If you give a mouse a cookie

If you give a mouse a cookie, then tonight he will eat.
If he eats, then tonight he will soundly sleep.
If a mouse can soundly sleep, then he can dream.
If he dreams he will visit a world that he cannot see.

If a mouse visits a world he cannot see, he’ll build it.
When he can’t build it, he’ll demand an education.
If you give a mouse an education, he’ll read and read.
When he reads he’ll learn concepts like inalienable rights.

If a mouse learns about inalienable rights, he’ll understand
they are meant for everyone. If rights are there for everyone
then everybody only needs to be shown. A mouse
will riot and protest. A mouse will picket and get elected.

And then, when nothing changes, a mouse will remember.
He was once hungry. He couldn’t dream.
He couldn’t imagine another world where everyone
is free. And remembering, he will give a mouse a cookie.

Level One Thought

Level One thought: I want. Fulfill my want.

Level Two thought: I have wants. Fulfilling one of my wants inhibits fulfillment of my other wants. My wants are in conflict.

Level Three thought: You have wants. Fulfilling some of your wants is one of my wants.

Level Four thought: Sometimes our wants collide. Mine restricts yours. Yours restrict mine. We compromise. We fight.

Level Five thought: Others have wants. People we don’t even know are trying to fulfill their wants. We should want to fulfill some of their wants.

Level Six thought: Wants. Mine, yours, and others, are the basis for struggle, conflict, war, and hardship.

Level Seven thought: Sometimes what prevents others from fulfilling their wants is simply the act of you and I fulfilling our wants.

Level Eight thought: You, and I, and others, are the basis for struggle, conflict, war, and hardship.

Level Nine thought: Identity is the source of wants. The world was never built as an identity-maker, a want fulfilling machine.

Level Ten thought: The flowers budding up through the tops of the grass are pleasing to the touch, taste, smell, and sight. What is their sound? What else?

Level Eleven thought: All or nothing. Every ounce of consciousness gets out of here alive, or dies.

Level Twelve thought: Nothing is hopeless. In the great march there will be room for every massive and simple thing, even the thunder.

Playground

When we played jacks as children
we were crashing planets into planets
mimicking the birth of the cosmos
acting as The Hand that might lift us.

When we jumped ropes in rhymes
we were intuiting string theory,
leaping in and out of existence
hoping we’d never slip, and trip.

The swings, in short order,
allowed us to feel in our bodies
the history of an oscillating earth
spun around an insatiable axis.

We would invent games later
that aped war, land acquisition,
separation, rape, competition
that doles out praise’s resource.

But, for the moment we played
like jazz musicians on the first take
blowing our best breath, uncovering
the turns in which we were made.

Catch Light

In the knot of dirt
below light and air
a skin rips. We’re off
in both directions

towards the heat-core
and the sun. We bear
fruit in the struggle
which sees nothing.

Dark in the throat,
in acid, intestines.
Become a muscle

or a bone. Meat.
How sweet a second
to catch light.

Archaic

You could compose your tome
about anything, about how you wish
models could achieve the shape

of your wife caught from the side
as she readies herself for bed, beauty
without pretense. You could

compose your tome about the field
across the road, where one could
imagine a labyrinthian park

leading to a hidden lagoon. You could
speak about the sunrise or the moon.
Here, in this place, now-light that greets

you each morning as a gallery opened
exclusively for you. Instead you linger
on some slight that happened so long ago

US senators had not been born. A kiss
only unconceived CEOs were there for.
A pond gone dry. A barge decommissioned.

A river that cleansed itself of a century
of chemicals. Yet in song you still draw
it and yourself, as perpetually toxic.

Mutation

The cells grew abnormally
in patterns of wood-grains
consistent with a kitchen utensil
from the 70s. The first spot
on the meat of a right
buttock, the second
across a left cheek. The cells
spread to the top
of the head, where arms
don’t cover when a second
grader cowers around a corner
a teacher can’t see. They spread
to a wrist broken in an accident,
an ankle twisted at soccer,
to lymph nodes in arm pits
chaffed by crutches. And
by no coincidence reach
the brain and heart
simultaneously.
The breaks that never heal.
The fasciae that cannot
be unstretched. Bronze baby
shoes now a weight
in some landfill.

Hue

From the morning window I spot
a branch on my familiar tree
repainted in a cast of orange.
The new buds of spring, a blurred
pine tree, the back room of the house
next door. All in orange.
The mind tries to reconcile
new data against the template,
explain away with dew or dawn light.
For a moment, before I brush away
whatever shades my sight, everything
is one. Hue strokes and orange shapes.

When the world comes around again

The sunset is never the same, not two nights in a row, nor ever.
This spring the grasses that grows will be siblings, not a twin.
Your mother counseling you through a first broken love
based on her own heartache is teaching you to drive
a car she has never owned. Innovation is the only
constant. The second time through the reader
of the book has changed, the ears hearing
the song are new ears. Morning and we
welcome a new dawn, with new skin,
the retina, and the mountains,
and the weather changed.
What’s been built up
under stars. What’s
been torn down
by rain.

Irresponsible

We are the outcome of an orgasm.
The big bang. A series of bad decisions.
Breaking and entering. A convincing
fiction. Animal cruelty. Aggravated
assault. Public drunkenness.
Extortion. Forgery. Domestic violence.
Perjury. Solicitation. Epiphany. Fraud.

We come from the sea. Having won
an unfathomable race. Hung around
in blood. Amoeba. Virus. Anemone.
Amphibian crawling up onto land,
pushed every inch by our mothers.
We’ve hated our mothers who sat up
teaching us math. Divide. Carry the one.

We’ve spent our time singular, alone,
crawling towards points of unity,
of connection, of insemination.
Of desire blown-up into climaxes
of rage. Competition. Championship.
Drawn a universe mechanical, so we
could feel inevitable. Irresponsible.

Filing

The earth’s core is iron-nickel
spinning inside tightly wrapped coils
throwing off a magnetic field.

Prick my paper-thin skin
and lava-blood rises up
to fill it in. Call them

mountains. Call them islands.
Call them cliffs. The ocean
out and in while a diver times

his entrance. My core is iron-nickel.
It’s in the center. Not cerebral.
I’ve tried to mine down into

the crust. There must be a way
to tap this. What rises to heal;
metal filings, hip-hop rhythms,

internal slant, solid, and off
rhymes. It’s in the chest, behind
the bone and flesh. Nowhere

near the mountaintop, the apex
the cortex. It’s centered
inside but not in the mind.

Ten Degrees

The temperature in the reactor
is a hundred and eighteen degrees,
Precise calculations based

on mountains of theory had led us
to know the unequivocal
optimum for fuel-burning efficiancy.

At that temperature an engineer
can survive for an hour before
they require time-off for relief.

Forget your next question
about a cost/benefit analysis. Forget
your MBA training and calculus.

At ten degrees cooler we could
survive for a work week,
survive forever. What more?

The depth of the oceans?
A lack of oxygen? Meters on each
block measuring methane.

We could be calmer, peaceful,
at ease. Cooler in our temp
and standing, for ten degrees.

By The Third Book Cyrus Begins To Wonder If He Lives In A Novel

Every time scientists come close to recreating the first line
of the universe something else breaks. Each of his three wives
with the same middle name. As soon as they discover dark matter

they find out it’s not that dark. The definition of dark matters change.
All those people with alliterative, instructive, character defining names.
As we understand dimensions (three, seven, ten) new ones pop up

inside each other’s unfolding. The unrequited love interest who returns
at the worst (or best) possible moment. The near brushes with cures
for Alzheimer’s just as he is old enough to begin fearing

the horrible disease that killed his father. Stop lights. People counting
out change at the check out counter. A wink at the window. Folks
who pull around corners just as he tries to pull around a corner.

