One World Trade Center

April is National Poetry Month – #NaPoMo #30for30

From the top of Manhattan it appears like a jeweler’s tool,
large triangle spikes alternatively piercing the air
and the ground, suggesting both a rise and collapse.

Across the barricades and signs for “Authorized
Vehicles Only” the bottom third is shards of glass
stitched together with cross-knit supports.

It’s good that it’s here. For vain reasons.

For selfish reasons. Because a tattoo

of a piñata is an improvement

over a challenging surgery’s




In The Painting There’s A Man

April is National Poetry Month – #NaPoMo #30for30

In the painting there’s a man on a bridge.
Often iconic, either the Brooklyn or San Francisco Bay.
From the angle of his head and height of his climb
one can tell if he is despondent or reaching the other side.

On this canvas a dirt road carved through a forest,
barely the bump of a four month gestation.
If you did not know the woods you could not see
the pregnant arch of stone nor the creek below.

The man looks sideways, unaware of the breach
he walks over. Neck twisted by the sound of a robin
rising on its wings off the branch of a tree.

Half buried in the mud behind the bridge
lies a rusted-out plow drawing back to the land,
and a glove, and some abandoned, hopeful plan.

“Welcome To Bell Atlantic”

April is National Poetry Month – #NaPoMo #30for30

Wind back through time, through your sculptures of the mind
old washed out hues of umber-tinted photos.
You, however, can never explain a hairdo,

nor flannel, nor cord-tangled tech, nor
James Earl Jones welcoming you the same
way each time you pick up the phone. Say
your vinyl truth, and no more.

Fan Boi

April is National Poetry Month – #NaPoMo #30for30

I once held a door open for Stockard Channing,
a woman who’s never looked less than breathtaking
and who in my youth was Grease’s bad girl of high school
despite being, already, thirty-four.

Whom I’ve never seen do poorly in a movie.
Who’s always portrayed a sense of royalty.
Whose backlash against societal expectations
has been at the center of her role selection.

And what did I say? In this moment of idolatry?
Did I mention her ground breaking roles?
Did I compliment her storytelling or acting? No.
I made some crack about the coming snow.

I’ve hugged a micro-famous comedian. Stalked podcasters.
Taught Dee Dee Myers to drag and drop. Made Richard Dreyfus
angry and Alex Trebek irate. Mumbled something unintelligible
to Mariah Carey. Hung coolly with Vince Neil.

If Alanis Morissette walked in the room I’d like to think
I could be composed, ask her to chat about writing
over coffee, and not drop to her feet promising
my undying allegiance. But who knows?

Too Many Mics, Not Enough Emcees

April is National Poetry Month – #NaPoMo #30for30

“All I need is one blunt, one page, one pen, one prayer.” – Nas

Back when Nas was Stillmatic and the Fugees ran The Score
both used to bitch about not enough mics in the store

Virgin Records running profits by limiting shelf space
tubes of posters for small walls of a Tribe Called Quest and Pac’s face.

Then the net broke it open to everyone everywhere
technology meant to democratize who got paid for their wares

But now the big conglomerates have become nothing but McDonalds
the only way to make them bucks is show your tits or abdominals

Thin beefs, fake buns, hooks with no verses
vagueness, pablum, low nutrient curses

During Technique’s Revolution, when Public Enemy was in the Hour of Chaos
the beats broke the barrier between blood, brain, and know-mas

It opened our chakras, now it closes our mind,
some pretty boy fronting about his rims and his wine

Any fool with a Mac can now drag and drop
no need to even know if the beats wack or hot

You only want one score and that’s what you’ll get
Take your cash, get outta my damn ears, enjoy your shit hit

Not enough Emcees, too many rap
we all waste our mics on thin thoughts that ain’t phat.

King Tut’s Sarcophagus

April is National Poetry Month – #NaPoMo #30for30

There are nights when the sheets that drape me
swaddle me like papier-mâché and dry to a stiff cast,

the dribble from my mouth a gold mask at the shock
that I was King for just that breath past my father’s death.

The tour of artifacts locked in the basement whispers none
until the robbers come digging at the rubble. Until

I am preserved and carted out on World Tour. Until they realize
the best thing I did was to smile after I died. Inconsequential

people like Lucy, mosquitoes trapped in amber with the DNA
tale of extinct species. Average folk who covered their head

when the comet hit. Who sung nothing but a song which children
passed on, who made one notable, lasting, petrified thing.

James Brady Is Dead

April is National Poetry Month – #NaPoMo #30for30

James Brady is dead,
though for the last thirty-three
years of his life he lived
in seesawing disagreement
with his body which somedays
responded well to access
and other days refused
to admit the failure of the bullet.

James Brady is dead,
though for sixty-nine days
he joked with the press
in a manner seemingly laughable
by today’s adversarial media
melee, where one wrong
word spins instantaneously
crisscrossing the equator.

James Brady is dead,
though for three centimeters
he could have had long less,
and Reagan might have been
Kennedy, and Bush might
have spent the eighties railing
against Madonna’s gyrations
tilting wildly right and left.

James Brady is dead,
though in less than a second
he became a cyborg of mind
and metal, a man who was lead
to believe, by the delusion of want,
in the terror of maddened men
who feel slighted by the voices
to whom they are dutifully wed.

The Difference Between Being Polite and Being Kind

In the visual thesaurus there is a one word jump between being polite and being kind. According to this reference these two words are not synonyms, but they are synonymous. And yet, in real-world function they are worlds apart. The distinction between these two words is the distance between someone who supports Donald Trump’s presidential campaign (who can’t understand why others don’t), and someone who loathes his campaign (and can’t understand why others don’t).

Being polite is a social construct, a societal facade based on time, manner, and place. It is the southern euphemism “bless his heart,” a way to insult someone while seeming to be… well… polite. It is maintaining a professional visage towards a coworker you would rather never interact with. It is the correct fork, the nicely tied tie, using the word “miffed” to talk about a time you were really “pissed off.”

When I was in college the idea of political correctness was just coming into vogue. This was a time when folks were trying to replace some of the micro-aggressive ways we referred to each other. Political correctness was derided by comedians and politicians as an extreme form of politeness, a mask underneath which we were still angry separate supremacists. Political correctness was simply not, as we have heard more than one Trump surrogate laud, “telling it like it is.”

Kindness is the act of seeing the burdens another is carrying and doing something to lighten them. For everything about politeness that is faux and skin deep, kindness is to the bone. It requires peripheral awareness, and empathy, commitment and action and self-sacrifice, even in its smallest incarnations.

In the 90s when my friends and I entered the workforce almost every boss was male and it was still common to refer to the women in the office as “toots” or “dear” or “honey” or “darling” or “sweetie”. There was nothing I could do about unequal pay, or sexual harassment, or bosses expecting female coworkers to “wear something pretty” to the staff meeting. But I could say something about “dear” and “honey” and “toots”. Was I being polite? Or was that an act of kindness? When I pulled him aside and he responds with, “You know being nice to them is not going to get them to like you or fuck you.” Was he being impolite or unkind?

I can do a little more now to shape the workplace in which both I, and those I know supervise, exist. I can make sure we are paying an even wage for work, not paying more for a certain type of person. I can create an environment where we consider the people around us in our decisions. And I can choose, and encourage others to choose to be kind; deeply, meaningfully, genuinely.

I can’t do much to stop the unkindness in our larger culture. I can’t tell police officers that their job is to successfully apprehend suspects, no matter their age or size or skin color, so they can go to trial, rather than killing them in the streets. I can’t make the State of Alabama see the burden it places on people when they say some consenting adult relationships are more important than others. I can’t express how damaging it is to young minds when a large swath of the country declares a President illegitimate because of the color of his skin.

