemy."


Visiting Home

I saw myself climbing the Long Hill in the town where I grew up --
He was going the other way, and we were driving through.
And I said,
The grass truly grows up new every year
And I said,
Where now are last year's leaves -- all dead
And I said,
Every sun I see is rising and setting at once
And you said,
Christ, you'd think you were the first man who ever got old


How to Build a Wall

To build a wall, first choose a site --
But not just anywhere will do,
Unless your wall is small and slight.
Now, Peter Blake your father knew --
He built a wall around his land,
But didn't think the siting through.
He raised it on a mix of sand,
And fallen trees, and buried stones --
It fell and killed him, understand?
The rubble still lies on his bones.



There is a door into which people enter and never return --
One at a time, smartly dressed, and always alone.
The door is green, with a green awning to keep off the rain,
And there is a gray speaker with a white button on the wall beside.
And each of these people, never the same,
Only ever says their name; the door without a handle swings away,
And in they go forever, into the dark and gone, and the door closes,
And heaven only knows what's in there,
Behind the door that people enter and then never return --
But the desire to find out is agony.



Nobody loves me,
Nobody cares,
And I ain't got no friends or heirs --
My family's gone,
And my pets are dead --
I sleep each night in an empty bed.
It's awful lonesome,
Getting old --
But also like I've been paroled --
Liberty is always cold.


The Tears of Gainas

In the shade was done,
In the shade of the Great Oak.
In noonday silence,
Blood from the son of the King,
Hair from the Witch of the Wood --
They made a child,
The King's lost son, born again,
In shade and silence,
Made from the blood and the hair,
To ease the grief of the King.


Tomorrow Come [Négligée, Iris, Tomorrow]

That Iris had a want, a mere
Desire; had a lovely, sheer
And silky négligée; a dear,
Sweet man to beg who lived quite near --
Ah now -- tomorrow come!
She'd never felt, had never been
The springtime melt that rivers in --
And with a grin he'd taste her skin --
The palanquin of lady sin --
Ah now -- tomorrow come!


Fragments from a Shooting Spree on the News [News, Shooting, Priest]

1. Always So
Right behind the cops,
There are cameras at the scene,
In Tophet, Georgia.
2. Reporting Live
A priest of Moloch,
In his traditional garb
Feeds the Eater of Children
With fresh-running blood.
3. Plague Vector
We know better now --
Spoiled meat does not make flies.
The flies help meat spoil.


The Glad Tidings Brigade

Aggressive works of love proclaim
the living God:
No one has the right to stay
in sorrow, grief, and want --
in suffering.
Go street by street, and house by house,
and kick the doors of darkness in,
bring miseries to end by force of
the living God, invisible in suffering.


Persephone Rag

Darlin' I know that our hopes are slim,
But let's you and me slip away,
Far from the Devil, and love all day, 'cause,
What the Devil doesn't know won't hurt him!
Somehwere quiet, somewhere slow,
Just you and me to melt the snow --
Spring is waiting! Say you'll go, 'cause
What the Devil doesn't know,
What the Devil doesn't know,
What the Devil doesn't know won't hurt him.


Hexagram 57

Become powerful softly --
The sun at dawn,
Through mist in the branches.
Persistence, not force --
A slow stream,
Through a gap in the mountain.
Be still and be patient --
A heron's silhouette,
Pausing over sunrise waters.
Become powerful softly.


A Hole in the Shoji [Neck, Wife, Hokkaido]

I saw a neighbor
Through a hole in her shoji
That no one repaired --
She was dressing for dinner,
And she was humming a song.
It was just a glance,
A mistake of place and time,
But it was enough.
I fell in love with her back;
The naked nape of her neck.



This spiral of man,
This monument --
Ziggurat --
Tower --
Collapses --
This monument
To hubris repaid.


Bored When the Chase is Done

Strength ought to please
And pleasure should fulfill --
But nothing's emptier than these,
Your kisses, like a starless city night;
A sudden stroke of flesh and appetite --
And I have but to whisper, tease,
And wet my lips to thrill
You to your knees
And purr.


Familiarity Perverts

The known forest is dangerous --
Unknown forests
Are safe
Leaves, like ideas,
Are best
Untouched, unthought,
Green with


Ghost Story

Today she dared the darkened stairs,
To the basement
That she
Feared --
But she never
Came back
Not just gone, but


Evening Scene

A naked man is eating an entire pizza
At his open window, with the lights on,
One slice after another.
And his chest and belly are bright with the orange oil,
Dripping down from the crusts as he eats the slices one by one.
And an old woman, walking her dog below the window,
Looks up and sees the man's penis
And the man sees the woman looking at his penis
And he barks at the woman's Malamute, which wags its tail
And looks around for its new friend as the man eats another slice.


The Blackbird Sea

Wings brushing my face at midnight.
A dream -- a dream of wings brushing my face;
But black feathers on my chest.
I take the black feathers in my hands,
And go to the window;
The glass is dark, the latch is closed.
There is no way in here,
But everywhere are feathers;
I am drowning
In a sea of feathers.


That Phase

Dark Lord,
Father of all abominations
Author of woe --
Hear my prayer,
And grant me revenge
On the witches of Sixth Period French,
And I swear by your mighty throne
To scrifice these, my beautiful bangs,
And never wear them again --
So mote it be.


The Heiress and the Loneliness

With diamond, inlayed gold:
My lapis crown --
My fabrege heart.
The wealth of a Tzar,
The ornament of an empire,
The captive of a german Colonel,
Resting on a velvet pillow --
Much desired


Sketch from "12 Conversations"

"When I was dying, I reflected a lot on why I felt so awful and mournful.
I thought it was strange to be sad -- it's only death. It happens every day.
And when death happens to me, I won't be there to deal with it anyway.
Death might be relaxing, even. A relesase. No more responsibilities or cares,
Just pain and then sleep. And the conclusion I came to was simply this:
I was sad because I thought there was supposed to be more to life than this.
That I'd have fallen in love more. That I'd have done... more. Said more.
Coming to meet death, I was shocked by how little I've ended up having to say.
My life is all small moments, and rarely broken silences -- this is it? This?
A waste. A disappointment. An empty box under the tree on Christmas morning."


Sketch from "The Priest and the Painted Woman"

The first no bullshit human man
She'd seen since her exile began
Was walking the Hinesties Green
So normal that he looked obscene
Among the limbs and lifeforms there.
An honest face, with knotty hair --
This memory from childhood,
Just doing things a human would:
Taking his morning exercise,
Yawning and rubbing at his eyes.


The Novice

I closed my eyes, and saw the darkness there,
But the darkness was alive;
And without my eyes, my ears became the world,
And every sound was thunder.
So then I shut myself away in silence,
In a room of perfect darkness.
But thoughts and my desires found me there;
And my body sang with aches and pains; my heart --
My heart became the world.
No void, no void. All darkness is alive.


Two Brothers are Granted an Audience with the Oracle

"Come, brother and say,
What question shall we ask God?
We only get one."
"We should ask God no questions —
He dwells in the mystery."
"But come, brother, say,
We’re promised a true answer —
I’ve paid a fortune!"
"Then ask, 'My Lord and my God,
How can I get a refund?'"


Poem on the Wall of the Locked Wyoming Cabin

300 days is a good round figure,
An incomparable treasure of time.
A ransom I’m paying to salvage myself
From all of the wrong that I’ve done.
For I am the devil, and I am the devil’s son.
Four walls I made in a country far:
No windows, with locks on the doors;
A mile of grass in every direction,
That no one might come to my aid.
For I am the devil, and I am the devil’s son.


The Commuter

Eight teeth, incisors, upper and lower
Wrapped in a crumpled assignment,
Left at the bus stop, near blood on the ground,
And nobody taking an interest.
Somewhere, a child is missing his teeth.
Somewhere, a child is missing his teeth.
Walking around with his lips sunk and flaccid,
Awkwardly eating his dinner;
I bury the paper and teeth in my pocket,
And get on my bus, headed home.


The Dream of the Fire

The dream of the fire is to sit with the sea
Hand in hand beneath a willow tree
And not be quenched, and neither burn
In peace, in love, in hope to overturn
The weeping world and its old decree
That air be never fixed, nor earth be free,
Nor water cease, nor the dead return,
Nor youth remain, nor men live unconcrned,
Nor God with God should soon agree,
Nor fire rest beneath a willow tree.


The Min

Hillel once spoke as God and said,
"If I am here, then everyone is here;
If I am not here, then no one is here."
And he was more right than he knew.
I atrophy from a want of hope, but hope does not exist.
I suffer from want of faith, but faith does not exist.
I die from a want of charity, but charity does not exist.
So, too, do I yearn for God, though God does not exist:
And so nothing exists. We are not even dust and shadows.
From the void we are of the void and we are the void.


The Man Who Sold His Soul [In the Style of Robert Herrick]

Ah, my Soul, do you despise
These tears that drain from blooded eyes?
I search for you, that I might rest,
I call for you, and beat my breast--
Alone, through every bog and mire;
Alone, through what cold depths, what fire,
What hell of days that passes by:
Without my Soul, I cannot die.
So here I sit, and wither still,
A ghost of flesh, on Garbage Hill.


The Job Hunter

A classified, which advertised
a live-in nurse position,
held her as if hypnotized --
it matched her disposition,
and would cover her tuition.
But when she called,
The agent drawled
she wasn't very qualified,
and thirty people had applied,
And nothing could be done.



Sir Albert Old,
Went begging ass
From door to door
In hat and boots
And nothing more
"Nay!" said the Baker's wife;
"Never!" said the fisher's; but
"Maybe," said Miss Rappaport --
"In light of your condition,
Which one hardly could ignore."


The Vigil

Holy Grief descended from the heavens
And lighted on the Rivershore at dusk,
Alone, to keep her vigil through the night.
The one she waited for was sure to come,
Was promised by God, whose lips were near,
A man that she might spend her passion on
Whose empty heart she might prepare for grace.
So many men had fled from her embrace --
But one would stay, said God whose lips were near.


Wandering Eyes on an Afternoon Walk

Limb to limb,
& eye to eye,
lip & tongue,
& thigh to thigh,
ankle, calf,
& hand in hand --
I hope you don't
A bee in spring can never settle
On a single lovely petal.