The certain impending doom of death, which will end his story,
whose life expectancy and the bankruptcy of social security
keeps getting pushed back by the scientists and the bureaucrats.

The weird illnesses of timing. Everyone here being named Gregory.
The cameos. The chocolates. The old sage with the knowing grin
who shows up in the second chapter. The click, each day, of a motor.

Cyrus would never say anything. His sworn allegiance is to the story.
But he might give all his figurative currency to see the cover art, read
the book jacket or a review, to catch the ending, or know the title.

What They Never Told

What they never told the innocent
who fumbled into the fanning
petal of the lotus, soles up
to the ceiling,

was to forgo
homework. Study instead
these stretches and bends,
focus on learning to fold deeply.

*

What they never told the misfit
besieged by bullies
was that the peace
he dreamed was common,

basic to human beings, the gift
of inner calm filling his ears
was a key sought
by entire religions.

*

What they never told the scholar
searching for a course of study
was that the Upanishads
paid a better dividend

than any fee-based major
leading to a salary,that
retirement was daily
within his reach.

*

What they never told the sage
was to go. Turn
down every promotion
and opportunity.

Whirl away from commitment
towards the clean air
leading to the sea.
Land on air. Where we meet.

A Shell On A Beach

A shell on a beach appears
designed, born of intention.
Hot springs bubble
minerals up in the desert. Wind
around a butte creates something
beautiful. The land transforms.

Go back to the ocean, before that
to skies swirling above
lakes, sorting ourselves
out in our molten
youth. Metals to the center,
stone on the edge, gas to the sky.

We were wild nomads in our art,
palms on walls. Now we’re asphalt
roads, gridded cities, island
retreats. We’ve built
so many ideal ways
to invent anything.

Let the earth shake and tear
us down, clean slate born
of a fault, our thin layer
of sentiments pressed
into an album, the last
version of our history.

Meditation, 2nd Hour

I stare at this wall and want to know
myself. Built-up on beams and dry wall.

Plastered over, painted to match. Holes
cut out for windows, covered in blinds,

filled with panes. Tiny holes cut for cables
carrying energy, data, communication. Walls

hung with artwork, sayings, photos of a past
I must recall. What is my nature beneath

all of this, what space without walls? The arch
of my head away from the sun, my neck against.

Dandelions Grow

“It’s too mean,” in a field of green, a little boy
refusing to mow screams, “to cut down
all the yellow trees. They bring such
happiness to me.”

“But you know,” his mother scorned, “we can’t
let dandelions grow. They’re a weed.”
Her flower beds all trimmed and prim.
Her roses on every stem, pricker-free.

And so he promised, individually, to say goodbye
to every one, and to, with a child’s apology,
tug it free. All day, one by one, head bowed
in kindness, ignoring the falling sun.

When he stretched in the corner, unable to see,
he turned to notice his work had cut
just a small corner. His mother
on the brick porch calling for dinner.

She congratulated him at the door for finishing
such a large chore. “But, I’m not done,” he grummed.
His mom said, “It looks great to me.”
And he turned to see

every dandelion, every one, turned and wilting
towards the setting sun, bowing toward his done corner,
each stem showing green. From his mom’s vantage
her yard again pristine.

Let your work be heart work. Let chores bloom
from your determination. Let your pallet be inked
by those who need your love and your attention,
those whose flowers need defending.

Convergence, 1952 – Jackson Pollack

Space never knew it was space, faint
and light thought no thoughts,
could not correlate stroke

nor shade. Paint knew

but could not say. Yellow
fancied the rules between thin
and wide. Some spark gave a hint

to life. Someone spoke of war, some

of scarcity, or sex. What is the stain
but the story? Awareness by the line
of the landscape, of the role it plays.

Composer, fan, and teller of things.

So Simple It Moves

Recall the clouds when you were six
How quickly they would twirl and mix
Painting in their whites and grays
Setting your imagination ablaze

A sea horse kissing a wispy hand
A whale on a trophy stand
A mother’s arms spreading wide
Your old dog Scotty on a water slide

You know looking back that this was dumb
But look up again to where you’re from
What’s naive and slow and now brings rain
Can move and paint your world again.

A Girl In Pigtails

-for Lysa

A girl in pigtails
sits on a pedestal, her toes
dangle off the edge
in rhythm
except when she stands
to skip along the stone’s
sharp edge to play
pirouette, balance beam.

A girl, having never known
a lie except perhaps to hide
a present
or a surprise, never having
known a God-promise
broken, walks with a light
step. Friendly forever…
balance beam, pirouette.

A girl muses why
her mother picks her up
angry, upset with playing. Why
on some days each year
her mother cries, never
saying. The weight
of love and knowing.
Pirouette. Balance beam.

A girl could change
everything, sunflower
into knowing. Grow strong
like a willow whose bark
is unbending. Walk
across loss and loving.
Thick from what she’s met.
Balance beam. Pirouette.


April is National Poetry Month, #NaPoMo

The Entangled Muse

It must have been ’96.
A coffee house in Chicago
while on spring break. The air
was cold tinged and the lake
laced still with snowflakes.

I saw my bride sipping
from a blue mug, manilla
pouches in sorted piles
by steam at a round table.
I crossed the tiles between us.

She is trying cases. Looking
for the right word to describe
an act both mean and shameless.
Brazen, I show up before dawn,
hoping again to meet inspiration.

I twist distant strings of maple hair.
She docks her cheek against
her right palm. What comes
comes to both of us. In concert,
in unison, as if from everywhere.


April is National Poetry Month, #NaPoMo

Two A.M.

On the last few stairs you only want for wood flooring,
unconcerned if friends like you or the waitress was flirting.

Cold slats on clammy skin confirm you’ve got nowhere to fall.
Crawl to the bathroom. Hold yourself up by the porcelain bowl.

Find the seat to keep your weight. You’ve done something. Prayed
too many times to slough off this body, imbibed the wrong mix

of wildlife. Held on too long to a sad song or to heartbreak.
No one’s awake. Your body’s shiver has no visible cause.

Nerve endings can’t identify what undermined your sleeping,
what cannot be passed through by the deep focus of breathing.


April is National Poetry Month, #NaPoMo

Two-By-Four

We stood in the pit of your not yet existence
in the mud and wind beside towering piles
of two-by-fours on property measured
with sticks affixed with pink streamers
and said we thought you must be a man.

Here, a stud for the pantry. Here a brace
for the floor. Men own houses, fill them
with furniture, fix the holes with spackle,
yell at lights about the cost of electricity.

We knew nothing. Couldn’t hear the bedlam
of laughter bouncing off the not-yet walls,
the weight a whisper will carry by a bedside,
fear that will rise from your unarmed loving,
love that will waft along the scents of cooking.

Bones are not our existence. We live in spaces
that wait for the concerts of air that fill them.


April is National Poetry Month, #30for30

Paella On An Large Hot Ceramic Plate

The perfect recall
of saffron, chicken,
clams, sausage,
oils, and shrimp,
the interaction of foreign spices
the perfect recall of which would render
every other dish inferior, eating pointless.

Memory won’t let us
be thin, won’t let us
be sated by the sex
we had last night, won’t
recall our losses by curdling
our intestines or blocking the air
from our esophagus. Nor recall victory.

Memory is a blunt tool, deft
enough only that we fear
what we fear, that we drive
ever forward reconceiving
of our most painful labors.
The tines of the fork so empty I begged
my gorged friends to let me keep eating.


April is National Poetry Month, #30for30.