But, in every moment, we all have the choice to be kind. In small ways and big we can stop, wherever we are, and look around us. We can try to see in each other the burdens we are carrying, the scars, and the triggers, and the damages that have been done. We can offer to carry or share those burdens, just for a few steps, just for a little while.

It’s not that the Trump candidacy is impolite. Fuck, I love impolite. I think we are all too caught up in our corporate dress and buzz-words. It is that this campaign is unkind. It makes people fear for their bodies. It states that there are some people in America more deserving of protection and rights and creator-endowed liberties than others. It argues that in our society people have their places, and there they should stay. It adds to our scars and our burdens, rather than lightening them.

For those who see this as simple impoliteness, and who cheer him, I say this. He is not saying what he believes. He is saying what you cannot say, what you wish you could still say, in the workplace, in the grocery store, in social circles. He is saying what you believe. And it is mean. And it is hurtful. And it is unkind.

Rules For This Mix: The Book Of Us

This is a mix for you, my love. It can never be called a playlist, because this is not play. This is serious business, although admittedly a first draft. This is a mix which will be edited and updated as we find new ways to love each other. But the rules, the rules must remain.

1. Nothing that has touched anyone else. None of these songs are recycled, nor for one moment make me think of anyone but you. These are yours and yours alone.

2. The words matter here. I know sometimes the lyric is not as important as the instrumentation. But here the lyric is paramount. What they are saying, I am saying.

3. That being said I know you love the wall of sound, when the notes intertwine and exude power and overwhelm. So I looked here for those, for you.

4. If there were multiple versions of a song, remakes, reboots, covers, the only choice was the one you would like, the one you would listen to.

5. No sarcasm here. No wit. Only sincerity.

6. Life with you is full and complex and glorious, full of ups and downs. So is this mix.

And here it is, for you and only you. iTunes Music: The Book of Us

Us – Regina Spektor: When we first got together I said you were the type of person, and we could be the type of couple, that people named buildings and cities and wings of hospitals after. This is a wall of sound that agrees.
“They made a statue of us, and it put it on a mountain top. Now tourists come and stare at us.”

I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) – The Proclaimers: Quite simply the greatest love song of all time. And for you, a literal meaning. You love to run. And to love you I ran, thousands of miles and marathons.
“Just to be the man who walked a thousand miles to fall down at your door.”

I Found My Everything – Mary J. Blige: I will never be able to put in my own words, or find in anyone else’s, what it is like when you walk in a room, what it was like the first time you walked into my life. But Ms. Blige says something close.
“Can’t you see? Look at my face it’s glowing and it’s all because of you.
Everything about you, you see I need. And I thank God for sending you through.”

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face – Roberta Flack: There are things you can say in a song that you can’t say outside of a song, things I want to say to you.
“The first time ever I kissed your mouth I felt the earth move in my hand like the trembling heart of a captive bird.”

At My Most Beautiful – R.E.M.: As much as life is full and wonderful when you are around, it is that hollow when you are not. So I leave you messages, and send you thoughts.
“At my most beautiful I count your eyelashes secretly, with every one whisper, I love you.”

Share The Moon – Indigo Girls: Here’s a band who meant a lot to me before I knew you, but means so much more to me since sharing them with you.
“I can go one day without calling…
Two days without bawling…
Three days without missing…
But a lifetime of no kissing you is something that I just can’t do.”

Ain’t No Sunshine – Bill Withers: When you are not home, the dogs and I feel the same way.
“This house just ain’t no home anytime she goes away. And I know, I know, I know, I know………….”

First Day of My Life – Bright Eyes: Meeting you, knowing you, loving you, sharing life with you. It is a waking up.
“This is the first day of my life. I’m glad I didn’t die before I met you.”

To Make You Feel My Love – Adele: For a moment, for you to see what I see, to feel what I feel for you, I would do anything.
“I’d go hungry. I’d go black and blue. I’d go crawling down the avenue. No, there’s nothing that I wouldn’t do. To make you feel my love.”

The Book Of Love – Peter Gabriel: I love when we are riding in the car and this song comes on. I love our relationship to music, and kissing, and cars.
“The book of love is long and boring and written very long ago.
It’s full of flowers and heart-shaped boxes and things we’re all too young to know.”

You Are The Best Thing – Ray LaMontagne: I could just go with the title here. It is the truth. But there are great lyrics too.
“Both of us have known love before to come on promising like a spring, and walk on out the door.
Our hearts are strong and our hearts are kind. Let me tell you just exactly what’s on my mind.”

I’ll Stand By You – Pretenders: If you could have one person, the one person, say one thing to you, and you would know it to be true, what would that one thing be?
“Take me in, into your darkest hour. And I’ll never desert you. I’ll stand by you.”

Thoughts after watching “Making A Murderer”

This is not an unbiased telling of a story. The filmmakers here have an agenda and a point of view. They are storytellers. That is what they do. All my thoughts flow from what they told.

I don’t know how Teresa Halbach died, or what happened to her body after she died.

The state did an awful job of coming up with a coherent timeline, a motive, or an explanation in the inconsistencies of the evidence.

This may not be a uniquely American thought, but it was groundbreaking when it was built into the organizing principles of our society. People who have power will abuse it, will be corrupted by it, will use it against those they see as the other, will wield it for their own gain.

There are HUGE amounts of prosecutorial misconduct here. There are HUGE amounts of police misconduct here. There is a huge amount of small town, backdoor, underhanded politicking going on here.

The idea that the family that lives on the other side of town, who keep to themselves, who didn’t go to college, who work with their hands, who don’t share your need for upward mobility, who just want to be left alone, and who have the gall, the unmitigated gall, to show up smiling with the governor, and at court, and on TV in their casual clothes are somehow deviant and criminal and dangerous (and we are just waiting to get them on something) is Wholly UnAmerican. It is counter to our espoused principles that all people are created equal.

The idea that some people are criminal, rather than actions being criminal, is wholly UnAmerican.

And yet, it is central to our culture, to our politics, to law enforcement, to our court systems. It is part of our bullshit hypocrisy. And it is holding us back as a people. Every time someone on this show said, “How dare he. These police officers are good men, with good reputations, and they are calling into question their character,” I wanted to punch someone.

This show has little to do with presentable facts at trial and everything to do with reputation and character. On both sides.

The part that I found most salient was at the end of the Avery trial when the lawyer said, “Police don’t plant evidence to frame an innocent man. They do it because they believe he is guilty.” I think the cops, and the prosecutors genuinely believe the Averys are bad people, and they needed to strengthen this case to put two of them behind bars, and the rest of them in their places. I believe they imagine a great many crimes the family has gotten away with, and this is what they can prove.

And, in the unlikely event that I am right about something, about this, then this was a miscarriage of justice.

The Primary Debate

The primary debate we are having right now in the presidential nominating process is not about the role of the federal government, nor immigration, nor tax cuts, nor defense spending, nor guns, nor inequity. It is about the history of the United States. Each candidate is trying to win over a debate about our origins, such that the story leads inevitably to them.

There are two, maybe three versions of this history one needs to consider. And the first, like most things in the Republican party, has to do with disagreeing with President Obama. In his 2008 “Yes We Can” speech the President laid out a vision for how America came to be in this place and time, suggesting that the refrain “yes we can” was in the hearts and minds of the people who built this country.

“It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists as they blazed a trail toward freedom through the darkest of nights. It was sung by immigrants as they struck out from distant shores and pioneers who pushed westward against an unforgiving wilderness. It was the call of workers who organized; women who reached for the ballot; a President who chose the moon as our new frontier; and a King who took us to the mountaintop and pointed the way to the Promised Land.”

