We find ourselves
here. Every person
of any pigment gender
or stripe discovers
themselves here, now.
It’s always a surprise.
No one chooses the timing
or circumstances of their arrival
and by the time you meet them
every person’s path is pockmarked
with difficulties you can’t imagine
and yes there’s love and music--
and loss. This is everybody.
Please, remember we are all
surprised. Please, remember this
when your path crosses another’s.
They didn’t get to pick
any more than you did
and chances are you
are one of the lucky ones.
The considerable surprise of this great transmission
Is the surge of kindness between strangers.
Not all contagions are injurious.
Fevers rise; so does our insistence on compassion.
Overwhelmed caregivers in Asia and in my town
Demonstrate we are not immune to each other’s suffering.
I am not afraid to be infected by illness as much
As I am afraid to succumb to the illusion of separation.
We may be distant but we are not apart.
I am writing this poem in my underwear: nothing to dress up
the animal that just woofed down a ham sandwich,
adding to the accumulation of myself. Do you also
make a habit of consumption? Do you collect trophies,
artifacts (memories are artifacts) whose absence
would leave you naked, somehow less than yourself?
Every time I drop my coverups they boomerang
back at me.
What will you lose to become
the person you absolutely almost are?
You can see this.
Watch the mountain.
Watch closely, for some time.
Watch for ten million years.
Stay as long as you like.
The earth heaves up a mountain.
Or the mountain heaves up itself.
Watching will not tell us which.
The mountain crests
from the earth into the sky then
crashes down, or dissolves, melting
back into the earth like a great stone wave,
a wave breaking so slowly. It says,
I am no more solid than rain.
The world urges mountains
in their season
urges apples from branches, urges
babies from their amnion.
They are of a piece.
An apple is a mountain. An apple
from blossom to flesh
fills with juice,
drops, urges back to soil
to make more apples.
No one demands this, not god,
it happens. You might say
solid things are verbs.
I think good things come from the south
unimpeded by my demands about what is necessary
or what will serve.
The river delta is in the south.
I feel its urge,
impossibly ascending from subterranean origins.
I place obstacles in the way
but the river is a strong god. You
will never coerce the river.
In its brown water, something
brushes against us, a branch,
or was it living? It is gone.
The river takes everything.
you just know it
no one can tell you otherwise.
I hit my little sister in the face with a rock
and knocked her out when she was six.
I was there
threw the rock across the backyard
watched her crumple like a ragdoll
thrilled at the definition of a parabola
nearly visible in midair
against the backdrop of birch forest.
I can't prove it.
But I know it happened.
Memory at best is an echo which
repeated long enough
Is my witness alone sufficient?
You say you know Jesus.
Just . . . you know.
You can't prove that any more
than I can prove I knocked
my little sister the fuck out with a rock.
I declare it on my authority.
I am the proof of my witness.
down the stairs hoping to get
your attention and you give me only broken ankles
What are you saying says the man
I have over fifty seven broken ankles my toes are not
much better off and my femur reeks of gangrene
Are you saying I push you down the stairs because I do
not love you the way I love a hot cabbage says the man
I am saying that I am killing myself for your love and all
you do is sniff your fingers
The stairs are draped in clothing says the man
Did I mention my knees are shattered because you do not love me and I smashed my face at the bottom
Please please I am trying to think says the man
Oh now it is your problem says the wife I am tying this
tourniquet and leaving you
Must you make so much noise when you walk screams
the man your insides rattle like a bag of broken glass
When I am gone your mouth will open and no one will
boil your oats
Must you must you must you go on says the man can't
you see I'm eating
or unconscious on the sidewalk while
a kneeling fireman checks his—what?
Breath, or pulse. His mechanisms.
He has some moving parts. Lungs expand
heart pumps and what is more mechanical
than a pump? Still there are questions
about brain function. These are vital signs--
maybe in the back
of the ambulance is one of those contraptions--
metal disks with wires yellow green
stick them on your head it makes a ticker tape
of how your brain arcs little sparks
between cells of the tissue packed in your skull.
That’s how you make a fist or blow a kiss. Signals
travel on pathways trafficking your impulses
branching to your extremities. Someone told us that
but it's pure horseshit. You have no idea
how you make a fist or blow a kiss
it's second nature,
it's just obvious.
Even the foremost neurologist can’t tell us how
without resorting to a shrug.
on horses stampede
with drawn swords
torches and malice
from the hills above the village.
In a blinding moment
they are on us, a ferocious storm
of bloodlust and wild eyes.
Our home is aflame
our children fall beneath hooves
from distant towns with strange names,
foreign kings we never--
Today the world ends.
I chop off the head of the snake.
Its reptile eyes refuse to darken
its jaws stretch open, gaping
in defiance, the long muscle of body
stretches to rejoin the head
urging toward resurrection.