The First Seduction

The spirit of the Lord hovered over the deep
And traced the perfect curvature of the world
With gentle fingers.
Let there be light, said the spirit of the Lord,
That I may survey the raw earth that I love.
Separate one from the other, said the spirit of the Lord,
that my lips may draw near the garden between.
Come forth unto me, said the spirit of the Lord,
That I may shape all good things with my hands.
And the breath of the Lord entered into the clay and made it live.



Was snoring so loudly
That the racket woke her
Even through the walls.
By the late hour,
She reached for her husband,
To turn him over --
No one was there.


Spring Daydream

A certain lightness in Bellingham
of empty pockets hung inside out,
inflated like balloons,
carrying off the sons of poor fathers
and the daughters of poor mothers,
squealing with delight,
into the cold, dry spring crosswind --
shadows on the bright blue sky,
gently topspinning --
a stream of ten thousand shadows.



To God, whose name I do not know,
One prayer is allowed:
Beloved, be my witness here,
And grant that I endure.
Pride and love of glory,
Envy, lust, and spite --
These poison every other thought,
And only this is pure:
Beloved, be my witness here,
And grant that I endure.

Look Up, Hannah


For ALR.


Our self-centeredness is, at bottom, our desire to stop time in its tracks, to make the water hold still and to stop time itself when we've reached a point in the stream we enjoy or when we are afraid we hear the sound of rapids around the next bend.
        -- Barry Magid, Ending The Pursuit Of Happiness

I heard the old, old men say,
'All that’s beautiful drifts away
Like the waters.'
    -- William Butler Yeats, "The Old Men Admiring Themselves in the Water"


This poem began life as a novel called "Pardis" that didn't want to be written. Presented in four parts, each part containing twenty-five beats, each beat consisting of ten un-rhymed syllabic lines, arranged into three stanzas as:


Most of the beats attempt kishōtenketsu structure -- to varying degrees of success -- with the twist occurring in the second stanza. The poem as a whole attempts the same.

Maine, Texas, California, North Carolina, Colorado

I. In The Midst of Life



She slept naked that summer
Under a fan, with no sheet,
Dreaming she'd stripped to her bones --
Every year the heat was worse.
There were two graven oxen
At the bottom of the stairs leading
Down the hill to daddy's shop.
In her favorite dreams, she was
At the bottom of those stairs again,
Stepping barefoot onto grass.



Mothers watching children sleep --
The family curse, they said,
The shame no one talked about,
Struck every generation.
When Grandma Mary was young,
The grounds-keeper's son found her naked,
Sleepwalking through a golf course.
There had been rumors at school,
But he was so shocked he fell in love
With muddy feet at sunrise.



A daydream interrupted
By music somewhere; music,
Under the lawnmower's hum,
Found her sitting on the curb.
Glimmers in the concrete were
A treasure; water down the gutter,
A river in a dry land.
And music somewhere, music
She could hear, repeating like a round
Sung by monks with an ox cart.



There was rain in the forecast
For the day of her wedding;
She'd had to call the venue
To move the party indoors.
Life seemed a long sleep disturbed
Now and then by terror, or a joke
So good she laughed herself hoarse.
When she told Jackson's mother,
Her soon-to-be-mother-in-law paled,
And tore her napkin in rage.



An unwanted layover
Stranded her in Charleston.
Alone with the strange city,
She went walking to kill time.
A hound dog can track a scent
Through hard miles of deserts and forests --
Nosing first this way, then that.
She caught the sound of singing,
Faint as forgetting, and followed it
Back to another graveyard.



The dancer complimented
And completed the cloth sail:
The wind gave it life, but she --
O, she made it beautiful.
Clocks have many moving parts,
And when they interlock, the hands move,
And time is made in circles.
As she watched the performance,
The interlocking dancers and sails
Became a beast on the beach.



The Great Bicycle Trio
Were a county fair staple.
She'd loved them at six;
Wanted to join them at ten.
Conches make beautiful shells:
Fluted and whorled, in silver and pink,
And they sing when played with skill.
These singers sang balancing
Chairs, poles, and shells of junk on their backs,
As they rode through the fairgrounds.



There were a hill and a field
Near the house where she'd grown up,
Where nothing was ever built,
And the owner never sold.
A girl in her tenth grade class
Hanged herself over the summer break.
No one knew why she did it,
But a week or two before
She'd seen the girl on that little hill.
A ghost with ash-colored eyes.



Animals made her nervous,
Not because she hated them --
But because they hated her.
Especially cats and birds.
"But he's usually so sweet" --
A friend pouting and soothing his cat,
While she washed blood from her arm.
Once, though, she'd sat on her stairs,
And tossed crumbs to a bird while she smoked --
Hop, hop. Look. Hop, hop. Peck. Tweet.



Walking alongside a horse,
She learned, can be delicate:
A horse is powerful and --
Like all cowards -- dangerous.
Older girls led younger girls
Singing old camp songs to pass the time
On the hike to Bull Moose Lake.
While the minder of horses
Kept telling her not to get too close
If she didn't want a kick.



Symptoms: first, anxiety --
Rapid breathing and heart-rate.
Later, intrusive thoughts, like
Stripping the skin off her face.
Gorgeous summer days alone,
Sunbathing in the back yard watching
Planes etch contrails in the sky.
Imaginary scar lines,
The echo of some far-off thunder,
And unwanted memories.



When was the last time she'd felt
Wonder? She couldn't remember,
While her sister carried on
About temples in Bali.
At the foot of a turbine,
At a wind farm: the bone-white pillars,
The talright blades -- she'd felt small,
Insignificant. Silenced.
Emi brought out pictures of herself
Smiling in sacred places.



She counted all the circles:
The freeway was a ring, and
The stadium beyond that,
And the bright disc of the moon.
A tourniquet on her arm,
Waiting for the nurse to take her blood,
And tell her what had gone wrong.
At the Overlook again.
The cold crept back into her left hand --
Why did she keep coming here?



Her nephew wore his bucket
Like a brimless blue top hat,
As he led her down the beach
To the sandcastle he'd made.
So many ways in and out --
Ten thousand square windows in the cliffs
Of the Pueblo Indians.
"You did all this by yourself?"
They admired the twelve minarets.
"Uh huh! And it's full of crabs!"



She loved to watch people work.
Nothing made her peaceable
Like watching craftsmen making
Anything with practiced hands.
There was this spider she met,
Who lived high in her bathroom window
And wove a fabulous web.
Every morning for two months
She greeted him and checked his progress --
He never did catch a fly.



For her thirtieth birthday,
As a present to herself,
She eloped from the party
And went hiking instead.
Forests never scared her much --
The pine woods were lovely at twilight,
And she drank the lonesomeness.
There was no shadow, she thought,
Waiting for her somewhere up the trail --
No ghost with ash-colored eyes.



The great God has two faces:
One face always turned inside;
And the other turned outside --
And so God sees everything.
People, said her therapist,
Run into trouble when they mistake
Their thoughts for reality.
Healthy minds cooperate:
The outward face gives us control, and
The inward gives us meaning.



Luggage -- like her old hard-side,
Which was stickered all over
With Daisy Duck -- was well-named.
Lug. Noun. To drag shit around.
The bad lines that writers strike
Always get saved somewhere, just in case --
Because sometimes bad lines breed.
When she's anxious, she dreams she's
Packing -- she can't stay here anymore,
And the luggage piles and piles.



She'd stolen so much from Ann --
Mannerisms, tics of speech --
That just seeing her again
Felt like an arrest warrant.
Gold sodium-vapor lights,
And the beetle-black shells of parked cars --
Midnight at the self storage
Somewhere down inside herself,
A crate full of childhood contraband
Spills open on the sidewalk.



A smooth-angled joist pattern
Over her cot, in the shadows;
She listened to the whole storm
Like music, start to finish.
At the first intermission,
She'd searched her pack for something to eat,
And only turned up a joint --
When the symphony resumed,
And the cabin walls roared with new rain,
One languid arm conducted.



Ann could bake. Ann could stir-fry.
Ann knew how to fricassee,
And make a dozen sauces --
And all without a cookbook.
Which made Ann -- so practical,
And so put-together -- like a Saint
Of Soup, a Sister of Knives.
While she, in a minor key,
Had grown up too busy being sad
To learn such useful life skills.



She stopped at the Overlook
To sneak a quick cigarette,
And watch the spectacle of
Sunset during fire season.
Red and yellow lay heavy
On the circles down in the valley,
All the way out to the sea.
The roads were arcs of hot steel,
And the sea was the color of night;
Blue cigarette smoke, red sky.



The trouble with Ann was just --
The way the conversation
Inevitably became
A patch-quilt of references.
Sewing scraps of this and that,
Like a prairie wife in nineteen-ten,
Had made college bearable --
But sixteen years recycling
The same jokes, and the same memories,
Had left adulthood threadbare.



She said to her therapist,
"I was sitting on a wall,
And when I looked up, I saw
There was a hole in the sky
At dusk; stars were coming out --
A billion tiny lights in the sky
Except for this black circle
Where nothing, not even clouds
Could trespass, and I knew so much time,
An ocean of time, was gone."



Sunrise is not one event,
Nor is it many events
Run together in sequence
Like the frames of a movie.
She could look back on her life
And never find the single moment
When she began to fall ill.
Without one interruption
A black sky passes into daylight;
There is no one time of death.

II. We Are In Death



She sat on Redd's Beach alone
And watched the young women bathe,
Dreaming she'd stripped to her bones,
And walked skeletal to sea.
And the great God gently sang:
Nymphs of the surf-line who laugh and play,
How long till the tide rolls out?
While, in her daydream, her bones
Followed the moon-drawn waters deep down,
Where warm flesh can never go.



There had been rumors at school,
But then Jackson Shaw turned up
At the Halloween party
In that black beast of a car.
In her own recollection
She had always been a thief of hearts,
Even though it wasn't true.
Jackson had been stealing cars
Since the day he could reach the pedals
Even though he denied it.