Now, if you believe America was built by slaves and abolitionist, immigrants, and pioneers, workers, women, and visionary leaders who had big thoughts more than accomplishments, you have a couple of choices in the Republican field. You have the children of immigrants and slaves, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, and to some extent Chris Cristie, who tells the story of his Sicilian grandmother, born on a boat on the way to America. If you believe America was built by pioneers, workers, women, and visionary leaders you could choose Carly Fiorina, the secretary who worked her way to the CEO’s office, Jeb Bush, who has the right vision for America, or maybe Mike Huckabee, who touts no real achievements in his elected history, but who has the evangelical vision America needs.

But then there are those who simply do not believe this version of American history. And they fall into one, maybe two camps.

First, the maybe-narrative. America was never created. America, as a single nation, has no coherent history. America as it was formed from 1776-1789, the Confederation of States, is more accurately what American still is. If you believe we are not one country, barely 50 states, and more accurately 400 million free individuals, and that we work best when we work as 400 million free individuals, your candidate is Rand Paul, or Bernie Sanders, if you think we are 400 million individuals who every once in a while need the game reset so we are all, again, equal.

But the most obvious of these alternative histories is the “Captains of Industry” model. This model says that America was built by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Eli Whitney, Henry Ford, the Wright Brothers, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, George Eastman, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs… and Donald Trump. These are men, white men, who were broodish, mean assholes who built, with their own two hands (rather than everyone else’s), great big things. In some sense this is the version of history that I learned growing up in the 70s and 80s in small town upstate New York. That the mantle of invention and success is passed from a great man’s hands to the next generation’s great man’s hands. It is narrow minded, incomplete, and says nothing about the dead bodies laid at Pharaoh’s feet. But, if you buy this version of American history, then you want to “make America great again,” and you only have one candidate, one white male industrialist, who fits the bill.

The irony of this version of America is that there is actually a second “greatest success of their generation” candidate in the field, another captain of industry. And that would be Hillary Clinton, the first student to give the commencement address at Wellesley College, the first female member of the Rose Law Firm, the first First Lady to have an office in the West Wing, the first First Lady elected to federal office on her own, and the first viable major party female candidate for President of the United States, both in 2008, and 2016. It you asked who are the smartest, most accomplished ten people of the baby boom generation, who will most likely be remembered in a US History class ten years from now, it would be hard to leave First Lady, Senator, Secretary Clinton off that list.

What made us? A myriad of interconnected hands, a coalition of the ascending, individual grit and drive, great men, immigrants, working together, working in competition, God? This is the primary question. If there were one more Republican debate, if I could ask one more question of the candidates to bring to the fore that which I think is hidden behind all the rhetoric and campaign slogans it would be this:

Who built the White House?

A Computer Is…

A computer is a device that allows you to move your mind, without having to move your body.

Yoga allows you to move your body, without having to move your mind.

Meditation is a way to move neither your body, nor your mind.

Pro Wrestling (dance, theatre) is a way to move your body, in order to move other people’s minds.

Writing is a way to move your mind, in order to move other people’s minds.

Football is a way to move your body, in order to move other people’s bodies.

Music (poetry, oratory) is a way to move air, in order to move other people’s minds and bodies.

The Temple

You’ve come to the front door of the temple.

You’ve found the structure read about in diaries, intuited in dreams, a gold-inlaid shack held up by cracked and weathered planks of wood.

It sits on the edge of the known universe, at the point in town where two blocks in one direction is bustling city, where students hide in coffee houses searching online for answers to questions of philosophy.

The coffee house, the university, shopping, streets. And then across one white-lined slab of asphalt, nothing, for no reason a large open field, a line of trees.

The temple sits just in front of those trees, facing the mountain katty-corner to the city. The door hangs off its hinges and is too small to accommodate anything but a body. You leave your belongings.

As you enter, the anteroom is dingy, cobwebs and stench, a row of hooks bolted into walls unable to hold their weight. Off with your coat, with your shoes, with hats and gloves and socks and anything necessary to keep separate you and the elements.

There is only propriety, and a door. The hallway is hospital lit. Take off your pants, your shirt, your undies. Here is a robe. Once you are ready, have a seat in the next room and someone will be with you.

It’s cool.

Not uncomfortably so, but soft like a breeze, fresh. But no where to sit, not a cushion or a couch. And the floor impossibly distant from your eyes. As are, you notice, your feet, or more to the point, where your feet would be.

You’re not floating. You’re solid, as is the room. Yet you cannot reach a wall or a floor, or your right hand to your left, your finger to your nose, your tongue to your lips. If you had lips. If you had muscle or a body. You must have left them somewhere, perhaps in the last room you can’t seem to get back to.

But forward, through a pinhole in the universe, a prick in the ether, your inevitable procession.


The air here is static, uneasy, electricity. It bombards you from every direction. Light and sound and heat. And touch. And hunger. And agony. A room too small for any of us, for me.

And bowels. And lungs.

An expanding space of impossible things.

The Difference Between Meditation and Sleep

In order to fall asleep one must disconnect from the body. One must be willing to disconnect from the body. One must feel safe enough, and neutral enough to be prepared to disconnect from the body. Sleep, and consequently dreaming, allows the creative-story-spinning parts of our awareness to move unfettered by laws of causality, and physics; meaning the constraints of the body.

In meditation we bring the body with us. Indeed it is the actual vessel on which we ride deep into meditation. The instructor will tell you, always, to focus on your breath, the in and out of air through your nose and your lips. They are telling you to be in your body. And while meditation may lead you to insight or epiphany, often these are about how to live more fully in this world, rather than creating another world in which to reside.

In meditation I do not wonder if I was a butterfly dreaming I was a man, or vice-versa.

The purpose of dreaming is to play. To set free ourselves from the bonds of responsibility, to paint wildly a mandala that will be blown away by the time we wake. With meditation the effects come after the act. By simply paying attention to the breath, to the sweaty toes, to the crick in your neck, to the constant pain of a shoulder tweaked earlier in the day, to the itch on the outside of your left thigh, and back to the breath we are more able to move more evenly around this world.

The irony is that one may come to the epiphany that this world is an illusionary playground, a ride at an amusement park. And yet, this act of meditation, which allowed us to recognize this subtle truth, allows us to live more fully within the confines of this playground. Dreaming creates its own worlds, but does little to help us live in ours.

And there are times when I fret too much, or worry, or plan, or obsess over the health of the Pope, or the state of tension in Israel and the west bank; where I can’t sleep. I know, no matter what spell I try to spin that the farcical fun imaginative world of my dreams will not be available to me. And so I meditate. I focus on my breath. I place all of my consciousness inside my left toenail. I create a perch atop my left ear where I sit and watch the sloshing ocean of my thinking brain. I come back to the breath.

I spend whole nights very much not sleeping, without dreams. And yet, when the morning comes I am ready for this fantastical world. I am, at least, and at last, refreshed.

TBAP – Swallowed – Mark Bibbins

I’m not sure how you feel about words. For me, each noun is an opportunity. It’s the act of taking a blank stage and placing a ______ front and center on it for the audience to see. An obelisk, a vase, a small door, a bicycle, a sword, a vial, a folding fan. I am less interested in whether the stage-hand drops it, or flings it. I am less concerned if they actor retrieves it, or snatches it. In short, nouns for me (not verbs), are everything.

So what to do with a poem about gluttony that opens with an escalator?

When I see an escalator I have to kiss
everyone on it, don’t you?

I don’t. Perhaps when I sit on a bus, or a subway car, or in a lecture. Perhaps in a dentist’s office. Perhaps in a row at the symphony. I can see everyone. I can see their lips and the look on their faces. I can be gluttonous about them. But an escalator?

The rest of the poem is a meditation on various forms of gluttony: war, food, profit, fame… things people eat up. And it’s good. The ending is very good. But Bibbins’s first step knocks me off. And I am caught on it, wondering about it, obsessed with it, trying different nouns with it.

