Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Buddha Mind

Three komodo dragons
ate a small deer:
one in the back, one in the belly,
one in the rear.

The shocked deer endured,
its black tongue taut,
half an hour: four hungry creatures
with just one thought.

I understand this really happened.
Three komodo dragons were seen slowly devouring a deer.
My wife ran from the room and left the poem unread.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

N.D. 1948-1982

Weeks of it, then, months of it.
Her weight fell, but the pain reached no limit.

She was just an ordinary woman--
worried, worn, and emptied again and again;

but not released. No, not released.


The coming of this death, it's empty
lack of dignity

is worse than any word
could say. My sister, my little bird....

I remember long ago.


I want to say our memories
are safe, beyond disease,

but I won't stir them up in you.
Our summer games are far away and few.

What past startles through her sleep?


My sister, like Beardsley, once drew
clever people. This passed too.

She raised a beautiful son.
Now hopes and all, one by one,

are part of our hard and sudden prayers.

I haven't prayed well.
For what heaven? From this hell?

Only for the transfiguration of pain.
May someone remain

to bless us, who knows.

June 1982
Such a beautiful woman.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Place de La Concorde

When we roll, the wooden wheels of the cart
Bow slightly so that we wiggle a bit
Like a butterfly in a breeze. The barest pause,
From the grit of the cobbles, mimes the burr
Of a military drum, and the crowd, in wonder,
Breathe together and gather, the way a crone draws
A rag around her neck, into a tight warm fit.
The place becomes us, no more a thing apart.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


The Ecstasy of the Sculptor Steiner

I would turn my skin, so fair and pale,
into something beautiful (not macabre
or historical) like papyrus
and write there the truth: I live in fear.
Tiring fear! that soon, or now, something near
will turn dark, with a minimum of fuss,
and no turning back or show of power.
With death so close, my skin should be a sail.

--after the movie by Werner Herzog
Steiner was a wood carver and a competitive ski "sailer".
The ski sailers of the 1970s flew far beyond the
artificially constrained limits of Olympic skiers.
He's currently a gardener in Sweden. The lucky stiff.
We've never met -- the voice in the poem is fictional.

The Right Stuff

Beyond a certain point, atmosphere fails --
as its own skin fails the salt burned child --
until the gasping jet chokes on nothing
but freedom pursued to a sacrificial end.

The siren sounds our hurry to descend:
a welcome home of skintight fire, distant bubbling,
and desert quiet intent on being mild.
When we are done, a single echo wails.

In the movie's penultimate scene, Chuck Yeager
crashes in the desert an experimental plane by flying higher
than a mere jet could go.
Another Icarus.

Q & A w/ Tiresias in Hades

-Which was worse? To change your sex or lose your sight?
-What’s Sex? Women have clung to dreadful men
From the start. And men only love to have their way.
As for sight, what’s worth seeing so many times?
What was worst was to know God’s crimes
Before He chose to wreak them, to wake each day
and have the long-seen future repeat again and again,
Swarming out of the sun and turning day to night.

October 11, 2011
Several months ago, I read one of those weird internet polls -- if you had to switch either your race or sex, which would you do? Nobody said they'd switch sex. Poor Tiresias did -- rather he had it changed for him -- and then had 2 kids as a woman. When the gods changed him back to a man, he screamed at the sky, "Pick a lane, you bastards!"

The Grouper and the Bat

The Bat, the grouper half-explained, could not look down.
-Look down? the other grouper asked, his mouth an O.
-For fear of falling, you see. The other didn't.
-In my dreams, he screams in terror. -Yes, I see.
-It's instinct, not desire, that makes him go Eeeee!
and open wide for the bugs. -Could you give me a hint
about the bugs? the other asked. -You ought to know
I can't shake the feeling I'm about to drown.