The highway helped her forget,
Because it went forever --
And the infinite roadside,
Elysian fields of green.
Anna nearby doesn't know.
Anna wait, don't rush, keep driving slow --
There is nowhere left to go.
This is eternity here.
Her behind the wheel, and she beside,
And music -- somewhere, music.



She'd lain up all night in pain.
The next day, in the airport,
Life seemed a long sleep disturbed
Now and then by boarding calls.
The big geese cannot ignore
The call to migrate in the autumn,
And mark the sky with arrows.
As long as she was able,
She would fly where she was told and work --
Lest she land somewhere and stay.



A perfect repetition,
Like the clouds were painted on;
And the sheet of the pale sky
Revolved in one smooth movement.
Perhaps this was everything:
The sky moved, not the clouds; The earth moved,
while she remained where she was.
Though their car seemed to wander
Through hard miles of deserts and forests --
Ann was steering the whole world.



The reflection of shadows
In a polished glass window
In an airport terminal --
Such are our lives in the world.
An old woman with two bags
Fruitlessly bullies a gate agent,
As if he caused her delay.
Through her shadow's reflection,
Planes come and go on the bright runway,
And time is made in circles.



She noticed the small changes --
Hills giving way to mesas;
The texture of the pavement --
That marked the border crossing.
Objects on the doctor's shelves,
Fluted and whorled in silver and pink,
Marked his different specialty.
Fragments of an old hotel,
Signs shot full of holes, and burnt billboards,
Marked the old Route Sixty-Six.



When Jackson was on duty
He parked on Cabinet Road
Overlooking the suburbs
All the way down to the sea.
They talked for hours those days --
The best talks of their time together;
Boredom banished all secrets.
"What are you most afraid of?"
He asked, "and I don't mean, like, spiders."
"A ghost with ash-colored eyes."



Straight lines are the easiest
And surest sign of people
Past or present in a place.
Nature doesn't let lines last.
While she washed blood from her arm,
She had to scrub at the gummy line
Left by the medical tape.
Weather, water, wind, and time
Had scoured away all the traces,
Except the lines in the grass.



Living in a place that rains,
She learned, can be delicate --
Structures flood, and mold, and rot;
Everything risks a wet death.
Frogs sprang up after one storm.
She was careful not to step on them,
Walking the path to her car.
The next day, she saw the street
Had been paved with the corpses of frogs,
And birds picked over the feast.



Whenever she went back home
She had the same nightmare of
Standing at a mirror, and
Stripping the skin from her face.
Motes of dust suspended in
The light of the south-facing window
And the heat of her old room --
Her entire childhood was this:
Alone with the dust, too hot to sleep,
And bad dreams as thick as flies.



If doubts were like animals,
Each night she could look out
And see them on her back porch,
Foraging with yellow eyes.
When was the last time she'd felt
The cold and not the dead-limb numbness;
The heat, and not the fever?
She wanted to give herself
To those yellow eyes with their small hands --
Sometimes, when she sat too still.



An un-lived life smelled like paint;
Was shaped out of spools of wire.
Her daddy's ghost helped as
She counted all the circles:
The clean potter's wheel, the lathe
With its box nearby. Mom said he was
A hobby collector -- but
No one had been here in years,
Not even daddy. He'd given up
The space and gone back to work.



The sky outlasts the fireworks
In exactly the same way
As death will remain after
All the living has been done.
As he led her down the beach,
Jackson promised a love rich in years,
And asked her to marry him.
She had been countless women;
Nothing remained of any of them.
She had outlasted them all.



The young nurse encouraged her
To steal -- as she had done now
Every morning for two months,
With cheerful indifference.
When the mourners came to visit
The Cemetery across the way
They left small stones on the graves.
She'd always collected stones.
She had one from every place she'd been;
Icons of her wanderings.



"If you could give Death a voice,
What do you think He would say?"
She sat in silence, thinking.
"Would he threaten? Is he sad?"
In the Judean desert,
The Tempter offers Jesus a stone:
"Make this your bread, Son of Man."
She said, "'I will make you free.
No grief, no pain, no loneliness, and
No ghost with ash-colored eyes.'"



Self-denial was easy --
But she was furious that
She'd got out of practice at
Telling other people no.
Here was Emi, five years on,
Filling their parents' house with flowers,
To salve her belated guilt.
When Emi peeked in on her,
She refused to look up from her book --
And the other turned outside.



She had too much time. She watched
The dissolution of leaves
De-flesh the late autumn hills,
And hasten the bone season.
She could see all those fleet years --
butterflies and metal band t-shirts --
Shatter her face when she smiled.
She saw there was only death,
Gathering us all together, like
The bad lines that writers strike.



Memories were the horror,
Were the black seeds of the heart,
That grew night ivy and thorns
Over her mouth and her eyes.
There was no more mystery,
Here at the other end of her life:
She knew how it all turned out;
All she had were memories --
A crate of childhood contraband,
A garden of poison trees.



At the first intermission,
She briefly and completely
Fell in love with the silent man
She saw across the lobby.
He spoke, and laughed, and sipped tea
From a pale blue paper cup in hand.
He fished the room with bright eyes.
His silence was in herself,
Of her own making -- gazing at him,
She forgot she was dying.



She wanted to see how long
Ann would stand within arm's reach
And still not recognize her
In the airport terminal.
The Whaley house is haunted --
Hanged men and suicides rattling bones,
And calling out in the night.
Which made Ann -- so practical,
So dispassionate, gasp at the sound,
And drown in tears at the sight.



She pictured the Overlook.
She remembered cigarettes;
Sunset during fire season.
A place for idiot thoughts:
Down the cliff somewhere, they cared.
They lived as if they were invested --
As if the outcome mattered.
They were so bright in her mind --
She wondered what they felt like down there,
All those small, burning windows.



The way the conversation turned
They both knew it didn't matter
That after Anna flew home
They might never meet again.
The stone was small and slate gray,
Cold in her hand, colder than winter;
And no heat seemed to warm it.
She had resisted -- for what?
After she got home from the airport,
She stole the stone from its grave.



After that she was free, like
There was a hole in the sky
That she could leap up through now
Any time she wanted to.
Threatening clouds un-warmed by
The ghost light that used to be the sun;
Like the shadow on a lung.
No more doubts, and no more fears,
And no more hopes, and no consequences --
This was like liberation.



There came rain instead of snow.
She walked home with no hurry.
"This is the last chance, you know.
This is as old as we get."
Lifting the hem of the world,
A black sky passes into daylight
Before the alchemist's eyes.
Suddenly, cold was not cold,
And her body had no weight at all --
Like she could step off the world.

III. Of Whom May We Seek for Succor



Silence on the Rivershore
Down in the the treeless valley,
Deep between the ocher hills,
Where the black water runs. Then,
Like the girl in the ocean,
Who waded back to the beach, reclined,
And watched the young women bathe,
Out of the river, alone,
Pale and shining in that twilight hour,
A skeleton came ashore.



The Old Bones scavenged clothing
From the rubbish on the beach --
A yellow robe in tatters,
And a dry, cracked leather belt.
Some, ghouls; some, ghosts; some, jokes -- but,
Everyone has their favorite costume
At the Halloween party;
And even standing alone,
The Old Bones in that pale, dusty robe
Was a charmer with a grin.



Then blew in a hot, dry wind,
And music -- somewhere, music,
Singing around the Old Bones,
"Why do you keep coming back?"
A thirsty man has no shame:
He'll drink many times from a vile well,
Until he is satisfied.
And the voice from the wind sang,
"Go on and climb, then -- you know the way.
But this will be your last taste."



And the voice of the wind sighed,
And landed on one shoulder
Of the Old Bones' hanging robe
In the shape of a white moth,
Singing, "Migratory birds
At the turn of autumn take to wing,
And mark the sky with arrows
Pointing to what they desire.
Just so, we'll go the way together,
And see where your desire leads."



"In the end," sang the white Moth,
"I will consume even you --
Your gold robe and your bright bones.
All that is belongs to me."
What man, starting a journey
Through hard miles of deserts and forests --
Is the same at the road's end?
"Then we're agreed," cooed the Moth.
The pale wings beat and buzzed with pleasure,
"Lead the way -- your road awaits."



For the last time, the Bones looked
To the river's other shore,
Where souls in ones and twos walked
The narrow road to glory --
The reflection of shadows
On the face of a polished window;
Smoke on a dusk horizon.
All too solidly, bone feet
Made tracks in the other direction,
Through sand the color of wounds.



Two stone oxen, like towers
That marked the border crossing
Between the river's valley
And the Red Desert beyond--
What will skyscrapers look like
After a century of decay?
They are junk, not meant to last.
But even these stone oxen,
The proud handwork of eternity,
Had been worn to stubs by wind.



The Old Bones then passed into
The Land of the God of Smoke,
A ghost with ash-colored eyes
Whose worshipers wept and choked.
Throw a blind man in the dark,
And nothing changes -- what has he lost?
A story that he once heard.
So the God raged at the Bones,
But there was no throat to suffocate,
And no eyes to damn or burn.



And the Old Bones passed into
The Land of the God of Night
Whose worshipers turn and turn,
Believing they're on the road.
Sports are imaginary --
So much passion when nothing is real
Except the lines in the grass.
Voices argued in the dark --
Some cried, "This way!" Some counted their steps.
But only straight paths led out.



And the Old Bones passed into
The Land of the Waning Moon,
The City of Pleasure, where
Structures flood, and mold, and rot.
A beautiful face is flame
Moving so slowly you don't notice
How fast the night burns away.
The Bones had no flesh to please,
And Time was brittling what remained, like
A moth chewing on a robe.



And the Old Bones passed into
The land of the Southward Sun,
Forever gently icing
Toward the winter of decline.
Standing at a mirror, and
Groping after an ache, a twinge --
the reason to fear doctors.
But, long ago, the Old Bones
Lost even the fear of loss itself,
And the desire for desire.



And the Old Bones passed into
The Land of Mulberry Trees,
Where dead family and friends
Embraced under weeping boughs.
Love is only a cure for
The cold and not the dead-limb numbness;
Candlelight, but not the dawn.
So many hands reached out, but
The Old Bones remembered no one, and
Had no face to recognize.