I assume every poet has tried all reasonable possibilities for a line like this, and that a journal loved the poem, and that an anthology editor loved it, and so the error must be in my reasoning, or in the fact that I don’t want to kiss people on escalators.

ELEVATORS! That would have done it.
When I enter an elevator I have to kiss
everyone on it, don’t you?

I do.

And now I am more obsessed with Bibbins’s choices.

Hear Here

I’m not sure how to talk about this. It’s not something you should say often. I hear voices. Not impressions nor ideas, nor urges, voices. Sometimes they come to me with a word, and sometimes a whole line. They do not tell me to do awful things. Heck, they do not tell me to do wonderful things. It might be better if they did. All they tell me to do is to dictate, at some point to add to the text using my own voice.

I know how to quiet them, if quieting them is what I seek. It’s easy. I simply let pass what they have to say, writing none of it down. I can make the voices outside my head louder than the voices inside, drowned them out. This is done most often by watching something on the TV, falling into a hole in YouTube, or binging on Netflix. Video that works most effectively are ones that have nothing to do with consciousness, Buddhism, mysticism, society, history, spirituality, or politics.

Sometimes I will slip, accidentally find myself listening to some instrumental music, or reading a book of poetry, or catching a conversation with Paul Muldoon on the OnBeing podcast. Something about the talk about talk, and language, or the sample of poems, and the space created between and without words. The voices return. They come subtle with some interesting anecdote and ask me to conjugate.

I am in the car. I am in the kitchen. I am incognito being an upstanding citizen. And I wonder sometimes about my friends who have cultivated their lives in such a way that they have time and space meant to do nothing but listen (and of course to take down this dictation crudely). I wonder if their love is greater than mine, if there courage is deeper. I wonder if they are happier, living in concert with the voices. If they even hear them. Or if they write for another reason.

It’s a calling. It’s a sickness. It might simply be better to stop paying attention.

Advice After (re)Reading “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig

First off, don’t.

This is not a book I suggest you buy, or borrow, or download. It’s a book about a cross-country trip taken by a father and his son. It’s a book about the concept of quality. It’s a book about the use of control and lack of creativity in education. It’s a book that brings ancient Greek philosophy into the modern mind. It’s a book about cultivating the mindset of a mechanic, and in saying that, it is a book about Zen Buddhism. But mostly it is a book about a crazy man who is now sane, tracing the path he took once (and then again) towards the ridge line between reason and madness. And it is very good at walking the main character, and the reader up to, and across that line.

“From all this awareness we must select, and what we select and call consciousness is never the same as the awareness because the process of selection mutates it. We take a handful of sand from the endless landscape of awareness around us and call that handful of sand the world.”

I first read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in grad school, and honestly, I had forgotten both how much this book informed my teaching style, my questioning style, my use of inquiry, and also how much damage the book can cause to my mind while reading it. Insanity, between these covers, is defined as existing, or thinking outside of the mythos of culture in which you live. For most of us the concept of getting anywhere near the edge of our culture’s mythos is impossible. We are so mired and marinaded in it that it might be easier to imagine getting permanently outside of the sun’s light, or living in a world without oxygen.

“The range of human knowledge today is so great that we’re all specialists and the distance between specializations has become so great that anyone who seeks to wander freely among them almost has to forego closeness with the people around him.”

But, I don’t know that I have ever felt fully at home in this world, not in the house of my upbringing, nor schools, nor places of employment. And so, it is books like this, books that explore the known edges of the known universe that I am both drawn to, and probably should shy away from. Some of those books are mentioned here, The Tao Te Ching, The Vedic Scriptures, The Upanishads, and various Buddhist literature. All of this, and other books, are brought up to suggest that there might be a unifying feature between reason and passion, between the classical and the romantic.

“We have artists with no scientific knowledge and scientists with no artistic knowledge and both with no spiritual sense of gravity at all, and the result is not just bad, it is ghastly. The time for real reunification of art and technology is really long overdue.”

The Tao, the Dharma, and what Robert Pirsig calls Quality; the suggestion here is that they may all be the same thing, that which gives birth to all other things. And much like the Tao and Upanishads Pirsig suggest that these things can be talked around and near, but not defined, that any definition would diminish that which creates the idea of definition. And so he talks around it, and hints, and suggests, and defines everything below it hierarchically. And somehow this is enough. It is enough to fill a book, to ruin a mind, and to compel a reader to the edge of sanity.

“You’ve got to live right too. It’s the way you live that predisposes you to avoid the traps and see the right facts. You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? It’s easy. Make yourself perfect and then just paint naturally.”

If you have a good life, a simple life, if you walk around generally happy, and unconcerned with the underpinnings of your culture, reality, religion, politics, and society don’t read this book. If you enjoy the fruit and beauties of trees, but care little about their roots, or what roots around in the dark soil below them, don’t read this book.

“The Quality which creates the world emerges as a relationship between man and his experience. He is a participant in the creation of all things.”

And me, am I ready to give up stuffing my head with dangerous literature that might cause it to explode? No. I am onto The Elegant Universe by Brian Green. Quantum Physics, a lighter, less mind-bending read.


WFM: Allergic to Pine-Sol, Am I the Only One – Melissa Barrett

What do you think of found poems, or puzzle poems, or collages? Are they art? Are they poetry? Is it an act of creation to paste together disparate pieces into a new whole? I have this question about mash-ups, and remixes, and remakes, and cover bands. I don’t think of them as acts of creation, but acts of re-creation.

There are certainly skills necessary here. You have to make something new from the scraps. You have to manage tension and rising action and say something meaningful using these found objects.

Reading this poem I am interested in distance, particularly the distance between people. It starts off with people far apart, and then there is a tie that will be given as a present, right now it is far away, wrapped. Then you must be able to be seen in public with me. Then we were behind each other at a drive through. Then we made love. Then we were at the shooting range. Then there is rope. Things are knotted together at the end, passionate, violent, intertwined.

Perhaps these found pieces are all us. Perhaps we are all recycled, particularly once we are looking at personals on Craigslist. And maybe we could all do with some connecting, some reaching out, and some being tied up, together.

TBAP: Cedars of Lebanon

Cedars of Lebanon – Derrick Austin

I can appreciate a poem that makes ones wonder, one that, at first reading is compelling enough that I want to do a little research to understand it more.

This poem starts with a quote from the Song of Songs, which I knew was part of the Bible, but I did not know was essentially a love letter back and forth between two people. After knowing that, I read back through the poem as an extension of that motif. On second and third reading, I found love themed imbued deeper and deeper.

But, I am confused by the comment in the back from the author, who simply states that he wanted there to be winter imagery with a sense of movement. I think either a) there is more going on here than the author cares to admit or b) I am reading way too deeply into this. Both are of equal possibility.

The writing here is solid nouns; cedars, cabins, crows, grass, hydrangeas. It is also male and lustful; stags, and blood, and passage between erect cedars. There is also an interesting play of colors; white snow, black crows, red blood.

I wonder about the form, five sections, each with a different shape and attack. I would use this if I were trying to say the same thing five ways, but Austin uses it to propel the movement.

The poem improves with more readings. But I still feel either the poet doesn’t know or isn’t saying what he really wants to say, at least in his commentary. I would be interested to see the poems on either side of this in a collection, interested in the context.

Rules For This Mix: The IDT

This is The IDT, the incredibly depressing tape. This is the mixtape I started making before college in the 80s, that went through revisions with every love and every heartbreak, that was burned to CD, but lost to history when we all went digital.

Could I remake it? Should I?

The rules are simple:
1. It must be composed of songs that you can’t stop listening to no matter how much they carve.

2. Each song must pull you back to a specific place, or person, or moment. This shit is autobiographical. It’s not just sad music for sad music’s sake.