Fruitful

Amor can feel like armor, like a suit that suits you,
a shield to reason. When strawberries are fresh,
the raspberries dark and pock marked and ripe
their juice hits your chin as the scents soak your lips.

We’re shaped like this, doling pleasure to pleasure.
A man with strong hands. An ass that’s a handful.
We’re nails and tension, our senses at attention.
Our flesh ripening to corpses. Teeth nibble tight

to deities. Tongues tempt tongue. We can speak,
and clutch a thousand fruitful things. Slice me
open like papaya. All mush in the middle,
all hopeful and fruitful and filled with seeds.

April is National Poetry Month, 30 for 30.

One Night In New York City

There’s a red light on a telephone pole along the road where I lived.
The nowhere road runs along the river that been since before the before.
The river melts from ice in a thousand unsettled towns in the mountains
and by the time it winds it’s way to New York City, it’s famous.

New York City is eight million people doing their best to get famous.
Like the river, these people have been there since before the before.
Like the river, the droplets that make up the city are constantly changing.

There was a single lamp on a table in her apartment in Greenwich Village.
We went to dinner. We sat in her apartment. I rubbed her feet. We chatted.

Chatting is what you do when you’d like to exist in a bubble, as the noise
of the city becomes background music and non-existence. A bubble
exists without baggage or consequence. Exists solely on impulses.

Impulse is the energy of the bubble. Energy is what happens to the ice
in the mountains when the sun brushes against it, when beach-worn feet
come in contact with work-calloused thumbs. It melts and flows by instinct
to New York City, hoping to become famous, known by its family.

Family is a collection of like minded or genetically similar individuals
rotating around each other as planets. Planets are interdependent,
threatening at any moment to collapse into each other. At the right distance
they are loved. Too close is craters and magma. Too far and they forget.

Forgetting is the decision to not recall a memory, to let it flow down river,
to stand on the banks, pole in hand, frazzled cut-offs dry above the tides,
jagged rocks tweaking nerve endings on feet. Feet are friends of gravity,
keeping the earth at a distance, allowing us to revolve around existence.

Existence was our moment of being. This story. Before existence there was
no pizza, no river, no feet. Before existence there was no ice, no droplets,
no chance to look back across the river from a bus leaving New York City.

We existed in eddies of air flowing around each other. There was no other.
We shared as breath, as jet-streams of atmosphere. Bubbles popped

into consciousness, churning together the air and water and dirt, churning
together physics and biology and chemistry. Magma become rock, rock
become topsoil, topsoil become blood and bone and beach-smooth feet.

Some day I will breathe out this body. On that day I will miss your feet.
Your chatting voice, which is a famous music to me. But most I will miss
the bubble of your existence. How your being raises impulses in me.
Me? I’m hopeless. A red beacon on a pole. Saving no one from something.


April is National Poetry Month, 30 for 30.

To Incarnate

This hurts. Each waking morning when the janitor
must shutter the theatre, when the plumber must
purge the sludge from the pipes, when dancers
and audience are thrust into the sun-oven light.

Each day to incarnate; a glass of water, a thigh
or an egg. Each day to set weight on meat feet,
in cotton, with metals, to feel the scum and dirt
collect around and inside, and to contribute.

Sex to incarnate. Pets to incarnate. Children,
and friends, and furniture, gams crossed over
gams, fingers in knots. The tug of a blanket.
Acceleration of a stick shift. Quick muscles.

This hurts. Sensing just a sliver of the verse
and calling it all. Hearing the clear voice hint
at else. Amusement at the music that knits us
to this, lifts us. How melancholy. How lonely.

April is National Poetry Month, 30 for 30.

Duel Addictions

I have two hobbies I seem unable to stop doing. Despite changes in location, situation, despite job and marriage, two addictions I fight with, succumb to, loathe, and enjoy. Neither seems to have any hope of bringing me any money, and both, in their current technological incarnation, require me to sit in front of a computer for hours with an obsessive level of attention, blocking out all others. When I tell people at parties about one they are excited and interested. When I tell them about the other they give me a lilting “Ooohhh,” like I have just suggested I am a proctologist or a garbage man.

When I say I am an online poker player no one says, “I love poker. I used to play it in high school. But, you know, you grow up and life just gets away from you. I wish I still played.” When I tell people I am a poet no one says, “Like the guys on TV? Do you make tons of money at it? My co-worker has a cousin who goes to Vegas once a year to write poetry and comes back with ten grand in profit.” I am neither of these things.

On both tables I am a small time gambler. I’ve had minor successes. I have spent most of my time angry and frustrated. I see each as a struggle against reason, mysticism, and luck, as managing everything you can in this little universe, and then being held aloft at the whim of fate. Both are a fight, a duel, a match with something that others do way better and with way less effort. If I am to be honest, both are a waste.

What no one has been willing to say to me– or at least not follow up saying after the first intellectual parry which most addicts have at the ready, perfectly logical reasons why this thing I have given my life over to is not awful– is that these are not equal addictions. No one has been willing to delve into the question of why people love and miss poetry, and lament and fear poker.

There is the pedestrian part of it, the worry about losing money or time. But I have seen friends who collect action figures, or those who attend cosplay events and comi-cons, or those who run triathlon, or those who collect art or travel the world, spend thousands of dollars and thousands of hours more than me on their addictions. See the addict’s justification.

The real difference, the real distinction no one seems to highlight is the impulse behind each. There are better and worse jobs in the world. Better or worse professions. And they have nothing to do with time, or money, or work-life balance. They have to do with the sum of your efforts and what you create. They have to do with what slim chance you have at your job to raise consciousness, ease other’s pain, lift up our species, and save the planet.

There are jobs you can do in this world, hobbies you can have, that will make only your own life better, that will improve the safety, security, and fashion sense of your family and friends. They will get you a house in a good neighborhood and ensure your kids go to great colleges. Poker has that potential. I could go on one run, one summer at the World Series of Poker and make what they call, “Life changing money.”

Finance, Wall Street, Patent Trolls, Hollywood Producers. Anyone who claims that their risk, and the reason they need the lion’s share of any reward, is putting up money has never worked a good job a good day in their life, has never really risked anything. Never made anything. They have never put their very being at risk. They have no chance of helping Jane get us off this crazy thing. We’ll never get off this rock led by a poker player, a money changer, a speculator.

And maybe I have no chance either. But the stand-up comedian, the folks who build houses, the doctors, and the coaches, and the teachers, and the artists who do their art with only the smallest hope of any reward; they have a chance. They have this small slim chance to be the ones who open the epiglottis of the world just enough for one good idea, one new thought to get through. Everything else is fear, protection, and self-indulgence.

Knowing this will I stop playing poker? Of course not. That’s not how addicts work. I am convinced in my limbic system that I am trying to solve something, that there is a puzzle there worth wrestling with, though my reason knows that’s wrong. It’s not even a little about money. I will continue to try and hack this matrix. And poetry, I hold out hope there too, fanned by the flames of myself and others who believe in its worthiness. Maybe that idea is out there, the new one, the one that will save us all. Or maybe, that too, is just projection and illusion. Perhaps poetry is also passing around worthless chips.

Beatriz

We had been flirting for months, little gestures between freshmen that made incidental contact in the hallways worthwhile without risking the relationship I was having trouble exiting. One night, studying in the commons, Beatriz suggests we hang out in her room. And I let loose, tell her I would love to, but that my intentions are carnal, my desires, primal. Beatriz again suggests we hang out in her room. Winks, and says she’ll be waiting. And I can’t. Because of morality. Because of commitment. Because of a promise who will dump me a week later. Then Beatriz will not have me a month later. Then Beatriz will die a year later. And to no eyes will I look again with that thunder, with that longing. Her name an ever present echo in my psyche.