Love Poem

I believed you all & I still believe
& each belief begat a girl. Oh, yes!
Tonite there isn't time to lie to or seduce
the blonde upstairs, a California nurse
who smiled & listened & cued & worse:
all of it a dream, straight from Dr. Seuss,
as if she were an egg & and I was less
& there...I want to be young & never leave.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Lost in the Fun House


I remember when all I had to do was read
to you, pat your back as you slept, make a face,
silly noises...when my nonsense didn't need sense,
and the carnival of my love was all.

Now you're camped in your room down the hall,
and when we pass, it's like strangers across a fence,
and my sideshow of faults is empty space.
I should have known that love isn't all we'd need.

1. Storm from the Gulf

The wind flattens Nellie's fur as she herds,
her back to the land, the gulls above like kites.
She doesn't understand that birds won't pen,
and won't leave and don't complain. They sing
the storm closer -- caws and effect. Rising
tide waters bring the junk in -- sardine tin,
magazine cover, fishing line: delights
like the answered prayers of empty words.

2. Comedy and Tragedy

Rain blew up against the condo's shingles --
the storm a placid placer miner, clearing
us out for the gold of holding this place alone.
But we hunkered down and got a video:
The Thin Man, Charade, something we know
enough to love, something loved for being known,
the last summer before child rearing
became child losing, parents as lonely as singles.

3. Beauty

You dawdle like every teenager -- mirrors
and the world look back like you think you look.
One minute like a ballerina poised upon an egg,
next the egg, waiting for the crack to come.
You are, of course, beautiful, as winsome
as any woman a father ever loved, but you beg
me to say nothing, and so I don't, and write a book,
full of the words I've never said and all my fears.

4. Generation

Slugs beset the roses, leaf rot and root rot,
even the bees are dying -- a menacing aphid
undoes their wings. A social insect with no place
to go. My prayer for you, whenever I pray,
is that you'll live a little more each day.
This one day is all we get, one little race
we run, one plot in which our flowers are hid.
For you, my dear, here's one forget-me-not.

Teenage years. What would we do without them? Much better now.

Friday, October 14, 2011

News Reel: Raising All the Boats

The fresh dead along the shallow Irrawaddy
From the cholera in the wells. A flash of silk
Waving from the tied-up junks, and a buffalo caught
In mud, his rope lead taut as the foam churns.
Further down, we chase smoke where the peat still burns
And fly west with the tide where the battle is fought
Against a nemesis as old as mother's milk:
We must burn the past to feed this morning's body.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Peasant in the Woods

Li Po built a life away from Life.
Away in the deep and lonely secret places
Where his work was almost swallowed
As he passed. He stole a life and then a wife.

A dullard from a place she’d thought remote,
She soon shrugged and shared the hollowed
World he’d built, ate his food, raised new faces,
And one night, while he slept, she cut his throat.

12/20/2010 12:05:13 AM
Heavily influenced by the Robert Calasso book
"The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony."
The elemental foundation myths of Greece
are of rape and betrayal.
With AGW, we'll get a chance to check that out.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Anniversary Cruise

Both of us love the old. An arch in Oxford,
Inscribed in bas relief, bears a scowling ogre,
But, at this remove, it’s quaint and almost
Pretty. We’d walk, eagerly, through the cold
To re-see what's been seen. As long as it’s old!
We’re getting on, and though not yet a ghost,
You haunt me still, and when you’re out, I wander
In my own life. You. My destination word.


Sunday, September 25, 2011


Poetry, like God, isn’t dead. It’s kitsch.
Once uncondemnable Protestants could mulct
The joy from Grace, the keening wail In hymns
became TV. Like Stripping for Christ
Or punishing the poor for Life. It’s all shyst-
Erring – I mean eloquence and exactness -- and grim.
Poetry is just muscled cant, oiled and bulked
Up, vain, and closest to a psychic itch.

16 May 2011
A prie-dieu is a little private pew/kneeler contraption. Stage business for religious humbug

On the Other Side of All These Eyes

Two tawny spiders stepped down the bathroom wall
Toward the sink. Somewhere, up there, were babies
With little fanged lips waiting to be kissed. Or fed.
Momma 1 got to the middle of the mirror.
Momma 2 - or Dad - didn't get any nearer.
Later, someone's leg still wiggled, though dead.
So, how did Buddha deal with little fatal maybes
Fumbling to the can at night from an unlit hall?