3. One song per performer. This is not a greatest hits tape.

4. Each song must have at least one lyric that is a brutal katana, a line that slices you in two.

5. It’s a mixtape: 90 minutes. No more.

I will spare you the names of the sirens sung to. It would be too embarrassing to admit. But know these are deep cuts, some scarred over, some still unhealed.

These are on my IDT. iTunes Playlist: The IDT

What’s on yours?

Ghost – Indigo Girls

“I’m forever under lock and key, as you pass through me.”

“As I burn up in your presence, I know now how it feels to be weakened like Achilles with you always at my heels.”

You Are Not Alone – Michael Jackson

I’m walking through the streets of Newark. It’s too early. The distance from Penn Station to the college is unreasonable. I want the sun to come up. I want to be back in the city. I want back on the train. I want it all back.

“Whisper three words and I’ll come running. Girl, you know that I’ll be there.”

Washington Square – Counting Crows

It’s over.

Pack up everything you love or need and go. We will never again speak but to sign contracts and settle debts.

“Nobody knows me. My friends and my family are as far from this city as Washington Square.”

She’s Got You – Patsy Cline

“I’ve got your memory, or has it got me? I really don’t know. But I know it won’t let me be.”

“The only thing new. I’ve got these little things. She’s got you.”

At This Moment – Billy Vera and the Beaters

Alex Keaton is on a train chasing Ellen across the country. He realized a few hours too late that he couldn’t live without her. Yes, it was a TV show. So, of course, sap that I am, had to turn it into real life.

“How could I hurt you? Darling I love you. And you know, I’d never hurt you.”

“If you’d stay I’d subtract 20 years from my life. I’d fall down on my knees, kiss the ground that you walk on, if I could just hold you again.”

“If I could just hold you…
If I could just hold you…
If… I…. If I could just hold you…

(heart wrenching sax)

My Hometown – Bruce Springsteen

Not all sadness is the result of lost love, missed chances, roads not taken. Some deep an unending sadness comes from growing up in a place that no longer exists, in being far away from your family, and farther from a father to whom you were never close. This is existential loss, nostalgia for a place in which you never lived.

“He’d tussle my hair and say son take a good look around. This is your hometown.”

Meet Me In The Dark – Melissa Etheridge

In the long journey of becoming a person there are shadow-moments of which you cannot confirm the existence. Did it happen or was it a dream? And why was it, if not for the most cliched reasons, that you never quite fit in the round holes that held together your town? And why was everything better in college, which, truth be told, wasn’t that far away in geography or culture?

“I know everyone has their unspoken fear. It eats away their senses and their humanity. They carry all their secrets every night down to the river, and they try so hard to drown them. They won’t do that to me.”

“If God made a mistake, then I should die before I wake. Maybe it’s my fate to swim against this tide, swallowing my pride.”

Nightswimming – R.E.M.

Unnamed sadness. Germantown. New Paltz. Charleston. This song is all of it and nothing. I have no clue what it means, but it feels.

“It’s not like years ago. The fear of getting caught. The recklessness of water. They cannot see me naked.”

Always On My Mind – Willie Nelson

Each song has a person, has a name. But some songs are the ones you wish a person would sing for you, would feel for you. Some songs you would sing for yourself if the other was you.

“Little things I should have said and done. I just never took the time.”

Pictures Of You – The Cure

Technology will fade any mode through which we feel. No one carries pictures any more. No one understands bent corners, or plastic covers, or why an image over time might fade. But I recall with great clarity her hands holding up her weight while she sat beneath a piano, smiling. And I still believe that each failure in my life has been the result of word-locks and word-keys, and my own inability to match up the right words in the right moment.

“If only I’d known all the right words, I could have held onto your heart.”

“There was nothing in the world that I ever wanted more than to feel you deep in my heart.”

Stay – Sugarland

Some sadness is not for you, not for the people left behind, but for the struggles you see others going through. Maybe we are all just mist waiting to dissipate. But while we are here the hurt is painfully real, and I would take it on myself rather than let others suffer it.

“It’s too much pain to have to bear, to love someone you have to share.”

For You – Barenaked Ladies

“I have set aside everything I love. I have saved everything else for you.”

Can you think of a more awful line to write? A more awful thought to think? A more awful feeling to feel?

90s bands (whom I love) were all about upbeat music and suicidal lyrics. Barenaked Ladies are no exception. If I were ever listening to this song and someone asked how I was doing I would say, “Fine. I’m fine. Everything is fine.”

Been there.

True Colors – Cyndi Lauper

When I look back on my high school days it’s so easy to see now how many of us were outcasted, in pain, hiding in plain sight. I wish I could go back and apologize, for something I did, for what others did, for everything.

“Show me a smile. I can’t remember when I last saw you laughing.”

I Can’t Make You Love Me – Bonnie Raitt

Every word of this song, every lyric hurts worse and worse as it goes on. It’s like hearing a self-performed autopsy, Dr. Raitt reading into her recorder. First cutting through the chest, spreading ribs, removing the heart, commenting on its weight, its maladies, its various shades.

In this metaphor the chorus is the scalpel, the piano the blood.

Both Sides Now – Joni Mitchell

Why do I always listen to this song on airplanes? And why do I harbor such contempt for the fact that this was written in her 20s? Who knows anything in their 20s? It’s not fair that Ms. Mitchell knew everything. This is the later version from the album of the same name, the one where, really, finally, “It’s life’s illusions that I recall. I really don’t know life at all.”

Flamenco Sketches – Miles Davis

I think perhaps this needs to be up one song in the order. Perhaps if I ended with Bonnie Raitt’s piano and went straight into Miles’s horn. I don’t know if I could handle that though. It’s so fucking brutal.

Black – Pearl Jam

I am partial to stories told in solid objects on which I can hang all my non-solid insecurities. “Sheets of empty canvas. Untouched sheets of clay…”

This may be the hardest love song ever written. I don’t know that I would have ever wanted it dedicated to me, but man could I dedicate it to others. It’s as if Pearl Jam, both in music and lyric reached inside my worst cracks and pulled out my anguish.

Best last line of any song, anywhere, ever: “I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life. I know you’ll be a sun in somebody else’s sky. Why? Why can’t it be? Why can’t it be… mine?

Uninvited – Alanis Morrisette

The last song on the IDT. A piano. A slow build. Alanis carving up my skin, my heart, draining my blood, torturing me with every line and every word. Until I am nothing. Until I am completely broken. And then the full orchestration kicks in.

This song is nothing more than a series of excuses for why we can’t be together, a list of insecurities, a list of frailties, a list of consequences. The last line is in the middle of the song, and it is a promise to return with an answer.

More orchestration.

And the answer never comes.

TBAP: The First Poem

The first thing I will say about the first poem in this year’s BAP is a heartfelt thanks that it is not by John Ashbery. I have nothing against the Godfather, but too many of the BAPs start with his work, and the autobiography and comment in the back of the book is always the same.

Bodhisattva – Sarah Arvio

While I was excited that a new voice would grace the front door of this tavern I was disheartened almost immediately to learn that the new voice was just one generation removed from the previous innkeeper. It’s a game I play with the BAP. Can I guess the age and college associated with the writer? I know my generation, know my people. Over the years it has been heartening to see my Xers start to pepper, and then become fully integrated into, and then be the old guard of the BAP as the millennials come marching in.

But I can tell from the first couplet of the first stanza of Bodhisattva, I can tell that sound is more important than meaning in this poem, that meaning is something I am going to have to find or give up on. It frustrates me. It frustrates me at the end of a poem if I am unmoved, and uninformed, and uninspired. Call me a neo-romantic. Call me a post-postmodernist. Call me a reconstructionist. Call me a snob. I come to a poem to hear the genuine heart-story of a human being. I detest being toyed with.