And then, at the furthest reach,
Beyond the smoke and the night,
Beyond both pleasure and loss,
The Old Bones met the mountains.
A ladder with broken rungs,
Leaning against what's left of a wall,
Looked over by a full moon --
Nothing was left of the road,
Just shattered bricks and faded traces.
No one had been here in years.



The Moth sang, "Nothing escapes.
Even this, the road of birth
And rebirth, belongs to me
In exactly the same way."
Pull apart a paper crane
And you can fold the old sheet again
Into anything you want.
And the Moth laughed, unfolding
its wings as wide as sails, wide enough
To fly the Old Bones away.



And the Old Bones sailed pale wings
Past the mountains, through the sky,
Carried by the singing Moth
To the moon, the home of Gods.
Like men so loved in death that,
Even when the poor had nothing else
They left small stones on the graves,
Ten thousand generations
Had strewn the lunar fields with their gifts --
Unopened and unwanted.



And the Old Bones saw the Gods --
Some with names that people know,
And many long forgotten --
Sitting lean upon the ground.
The first people to brew beer
Used their teeth to pulverize the grain,
And spat the pulp into pots.
The Old Bones watched as one God
Swept souls into her teeth by handfuls.
She said, "I will make you free."



And she spat her mash of souls,
Now thin and clear as ether,
Into the crystalline void
Of the star-bright universe.
A florist experiments,
One arrangement after another --
Not sure what she's looking for.
The God bade some souls "Flourish!";
Some, "Dwindle!" -- told some people "Yes!", while
Telling other people "No."



And the Old Bones saw white mist
Condense out of the ether,
Fogging the light of young stars,
Becoming air for new worlds.
Endless pictures of the sky,
Butterflies, and metal band t-shirts,
Hung by hooks from fishing lines --
New clouds drifted like cattle,
And a breath of wind churned the depths:
Dew drops on a chain-link fence.



And the Old Bones watched clouds burst,
And the rain began to fall
That grew night ivy and thorns --
But also flowers, and grass.
Some days in prison, the sky
Is so beautiful over the yard
You almost forget the bars.
The Old Bones felt sick before
The vast clockwork of eternity;
The dance of the prison cells.



And the Old Bones saw the soil
Drink up the souls of the dead,
And make Earth's black depths pregnant
With ten thousand living things.
At the first intermission,
A bum lingers around the theater,
Begging for half-drunk glasses.
The Moth, adagio, sang:
"You already know what turns the wheel:
Desire and consumption."



And the Old Bones saw the Earth
heave up a springtime bounty;
Pale shoots, mown down by the teeth
Of swine and vermin and pests.
The Moth sang, "Evil men and
Hanged men and suicides rattling bones,
And good men, and saints, and kings --
With every turn of the wheel,
Some join the deathless Gods at Their feast,
And fear nothing except me."



And the Old Bones saw a dead
Sunset during fire season;
Men around huge cooking fires,
Laughing over bleeding meat.
"Or there's hell, if they prefer.
Hell is teeth all the way down, glutting
A stomach than never shits,"
The Moth sang. "Birth in reverse,
All consumption without creation,
Where they beg and call my name."



And the Old Bones saw night come;
Watched uncountable women
With bent limbs consuming seed
To brew into new children.
"For I am the pain that breaks
Lovers who part and know too well that
They might never meet again.
I am the wind that eats stone,"
Sang the Moth. "I am the pulse of life
That longs for dissolution."



And the Old Bones saw the births
That came from every mother;
The seas of blood and mucus,
The agony and dying.
"Hearing cries from down the hall,
A girl peeps through a crack in the door,
And sees her parents coupling --
This is you, my bony friend,"
The Moth sang, "Life after life.
Is this what you desire here?"



The Old Bones walked to the edge,
The place where form and void meet --
The gray hill under the stars,
Overlooking nothingness.
"This is the last chance, you know,"
Sang the Moth. "Don't give yourself to me.
Why not take another spin?"
The Bones said, "I know this song."
And with arms wide, the skeleton leapt --
Leaving the gold robe behind.

IV. But Of Thee, O Lord



My sister always called me
Shallow -- this is a bad start,
Complaining about the dead.
Thinking only of myself,
Out of the river, alone,
At the bottom of the stairs,
Cold and wet -- calling her name.
She's gone. Like when we were kids,
She ditched me when I wasn't looking,
And I hate her a little.



But the worst part is, she was
Right. Hate is narcissism,
Form-fitting and fringed in red.
I wear it like a sari,
A yellow robe in tatters,
Hanging from the limbs of a burnt tree --
A lean Christ with hungry eyes:
That's what she meant by shallow.
It's easier to be a martyr,
Harder to be left behind.



But that was her: here and gone.
School and traveling and work,
And me always wondering:
Why do you keep coming back?
Not for love of family;
Not for Jacks, even before he died.
Maybe she liked the weather.
Or maybe she was bewitched,
Hexed, cursed to sleepwalk where she was led
By music -- somewhere, music.



This happened when we were kids:
There was rain in the forecast,
And the voice of the wind sighed,
And we huddled in our tent --
Two little birds in a bush,
All looked over by a gray-eyed cat
Pacing behind a window.
I don't know how she could sleep,
But there she was, clinging to my arm,
Dead to the world and the storm.



Then, the family curse struck --
And my sister, still asleep,
Whispering like the branches,
Let go my arm and stood, like
She caught the sound of singing,
Through hard miles of deserts and forests --
And had to follow the song.
I was eight when this happened,
But I go right back to that moment
Every time I'm left alone.



We were only in the yard,
And the neighbors had this fence
That she couldn't have got around,
So Hannah wasn't in danger --
The reflection of shadows
Running to the dark kitchen window,
To investigate my screams.
Her same story every loop:
Home and gone and home. While I'm alone,
And time is made in circles.



They say the last voice you hear,
At the moment of death, is
Your own, and you are singing --
That everyone knows this song.
Conches make beautiful shells --
The proud handwork of eternity.
Art without an artisan.
Perhaps we write all our lives:
Every moment composing this song;
Every note in harmony.



One house on a street, lit
So bright you almost forget
Death is the only real thing
In a universe of night --
This idea that our lives
Are governed by harmony; not by
A ghost with ash colored eyes --
A well-gardened property,
Where nothing is ever out of place,
And the owner never sold.



Hannah would be disgusted.
She would say that this is why she
Always gagged at talk of God:
No spirit, only matter.
"If a little girl told you
She'd caught an elephant in her bed,
You wouldn't ask to see it --"
She would roll her eyes at me:
"So much passion when nothing is real;
You should keep God to yourself."



But, for all her scorn, she missed
How fast the night burns away;
Surprised by the morning sun,
She never asked the questions.
Soldiers sitting by a fire
Singing old camp songs to pass the time,
Afraid to march at daybreak --
You cannot run from the war.
The universe is made of questions --
Only the questions are real.



Since she's not here to object,
We'll ask them for her -- the way
Planes etch contrails in the sky:
By crossing infinity.
Standing at a mirror and
Writing my name in the shower steam;
Gone before I brush my teeth --
If our lives are as fragile,
And disappear just as easily,
Then existence is bizarre.



A girl discovers her world
Is a set of theater flats --
So deep in acting her role
She had forgotten herself,
Performing for empty seats
In the midst of artificial snow:
This is all she remembers.
When was the last time she'd felt
The cold, and not the dead-limb numbness
Of pantomiming shivers?



The girl steps down from the stage,
And walks uncertainly through
Rows and rows of empty seats;
Slowly, faster, running -- then,
Grass. As far as eyes can see.
A new world, wet from the night's outbreath,
Looked over by a full moon.
She steps through the theater door,
And onto the silent grass -- just her,
And the bright disc of the moon.



Looking into the valley,
The flaglands of some Pardis,
She sees nothing human there:
White cliffs, dark grass -- then, traces:
After the resurrection,
A world of graves thrown open, empty --
Not a single person left --
In exactly the same way,
Ten thousand square windows in the cliffs
Mark a skyscraper's remains.



Years, millennia, eons
Gone; the last human being stands,
Watching shocks of night birds arc
Past the mountains, through the sky,
Like watching craftsmen making
White pencil lines on blueprint paper
With the twirl of a compass.
In this alien midnight,
She learns the only lesson there is --
We are all just passing through.



This is our life in the world --
Most of us anonymous,
Some with names that people know.
We all end alone with God.
Neti, neti. There's no beard.
Heaven has no battlements, and hell
No ghost with ash-colored eyes.
God is nothing nameable;
Any God you could name wouldn't be God.
God is the river's passing.



I'll never know what happened,
Why my sister was grieving --
All her life: grieving, grieving.
"People," said her therapist.
Maybe her grief was the same:
Neti, neti. The grief we could know
Would not be Hannah's true grief.
I've gathered all the pieces,
One arrangement after another --
But they are less than her tears.



Mine is the God of silence,
The witness to things unsaid --
To convenience store makeup;
Endless pictures of the sky.
After dad and mom had died,
Hannah and I emptied out their house.
The end result of their lives,
Piled in boxes and bags;
Objects, now -- without their meaning, like
The bad lines that writers strike.



She left even less than that --
Memories and angry words,
But also flowers and grass,
Mannerisms, tics of speech.
This is my God of the gaps,
My God of mysteries and questions --
And only questions are real.
If Hannah is silent now,
And her grief, still an open question --
Then death was her road to God.



I think I sound too certain,
Too sure of what she doubted:
I am just another fraud; I
Drink up the souls of the dead,
Like music, start to finish --
Saints and sages and philosophers,
One book after another,
One temple after the next;
Always in the dark of my own questions.
Cold tea the morning after.



I have sat by the river,
In the lee of trees whose names
I could not even guess at --
But I loved them for their shade.
Locals at the bar said that
Hanged men and suicides, rattling bones,
Came to the shore at sunrise,
Each carrying a candle,
And so put together like the saints,
That you felt their holiness.



I started my vigil at
Sunset. During fire season,
Red and yellow lay heavy
On the silent, black water.
Smoke pillars, at intervals,
Marked funeral pyres -- as they had
Since the first conquest of fire.
When night came, the smell of ash,
And the stink of river pollution
Waited with me for the dawn.