They loved like freshman love, which is to say deeply and in the moment, life threatening, and fleeting. One undone by the simple ties of staid culture, the other unset by sexual rejection. In reality, their fleeting glances registered on no spectrum in the universe. Saturn did not stop spinning. Centaurus burned just as bright for billions of years. The big bang and big crunch went on unheeded in all directions, whether or not some obscure atoms snuggled up next to each other for a passing millennium, century, or evening. Not one thing was changed by her passing.

“Once a man cheats…” Beatriz’s mother would tell her, ten months after we dated, and hated, and broke up. Beatriz would never blame my weakness for her cancer, but her mother would. I would try to explain the violence, the screaming, how, near the end neither of us could be in the same room without things being thrown. Her mom would simply yell, “Liar! Murderer!” Explain that her daughter was a good girl, a good girl until she met me, until I broke her heart (her mother cared nothing for my arm). How until Beatriz came back from the summer break and found me with another there was no way either of us would leave, out of pride, out of competition, out of stubbornness. How it would have been best if we had never met, lest we both, of our own two hands, be dead.

Ship On Stormy Seas

-after a painting by Ivan Aivazovsky

I wonder where the light comes from, not the peek from the ceiling,
that could be any orgasm, but the light from beneath
that shines as it chills us and chokes. Light from our lantern

of surrender. There is no safety. No where to rest in this oak
we have cut into timbers, knotted into rope, slathered with resin.

No land on which to lay a soft mattress and share our sleep.

The gulls know. They’ve followed us into or out of darkness.
Swore their allegiance or promised, at least, to report on our demise.
But the light, coming up too bright to be a reflection. Ocean

which divided us. Ocean of profession, of gender, of choice
and culture. Oceans of our pride and insecurities, of all things.

We float above it in manmade bodies. Buoyant, terrified.

Living to die. Was it not a port where we met, made land,
refueled? How we love. Briefly, in passing. As a storm passes.
Or as passes a brightening day. Soon always out to sea.

Pet Me

Graham is a very good dog. He wants you to know that when he needs something, that he is a very good dog, an obedient dog, a well-taught dog who is willing to sit posing and ready for whatever treat or reward or filled water bowl or door opening or toy he happens to want or need at the moment.

Sofie is not a good dog and does not wish to be confused with those who would sit around perched passively for the world to happen to them. No, she wants what she wants, needs what she needs, and is willing to jump and leap and bark and nibble at wrists to get it. In a pinch she will even go and grab a stuffed animal, a sacrifice to the gods, which humans seem to find amusing and trade if for her dinner or a scritch or permission to get up onto the bed. She works noisily for her supper.

Molly is patient and thoughtful. She loves you. She considers situations and avoids, when possible, the scrum of conflict in favor of contemplation out at the edges of action. While others may argue she rests peacefully in the corner hoping that those who adore her will come to her side and fulfill her needs in full and in their own pace and time.

Into this trichotomy comes Hunter, the puppy who learns quickly which pup gets fed and which gets love. He jumps around at dinner time barking with Sofie, ecstatic at the possibility of a filled belly or perhaps getting an extra scrap that someone has discarded by showing how much passion and enthusiasm he has for his nums, who sits proudly by the back door as if posing for a statue, like the good dog Graham teaches him to be, knowing the knob will be turned for the proud one appearing most regal and deserving, who snuggles in secret while others wrestle over a squeaky animal, turning the wheels of power behind the scenes and receiving, in turn, love like Molly. Sussing out his skillset.

Recall your first success, that first victory. Was it awarded because you worked the hardest, were the most beautiful, or knew how to suck up to the right people? Was it persistence, or talent, or your honest face? When you enter a workplace or new room do you fall back on that initial addiction, your most soul-close skill, the guaranteed lever that releases, for you, the magic pill? Which brush of creativity do you choose to draw your masterpiece, beautiful thin lines of watercolors that arc across the page sketching out the inches of the opus you continually tell?

Being

I have felt the consciousness of my skin slip ever so slightly from its supporting bone.

I have imagined my torso and head as a lowercase i appended with animatronic branches. I have sensed myself to be an imperceptibly small light behind the protruding ridge of my ribcage, connecting out through fiber optics to every inch of my flesh in all directions. I have seen an ape affixed with an upgraded cortex and mechanical mitts with opposable thumbs. I have watched a chef mix air and dirt and water and salt in proportion to bake together the mud of my being. I have evolved from a tadpole, from an ovum/planet, from an invading force, from a mutation, from an alien, consciousness emerging by accident. I have enlisted myself in the army of sexual beings, beating back asexual bacteria and viruses. I have fantasized and ignored and abused and slathered myself in the constructs of genders. I have surrendered to weakness and adored duality.

I have seen the earth iterating hardware.

I have thought deeply about the air that we breathe, and thought the air itself might be thinking deeply. I have considered the use of my hardware as merely a chassis designed to keep my software upgrading. I have embraced the nature of music and storytelling, of religion in its highest sense, of narcotics at their most useful, of art as the cause and result of being, of metaphor as meaning. I have practiced a knight’s an opening gambit, raised under the gun with pocket deuces, announced my presence with authority. I have played too many strategies, watched too many movies that exist as allegories for existence.

I have wondered if software can exist without hardware.

I have pressed others to uplift our consciousness, batted against my own perceived limits, read and listened and sniffed to catch a whiff of ocean. I have lamented the creation of bombs, the possession of guns, the necessity of war. I have worked my way back to the beginning, to several beginnings, to parallel evolutions, to mass extinctions, to dystopias and utopias. I have lost myself in passion plays. I have bathed myself in the ego of the Truman Show, believed in Beatles lyrics about love. I have considered culture as a construct meant to make sense-making easier.

I have welcomed death as an ally in the process of becoming.

I have pondered our evolution as a battle between Star Trek and The Day After, our technology leading us to the bomb, or the Borg, or Q, or The Great Link. I have seen our plastics as pointless and accidental. I have heard the startup chime of the Big Bang. I have converted to Infinitism, and accepted the necessary presence of a null universe. I have invited Stephen Hawkings, on more than one occasion, to bust my head open. I have used the word “fuck” as an act of creation and a description of the Big Crunch. Fucked.

I have linked back to the beginning to compose a satisfying ending.

I have stolen lines from Pine Island and Skunk Hour, from Saul Williams and Bull Durham, Bill Hicks and Monty Python. Come from nothing. Gone back to nothing. Lost nothing. I have sensed the greater truth of our being, that we are one consciousness experiencing itself, subjectively. I have participated in sensory deprivation and voluntary amnesia. I have laid face down on wettening carpet spilling salt and water and air and dirt for days. I have cut a hangnail or dropped feces or blew snot or peed, and wondered if it was still a part of me. I have prayed for a Shaman and for wisdom and for a miracle and for time travel and for my own death. I have seen it all as one bright, shining, glorified, unified point and simultaneously as pointless.

I have tried. I have failed. And in failure, come to be.

What’d I Say

My room is a mess, growing up, little more than a closet turned on its side and dumped. The floorboards lost beneath a pile of broken plastic and clothes, both clean and dirty. No one ever comes over the play. At the top of her lungs my mother decrees that I am grounded until it is cleaned. No TV, no computer. Not until your room is clean. And I believe her. I believe everyone.

I assume, despite experience, that the words coming out of your mouth are meant to make true the shapeless thoughts in your brain. Not that I don’t understand that they are the tip of significance, that beneath them exists a great and deep well, all of our possessions, a basement, a foundation, topsoil, a mantle, and the earth. I get it, that words are insufficient to explain our psyche.