Behind the Arras

Terraces in moonlight the color of stars,
heat lightning on the mountains,
friends & the friends of friends & laughter.
All summer, a life like you'd order from a book.

Monotone dreams of love & the single look
that is worthy to remember in one's life after
the withering fall: empty hallways, gowns with stains,
& boulevards full of voices & men in armored cars.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Trick of the Light

Instead of debt that summer, we had peace,
cut ices by the pool, laughter in the street.
Friends from strange places came in a swarm,
talking of other friends, other places, without end.
There was mail to receive, postcards to send
to girls whose scented answers spoke no harm.
We saw it all, from masts and mountains, the sweet
world harden to a whole, like rock candy: one piece.

This dates from the period following the 1984 election. I think.
It's about the sea change in attitudes during the Reagan years.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Crystal of Water

I kick at the door in rage. I'm eight and behind
the door my sister is taking a bath. Unfair!
I hadn't known I'd want to see her until she
set the lock. My heel hammers while her feet squeak
in the empty tub. We grow up in a day, a week
at most, baffled by what we cannot see.
Then, she's out, in a towel, with slicked back hair,
unconcerned, older, and so unkind.

I assume lots of little boys develop crushes on their older sisters.

A Dream of Heaven and Hell

A stone field bounded by a stone fence,
guarded by hemlock and oak, as hard as when
a crocus shoot grown flowery at the tip
betrays the time as a pause between snow.
So much depends on that first urge to grow:
my daughter wobbling as if she's on a ship,
a first step taken toward heaven,
a world in which children bury parents.



Dream of Aphrodite

A hubub of bazaars with washed turbans dried
and stacked like beehives into a minaret.
There was no oil here, only seductive eyes
behind veils or thighs cinctured with indifference.
While aching to choose, I wandered through tents
as slowly as the ambering of flies,
my sight glazing...waking rigid and wet.
The choice I made was sleeping by my side. 


Primrose and Blackberry

The ache of inattention springs in a wild
crisscross of nettle and thorn, while the bush hog
catches rabbits napping, snapping their small bones:
an aftermath of roots exposed and burrows cleft,
the blade damp and downy from what its hunger left.
If only walls held the field with more than stone...

Once, remember, we made love astride that log,
its hollows humming and its mosses mild.


A Walk Before Dinner

I walk out past the little disused graveyard,
past its football-size stones, its burrs & weeds,
to the pond we dredged when we had other plans.
Now algae blurs the shore, except where some frog,
startled as I pass, leaps from its green-skinned log
and sets the surface fraying where he lands,
while twin-winged dragonflies hunt above the reeds
and hover near the hole the frog has scarred. 

The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony

Many of us stumble into marriage. We like
What we see. We like being liked. We’re in love.
And that’s that. Often enough, it is enough. And good.
But happily, "just enough" is often just wrong:
Why have just the words when you can have song?
A love song is key, in your key, if you would
Be happy and old and reach that hand-in-glove
state in which sap and saint – we and thee – are alike.

for Amelia and Pat 6/11/2011

For Amelia the Hun

My daughter makes a rhyme off "spirea"
adding a syllable: spi-a-ree-a.
Which is silly and constant.
I can't hear the real word.

Clouds are zooming north after an early morning storm.

I imagine Homer,
arthritic and blind,
felt this, imagining Helen
and the pain which beauty brings:
chiming words, Spring's first blossoms,and a young girl.

He pulls at his cheeks,
like my grandfather sucking through his choppers,
and all the monotonous formulae fail him.
A girl chatters beside him.
He wants to write a lyric;
there is sun on his face.
A glacial hunger robs his morning.
The girl is moving around, piling stones together for a house.