Hannah, I don't know your ghosts.
The times when I tried to ask
Inevitably became
Another silent evening.
Dead friends, lost hopes, broken vows,
Lovers who part and know too well that
They might never meet again --
Whoever you're looking for --
Hannah, if only I could've showed you.
Down by that silent river --



When dawn came, the sun rose like
There was a hole in the sky,
Where the mist and the light poured
In, flooding out the darkness --
Hearing music down the hall,
A girl peeps through a crack in the door,
And sees her parents dancing --
You wept your whole life, Hannah.
It took a thousand lines to find you:
Let's pretend it's not too late --



And I'll say to you, with no
Operatic majesty,
With no poetry or grace,
At the end of this long night:
Overlooking nothingness,
A black sky passes into daylight,
And the dead sing in the mist;
Look up, Hannah. See the ghosts
Carrying candles to the river,
And grieve no more.


Damnation of the Book Thief

Wasn't irony the book thief found in hell,
But all the souls he had eaten, back again:
Each one wanting to hear in detail what the book thief
Thought of the life's work he had chewed through --
Say, on a Sunday, reading half distracted,
Skimming the labor of decades with a yawn.
"Tell me, tell me," the poets demanded.
"What did you think of the turn at the end?"
And the book thief sweated like a blacksmith,
Trying to remember something, anything -- even one word.


We All See What We Want To

Life in the universe is
Probably pretty common,
But intelligent life is --
At least rare, if not unique.
I knew a mathematician,
Who told me everything is numbers.
We all see what we want to.
So if we're intelligent,
Of course we think that intelligence
Must be inevitable.



Sometimes the sun
And no day
Follows --
And the dawn chorus,
The breaking silence, is
A single mourning
A single mourning
A single mourning


The Lost Century of Legion Twenty-Five

The survivors entered the village in good order:
Fifteen men plus their Guard Commander leading.
Tarsus, whom everyone called Tarus or The Bull,
Knew the local burr-burr language, and listened.
"Shelter, fodder, food, and sleep," said the Commander.
And the village Head Man bowed too deeply in reply.
The Commander saw Tarsus paling, near to panic,
As the Head Man gave orders to the village men.
"He told them," Tarsus choked. "'We'll eat well tonight.
They're bronze on the outside, but meat in the middle.'"



Hail to you, belovèd ghosts.
Did you know that every time
We said goodbye, while you lived,
I thought, "This is the last chance?"
A daydream interrupted,
And all too easily forgotten --
A spark in a field at night,
Or music, somehwere. Music,
Like the sound of a distant wedding.
My love left no survivors.


All Is Well

A farmer who understood looked at the sky,
Saw no clouds for rain, and said:
"Another year of watering our crops with tears,
I suppose. But, all is well.
"For, I am the sky, and I am the soil,
And I am the drought of the age,
"I am the night as much as the day,
I am the sun and the morning star.
"I am all that is, unfolding,"
He says. "And all is well."


Alien Hand Syndrome

The man on the bus had one hand
Free, while the other busied itself
Yanking on a fistful of his own red curls --
Not that he seemed to mind, reading his phone.
When he was a young man, he'd gone
To hundreds of concerts, each louder than the last;
Always amazed how his ears adjusted.
He barely noticed the pain now.
Mostly he was just glad the wayward hand,
Had stopped slapping random asses.


Hall of Fame

Take Randy Reid: he's just sixteen,
And snuck into a bar.
It is 10 o'clock on Halloween,
And Randy here's a star:
Seven touchdowns in a game,
And now -- it's so bizarre --
The barflies wheedled out his name,
And gave him a cigar;
It tasted like old gasoline,
The whiskey like a flame.


Ejector Seat

I'm picturing you
At the bottom
Of an empty well,
As if from the rim.
You are face to face,
With an angry
Chimpanzee -- and
I believe you can
Fill in the rest
For yourself.


The Ur-Lesbian

At the reunion, my cousin came out
And announced her engagement
In the same breath.
Her mother hasn't come out
Of the bedroom all day.
My own parents keep whispering --
Quietly, around the fire pit out back --
"I swear I've met her fiancé
Somewhere before."
But she just has one of those faces.


Living in Squalor

We'll get married by and by,
If the sin's too much for us;
But for now, we're pretending
this is as old as we get --
A dog shreds the furniture,
then stretches out in the wet tatters
and falls asleep smiling --
For now we'll keep on living
in the squalor of our ruined lives,
pleased with the consequences.


The Qualia of Birds

Do you suppose that birds
Have off days?
When flight feathers ruffle
And won’t sit flat;
When the updrafts wander off
Never to be caught?
Is there a duck whose morning
Will not float the way it ought?
Do swallows grieve and weary sigh
As summer burns to coals?



Pressing fingers into dust and sand
Where their soil used to be --
Before the hot rush of a ten month summer,
Blew their farmland out to sea --
The loose-skinned men of a dried-up land,
Howled their grief to the Devil's Drummer.
And the white-eyed man beat out his command,
In answer to their plea --
"Hair-leaf, blood-sap, hand-root," said the Drummer.
"Make these men a fruiting tree."


The Serpent to the Singer

Why linger long with lines?
Some little poem, some pretty piece,
With pains drawn down with dreary
And dull sweetness, swearing sunlight
Or salvation -- but both, bonny
My boy, are lies; light leaves,
And love? When winter wails
And white tears of frost freckle
Your face -- great god of goodness!
Those gullible lines will leer, and lour.


Interrogation Manual

Question a starling in this manner --
When your ancestors came to America
As chattel, did they know then how
Many children they would give?
How, like Abraham, they would
Have descendents more numerous
Than grains of sand on the shore?
Did they know, when their wings first
Beat over the cities of men, that they
Were setting forth to conquer Canaan?



I am a pagan at heart,
Try as I might to reform --
A child in church dreaming of
Bare feet trailing through tall grass --
A witch walking to sabbath:
Pale and shining in that twilight hour,
My thin voice singing softly,
My head bowed, but only to
The short cycles and impermanence
Of nature -- not nature's God.


Two-Tanka Western [Working Men]

Coming into town
With whiskey dollars to spend
And a steer-trail thirst --
Whoop to the heavens like men,
Drink like devils, sleep like dogs.
Coming into town
With a crushed hat in your hand
And hungry pockets --
Weep like your grieving fathers,
Wither like corn, die like voles.


The Prophet

Gideon's mind ran twelve hours fast.
When he wrote down his thoughts, he found them again
The following day, in selfsame words:
Not better, not worse, but just as he wrote them,
In papers, on screens, overheard on the train.
And so he was terribly worried when,
That morning,
He wrote a long and wandering thought
About weariness, doctors, and polyps,
And blood running free through his bowels.


Scarlotti, Sonata in B Minor, L449 (K. 27)

Piano notes as bare footfalls
Along the brickwork walk
Dividing grassy park and cliffs
On a warm morning under the sun;
Leaning on the safety rail
To look down the bird-hollow stone walls
Where wings can hold in place forever,
Down to the white sand beach, to dark water
And scalloped foam like a page of piano notes --
In the silver distance, a cargo ship makes its way.


The Dangerous Lover

By then, too late to recall the messenger;
She collected both of the fingers she'd lost
And placed them in the white velvet pouch
She wore on her belt for occasions like these.
Rickety, loose–jointed old whore machine --
Panicked and sent for the cops like a feeb.
The direct method was more satisfying, far.
She prodded the corpse of the dangerous lover,
Roughly, with her aircraft-metal heel,
And planned an alibi to fit the need.


Kimochi Warui

"Can you describe the feeling?
Words don't seem to frighten you,
So, perhaps we can start there:
How does dying feel to you?"
She watched a beetle crawling
In the short carpet next to her foot;
Elysian fields of green.
The size of a peppercorn,
She couldn't feel it under her heel.
She ground her foot. "Disgusting."


Wake Up Wake Up Wake Up

Horse Neighs,
Horse Neighs,
Horse Neighs,
Outside the door; then
Beating Fists,
And screams --


Cleaning the Side Yard

Light on the ten thousand scoop-faces
Of ripples marking the topography of deep
Slime-rotted stems and stone beds, bends
In the banks of sand shadowed over
Now and then by the yellow-dying leaves --
An ant on a flat white rock,
No bigger than a grain of rice on your fist
Pauses the toil of crossing the garden,
Lost in contemplation of this landscape
Like Eden pouring from a hose.



He was always touching someone, not by choice,
But imprisoned here in a white box
With so many others he could fall asleep standing
And wake having never touched the ground.
Naked skin he couldn't stop; touching and being touched --
And the mad blue-white light in the roof you couldn't look at.
When he broke, he clambered up up up nails tearing
Gripping, soft meat shifting over stony joints --
All their grey faces looking up at him in that moment,
Before every hand reached up to drag him back.



Red glass shard, grey field;
Flat sky, rubbled earth.
Rubbish takes the stage,
And because it's rare,
And because it's brightly colored
The red glass shard seems to caper,
Somehow -- and
We point at the ground
As our black boots march past.


Points of Reference

Half a pill, half a pill, half a pill onward --
The rail-bridge is out again;
A tumbling train of thought again;
Into the deep-shadowed valley again,
Into the trees, so peaceful, dark, and deep
Before the moment of impact on the rocks.
Half a pill, half a pill, half a pill onward --
Into the deep-shadowed valley again,
Into the forest labyrynth, into the ant-lion pit,
Into the arms of the demon Sticky Hair.



Death is the ultimate act
Of rebellion in a state
That cares more about your work
Than your quality of life --
But a thin rebellion, like
A lighter spark on a beach at night:
Bright, then gone as if never.
You call out to an old friend,
But it's a stranger who turns and waves --
And all you see are the bones.


Nu-Yu (Affordable and Fast)

The personality distributor
Sorted orders into one of two stacks --
Orders that people put in for themselves,
And orders put in for somebody else.
The ratio between them glassed her heart --
The second pile was twenty times the first.
In the violent depths of the procedure,
Breathing the smoke of soldered brain tissue,
She would look at their sad, placid faces,
Amazed that no one loved them as they were.