At the end of the poem I guess the author was born mid-century, maybe Ivy League. I look at the bio and comment in the back of the book (my favorite part of the Best American Poetry). 1954. Taught at Princeton. What infuriates me more are the comments afterwards. Paraphrased: ‘I like how words sound. I played with the sound. I found out later what Bodhisattva meant.’

Good gawd!

You have an opportunity to move minds, to raise consciousness, to share your experience and life and truth. And you use it to play a children’s game. And that is then considered the best American poetry. Baby boomers.

Liveblogging TBAP

One may confuse the homonyms. Rather than simply being “the words that come first”, one might hear “a look at what’s ahead.” But in The Best American Poetry 2015 the series editor, David Lehman, does not look forward in his foreward. Instead he looks back, first as a critique on himself and his forewords over the years, and next on the literary world around him. He has the same gripes he has always had, the same frustrations. Don’t we all?

He then uses a social media / found poem technique, which he found, to show what another editor was able to do, and then what he is able to mimic. Only after highlighting and updating us on these, does he bring us into the present with the Paris attacks in January to lament the fact that poetry doesn’t risk enough, like the brave satirists of Charlie Hebdo. But the pages where a forward-thinking foreword could have started, simply end. And risks nothing.

He then elegizes Sherman Alexie for two pages, and Mark Strand for one.

More than I remember in other years David Lehman uses this space, this once a year performance to mostly navel-gaze. His forward comes off not like a narrator welcoming us to the performance, not like a sage introducing the school, but like a relative showing you their vacation pictures, or a band whose every album you own announces a new release, only to find out it is a greatest hits record.

This foreword is less forward and more an essayic selfie.

And thank God, at least, that David Lehman looked up long enough to give us two pages on Sherman Alexie. Because Alexie decided not to give us a biography, nor a set of poetic concerns, nor a state of contemporary poetry, nor an essay strung together with best lines from the poets, nor a series of similar thoughts among the selected, nor a rationale for selection, nor a behind the curtains look at the selection process. Heck, we didn’t even get an essayic selfie. We got a series of quotes from Alexie, followed by one of his poems.

I don’t even know what to compare it to. Someone emceeing a hall of fame ceremony by starting with clips of their own playing? The owner of a comedy club telling their own jokes before bringing up the MC?

Without metaphor, this is quite simply, someone hosting a poetry reading, and standing up before the show reading off their own aphorisms about poetry. I am aghast. A cranky old man. Upset that those who should be most adept at welcoming folks to the Best American Poetry show on earth instead wasted their time and space on their own machinations.

I think somewhere in the foreward Lehman laments that poetry (and education) are not being used in the service of riskier, more important, bigger things. Then why waste, and allow waste, of these few pages, of this sacred space?

Liveblogging The Best American Poetry

I began reading the Best American Poetry anthologies in 1997. It was a gift for my birthday that year. The first few volumes I own have scribbles on each page espousing the quick reaction of a 25, 26, 27… year old me. When I look back I sometimes agree, and sometimes think, “that dumbass didn’t know anything.”

At some point social media allowed me instantly to reach out to the poets who moved me, whose work was so delicious you immediately wanted them to know they just wrecked you. They are my people. And some are now my friends.

Every year I look forward to walking into an actual bookstore and buying what sometimes is the only physical book I purchase all year. And while I know that reading The Best American Poetry is about as valuable as only listening to top 40 radio and does not reflect the undercurrent, the pulse, the river, the soul of poetry it is still a valuable ritual to me.

Each year I love to see the take, the angle, the current events, the mindset, the zeitgeist that the guest editor and the poets selected take. I love the notes in the back. I love the poets that excite me, that frustrate me, that bore me, the ones I just don’t get.

This year I thought I would take something that started as personal scribbling, that matured into awkward stalking, and turn it into live journaling. This may take a few months. And I will often be quick, and judgey, and bitchy, and wrong. All love.

And congratulations to the authors for being in the Best American Poetry. You are my lifeline to the poetry world. And to this world, which needs more and more storytellers. Always.

Live To This World

“It’s only a choice. No effort. No work. No job. No saving of money. Just a choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your door, buy bigger guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love, instead, see us all as one.” – Bill Hicks

No matter what the plutonic truth of our reality, whether we are one coherent soul creating an illusion of itself or a rash of individual, temporal, corporeal beings, here once and then gone, the experience of this world cannot be denied.

There is, in this world, great tragedy and great pain; a gap between the world as it could be, if we were indeed angels, and the world as it is, profited on and run as a competition to the death by our demons.

There is loss, and sadness, and the terrible truth and unfairness of our fragile, incapable, and doomed bodies. We get very little right. We hold very little together. We lose too much in translation, and love each other far differently than we are loved.

“Ninety-nine percent of the world’s lovers are not with their first choice. That’s what makes the jukebox play.” ― Willie Nelson

What is one to do?

If nothing else we are learning beings who need not be made the fool. So once we know the pain of a fall, the crash of steel, the quick cold hand with which this earth takes back her flesh, we next time flinch. And the time after that, recognize early the acid of the situation and strategize about how to avoid, to protect, and to fight back.

It would be quite the dumb animal who walks daily into the ice cold stream until he is slashed, and consumed, and washed away. And yet, it is that old fish, descaled and barbed in the mouth, the claw marks on a balded mountain lion, the dog missing one leg who runs to the door excited with with every knock, who loves this life. Who is happy.

“When you stop caring what people think, you lose your capacity for connection. When you’re defined by it, you lose our capacity for vulnerability.” – Brene Brown

If we stay open to this world we must face its madness, its horrors, its imperfect systems that rig the game for those who are like those in charge. We must miss, desperately, our best loves, and watch those who needn’t die die. If we are open we must love and we must cry. And still love.

The alternative is to become cold, and quiet, and safe beneath layers of tricks and thick leather which protects our skin from scars but also from sunlight such that we feel nothing. A snail pink and slimy in flesh.

And that would be right. That would be what a wise animal would do. They would learn. They would not be so dumb as to still love and surrender. They would not be so dumb as to love.

I need you to love me

In my age and frailty. In my anger and hostility. With my political leanings opposed to yours, with my broken soul, armed and unyielding, in my protection. In my manipulations. When you see me on the island of the highway with a sign.

When I don’t speak your language. Though I came here avoiding your laws. When I don’t have health care. When I can’t afford groceries. When the neurons in my brain are so jumbled I can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality. When we share no reality.

Have nothing in common.

When I am dark. Cold in my disposition. Pained in every inch of my body. When every portrayal of me in the media suggests I am loose, and cheap, and easy to treat like property. Easier to simply ignore. When I am petty. When I am overconfident. When I am devout.

When I am not interested in your opinion and don’t trust you have my best interest. When I am arrested. When I am irritated. When I am resisting. When I am convicted. When I am tried in the court of public opinion.

I need you, in that moment, to look at me and see kin, see friend. I need you to look on me with the unconditional love of a mother. With the wide eyes of a child. With the proud protection of a father. With the simplest solutions in mind. If I am hungry, feed me. If I am cold, clothe me. If I am ill take me to someone who can help.

See in me not the other, but kith. Ask yourself what you would do if you knew my name. If we had gone together to third grade, to the prom, through orientation. If I had been the one to protect you when no one protected you. If we held hands in the hospital.

What would you do if you loved me? If I was your ghost, the long lost you still adore. The one you think about in sleep, who you would do anything for. If I called, even today. In the middle of any night. Or anytime.

The half of you you miss desperately, who returned, after once getting away.

Music Moves Me

All I ask of a song in it’s few moments inside me is to pry from my rigid musculature a wash of emotion. I do not come to it to be entertained, nor absolved, nor removed, nor distracted. At its end I want to tear up, or to grin knowingly. To suppress a laugh, to be a ball of rage, or helium alight with elation. I want to feel.