The boss declares in an all staff meeting that everyone must fill out a self-evaluation and that if they do not take it seriously, they will not receive a quality evaluation back. If you write three sentences, your evaluation back will be three sentences. And so, when she and I, in charge of writing evals, go over the completed forms, she wants to know why R’s is smaller than the rest. He only wrote two sentences in his self-eval. But you still need to be thorough. And the two of us gawk at each other, each unable to understand the words hung in sharp bubbles above the other’s head.

I will take the trash out. Let’s hang out on Friday. I love this project and want to work on it.

I am not talking about lies. Some people lie. Sometimes I lie. I am not talking about sarcasm, or humor, or storytelling. Sometimes works are put together to create art, a falsehood embellished to highlight a greater truth. I can incorporate that.

I miss you. To me means that you wish we were in the same town, at the same time, and could hang out.

I love you. Means that you see in me, more than in others, a light you wish to bask in, a life you wish to share.

I will call you back this weekend. Means you will call back this weekend.

Meet me next Tuesday at 3pm on the corner of Maple and Main. Means I will be standing in that place at that time, waiting.

Have I missed something? Is everyone in advertising? Where the words are selected for the way they play on the wallet-control section of the brain, for their pretty faces, for their ability to conceal more than elucidate, to throw shadow more than light. Are words more make-up than flesh?

A student on the spectrum will call me out on a regular basis for saying that we are going to spend 15 minutes on a project. I’ll let it stretch. My classroom is not so strict as to be held down by any great limit of time. But I said 15 minutes. Not around, or about, or let’s start with 15 minutes and see how it goes. I have declared. And I am reminded when that time passes. And he is right. And I am wrong.

Sometimes words mean nothing. When they are said, when they are clear, when they have intent and use, the person saying them knows there is nothing, or something else, behind them. They are the mouth of a muppet with the sound turned down. Sometimes whatever is being said simply means go away.

Words mean something. They have to mean something. If they don’t, if they are just pliers, or burkas, or playing cards, or street signs, or irrelevant, or vacuums, or clubs, or phone booths, or scissors, or glasses half-empty, or pacifiers then I have wasted my life looking for the best way to say.

I have wasted my life in translation, from soul to cerebellum to soul. I have spent the best of myself on outdated equipment. I am a fool in a ruse. A dumb boy in a filthy room.

Fine

It easy, no matter where you move, to find a reasonably good chicken wing, one whose meat is juicy enough, and whose accent is both flavorful and hot without trying to melt your face off. Some are too dry, some are overcooked, and some try to use excess sauce to make up for other inferiorities. But, no matter where you go, if you look and ask around, you can find a wing that is not horrible. And it’s fine. And it’s lovely. And you can be happy.

Somehow Katy Perry on the back of a giant mechanical tiger, missing the point of her own metaphor, is an acceptable step in the right direction for the Superbowl halftime show. It is an acceptable evolution for Lenny Kravitz to add some sauce, some hard guitar riffs to Katy’s experimentation anthem, I Kissed a Girl, even if their performance suddenly becomes heterosexual and typical, with Katy Perry on her knees to Kravitz’s crotch at the end, completely missing the point of the song. It’s fine, and it passes for edgy.

You can live on a cheap computer, in a plastic car, using a knock-off tablet. It’s fine. Gretchen Wilson was right in 2005, “Victoria’s Secret, their stuff’s real nice, but I can buy the same damn thing on a Wal-Mart shelf half price.” It’s fine.

Right up until you visit your sister in Buffalo. Until you find yourself in the middle of a great debate between the world’s best wing places, each wanting to rock your taste buds. Right up until you hear the first beats of Missy Elliot’s Get Your Freak On. Exactly until the moment you and your wife go away for the weekend and you see her perfection in the most beautifully designed, intentionally well-chosen negligee you’ve ever imagined.

Now you have to go back to your life. You have to forget about the Anchor Bar and Duffs. You have to forget about Wegmans and shop at your local grocery. You try to watch Katy Perry sing about being a shooting star, while riding a shooting star, completely missing the point of her own metaphor. You realize at the end of the iPhone introduction video that the slide of crap phones being shown is the same one that an hour ago looked cutting edge.

Give me an artist, any artist, whose first goal is to change your mind, whose second goal is to rock the fuck out, whose third goal is to make the best of something on this planet, whose fourth goal is to make hard love out of their art, whose fifth goal is to add to the catalog of the universe, whose sixth goal is to make people swoon and lose their minds and to set them free, whose seventh goal is to be dirty and underhanded and unacceptable and be accepted, whose eighth goal is to say something important, whose ninth goal is to include their friends and their friends in the act of creation, whose tenth goal is to fuck you up, whose eleventh goal is for you to tell your friends and to tell their friends to make, who somewhere down the line, in the fifties or eighties is concerned about getting paid for what they have painstakingly made.

Give me that artist, and I will buy their wares, or I won’t. But I will be rocked by them. Fucked up. And I will tell the world. I will be sated. I will be freed. I will be moved. And I will never again be enough, and I will never again be fine.

Do It Anyway

I’m sitting in an Ethics in Politics class next to a square jawed conservative Republican, having a debate about the recently elected Bill Clinton’s stance on women in the military. Jack or John or Jake, I can’t remember his name, leans over to me quietly and says, “You know, kissing up to women is not going to get them to sleep with you.” And I am unable to articulate in that moment that I am not trying to kiss up to women. I am not trying to get them to sleep with me. I am trying to believe in the right things.

I teach by what I am moved by. In my class, whether that be writing or politics or technology, what happened yesterday is a catalyst for today’s lesson. What I saw or read or thought makes its way into the classroom in near real time. My classes lack the long perspective classical learning achieves, the efficacy a more conservative approach might provide. They fail to honor the filter of time. But, they are present, and fluid, and real. They keep me, as a teacher, engaged with the world, and I hope they keep the students engaged in the class. They are not boring.

Comedian Bill Burr is onstage, in black and white, telling a story about a man who jumps 500 feet from a helicopter during a tour of the California coastline. It’s three quarters of the way into his special that was released on Netflix just last week. It’s great storytelling. It’s visual. It’s detailed. I have four distinct turns that I can highlight in my writing class.

The On Being podcast this week is about social change, about revolutionaries who get burned out when the conscience of the world lumbers on undented by their fervor. On this episode they mention the book of one of the guests, Courtney E. Martin, entitled Do It Anyway. She is writing from the point of view of the generation I am either a part of, or that is just behind me.

It’s 1995 and I am living in Albany, New York being disillusioned by my first interaction with legislation, politicking, and sausage making. The main book in the pile library growing on my window sill is a collection of essays by Gen-Xers. The book is lost to my personal history now. I can’t even find the title on Amazon. Its thesis remains. It’s not that we, my generation, doesn’t want to change the world. It’s just that we’ve been told our whole lives that it is pointless to try. It’s all been done.

When I show the class Bill Burr they get his first point quickly, the American dream is dead. They get the second turn after a slight hesitation, seize the day. The third is harder, but they come to, your life will not work out the way you hoped. The last lesson they do not get. I do not get. We discuss but can’t pin it down. We sort of say it all works out, or we all die, or fuck it, whatever. What we are all looking for is Courtney Martin’s title, do it anyway.

You can write essays on a blog, poetry that won’t sell, have useless arguments with well off conservatives. You can pine for lost loves, run marathons, support women’s rights, teach ungrateful kids or just play cards. And when you are dead, when the vast majority of us are dead, the everlasting, ever forgetful drumbeat of culture will move on. No one will remember. The girls didn’t sleep with you. Your great grandkids will probably never know you. Do it anyway. Though the chances of any of it keeping you alive beyond your death are slim, do it anyway. For no good reason. Because you can. Because you must. Because that is the best of yourself you can do, do it anyway.