Not for me, to feel strange at the start of a new life,
Nor ambivalence about the world that welcomes-- it's like this:
A grey-legged oak.
From secret sources, unseen roots draw sustenance
Into the slim waist of a few decades' living; becoming
First Y, then X, then asterisks of twigs hung green --
You know our friend the oak. So I can say,
Here from this twig, which can bear no leaves,
I look across to that new-budding bough; then I look out
On a dry country, spare of trees, thin of soil.


Fairy Story

She drew me apart, the fairy did,
Under the dolmen, under the stars;
She and the bright lights in the dark,
They drew me apart in the night.
My fingers were pulled from their knuckles;
My organs ribboned out through my navel.
My skin they peeled, my muscles they flayed,
My ribs they broke; my heart burned to smoke --
They drew and they drew until I was dead -- and then,
Only later, did a new body grow out of my head.


Still Hopes

Black leaves on dark trees
Filtering weak starlight;
Feeding on single photons.
Ten black-egg exit trajectories:
Ten shell-arcs away from heat,
And warmth, and the stars of home.
Ten living ships, ten sleep-dead crews;
Ten forests in oblivion
With slim hopes -- but still hopes --
To come again to morning.


A Week of Magic Costs a Year of Death

The city grows flowers on a hill near here:
A hundred different colors, lined in rows
Four miles long. It's quite a sight.
For a week or two. Before they die
Under the lash of drought and summer sun.
Then the city comes, and carts the dead flowers away.
And the rest of the year, the hill is scabs and dust,
And not even grass or dandelions grow.
Seems odd the city does this every year--
I wonder if there's any money in it.


Brotherly Advice

In your cell the yoke is easy --
At your shoulder sits the Lord,
Even showers, soups, and stools:
The King of All is God of these,
And all we do, we do to please.
The yoke is different in the world --
Looser, yes, but harder too. The world's
So bright with riot-feathered birds,
That you can scarcely stop your head
From following the raving dead.


Rust Belt

I see you, Sally Salome,
Fretting over what to say --
You frown and twirl your pen around,
A shadow on a sunny day,
A patch of snow on holy ground --
I see you, cold and lovely Sally,
All pit-mine eyes in Autumn Valley --
The empty storefront victory
Of bottles scattered in an alley --
The nonchalance of misery.


A Man with Nothing to Say

A man with nothing to say
Was elected by unanimous decision
To the office of President --
You can't imagine what it was like.
Everyone voted for the man with nothing to say.
Everyone. It was the first time anyone felt good
About an American election.
The night his opponent conceded,
The man with nothing to say came to the podium,
Smiled, and said nothing, for 45 minutes.


The Death of Harriet Painter

Blue skies on a sullen summer morning;
The tang of wood-smoke and melted plastic --
The fire that had burned all night was done.
And there was very little left of the hotel;
Two sections of wall standing, ridiculous and still --
A gap-toothed smile with ash between the teeth.
Four rooms' worth of wreckage, but only one --
just one room was occupied the night before;
And that's how I knew there would only be one


The Land of the Long Night

You must disguise the sunlight
If morning is to be smuggled
Into the land of the long night --
Speak in the vernacular,
But always with a wink --
Those who hear will smile;
Those who are deaf will shrug.
"An eccentric," they'll say.
"A harmless old nutter,
Who still believes in dawn."


Reverberation Time

In the Great Teaching, the saints and sages
Declare as fact not faith that matter
However preserved, coddled, and extended
Will sicken, wither, die, and pass into nothing.
But spirit -- spirit is immortal. Spirit endures.
But, what spirit? Show me the spirit that endures.
The spirit of an age passes.
The spirit of a nation. A family. A man.
The spirit of a teaching on the immortality of the soul --
A song that fades without a singer; city fast, cathedral slow.


Time Dilation [Found in Old Notes, Dated 2017]

I briefly fell in love this afternoon
With a woman waiting, as I was waiting,
To pick up lunches we'd ordered to go.
A brief affair; five or ten minutes
That spanned sixty years from meeting to death --
And then she was gone. Pale eyes and
A smile I remembered from many years ago.
I was dead when I walked in, and I am dead now,
But for five or ten minutes I returned to life,
Gazing sidelong on, and gloriously in love.


Demographic Turnover in Music

Ya just get old -- and these concerns
Of younger men no longer thrill.
Does she love me? Will we fuck?
Why'd she break my bitter heart?
Little dogs that cringe and dart,
Terrified they might be struck --
Anxious, doubtful, never still,
Obsessing over little burns.
Only grief, regret, and rage
Still speak to me in middle age.


A Sea of Bones

Life is a white egret
Flying over the face of
An infinitely deep sea
Seeking some place to
Land and rest but
None ever comes
And the egret
Eventually falls
Exhausted back
Into the black depths


Intersection [Kuleshov #7]

Every word I write, and every sound I make;
And every meal I eat, and every drink;
And every place I take, and every choice;
Even my simple presence in a room,
And every glance that falls across my body --
A pile of dog shit glistens in the rain,
On a sidewalk along busy Pennsylvania Avenue,
Ruining the tourists' photographs --
Natural as the peak of the matterhorn,
But somehow not as popular.


The Monk To His Lord

Charlatans, and predators, and
The cruel teeth of the sadist's smile --
And all in Your good name.
Is there nothing left of You
That men have not profaned?
To a bleak and vicious age,
You call on our bone frailty to proclaim --
But, no.
The ranks of hypocrites are full,
And nothing good in me remains.


While Folded at Line, Tear at Dot

Clarity is a kind of permanent psychosis,
Like the conviction you can read minds,
Or see through walls, and know all the
Locked-door mysteries from the inside.
A black piece of stone from a Hawaiian beach,
So pitted and full of pockets, you feel
Like you're holding the frozen froth of a night sea.
Clarity is a hemorrhage of new magma running
Red and riverine until it meets the sea and clots
In brittle shapes to be broken in the waves.


Irreversible Decline

How much of our illness,
How much of what seems like a plague,
Is sepsis from some wound
That no one will acknowledge?
A man walks into a bar with a knife in his back;
Says the bartender, "My God, doesn't that hurt?"
The man replies, "Doesn't what hurt?"
And orders his last beer.
I wish I could travel to our future
Just to read the coroner's report.



To the Earth, the Wind is
Fickle, shallow; the Wind is
A surface racer whose only
Route to underground riches
Is to wear away, away, away,
Until all that's left are
Holes and dwindling pillars
And the Earth knows
That the Wind is searching
For the fire.


The Messenger

A far older man --
And I am not young --
Turned to me on the bus
And said quite seriously:
“No end is coming.”
I asked him if he was talking to me.
“No end is coming,” he said again.
“You better get that straight,
Or you’ll make things harder on yourself.”
He got off at the next stop, and vanished.


A Sigh in the Leaves

"I knew who I wanted to be right from birth, I think,"
Said the oak tree to the squirrel.
The squirrel didn't answer, so laden with his acorns.
Said the oak tree to the squirrel,
"And I've been me so long, it feels like my destiny --
But all I've done is choose this. I made this idle life."
The oak tree watched the squirrel,
Who had, by then, shimmied to the leaf-heavy ground.
Said the oak tree to the squirrel,
"I only hope that God has some use for my uselessness."


The Confusion

Are you transparent to yourself?
You have all the data, don't you?
You know all the facts. And yet --
How often do you do what you regret?
Or do what you don't understand?
Yet, when you watch what others do,
Don't you see through them? Don't you
Liken them to ghosts of liquid glass?
There is no transparency. None --
There is only your confusion.


Corp Assassination [Kuleshov #8]

See and be seen: the primate urge,
Satisfied with tubes of neon, blinking
Neologisms in a gutter patois
That was a cliché 40 years ago --
A gimp in steel-riveted black leather
Walks Janus Avenue from shadow to shadow,
Wearing sunglasses over a mouthless mask.
The nouveau riche in the bad haircut
Says the word "vacation" to his wife
Just as flechettes pulp his brain stem.


A Knight's Rest

Dismal a knight in rusted plate
Making for home on a nag, like death
In hanging black cloak over marrowless bones.
A vision he sees, through the black-limbed trees,
Of a castle, white as a rich man's teeth;
A pennanted rest, and shelter from night ---
He urges the nag ahead, gazing.
The nag sees only the black slime of a swamp,
And hesitates to plunge in how deep, how deep --
"Coward horse," kicks the knight, drawing blood.


All The Dead Contestants

In the standard contract,
Contestants were required
To sign over likeness rights;
Were forbidden to self-promote.
But on page ninety, section ten,
Paragraph nine -- one odd stipulation,
That few noticed in their excitement.
But after the contestant won or lost,
They would gently be reminded:
Their corpse belonged to the Brand.
Pete Dyskus, host of several quiz shows,
Looked out his office window,
Sipped tonic water, and reflected:
Twenty years of his life given to this.
The first time a fomer contestant died,
They'd aired an in memoriam reel.
A trivia master; Pete groped for a name.
In the field outside his window,
Lined in rows of shocking length,
All the graves of all the dead contestants.


Hedonic Adaptation

Hear a noise often enough,
And you become deaf to it.
Breathe a scent often enough,
And you cease to smell it.
Eat at your pleasure enough,
And you forget what hunger is.
I think about the souls in Dante's Hell
Who will walk for all eternity across
Burning sand, under a rain of flames --
And never, ever, lose the agony.


Key Change

I used to grieve,
But grief don't pay no more.
So now I hope,
Which don't pay neither --
But there's pleasure
In thinking about the thousand lifetimes
Between us -- me and this pen here,
And the voice of some distant reader,
Who has to pause and ask a friend
What tears were.


Warning Next Services 293 Miles

"Listen, young fool," said the Barman to the Pilgrim.
"And profit from my words. This man you seek,
This holy man, is touched by the Good -- true Goodness,
Which you have never known, and ought to fear.
Good is like the fire in a forest that leaves not one trunk standing.
Good is like the silence of ten men burying their children in one grave.
Good is like the patience of a martyr lynched on the courthouse steps.
Good is like the love of a mother for a son justly imprisoned for life.
Young fool, young fool," said the Barman to the Pilgrim.
"Don't you know? Agony is the table stakes of salvation."