And more than any art or storytelling, more than paintings or movies, even more than the poetry which makes me, music has successfully cut through my calculations, my strategies, my self-formed turrets of armaments to beat back reason.

It’s unreasonable, that the voice of the singer, the words of the songwriter atop the drumbeat in concert with the whine of guitars should pass unslowed through and into my heart. But it pries open my mind and leaves behind a valley where the runoff trapped in the mountains can collect to irrigate, and feed, and overwhelm the village.

So many opening riffs. So many brutal lyrics. So many cracks in cleanly held notes. It’s in the throat. In the center of our will, where we voice or truth. In the threat to tear down our world, or to admit it has already been torn down. That’s it. Make me feel.

Nothing else matters to me, not your training nor packaging, not your noise or technique. If you can speak to the frailest leaves in me, and move them in the breeze, or bathe them, or convince them it’s alright to fall, you have me. Will always have me.

The Hope of Death

What happens after you die? Or more to the point, what do you believe happens?

What actually will happen will. But, what you believe will tells us something, not about death but about oneself. The clearer question, “What do you hope for in death?”

I hope for, what we all hope for, that which we have not yet found in life. Another chance, with a clean slate. To live eternal, and unfrail, and unaging with the ones I love. For the peace of nothingness. For the peace of somethingness. To touch God.

To have answers. To be wiped clean of sin. To be rid of this flesh, what with its desires and impulses, its niggles, and frailties, and agonies, its built-in prejudices. To be joined rather than separate. To not be a slave to hormones, and bones.

What happens? Magic.

All your wishes come true in an instant. Everyone you love laid bare, without agenda or limitation. To know the heart of each other. To know the heart of the universe. To laugh at space and choice that keeps us apart. To be positive. Sure. Assured. Loved. To create without translation. To translate thought without flesh. To see with perfect clarity. To not itch. To be perfect, and beautiful, and ideal. To have all and lose nothing. To love everyone. To be everyone.

To come home. To be home. To be, finally, alive.

Love, Bones, Remains

You were another outside
of me, a voice, a scent, a shape,
a body. An aspiration I wished
could love me. You did. We lived
together closer until your love
of me became a skin, an armor
against cold and darkness. You
loved me in perfect concert.
Then seams, cracks in the husk
of me, swaths where I could see
myself again; blue, lonely, ugly.
I guessed you loved me less,
had other interests. The horrid
thoughts I had of me. That you
could forget. That I was unworthy
of you loving me. Then we hit
earth, ran aground, afoul of a reef
between you and me with coral
deep enough to cut us. It didn’t.
I learned your love of me wasn’t
an armor falling off, but sinking
in, becoming the bones of me,
giving shape, invisible. Allowing us
to walk, invincible. Until the day
the soft, false outsides of us
fails to remake itself. Until
nothing but our love-bones
remain will I doubt our shape,
doubt your love of me, or trust
the mirror over your laughter,
over your sense, your confidence,
which shapes and steels me.

Excerpt of an Actual Debate Between Fake Candidates

(already in progress)

Cormack: And I am tired of candidates from the other side of the aisle running down success, and achievement, and wealth. We need more wealthy people in this country, not fewer. And free market capitalism is the way we get there. It is the greatest force for wealth creation in the history of civilization.

Leon: Correct. My opponent has finally said something correct. Capitalism is a great way to create wealth. But it is a terrible way to distribute it. No one doubts that there is a great sea of money in the United States, nor that manufacturing, and entrepreneurship, and investment have helped create it. But once created, wealth, and therefore power, in America becomes stagnant at the top.

C: I have four questions for my opponent. Yeah? And? So? What? The government has no right to come in and take the money you created and give it to someone who did nothing to earn it. If you are the one who created the wealth shouldn’t you be the one to keep it, to enjoy the fruits of your labor? It’s your money.

L: The fruits of your labor? Now, let’s be honest, working on Wall Street or in the corner suite is not labor. It takes strategy and intellect, yes. But let’s not call it labor. The front line folks with dirty hands and sore backs, that’s labor. Second, why should you get to keep the wealth you create? You don’t get to keep the car that you make, or the iPhone, or the artwork, or the textiles, or anything. Once you create something you find a way to distribute it to as many Americans as possible, and money shouldn’t be any different.

C: You know you just pissed off every business owner in America, right?

L: Only the ones in the corner suites. (Audience laughs)

Four Days

The first day starts at dawn. Well, just before dawn, as soon as the purple curtain surrenders its battle, as the light illuminates the paste of the ceiling.

What’s with us, that we see beginnings in the dead of night, in the dark of the year, in the void of space?

The first day is all about work, creativity, productivity. It ends around three, at the height of the heat.

Awake again at 4:30. Refreshed. Home. Family. The second day includes dinner, chores, someone real or pixelated telling a story. The second day is engagement.

We lie in a bed welcoming the third. This day is all sleep; lucid, creative, dreaming. A book to seed our journey. The third day is unconscious but aware, a form of surrender to madness, to the artist, to the engineer, to that which must be processed.

The fourth day starts at three, in the coldness of the morning. No one else is awake, nothing to work on. Breath at this hour has a roundness to it. It is warm and ovoid, like cupped hands, the shape of water molecules, the teabag, the mug, the amorphous cloud of steam.

Every element was born inside a star, heat and pressure enough to force attraction and love. Although we have cooled to this set form I can remember wanting you with such ferocity I did not see anything except you, brighter than the surrounding light.

The fourth day reminds me of this, of our life.

Out of Practice

The muscles atrophy. The voice that insisted has since moved on, or been placated by some well-written sitcom. The words of other artists are enough. The box has been emptied of all its stuff. But there’s a list somewhere. Ideas that made sense when you were fitter, when you sat down a bit sore to see what your fingers might explore. A gunshot must have gone off. When you search for the sound that drove you there’s just a dull ringing, and hope. Muscles are elastic, and selfish. Quick to go liquid, and quick to snap back. So you push. Tell yourself the first thing need not be good, the first ten things. You run down the street flabby, hoping to trip on a kiss of something on the wind.

What’s The Matter, America?

If you think what’s wrong with America is other Americans, we have no hope.

In America there will always be zealots. There will always be farmers, and jocks, and Ivy League frat boys, and transexual activists, and pencil pushers, and rednecks, and liberal elites, and greedy Wall Street agro edge sorters, and supremacists, and peaceniks, and lobbyists, and volunteers, and Girl Scouts, and folks looking for a fight, and folks looking for a break, and moochers, and bailers, and vengeful death penalty supporters. Come up with any slogan or plan or solution. But if you are hoping there will be fewer blasé, bourgeois, leave me alone, uninformed, get off my lawn, middle class folk, if your plan requires there to be less radicals on either side, less left or less right you are more quixotic than I.

If, however, you believe what’s wrong with America is how we organize ourselves, the structures by which we execute the ideals we believe in, the way we are sorted, and represented, and measured, and counted, well, then we can talk. We can debate wildly. We can engineer. We can create. We can redesign.

The Constitution of the United States of America is essentially a document protecting property rights. It lays out who owns what and how, intellectual and actual, and what little powers our government has in impeding on those private rights. It cools the passions of the masses. It sorts the selections of Senators and Presidents. It splits power and creates bureaucracy to make it ineffectual. It does not consider those who do not, or cannot, own property as anything more than someone else’s property. We have amended it since, mostly to further limit the powers of the government, sometimes to free, or recognize, or enfranchise a people.

Is this our most appropriate structure? Is it time for a new OS? Do we still believe that for our free society there are more and less valuable people, that property owners are worth more than renters, that entrepreneurs are more valuable than consumers, that breeders are more necessary than those who do not (or cannot) breed, that the college graduate is worth more than the high-school dropout, that the inventor or the aspirational is worth more than the lumpy and the satisfied?