I went online and read the introduction to Courtney E. Martin’s book. I’ll add it to the now large library of things to be imbibing. I am not twenty-two anymore. The seminal questions of my own life, where to live, who to love, who to marry, what career paths to take, all seem to be answered. I am probably not going to be a revolutionary. But I will read it. And I am sure I will use something of it for some class I will teach. I might even use it next week. And even if I don’t, even if there is no point to reading it, if it brings about no change in my view, or my life, or my work, I am going to do it. Just like I will keep writing, keep teaching, keep myself open to what happens this week. It may not lead anywhere. Fuck it. Do it anyway.

The Long Shadows

In the morning an elongated figure darkens the frosted sidewalk ahead of me
able in action to leap every bank avoid every drift climb each curb while staying
connected at my feet which lift in turn off the pavement with a satisfying sweep.

In the evening he lags behind, drags what’s left of my identic fingers along
the pavement, an orangutan sanded down by the de-evolution of the workday.
I can only see when I sneak a peek over my shoulder his loping meandering.

Neither is true. I am not the kite that sprints ahead propelled by a defiance
of physics and gravity nor the soppy stretched out cape anchoring a man
to his near and long-term history. I am simply one who blocks the light.

Orchard

Crisp meat of the tree.
Red beating heart of Satan.

Lobes of frail white leaves
hung heavy from the rain.

Knots on branches filling gaps
in the sky when we’d look up

Laying scattered and bruised
on the hard earth after play.

Set into rolled paper bags
by love’s lunch, and gravity.

At rest beneath a sling bag
on the passenger seat at dawn.

Taken in haste as a breakfast
whose quick wits make up time.

Ignition, u-turn, acceleration.
When I reach

to lift it
a bite

already taken.
My mind, ganglia, age.

I scan the landscape missing
the swallow, the sweet stab

of teeth. The flesh unbrowned,
incisor scrape-shape, familial.

And the rest, as filling now
as it was on that fall hill.

But something’s gone, family farms,
fresh cider, the need to look

for wormholes. Years, like pesticides
killing seemingly useless things.

Taking with it names and faces
of secret keepers, sexual partners,

your third car, fourth kiss, good cells
around the cancer, and the bees.

Beginning

Give me an empty room.
Give me a new idea.
Give me half a dozen people and an afternoon.
Give me a goal.

Well, not a goal. I am not good at goals, even worse at checklists. But tell me your big ideas so I know what you’re aiming for. Inspire me. I’ll pass that fire along, ignite your staff. Keep me on staff for the first third of your project. Keep me around for the first five dates. Invite me to be part of your company until the day after the IPO. I’ll push you. I’ll drive you. I’ll get more miles out of that first gallon of gas than you thought possible.

The middle is tedious. It’s boring, arduous, task-mastering. It’s convincing people who already said they were on board to do the work, commit the time, spend the money, invest the resources. It’s punctuation. Line edits. Remind me again why I am convincing you to do something you said you would do? Time to revise and expand. The middle is for managers, for stonecutters, for artisans, for activists. The bureaucrats use the middle as a way to scale up, to set norms for the mediocre who, because we scaled up, will invade our fantasies. They will norm our fantasies. The bureaucrats use the middle to cement their own chairs and skim from the till. It’s not like it used to be. We used to be about something.

The end is abrupt.
The middle failed… or it succeeded wildly.
Either way I’m off to something new.
It’s exciting.

It might become good writing

I spent an hour this morning writing. I have this great assignment from a poetry seminar I am taking and I thought I would jump into it. I narrowed down the possibilities to five prompts and went to. With each, I had no idea where to start and less idea where it was going. With each, I simply started with the first image that fell into my head, and held onto the thread as long as I could.

What came out, what always comes out, was some sort of coherence. It is a block of clay, misshapen and desperatly in need of revision (or at least editing). But, a block of recognizable clay. Now I know where this wants to go, what it wants to say.

It scares me a little. I don’t like what it says about me as a person. The tenses are all mixed up, as is the person it is told in. And it scares me a litttle, which means it might become good writing.

“I love you.” A definition

Old High German lubōn – to love
a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another
a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection
sexual passion or desire
to need or require
to benefit greatly from

When I said it, I meant I had lost my mind, that I could no longer think about you rationally. I meant your presence on the planet, in this building, your voice curling through the long twisted jangle-cord of the phone, even just the thought of you dulled everything else in the room, friends, food, breathing. Who needs to breathe?

I meant I could feel you searing yourself in long deep imprints into the theatre at the back of my brain. Like a glacier, or a scar, or an affiliation with a group. I meant, really, that you would never go away.

For a year I focused all my meditations on arriving at a more accurate definition. I settled to “I can (see, touch, taste, sense, feel) the divine when I (see, touch, taste, sense, feel) you.”

Then last night, half-awake. The particular curl of my back and my bent knees. The weight on a nerve in my neck causing my arm to go numb. Lowering the acutely sharp angle of my pillow. In the dissipating cushion of air below my reseated sheet it came to me.

When I said it, I meant I thought I could make you happy.

That years later we would be in some restaurant, a pimply waiter with an ounce of charisma cracking a dumb bit of humor. And you would laugh. And we would laugh. And you would look across the long, flat, cloroxed, constantly cleaned, constantly crumby, off-white table. And you would just be, genuinely, happy.

The Point

The glass cases were built into the wall across from the main gym. Filled to the brim with trophies and plaques honoring students long graduated who’d brought home this or that championship. I was fixated on a basketball trophy draped with a cut net from the sixties when his hand grabbed a clump of hair on my head and whipped it back and forward with a pop, like a chest pass drill from gym class. Bloody nosed and woozy, I was barely able to turn around and see whose face it was before his fist closed my left eye.

“Why?”

This was the thought that permeated my fogging brain. In a moment that should have been fight or flight, my brain offered a third option, reason. If only I could reason with him, if only I could understand what had happened to set him off, perhaps we could talk, perhaps I could help him.

The aliens come down, or more to the point circle in orbit. They hijack every screen on every device on the planet. Their message is simple. We have deactivated every explosive device, every firearm, every semi-automatic, every flintlock, neutralized gun powder, deadened every bullet. If you want to kill each other go ahead, but you will have to do it hand to hand.

President Reagan argued for a small government but a large military. This never made sense to me. Dick Cheney believes there is evil in the world. His solution seems to be answering evil with an obliterating force. Washington and Jefferson both warned against foreign entanglements. Something they learned from Greek literature inspired them to design a government made up of madmen protecting a commune. I grew up an American, believing the better idea should win.

Here we are, in school, a place where we shape young minds. The content feels almost irrelevant so much as the mental calisthenics and the cultural marinade. We grade based on the ability of students to accurately solve problems, to successfully write papers, to remember things like Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species. But after school we strap on pads and gloves and headgear and travel to other schools to see who can out-height, out-quick, and out-muscle or rivals. Perhaps Madison would have had the center guarding the school entrance rather than the armed police.

America is a cult retreat where the best idea wins. America is a commune run by the will of the majority. The homeland is a fortress populated by damn hippies who believe in things like justice, equality, and fairness.

In fairness, the guy who assaulted me was more oaf than jock. He never made it to college, never got out of town, never became a man of consequence. He is not a respected elder, nor a leader, nor wealthy, nor wise. My success came from physical and intellectual escape, from living a life of ideas. I never found out what set him off. But I’ve learned since that new thoughts can only thrive when they are kept separate from force. In college, where we only had non-scholarship D3 sports I blossomed.