Just noon, and the heat from the pavement is baking --
See men in dark suits scuttle quickly to shadows,
Deserting the streets through the worst of the day.
But someone is screaming out there in the traffic --
Sharp, wordless screaming, broken only by sobs,
Reaching up to the offices high in their towers,
Where salarymen have gathered around windows
To savor the barest hints of a breeze --
Someone is screaming and screaming and screaming,
And nobody anywhere knows what to do.


Idle Conversation

How many times do you think
Robert Stack has said the word
"Florida" on an episode of
Unsolved Mysteries?
Oh, God -- once an episode, at least.
How many times do you think
Robert Stack has said the phrase
"A lonely stretch of highway?"
All stretches of highway are lonely.
Highways have no friends.



Nine-tenths a corpse, the woman
Sits beneath a blackened tree,
Watching the ants climb her leg,
Too weak to brush them away.
First nausea, then retching;
Like an old man gasping for air after
A five minute coughing fit --
Morning comes as small comfort,
As a black sky passes into daylight,
Above one last human being.



Maman, maman, my belly is empty --
I'm wilting, I'm wasting away, and I'm dying!
Miles of desert and asphault surround me,
And all of my dreams are of crepes that you've made.
My child, I'd steal for you butter and eggs,
And I'd hold men at gunpoint for milk;
I'd sell myself out as a slave for the flour,
And spend my last breath in a mine for the salt --
But there is no rescue for us from this desert:
No crepes and no water, just us and the reptiles.


The Favorite Son

Look, suppose an old woman had two sons.
The first son was called a wise man -- a wealthy speaker,
Who went to the greatest cities in the world to denounce
All those who neglected the poor and the weak,
Though he himself was rich and miserly.
The second son was called a fool and a disgrace,
For he gave to all who asked, and more than was asked,
Accruing no benefit to himself or his old mother --
Though many were saved by his charity.
As a mother, she loved them both -- but one was her favorite.


Wrath (With Hammer)

Leap from the shadows,
And swing through the walls;
Blast through the chifforobe,
Scattering shawls;
Knock through the floorboards,
And break all the spars;
Smash up the pantry,
And crush all the jars --
If we can't destroy it,
It's not really ours.


Orris Street Crossing

After they get back to the dorms,
Sara and Rosalee look through the pictures --
“That bridge one’s cute,” says Rosalee.
And Sarah loves the library shots.
They flip together, and stop at Orris Street Crossing,
Where they’d held up traffic for Rosalee's leap.
Sarah zooms and looks around, Rosalee frowns --
In a car at the light, a man with tears on his face,
Staring at nothing, crying and waiting --
And questions would haunt Rosalee for days.



The Devil is a salesman, and always has been --
The good looks, the easy charm, the smile
That slices the room into taut little ribbons,
Like the glint of sunlight on a razorblade.
You gotta get saved, says the Devil.
Membership comes with all sorts of perks --
Like blessings in life, and mansions in heaven,
And freedom from guilt, and exemption from rules.
I ask no money down, and there's only one obligation:
You must bring me more souls.


The Vampire

Up --
Out of the water,
And on to the boulder commanding the river.
Climb with bare toes and fingers crushed into cracks --
Look --
Treading the shoreline,
His face so contorted with rage he is halfway a demon,
Spitting and howling her name, but defeated --


Christmas Evening

Never noticed until now
That conversation is a Jazz
With no backbeat --
A circle, passing the solo
From one seat to another,
Syncopated with laughter
Wait, that's wrong --
The Christmas football game
On the TV by the tree
Runs the backbeat.



A long life becomes at last desperate for
Forgetting. This is a kingly wisdom.
The task of the young is to learn.
The task of the middle aged is to use.
But the task of the old is to winnow --
To remember what is good and true,
And to forget all else; to let go.
For the dead, how much more urgent?
An eternal life requires an infinite forgetting --
Thus the river Lethe, in the midst of forever.


The Grandfather Tree

The Long Calendar of the Shantih people
Depends on the blooming of the Grandfather Tree,
Which has grown in their palazzo since before contact.
Each generation, the red-sashed Master of Gardens
Watches for the bloomsigns that come one by one:
First a summer with no leaves, then a fall with no fruit,
Then a winter of buds on every white branch.
Then the summons goes out, so The People can gather
To breathe the perfume and talk of all that has happened
In the nine thousand and fifth bloom after Creation.


The Abdication

When the Shantih went to war
With the Boatmen and their guns
Horrors came to the land -- see
The burned skull of a child, with
One blue and accusing eye in its socket;
A man vomiting on the shore of a river
Choked with nude bodies, blood, and flies;
A village of skeletons staring at the moon--
After the war, the survivors blamed themselves,
And gave up to their children the power to choose.


The Walking Tour

There is a legend about this river.
Once, long ago, in the youth of the world
A man promised the Goddess of Song
Their love would run on forever
Like the waters of the Shantih River.
But as you can see,
Only dust flows here now over mud in
Dried tiles -- the whole water system.
They call what remains the Shantih Gulch,
And I alone remember the legend.


The Vengeance Committee

The sort of deep analysis
That craves a cigarette --
Heads together, riot-dyed,
Shadowed eyes and faces set,
Contemplating napkin stains
Like stories in the Times-Gazette --
Night Girls in a diner booth,
One scarred, one blonde, one heavy-set
With murder in their hearts;
Scarecely seventeen, and yet --



That’s always what I want to know about books:
What’s going to happen to her? After
All the turmoil and the dying and the oaths,
After the journeys; and after the escapes, and
After all this suffering and bleeding and loss --
What happens to her in the end? Does she
Get to be happy and at peace and at home?
Is there hope, and some reason for that hope?
So every time I flip to the last page to see --
And sigh that I can't do the same for life.


The Mood Salesman

There are two kinds of people -- well, three.
The first is your average mood consumer,
Who wants precise control over what they feel --
And, most importantly, when they feel it.
And the third kind is your traditionalist,
Who somehow likes the chaos of feelings -- yuck.
But I can see that you, my friend, are a type two:
You want the silence of ice and the peace of stone --
And I give you my personal guarantee that when we're done,
You won't feel a thing.


The Servile War

I have never known America, whatever that's supposed to be --
I have only known this Appian Way from home to hell; lived
Beside the men who plant crucifixes every thirty yards,
And call their hideous labor another day, another dollar;
Watched limbs in agony writhe beneath the sun in fear of birds,
Exhausted by their unanswered and unremembered cries;
Labored with the drudges who come behind to cut the corpses down,
Tisking at the folly of revolt, and piling up the bonfire --
How quickly a man transforms from Greek to garbage;
How long, Lord -- how very long for empires to fall.


Was the Printing Press that Broke the World

I sit here watching this movie, thinking,
"This is more real than my life."
And I pick up the phone to write this thought down —
And this phone is also more real than my life.
Nauseated, I go to a notebook and pen -- and then
I look at the shelves upon shelves of old book-spines:
All of these books are more real than my life.
And then I think: "Once upon a time,
Hyperreality like this was the land of the Desert Fathers,
For whom God was more real than their lives."


A Gloss on Days

Hello again,
You won't believe me, of course; even
I can hardly believe I'm back again so soon.
But: this is loop Four Seven Six; I guess
Eighty years around the horn ain't what it was.
Maybe this time we can make it work --
I'm a better man than I used to be;
Thirty-seven thousand years will do that.
And for your love I'll do it all again, again,
Until this ring of days is polished to a shine.


The Politics of Apex Predators

What kind of predators are we? Harriers.
Endurance runners. Marathonners. We say,
"You may be fast, but we're persistent.
We can chase you doggedly. For days."
A man with a spear, to a fleeing Mastodon,
Must be like Jason Voorhees to a blonde.
This has implications for political life:
Not to the fastest, nor to the righteous,
But to the one who can run the longest
Goes the human race.


Survival of the Cruellest

A peek through the eye of providence:
Our present crisis is born of cruelty.
We are a cruel people, becoming crueler;
Unyielding, unforgiving, owing no service to the weak --
And the collapse of all things is proof enough
That cruelty, and power, and greed
Are inferior to love, and forbearance, and giving.
Look at the past: in every conflict, in the end,
The crueler society falls away and vanishes.
Who would fight for the Devil by choice?



These are the remaining American states:
The State of Poverty
The State of Fear
The State of Rage
The State of Vanity
The State of Luxury
The State of Fraud
The State of Disrepair
The State of Denial
And their only union is war.


Sketch From "Vile World"

The human race is an ecosystem,
With its predators and prey; its
Scavengers and vegetarians.
We contain everything. We can fill
Any ecological niche. We are
One creature, metastasized
into a mockery of Nature — Nature,
Whom we shall finally supplant,
When at long last enough of us
Can stomach eating one another.


Remember Me for Me

The king in his dotage wore wigs for his baldness,
And braces on both of his legs;
His feeble grey eyes swam huge in thick glasses;
His teeth had been carved out of horn.
Raising a hand as crabbed as dead ivy,
He summoned a page to his side;
"Tell me," he whispered; his voice dry like paper --
"One last time, remember for me.
What was my mother like, when we were children?"
And the page told the story again.


Sketch from "Hubworld"

After a month of riding the hub,
Or walking when she was broke,
She settled for a terrestrial world.
An unremarkable place to hide,
Inhabited by splashes of sentient,
Gentle blue slime under constant rain.
A dull place for her exile, fungus
Not being much for conversation --
But at least the rent was free,
And the locals were edible.


The Circuit Speaker

A day in Miami; a night in Mumbai;
A week spent in Mexico City hotels --
The Circuit Speaker, place to place,
One conference after another.
A specimen writhes in a lucite box,
While faces distorted by rapture
Tap on the walls, demanding a song.
The Circuit Speaker looks over the crowd,
Machines from wall to wall,
Come to see a live human being.


A Psalm

Break me, Lord, break me;
Carve my bones with the waters of your wrath.
Be cruel, Lord, cruel and hold no punishment;
For I stand condemned amid this luxury,
And wait in comfort for damnation;
In trinkets and gifts I've put my faith.
Yours alone is Justice -- so be Just, Lord;
No one is more deserving of this chalice.
And yet I prosper; a dandilion in the garden,
A cuckoo in the nest of the world.