The world ends
where my father vanished
where my mother baptized me
where I carry the head
of the snake in one fist
and the body in the other.
I wave the world from existence
with a gesture, a prying open,
a stretching of something spinal,
a willing for what is emergent.
One is bright as the sun
with a voice like music
tossing picked flowers
into the wind runs
laughing to the water’s edge
and jumps in with
he darkens over
shadowed by the same
old terror that seizes
every perfect innocent
who discovers this
is a world of arbitrary death
and no one can change that
or stop it
The other one of me
is his father
who cradles his head
strokes his hair
who has been defeated
laid down his life
so there is nothing
more to do in the end
quietly and love
When I step in dogdoo barefoot I get a boner.
I think this is true for a lot of people—more
than you think, more than will admit it
because of taboos and social mores
surrounding a physiology like mine.
It’s not like I’m into peeing on people
or watching people pee on each other
although someone may prefer that
to feeling warm dogdoo squish
between their toes.
I brought up this subject during bible study
hoping for a reception of good
christian tolerance and unconditional love
at church last week after reading in Genesis
about Lot’s two daughters who got their father
drunk and they both had incest
with him after he passed out
because he had no heir and they had no spawn
which seemed reason enough at the time.
That’s in the bible and it’s way worse I think
than a dogdoo boner as far as morality goes
and I said so.
But the bretheren were upset
with me, asked me to leave then
continued to ponder the scriptures.
In the churchyard over by the roses
the pastor’s wife was walking their
poodle and guess what?
it does not hover frozen in future time
it does not give chase.
I do not feel it in my gut
like my father does
walking the dog early in the morning
hours borrowed with a collateral
of bypass surgery and low sodium.
Death is the seabed accruing.
We drift down, particulate,
a gradual disintegration
of layers like the crumbling
of sandstone cliffs in a million
tiny landslides, each dropping a handful
of pebbles from the walls.
in a big white room
with a long white table
and a tall white door
that swings open
God storms in, nostrils flared.
Gabriel trails with two chairs.
God glares at me, snorts,
settles into a fat white recliner
with a big gilded G
a built-in cup holder.
He points at a three-legged stool
with an unfinished seat, says
You’re here to play poker.
Poker with God?
I don’t like the odds: he has x-ray vision
he bankrolls the joint. If I win he’ll be pissed--
I’ll be sold into slavery, fed to the fish. I fidget.
Poker is a man’s game, says God forget Pinochle
forget Mother-May-I you’re playing with me,
mano a dios. I say, But--
God says, But what?
God has a million chips in a silo—
I start with fifty-three.
He says One for every year
of your life expectancy.
Ante up says God.
I draw one card, try to bluff him
into thinking I’ve got a great hand.
God draws two, says
You’re trying to bluff me into thinking
you’ve got a great hand You dummy I’m God
I know when you’re bluffing.
I say What kind of chance does that give me?
God says Where were you when I created poker?
God stacks the deck.
I say Maybe I could deal for a change. God says
I’m the dealer here chum we’ve been playing this game
how long Gabriel?—never mind—since before time
OK wise guy
God shows another winning hand
slaps Gabriel on the back
lays down royal flushes inside
straights—I’ll never win.
I jump up and kick
the table over Gabriel lunges
I wrestle him til two seraphim
fly in and pin back my arms.
God punches me in the stomach
chomps on the butt of his cigar.
This is my place kid
I got a full house
no room at the inn
know what I mean?
The floor drops open I watch fog pour down
into the abyss. God turns his back
taps his ashes and they shove me in.
On the way down I clutch my fist
around one white chip I took
without permission. Be fruitful
I whisper and multiply.
to get into the river
I let go of the shore
drift past fear and through
to discover something new
I let go of the familiar
walk toward the unimagined
to change my mind
I let go of beliefs
allowing stillness in their absence
to change my life
I let go of my self
detached from the mask
that voice again
pipes up, howls
at the suggestion
of a moment's silence
why so vicious
you might take softer approaches instead
of the hammer, a knife, the furnace
of contempt that burns away what
might have been otherwise a flower or
i control the tempo and temperature
of my response i give it flavor
gauge progress by shifts
in volume and frequency
it grows quiet for two or three days then
i tend to violate any fragile truce
ought to see it coming by now
they're big and they're decimal
written in stone
one's about an ox
one demands, thou shalt love
just who commands? surely not
that smiling fat buddha, no--
a lord before whom you kneel
begging for enough to build
your own fortress
of this tyrant who commands love
why? Can it not be pillaged?
Must he insist?
Any child knows: love
is spontaneous as laughter
and cannot be commanded
even for the amusement of the god
who demands love in exchange
for protection from what he made
How much light urges from the sun?