We have only two poems by Homer,
good ones,
others interupted, no doubt, by girls.
From the early 80s

Friday, September 16, 2011

Family Portraits

Aunt Jane

After the stroke, the wind blows everywhere.
Her nerves wander; blood loses purpose.
We take her from her bed in halves
while her eyes roll like marbles in a pan.
Once up, she discovers she can stand
and cries though she means to laugh.
In the whirlpool bath she plays like a porpoise;
while drying her, an aide curls ringlets in her hair.

Uncle Louie

Divorce was a truancy for Catholics
who couldn't suspend the old belief, or sin.
Then, since he was a simple man, he drank.
After a long beginning, he found his niche,
as a hotel night clerk with elegant penmanship.
His singing buoyed him, even in "the tank,"
but only Ave Maria or a hymn
in a voice once pure as John McCormack's.

A Picture of My Grandfather at the Bank

The Ugliest Man in Louisville

We're Ashkenazic, I know. Look at him: a Jew
right off the boat! "Oh, Lord no." Mother says.
So, maybe my need is something else: thirty-five
years later, who can say? My heart's like a sieve.
Do I expect this remnant love for you to give
me a home -- or more ancient than that -- a hive?
Family and honey all around and youth that stays?
Or just eyes that look back, in love, as mine do?

This came out of my efforts to establish that we were part Jewish.
DNA evidence finally established it. 1/128th.  A marriage -- or rape? -- back in the 18th century. Probably not from the Davis line, but from the Landes line. Bavarians. And maybe Landes is shortened from Landesman.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Temple on Vacation

(a dream trip)

Brahma's thousand faces and thousand poses
In a thousand friezes of verdigris-tinted stone
Stretch to the sky, but end like a clubbed foot.
An eczema of gods. Prayer changed to rocks.
But at sunset a miracle, of sorts, unlocks
My heart: a line of light in crimson soot
and opposite, the moon as familiar as bone.
Light will follow light though the brief day closes.

The Phone Call at the End of My Father's Life

I rushed into his room like a man ready to go,
And aware of what I'd see: medicinal green and grey.
But Dad's slack cheeks, sustained by wire and sound,
Were from somewhere older: what I'd feared
When I cared. When they called, Mother steered
Us to fetch her cigarettes and then ground
Out a smoke while nodding to the phone. "OK,"
She said. "OK" to someone else we didn't know.

Single Season

She was an actress with the ingrown fear
that all roses are perfunctorily tossed.
We met over mixed reviews & drinks later.
She'd visit, she said, though I knew that if
we didn't       then       the odds were rather stiff
that sober she'd even let me call her.
When she phoned of her sickness, we knew the cost:
someone would have an interupted career.

Maybe I'm Amazed

Down the fence row, dogs crisscross with fox tracks,
noses obliterating the tracks like a plow.
One dog's prize: a sparrow sawn in two
by the cold, as hollow inside as a bell.
Now the dogs have raised the fox as well,
honking in dismay until he's lost from view.
I hunt too, while the cold and sun allow:
until snow tires up the hill, and I relax....

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


The provinces breed dreamers;
the railroads are full:
trappers, hoboes, eccentric electricians.
They are singing lullabies.
The men are singing.

Off in the dawn we hear a whistle
and shut the window against it.
A friend must be waiting by the hayrick.
It's true: we have nothing in common with these eccentrics!
They have so many children in tow.
They assert unconvincingly
of a master plan.
It's true we fear their time consuming plans:
canals, irrigation schemes, railroad spurs.
Out there are plans like locusts.

Blackbirds are singing.
The woman next door is spraying her roses.
If our neighbor believed in dogs
I believe it might be waking.
Water stiffens the hoses.
Our house is burning down.

Addictions: The Body as a Cave

The cartoon car spins along the cartoon globe.
The faster the wheels, the faster the globe.
So we go everywhere without leaving this spot.

It’s a wonderful grid.

Over the horizon,
A tree sinks into the field.
Cartoon rain scours the cartoon geology.

What we need is an eraser: this fault line,
That imperfection, this boundary moved.