The ShopRite Incident

And nobody said anything! As if this spectacle were a normal Saturday night.
How high was he? Maybe nobody noticed.
If I saw then others did. He must have been at least a foot and a half off the ground.
And he wasn't on a wire or --
No! No tricks, no weird shoes. He was just floating a foot and a half off the ground.
At the self check-out.
Standing there with a shopping basket full of stuff! He walked. He turned. He smiled.
A foot and a half off the ground.
Never once touched the ground; his feet just paddled. And nobody said anything!
And this is why you forgot to buy my yogurt?


The Scavenger

"Not my planet," he said,
Lifting aside what pieces remained
Of the shattered Dead Hand console
To pick through the circuit boards.
Behind him, on the ground, the two
Soldiers watched in mute horror,
Squirming against their bonds --
They really didn't want him touching
A system meant to end the world.
"Not my problem."


No Room for Spring

Electric flies of fiber-optic light in blue
Hovering at the terminal-end of a crystal marigold,
The central docking port, garlanded by solar petals
Fed and feeding by a thick black conduit wire
Sheathed in tru-green heat-wrap to protect
From the sunshine and the elements outdoors,
Jabbed into a backplate covered in holes which
Was tastefully buried in stable, bark-like clods
All set in long rows on either side of a path
Trod only by delivery drones and the poor.


In Lieu of the Poem I'd Meant to Write

My mind only achieves
That state of zen-like emptiness,
That fertile silence and pregnant darkness
Spoken of by the great masters
And sages -- I'm sorry to say --
When I sit on the floor,
Trying to remember some thought
I'd had, and meant to write down,
But told myself, "Nah, don't worry,
If it's important, you won't forget."


The Death Throes of the Old Man

What should have been a swift-run thing,
The Old Man's illness lingered;
He spent a decade dying.
From diagnosis down to yesterday,
He suffered for his setbacks and advances;
In the sleepless watches of the night,
His sweat and his tears, the
Blood of his body, his acid and bile --
These were his companions, to whom
He said, "I don't know if I can do this."


You Must Commit (Inferno, Canto III)

"My love of the world, of
Its poignancy and magic
Is more than I can master--"
"If you would love the world,
And not be damned, love the totality,
From rot to rose and shit to sheep;
Accept and welcome every atom of life,
So that, in this way, love of
The world, too, can be for you
A path to the center."


Good Advice

The weed girl says to me,
“These vapes are my favorite.
They’re USB-C, so that’s cool.
They come in a bunch of colors.
They’re short and pocketable.
They give you great control of
How much you’re smoking.
And, best of all, my favorite thing:
When you click to turn them off,
The little screen says, 'Take Care!'”



I had been like one asleep, or hypnotized, or dead
When I heard the voice say, "The end is not yet."
I stirred, and looked about to see who had spoken;
To my surprise, I saw the world around me -- as if
All my life I had squinted out through
A window so grimed over that the few
Specks of light I could see were like stars
On a cloudy night. Now the window was clear,
And a terrifying light penetrated everything,
And I covered my burning eyes, and I fell to my knees.


The Screaming Chef

The evening: a singular sight of savage dining;
Attended by power, attended by wealth;
The women who shimmered; the waistcoats
And bellies of arrogant men. The rulers of worlds.
The kitchen: set out like a kind of a stage in three parts,
With stations to one side, and service the other;
And lashed to a pole in the middle, their leader and prophet --
A chef: screaming orders, chest bare and limbs writhing.
The climax of dinner: the carvers descend; horror
And ecstasy mingle in hewing the roast from the bones.


The Intrusion of Magic

The alchemists learned to weave.
They used metals of all kinds -- copper, gold, platinum --
Like the ropes of a net, or the links of a chain,
To trap spirits and daemons and put them to work.
But these nets made a rupture, a crack in the walls
That sealed and kept a realm of hungry ghosts at bay --
Dangerous calls of damned souls, jealous of the living,
Flooded into the world through the net-bound breach --
To the delight of all. Listening became an obsession,
And forcing the damned to dance, the national theater.


At the Conclave on the Turning Tide

Oliver Grackle spoke up at the Conclave,
Demanding his time from the Perch of the Watch --
Peace to you, brothers and sisters of feather;
The Song long has carried the stories of giants,
And how their proud talons commanded the Earth.
We, in these latter days, twitter with envy
Of powers to make brutal Man into Meat.
But never forget that we chose: not in failure,
But victory were our kingdoms abandoned.
Is this failure, to trade in the world for our wings?


Six Prayers

Prayer 1
Lord, send me not into the dark
Without a candle in my hand.
My sight is weak and failing, and
The blind have no protector in these days.
But you, if you are the light of the world —
Lord, be light. Give light. Hear me.
And send me not into that night,
Which has not even one star,
Without a candle in my hand,
And your strong arm at my side.
Prayer 2
Fearful Lord of powers and dominions,
Ruiner of kingdoms, bane of pride,
Leveler of mountains, scourge of fame;
The one who looks on wealth and laughs,
Who sent forth death so none escapes the cup:
Like a child startled by the thunder —
How strange! — in my fright I turn to you.
Father, all I have are fears and doubts.
Hear my call, and hasten to my need —
For the Lord of Dread I know is love.
Prayer 3
My God, my God,
I am for you and only you.
What service though could I perform?
You have no needs; I have no strength.
Lord I have no wisdom in me.
Can you make the stupid sing?
Can you make the brittle last?
Can you make the doubtful sure?
If you will so, Lord, I know,
A man of glass might stand like stone.
Prayer 4
Lord, I go astray from what is good;
Like Solomon among his thousand wives,
I am debauched by love of pleasure,
And wither in outrageous luxury --
My God, who has the power to decide,
My God, whose mercy is beyond all recknoning,
My God, from whom no secrets can be hid:
I confess, in all humility and grief.
Nameless, let me go into the dark,
Only let me also be forgiven.
Prayer 5
Lord, in every age you call us to forgive;
But God of Mercy, Love, and Patience,
I am weak and filled with wrath.
Shall those who plunder live in peace,
While innocents in pain beg shelter?
Shall evil men abuse the wretched
In guise of working in your name?
Shall all these tyrants always rule us?
God of Justice — I forgive them; only,
Let them also fall into your hands.
Prayer 6
Lord, the world you made has no place for me in it,
I have no home that I can return to, nor people with whom I can dwell.
I search in the words of your prophets and sages for solace or hope,
And find only that even my grief and my suffering aren't my own,
For they were written of long ago by many who were dearer to you —
If life is to have no joy, Lord, can I not at least have my own grief?
How long, Lord? How long must I be a wanderer on the Earth,
Despised and unwelcome, a pestering gnat to be swatted away?
How long, Lord? How long must I sit in silent lamentation,
Because the world you made has no place for me in it?


Still By Doubt

Sat at a table, and long past
The age of reinterpreting older masters,
The Old Warrior-Bard sat down to compose,
Arthritic hands and failing eyes be damned.
A theme, a circumstance, a joke --
Surely, thought he, there's something I know
Worth passing on in song.
He listened to a distant calling Jay,
And felt the sunshine where it lay, and wrote --
What's a man without an enemy got to say?


The Survival Prospects of Our Uplifted Children

What will happen to all the dogs
When human life has ended here?
We made companions, wise and brave, from
Wolves who knew their way alone --
Will they look for us, I wonder, or
Wait for us far longer than they should?
Will wild nature take them in again,
When bellies rumble and night comes on; I
Wonder, did we make them better, or have
We expelled more innocent souls from Eden?


The Blithe Spirit

Interesting how writing about grief and horror
Comes easily to every pen;
But only thick children's crayons
Seem to know how to write about what's good.
Small indictments, jokes, and wrath,
Can boil the heaviest cauldron,
But peace can't stir one bubble from a drop --
Perhaps this, foremost in our lives
Is proof of what we lost, now long ago,
When our first poet took instruction from a snake.


Service Work

"Is this a marketing call?" I ask, moving the phone to my other shoulder.
Then: "Let me stop you there. I can't accept unsolicited marketing calls."
And the line goes still except for the faint hiss
That I only ever hear on the hardline at the office --
"Sir?" I say. "Is there something else that I can help you with today?"
There's an intake of breath, and the sound of lips,
And a click of teeth, and the squeaking of a chair,
And just as I, with the perverse glee of wasting a salesman's time,
Decide to wait this odd silence out, however long: the caller speaks,
Calmly reciting the names of my children, and the address where we live.


Three Views of Change

Bad habits under duress are a non-Newtonian fluid,
Firming to stone as they are resisted,
Pouring warm loose over the hand when indulged.
A maudlin man writes maudlin letters --
Even after happiness returns --
Under the firm resistance of habit;
Night in defiance of the risen sun.
The Colorado River runs at the bottom of the Grand Canyon,
Down a mile and a million years of wear.
How would you go about diverting such a course?


Spring Cleaning the Library

When I die
I’ll leave behind
A graveyard mile
Of obsolete media
And forgotten formats
A fitting monument
To a long life
Spent pointlessly
Collecting and cataloging
Watching and remembering


Lawrence, Patron Saint of Comedians, Says

You improvise well,
With your jokes and
Fanciful wanderings.
And, so too have you
Improvised your life.
And, though you’re
Sad now, when
You look back, believe me,
You’ll see it was all
Very, very funny.


Sleep Dysmorphia

Back into the deep night of 3AM,
Disoriented by the discovery that
This is my flesh.
I stagger under the weight of limbs
I scarecely remember into the toilet,
Still half asleep and repeating --
This is my flesh.
Then into bed again and wondering as I doze:
Where had I just been to make me forget that
This is my flesh.



One question lingers unanswered at
The sudden light of cock-crow dawn, at
The turnover of motor-rumble morning, under
The glaze of icy-fingered daylight --
Will I ever sleep the whole night through again?
Old rhythms of segmented sleep --
The midnight vigil for prayer and love --
Might offer the occasional consolation,
But no amount of howl-dog starlight
Can match sleep, restful sleep, for the weary.




by nari, CC-BY-SA 4.0 Licensed, 2013-2023
I've got email: tenlinetales at fastmail dot com
I'm on Mastodon: @narinarinari@mastodon.social