We lie to people all the time, tell them athletics and the military can be roads to enlightenment. We talk about the lessons learned on the gridiron or the battlefield being useful later in life. Here is the truth. Hitting another man diminishes both the target and the swinger. Killing a person harms both the soldier’s and the victim’s soul. Violence can never bring about a healthy peace. It would take a hundred years after the aliens left to clean up all the karmic debt we have laid around us. Vengeance begets vengeance. Fear begets fear. And it would take that long for all the old, angry war-makers to die off.

Or I’m wrong. And somehow the dichotomy of the United States, the warrior-philosopher nation, the bully and intellectual light of the world, the enlightened sword of the dark knight can bring about a world commune at the tip of a missile. But it hasn’t been brought yet. There are no signs that our weapons will bring about peace in the Middle East, cessation of suffering in Africa, calm to Central America.

What a crazy notion. That only better ideas can bring about better ideas. That a better strategy wins the game. That coaching wins more championships than muscle. That the model is South Africa, post-aparthied, the Greek Senate, Chautauqua in the summer. That achievement by intellect is preferred to compliance at the point of a gun.

Each summer, in Las Vegas, a few thousand people put their money on the table and play, based on luck and cunning, until one person wins a trophy. They start equal. In the same desert a hundred years earlier you might have been shot in a saloon for winning. You might have been beat up for day-dreaming. You might have been dead for thinking you could think better. Wrong-headed might, might have made right.

It takes a hundred years of thought and easing tension just for us to heal.

A More Perfect Union

The copy and paste feature on my iPhone is wonky. It’s not a feature from the original OS, and makes more sense on the 3.5 inch screen it debuted on, rather than the huge iPhones and iPads that exist today. It’s hard to select, hard to choose an action, and contains nested menus for yet more added on features (definition look up, speak text, etc). It’s works, it’s just wonky.

Features included from the start work great, the phone app, the web browser, the wide-screen iPod with touch controls. These were game changers. Revolutionary. And, best, iOS either eliminated or hid some of the vestigial aspects of OS X which caused Mac users headaches.

Version one of the Constitution had some amazing features. Self-rule, limited government, direct elections of house representatives, separation of powers. But, version one is always reactionary. It overcorrects. It worries about conferring nobility on people. It includes indentured servitude, it includes slavery. It discusses how to manage 13 eastern coastal states. It’s been revised. V.1 was the Bill of Rights. V.2 gave the states more rights, changed how the president was elected. V.3 eliminates slavery and provides equal protection under the law for (almost) all individuals. There’s the right to vote for women, for people over 18, prohibition, wait-no-not prohibition. All of these features are added. And they work just as well as copy and paste.

The Constitution of the United States was designed as a document to ensure the rights of property owners, typically white, Christian, men. If you fall into or can climb into this category, then the promise of America is secured for you. This is the land of milk and honey, of opportunity, of endless possibility, of manifest destiny. As for those left out of the original OS, not contemplated by it, or those considered three-fifths of a person by it, well, we’ve added features but we haven’t cleaned up the code.

Our institutions fail us. Police forces gun down young black men on our streets at a rate similar to the lynchings of the early 20th century. We can’t seem to elect women to more than a quarter of the seats in any house or senate. Our representative bodies are overrun by millionaires in proportions far out stretching their place in the populace. No one seems to like our ever growing media. If you look at individual cops, or congressmen, or news anchors, you can’t see what’s wrong. Because it’s not the individuals, but the OS.

We need something new. Something simpler. Something fairer. We need a process that uses less power, that includes more people, that democratizes our processes, and keeps any group of people from hogging all the resources.

We need an OS that contemplates the lifetime renter, the people of color, women, gays, lesbians, people of different national origins, people with no religion. We need to build it new. We need a black curtain, a stage, a clear vision, three great features. We need something revolutionary.

Inaugural

My fellow citizens, today we celebrate the experiment and the journey that is The United States of America. I am honored and humbled to stand before you to add a line in that story, to begin, with you, the work of writing the next chapter. Let us start this chapter talking about success.

American individualism will tell you that my success has been born of my upbringing in a small town, with a father who worked in a used book store and a mother who drove a school bus. Both my campaign and the American narrative would lead you to believe that my success in being on this dais today came from my ability to overcome obstacles, learn lessons, and with a uniquely American spirit, carry myself across this land to meet and inspire a generation of citizens to new levels of participation and support. But, this is an incomplete myth.

What has also led to my success was my safety. Success was born from playing in a front yard with no fence and no fear of being run over, gunned down, mistreated or murdered. Success came from a warm meal in the evening after being allowed to wander all day. Success came from having big, incomplete, childish dreams, and being told to keep imagining and refining them. Success came from making friends and choosing family and never once wondering if they did or didn’t love me. Success came from being able to marry and divorce and remarry whomever I chose, never once being told my choices were unacceptable. Success came from trying and failing and being taught to fail better. Success came from getting sick and breaking bones, but never having to worry for my very existence. Success came from the community and state and country in which I was protected and raised.

I didn’t see, I don’t think any of us see, the womb of protection that surrounds us. The parents, the officers, the firefighters, the military, the regulations, the environment, the atmosphere, the magnetic fields of the earth. None of us notice these immunities until they are gone, or until they turn on us. Too many children find out early that their parents are not protectors. Too many teens discover that the police do not always defend and serve. Too many in other countries bear the wrath of militaries. Too many are stripped of their environment. Too many don’t have clean water or nutritious food. Too many have been told to walk, talk, look and act a certain way, that if they wander outside some narrowly acceptable line they will die. We all live beneath a thinning atmosphere of our own making.

The greatest gift this country has been blessed with is two large oceans protecting our coasts, and companion nations to the north and south. We have been allowed, like I was allowed, to experiment and discover and play. This has led us to be leaders in the world, to think bigger thoughts, to imagine and implement fantastic ideas. For, those whom we insure their safety become our leaders, our thinkers, our inventors, our artists, our entrepreneurs. This is why the great majority of those who make up our government have degrees from prestigious universities. Because these institutions ensure, for a time, the space and safety to incubate new ideas.

All of us elected last November were rewarded for our ability to raise funds and supporters, to build a coalition of people willing to not only vote for us, but to campaign for us. It will be our inclination to answer that support with a willing ear, with our precious time, and with concern for the issues of those who sent us. But I ask you today to also look forward, to decide where the next generation of world-changing Americans will come from, to spend some of your political capital and intellectual prowess on figuring out how to provide safety for our people.

Every time a woman walks down the street unsure of where the next attack or catcall will come from, she is not thinking about how to lift up a nation. Every time a person of color is followed in a store, they are wondering what they have done wrong, rather than wondering how to invent better products. Every time a child imagines what awful thing might happen when they head home from school, they are not thinking about how to ace their homework.

There is a reason that very few people, nearly none, who stand at this podium have grown up in the cities, the population centers, of our democracy. It is because living in a city means constantly looking over your shoulder, watching your back, worrying about where the next danger might come from. All of those mental resources that could have been used to lift us up as a species, spent, instead, just to keep themselves alive.

We have built into our democracy safeguards to keep people protected. It is a central tenet of our beliefs, that the individual left to explore and learn and grow without needing to fight everyday for survival, can uplift their family, their community, this nation, this world. I look forward to our debates and legislation and compromise and solutions that further protect the American people. I will sign into law any bill that I believe will keep people alive, and safe, and free.

If we can think not just about those who brought us here, but also about those who are worried today for their life and their livelihood, if we can lift that burden off their shoulders, just a bit, than we have ensured our next great generation. If we can keep our people safe, give them space, allow them to experiment and explore, they will honor us with their support.