Most is lost to infinity. Still
the trickle that falls to earth fires the aurora.
Sometimes you stare at the the sun. You stare
too long and it aches. Your eyes force themselves
shut. You see bluegreen echoes of the sun inside
your closed eyes. You open your eyes
and the tears come. The world haloes, flares.
You look at the sun and you have to look away.
It isn’t allowed. You can’t receive all that. There isn’t room.
A photo is a reflection of memory
a bounce off the surface of a moment.
When you train your eye on the image
you find your negative—deflected,
polarized (as if Sol were to imagine
Terra its mirror). Reflection is cold,
insubstantial, on the verge,
a mirage, a passing wave.
I sense you best with closed eyes.
It is impossible to capture light
in a photo or in the vault of memory--
sooner put a dancer in a bottle.
So much light pours from the sun;
I am trying to capture sunlight in this poem
but all I have is a net.
It's a poor container, like me.
love drops by with a jarful of ladybugs
and a bigbag of Fritos
has to have hotsauce
on everythingeven Fritos
love is unexpected
tells us she originated
from a roster of diagnoses as long
as the unitedstatesconstitution
and the lovers who came
some heavyhanded all
a disappointment some
of them now are the ladybugspots
tells us all this while we are enrapt
we would follow her anywhere
into the jar, down the hole
she wears a sunlit halo askew
when she wants to and it makes music
and just like that she's
glancing at the rearview
the ceiling is painted with ladybugs
and it’s morning
It isn't a question of if:
We take it for granted the world
will soon end.
We've known this since ancient time.
Any day now
they will play the credits:
the dramatis personae
all left for dead in a . . .
firestorm? A frozen wasteland?
An irradiated plague-infested drought-stricken
country lorded over
by merciless cow-eyed scavengers?
What is the so-called
ended world? It stopped
spinning? Is gravity
suspended, all green things
withered, all animals corpsed
and rotting and earth
become barren as the moon
but for roaches?
the world will not end.
I am certain the earth
will outlive our scourge.
Cheerless reassurance perhaps
against the promise of extinction;
all I know is: the green fuses
of flowers still urge
from cracks in the stone.
I rode the original surprise down into existence.
From the first instant, the primal surprise,
part shock, part question: What am I
And here's Time.
I know it because things move around,
things made of matter constantly
change their position. I wonder
if it ever stops, time,
if it ever does what's the difference?
Somehow it seems there is goodness
once we settle in
the original compulsive act
is generosity. We care
but still can ask
how minerals contain feeling?
I rode the original surprise down into existence.
And after the surprise, my annihilation?
Am I a candle going out,
or a bomb going off,
a light switch or say
a placental birth, messy
In the end, despite my urge
to compel every object of my desire to align
the surprise will be allowed.
I envy writers skilled enough
to compose formal poems
who toss off sonnets or
forms I scarcely can pronounce
much less execute.
So I set myself to writing
a formal poem (and have yet
to manage it seems).
No matter the form I fail
often by the first line
to concoct anything presentable.
I find my success hinges at this point
on creating my own form, which I have done:
a baganellestina, consisting of three stanzas,
each of which must begin with the word
pecker. The poem must contain the name of the form,
baganellestina, at least twice. Each stanza must be composed
of a different number of lines, in no case less than seven nor more than twenty-six.
The first stanza should serve as an introduction to both the form and the poem itself.
The second stanza should in some way indicate the structure
and formal requirements of the poem,
and the third stanza—which, like the two preceding it, should begin with the word
pecker—ought to digress tangentially from the subject of the poem thus far,
and while prolonged technical explorations of Indo-Syraic archaeology may inexplicably be juxtaposed with casual mention of data acquisition and the seven deadly sins, these latter may at no time be enumerated,
nor shall revelatory details from the personal life of the poet be divulged.
The poem must once and only once violate its own form
and should in every case with a verb conclude.
A man is inside a camera. He squinches
one eye and peepholes at the green world.
Outside outside the dream a man in the dining
car of a train spills cola on his camera.
Inside the camera it is raining cola.
My dream is dissolving in soda cries the man.
I can see green, and I will not
get there, no not ever.
When he was a boy, his mother fit glasses over his eyes
to help him see God.
The lenses focused very far away,
and went dark when he looked in the mirror.
Every melty bite of this cheeseburger
triggers a billion biochemical reactions--
That's called nature.
It breathes my breath--
we share that job, nature and I.
I can breathe just fine if i will it
though I forget for days at a time
while nature breathes me.
Does nature make my decisions?
Nature pumps my heart I think
and precipitates my emotions
but I do the math.
Wait—is that me flexing my diaphragm,
gathering hemoglobin from the atmosphere?
Does nature think my thoughts?
This is the seed of madness
for which the lotus is the salve.