I hear my cartoon body howl. Every night,
Like a cat on a fence framed by an oversized moon.
My body lets me know, over and over and over.
It must be fed. It must be fed. It must be.

I’m out of the car. 

It seems things have slipped.
The earth spins underneath me. The bumper is always
A handbreadth out of reach. Whether I want to run
Or not, my feet move. My back arches inward.
The race is close. The race is not close. It must be fed.

The Return to Milan

From the prow, Prospero sighted the pier,
The goods in crates, a dog, and calloused men.
The dog was yapping at a bright-eyed rat --
Lurking between a post and a snake of rope --
which had once been fierce with hunger and hope.
Then, a sportive lout, a willing hound, and that was that.
And Prospero wondered, "Why did I return?" Amen.
Why do we return? Poets shouldn't outlive Shakespeare.

I quit writing poetry in the 80s.
For some reason, I resumed.
Quelle dope.

At the End of the Gaff

The boat floor is awash with smothering air.
The sudden sun and alien warmth are confusing,
But the flood of oxygen overwhelms us,
Twisting to breathe with boots and blood nearby.
The odd-hooked gaff hoists another fish high
And then higher. And pain there’s no need to discuss.
Fear everywhere and the hook’s strange whistling
And end in this the strangest where of anywhere.

10 May 2011

Easter Island

"the rain falls in long drops"

The stone figures, cobbled and clobbered, lie about.
Their gaze had been correct, but now, who knows?
We're mute. They're mute. Their makers are gone.
They dream now the silent dreams of old age,
when time creeps past and then waits on our dotage.
If only we'd chosen this or that or even none.
We rage, like Jonah watching as his gourd grows,
Our fate curled in theirs, their failure to get out.

All around them, a sea of infinities & fish uncountable.
But boats? Eh, what about a boat? No boat.
No wood. No will to turn the wood to use until…
Wood was the unseen way, as ordinary as air.
As hard as the sun, and always there.
Light speckles the rock. We could have our fill
Of light, if we would. The sea is a moat,
but sand and soil don't make a castle.

When there's a ship on the horizon, the heads wake and moan.
The hundred remaining stragglers shake to the sound.
Our heads! It can only be our heads! They wander down
To the beach to see: the dot is a ship, someone thought.
It could be a pelican. It could be a log. We're not
Sure anymore. Each time we check, some drown.
Now, there's no torch left to light. So, we pound
A drum that leewards is as quiet as a stone.

The stars above are quiet ruins. Closer, and almost white
Are shells of mussel, clam, and oyster - empty
Homes that once had been as safe as bone.
If this silence says anything, it's that we're all silent
In the same way. Starlight, foam on sand, sea creatures that went
Away. And "away" means "dead," no matter how much stone
you inscribe, or brain coral hiding in the sluggish sea
Says resemblance is fraud. Sometimes it holds tight.

The Book of Joshua

1. The Laurentian Shield

On the slope to Hudson Bay, one white bear
Out of the north. Then, many more. In Churchill,
They show a taste for rotting garbage
And a talent for out-flanking our efforts.
This bear's blank eyes and unthinking need asserts
A hunger like the rock below us, as if the rage
Of the slow-changing earth had grown a will.
To abide, all hungers must be fed with care.

2. Spies

Our lives for your life, the men assured her.
Assured her like the first tendril of a gourd
Reaching from soil into space. What's up here?
It asks. Empty air, and for awhile, the sun.
It can recoil in doubt or it can be the one
Which lives in light, light which is fear
Turned inside out. Meanwhile its roots have bored
Into the soil looking for what? Asking is error.

"Our life for yours,
if ye utter not this our business. " Joshua 2:14

3.Iowa Floods

Hundred year floods every five years. Water cannot rise
Above the horizon. And yet … I met a man in a boat
Which held his son, a shotgun, and his wife's china.
He'd seen the water top the levee and knew the score.
Below us an old state road waited for the roar
Of 18 wheelers to return. And they will: like dino-
Saurs in a theme park. Each new flood a note
In a crescendo: how deaf can we be and still be wise?