God bless us and protect us. And God bless the United States of America.

The Space

It was an argument when I was a kid.
After a period at the end of a sentence.

Does anyone even care anymore?
The distance between this thought and the next.

Between the harsh word and the retort.
Between the forbidden word and the fist.

Between the impulse and the kiss.
Between the dump of adrenaline

and the inevitable reaction.
Can we make a space? One or two.

Breathe long enough to let our intellect intrude.
Space for important questions?

Is it helpful? Is it necessary? Is it kind?
Is it true?

Is my life at risk?
Is this pain or presence?

Space before we table the debate.
Space before we smack the insect.

Could we let it live?
Space we used-to find in nature.

Between our fight and our flight.
Between our lungs and our legs.

An inch we can inhabit betwixt our anger.
Between our swirling moods and our spirals.

In concert with our questions. Unresolved.
Can I have just a minute? To be. Before I do?

Mano-a-Mano

I am his, mom.
His arms. His hair.
His aorta. His aroma.

This animas-gizmo
transmits charisma, charm,
thirst, origins, antics…

(tho’ not racism, scorn, or machismo)

This miscasting, it stings.
This arson, it harms.
This scorn…

I, his cartoonish match in this gnostic saga.
This shaman. This artist. I am
his scars. His shortcomings.

I am his stoic grin.

His mirth. His aching.
His anchor. His thirst.
His mast. His tonic.

Can I stomach him? Room him among
atoms, tarots, ghosts, traits?
His rash. His itch. This chariot.

I am his, mama. No iota to omit.

This is a version of a Beau Présent, a poetry form created by Georges Perec and passed on by Carol Peters, where you use solely the letters of a person’s name to write a poem honoring them. I have modified it here to use the letters of my own name to honor my brother, Greg Henneman.

These Dogs

I’ve mused before that my dogs are Buddhas, a not original idea which I copped from Mark Doty about how they live permanently in the here and now, in this very beautiful moment. But, they are also the rascal voices of my head; imps, goblins, the sweet fur incarnate of my monkey-brain.

One wants to be loved, not in the ethereal sense of accepting affection as an equal creature of God’s creation, but as the schlub at the end of the bar who stuffs his wet nose between a pack of women out for a night of dancing. Loved meaning rubbed.

One wants to play, to be distracted from its animal nature by a hunk of plastic so shaped as to illicit the desire to gnash and gnaw and pretend this false thing is a helpless creature built to fit neatly into its jaw.

One wants what everyone wants, what anyone else has, what they can only have at the cost of others. Pure jealousy, and rage, and greed. Willing to stomp on the desires of others to fill the gaps inside, permanently broken.

One wants sex. One wants food. One wants to sit so close as to make sure you have no chance to engage any other morsel of the entire universe.

One wants to interrupt. One growls at ever being interrupted. One wishes it could scratch out its eyes. One wants to cure every itch with more scratching. One with licking.

One is all anger. One is all shame. One is afraid that when its stops being adorable– cute, cuddly, sweet like a puppy, stops loving you unconditionally despite your flare ups and your flaws– that it will be left out in the cold to fend for itself.

These dogs, they never leave. They follow me from room to room, never more than a few feet away. From couch, to bed, to desk. From work to play. From city to city. From youth to age. These brute-voices, these mutt-rumblings. These incessant, relentless beasts.

Stream

J., the wisest man I’ve known, told me once that he wanted two women, one to write about, and one he could take care of. He talked about being dedicated more to a place than to people, or was it people rather than place. I can never remember.

I’ve tried both, loving the location, its pizzerias, its theaters, the deep and tangled forest beneath my feet, refusing to leap when others leave. I’ve tried eschewing place for person. Packing up the car at a whim and moving along with my love.

Neither state brought me joy, married in two, schooled in four, alive and in love in at least seven more. Neither state brought me peace.

I have been a river, that misnomer noun which is in fact a verb, river being neither the passing water, nor the bed, nor the fish, nor the waves, but the moving only and always. I have been the droplet that becomes a stream, melted off some mountain, trapped in some eddy, rushing along the rocky spoor, always missing something.

While rocks know rocks across the shore, and the sunrise is a conspiracy of sky in concert with the well-known leaves of the trees, I have been all about moving. Nothing for too long. Not with the waterfall ahead, nor the exhilaration of falling, the crash of flirtation. All about slipping over beds of leaves, lifting silt, polishing the edges off stone.

I have seen the darkness no light can penetrate, and been, again, the lifted air. Committed to cycle, to process, to forever and nothingness. Nourishment and weapon. Cool and boiling. Carved a canyon with no apparent plan. Just dripping.

Some say we come from a comet or stars. Some from the hot plasma of the beginning. A bond unbreaking.

J. would call bullshit on all of this, and wax philosophical about the importance of proper condiments on french fries. He always seemed to be staying on a track towards something, towards love, a commitment to an art, or an anesthetic, or a city . While I felt like it was best to keep evaporating.

The Mechanism

Fear nothing more than the focused, for they will be the ones to carry the great leaps and bounds of the species to fruition with their ability to see the distracted rest of us as mere tools to achieve whatever end on which they are fixated and to ignore those things which so fascinate and keep us simple and sated and utterly distracted, breasts and celebrity and kitten-pictures and money.

There is a mechanism built into the system, meant as a sort of antibotic to keep the disease of consciousness from spreading too quickly across whatever swath of reality we have the potential to inhabit and, therefore, tarnish, taint, and destroy, that dominion of time-space into which our forebears have disappeared leaving us behind in pools of our own sarcasm, irony, and multi-faceted misery.

See the rise of computing power and the rise of autism and the rise of psilocybin and the rise of Buddhism as the counterbalances to the increasing abundance of social networks and memes and broadcast video outlets and vlogs and set top boxes and pornography, as if there is a set amount of distraction and focus available in balance and as we increase one the other comes along to thwart any eventual victory.

The angel-brain knows that the Dalai Lama is correct when he suggests that the best way to deal with most of the global crises is for more folks to commit themselves to lives of voluntary celibacy, to become monks and nuns to any religion and spend their energies feeding the hungry and blanketing the cold and spending our off hours in deep meditation so that we can see through the illusion to an objective reality.

Beware of those who would create a product that does one thing well, or a small set of things, and as soon as possible corrupt that thing with its single-focus-engine into a swiss army knife of usability being sure to add on features like multitasking and to connect it as soon as possible with games and fart noises and the aggregation and delivery of data from entertainment, sports, and political sources.

There is nothing so sacred as our religions and our politics, our countries and our families, no topic we can broach which will so keep us entwined as the principles enshrined in our founding documents which provide for us an outline of the mechanism, endowed by our creator, which allows us to spend our days demarcating imaginary boundaries between ourselves and ourselves.

Fear those who would suggest, or worse yet, put in our hands and in our heads a way to unscramble the structures that hold this whole thing up, the mechanism that keeps us moving at this snail’s pace, what with our thoughts like those mysterious sub-atomic particles blinking in and out of existence at seemingly random intervals just when we were about to grasp the big and untenable topics, the God particles.

Make it illegal. Make it unseemly. Call it dangerous. Make it unprofitable. Label it offensive. Encourage wallowing. Legalize those substances which slow you down, kill you off, keep you addled, leave you addicted. Never forget. Do this because the disease of consciousness can only be contained. The veil is not far away and not heavy to lift. Kill young those who would open it. Label them as entrepreneurs or entertainers. Drive them mad. Co-op, neuter, or vilify that madness. Make them inaccessible, iconoclastic, obscure, different.