4.What Happened Here?

Here the rock holds tiny plants, vascular
but broken. Lichens abound, and scrub pine
Rebound from the scourings of glaciers, over and over,
Like hammers or rain. Can you look and see
What happened here? Construct the tenuous history
Of rock that floats or burns but now is a cover
For Time itself? Can we see within this plane a spine
The way we see within the clock a star?

The Laurentian Shield is the home of the oldest
rocks on the planet. Reading its history is a dizzying act of intelligence.

5. Drill, Baby, Drill

Oil is found only where the rocks allow:
So thick, so porous, with so much pressure.
And so old. Our hunger knows no such bounds.
The Earth is pinned like a fetish doll
With drills and linked to every pin an obeh call
And at the end of every prick are gaping wounds.
At some point, nothing will reassure
Us, and the dolls will all be hollow.

6. Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho

Like Son of Sam or Mein Kampf, the need
For a home meant that crazy words were honored:
Men, women, childen, donkeys. All killed.
But God wanted their treasure for His own.
Never rebuild Jericho, He said. A septic town.
Or evidence. And yet they wrote what He willed
And Jericho became a song and the song interred
A crime -- don't touch the gold -- and Yahweh's greed.

7. The Pity of It All

Elon's book was a still life more than history:
Of globed peonies and roses in isolation
On a table. A formal, Renaissance study.
On the cloth a curled leaf and in the rose
A ladybug. A highlit cup of wine shows
The house is noble. Somewhere, there are ruddy
Children playing with hounds. Somewhere a nation
Is at war. Somewhere else is God's glory.
Amos Elon. Informal "official" historian of Israel.
His most famous book is The Pity of It All: A Portrait of the German-Jewish Epoch 

8. The Wallow & Monument Fires

The winds changed and the Old Ones went away.
Now, the fires have claimed vacation places
And historical sites: the thousand year flame
Flakes the paint right off the pueblo walls.
On CNN, smoke clouds compete with stock quote crawls
And the news that immigrants bear the blame.
But fire can both make and erase traces,
and immigrants have always meant to stay.

10. Hail No

The pine bark beetle keeps finding more to chew,
And when spring's early, it moves to the next stand.
An overlooked thing has all the time it needs
And figures greatly in Intelligent Design.

The sweat from killing kings made Joshua's face shine,
And as more kings stood against him, his mighty deeds
Multiplied. And hail killed more than sword and hand.
If you can't go to hail, then hail will come to you.
They were more which died with hailstones
than they whom the children of Israel slew with the sword.
Joshua 10:11

11. Clathrates

As the muck at continental margins warms,
It expands. For eons, rivers have washed our trash
And leaf piles and dog poo out to sea where it sinks --
A home for land's waste which is then locked in ice.
Eventually, the bill comes, and cages of vague device
Unlock at once. Then the stunned globe stinks,
And our big booming enterprise succumbs with a crash.
Or not. The lure of "maybe not" is one of Life's charms.

When organic material rots, it emits methane gas. A clathrate is
a little 'cage' of under-sea methane trapped in ice crystal.
Clathrates gather at continental margins where the ice is kept from melting
by the pressure of the gunk on top of it. When the sea warms,
the internal pressure of the expanding methane in the clathrate
can get strong enough to emerge into the atmosphere above the ocean
like a huge belch or fart which, at sufficient concentrations,asphyixiates
the life at continental margins.

Don't laugh. It has happened many times in our geological past.
There are currently trillions of tons of clathrates. Many times
the amount of greenhouse gases currently in the atmosphere.
And there is a growing fizz of methane, bubbling up in unlikely places. Like the Arctic.

15. Down with the Flood

Today, the town of Minot washed away.
From a dead flat start to top a weather vane,
The water rose like the first hint of a new disease,
Like a blanket from a country known for pain.
If late winter snows always wait on spring’s first rain,
Floods like this will soon be as common as fleas.
When it ebbs, there's a rat lodged in a downspout drain
and God's promised rainbow fades to pink and gray.