The problem in America is not Americans. And if it is we will never succeed. What we need are new blueprints that will most allow the most of us to contribute the whole of ourselves to the whole most successfully. What we need, if we think we need to improve at all, is new design thinking.

If Time Were Space

You are born at full speed. Falling. Falling at the same rate as your mother. At the same rate as your mother and father and everyone and everything around you. Terminal velocity. Zero acceleration. Nothing to feel.

The length of your life, of the life of your family, and your lineage, and your civilization, and recorded history is longer than the distance between you and the massive body into whose gravity you are consistently falling. No one you know will ever reach.

Your species has evolved to sense only in the direction in which you are all falling. Eyes front. Memory back. The ones who have long survived are those who have worried and planned and prognosticated and considered history in only one direction. No point considering anything but what you might pass through.

To try to conceptualize moving in reverse would be pointless. How can one move against time’s gravity? To try to consider the idea of left and right would be silly. The singularity keeps you on a taut trajectory. The ability of beings to move freely in all directions could only exist in the imagination of the stoned and the certifiable.

Questions for the inventors in this existence:

– How could one detect others around me, though not in my timeline?

– Which sense(s) could best be used to uncover this falling?

– How can we find the singularity?

– How does one measure speed without acceleration, against a infinite or empty backdrop?

– What device could we create that would float, or rise, or slow, or move off to the side while sending back telemetry?

– Before we dream to travel in it, how can we test if it is there?

The Seconds

I am not in competition with a movie for your attention. I am not in competition with a rock star on a bus headed by highway to the venue. I am not in competition with Xbox 360 for the hand-eye coordination of a fourteen year old. Storytelling is not about the dollar, because those who do it for air and sustenance only get paid as an accidental consequence. When my favorite playwright sat down to rework scene three to better grasp the opportunity for a character to unleash ever-so-subtly the depth of their being, I know by assurance that he was not thinking about whether the dialogue would sell more tickets. People stumble onto work, onto stories and songs and sculptures that will split wide the universe and change the default color of the sky. I asked a student if they had yet met someone who, by their sheer presence, altered the structure of a room, changed the way air conditioning feels, the way a shirt fits. They had not. Had not yet. I am not in competition with the rare moment when everyone sees the same film, reads some suddenly necessary and implosive novel. No. I am fighting against roughly the right word, against nearly the image which mostly butts up against what I almost want to say. I am in struggle with a slant-rhyme of meaning, with acceptance of my limitations, with the uncut agony that is walking out of a room, across a country, into another life while an Ideal has children, and a spouse, and is very happy.

A Delusion

I have been operating under a delusion, a delusion driven mainly by ego.

By the third grade I thought it was clear that our class was exceptional, at least in the narrative of our school. By third grade we were beating the fifth and sixth graders in sports, in aptitude, on tests. By sixth grade we had athletes ready for JV, by seventh grade varsity. When we graduated we were the first class to have raised a surplus of funds that we donated to the incoming freshmen, and to the charities of our choice.

College felt different for us, like we entered in a meaningful year, took the reigns, and made things happen. Even as soon as our sophomore year we decried the blandness of those just one year behind. I am convinced, as I have said in other poetry, that I have loved the finest women of mine (or any) generation, known the finest men, a delusion driven by ego.

Statistics will tell you that my high school was below average, that we graduated too few, sent to college too few. I attended a state school, which means none of us will be President, and none will be diplomats, though I can look on the TV and see people that I know you know. I chose the easier grad school, befriended the exceptional there, and thought them exceptional, married (the first time) someone who turned out to be quite ordinary.

It’s a delusion, this thought that I have rode shotgun with those who would and could and did change the world. As for the continued scaffolding that holds up this view, for that I thank Facebook. Because well many decry its ability to highlight the fakeness of life, as if we are all simply baby pictures and great meals, it keeps me connected with the ones with whom I continue to be exceptionally impressed. And it shows me only the highlights of their, most likely, ordinary lives.

What great thoughts. What great energies. My friends.

I would sacrifice it all for a weekend in some hotel, in some obscure city where we all could meet, to be cut off from electronics and families, to stay up all night talking about intractable problems, about philosophical conundrums, about literature, or formulas, or the greatest vista for watching the sun set.

I see us all as French Impressionists, as the first meeting of Zulu Nation, as Einstein and Feynmen and Heisenberg working out our problems. I never thought of us as normal. I never expected less than great art, outlandish jokes, exceptional storytelling, inventions. I refused to believe any of us could fall into the worst of insults, that we were normal, or ordinary.

On that premise I have built my castle, on an illusion of ego, on a foundation of false concrete.


There is a world, antithetical to this one. More dangerous. Not just its opposite, its destruction. Its end. Were I to knock off the the spigot of reality, as Aldous Huxley recommended, this other world would flood in. Indeed, it shares our space and our time. And since time, we have glimpsed it. Music, image, dance, words. The physicists are just now nudging into it.

I wake in the morning connected to no thing, and feel first the weight of the blanket on top of me. Cotton, down, foam filling. I push them off and in doing so tie myself to plants, those that manufacture and the ones that grow. I tie myself to engineers, designers, line workers who keep the sheets coming. I am not yet awake. I put on my glasses, assigned and prescribed by an ophthalmologist, cut from plastic, derived from oil, descended from dinosaurs, hundreds of millions of years old.

The weight of my physical body succumbs to gravity. I am tied to this, here, earth. The rockers are right when they tell you that music can set you free. The censors are right when they lament that the music is deadly. It is this other world, this world without gravity, without limitations of arms and proper prescriptions. The right paintings, like anti-protons, tear down here, reality.

Some people are doing well. They read through the rules on the inside of the box and figured out how to fail, how to succeed, and how to measure, theirs and others, success. They buy shares. They win elections. The own a swath of land and a mode of transportation.

I haven’t added soap yet but the water feels good. I choose a temperature that peaks the interests of my nerves but does not overwhelm, allows my mind to wander. On a good day it lands on a song. The sound of a splattered yoke hitting hot grease. Call those who pass between worlds what you will, artist, shaman, inmate, hoodlum. The people for whom this world works seem like poor candidates.

The priests are correct. Another life awaits. As are the playwrights. As is the mortician. This other world only brings death, meaning that which cannot survive here. I see them, bohemians, soaked in alcohol, mired in prison, hidden on mountains, sleeping in alleys.

I am not yet awake, and already have moored myself to chickens, to China, to great cables of data spanning the Atlantic, to cocked triggers of guns, to weeds in the yard, to scientist-researchers trying to relieve suffering. Suffering. Living in one world and being pulled by the other. A word comes. A whisper. A song. An urge to move the body inefficiently. A draw. To tag the side of a building.

All their productivity happens like clock-work, at prescribed times, in certain locales. But I am in a cave scratching at the walls. I’ll be late. Trying to take notes on a melody. It’s calling. It has always been calling. No act of arousal, nor investment, nor well-cooked recipe has slowed it. My death is imminent. Every time I stop to listen, I am trying to die.

Face Fear

I’m a good one to have around in a crisis. The systems of shock and flinch instilled in my body are, for some unknown reason, effortlessly time-delayed and easily tamped down. Thrown into the middle of any situation, I can check whatever emotional response I should be having and simply deal with the mechanics at hand. After the drama has passed, be that a near miss on the highway or a night in the ER, my body shakes, uncontrollably, but only for a few seconds. Whatever has been building up inside takes over for a few moments and I give into it. I thought this was fear. I labelled it fear.

Standing over the precipice of a controlled fall, a leap requiring technique, think parachute or bungee, a gymnastics bar release, I find another face of fear. Refusal. Not shaking or anxious. No voice screaming in my head or painting horrible scenes of what might go wrong. Simply, and silently a refusal to take one step forward, to do the deed.

How had I come this far in life never knowing that fear? How had I managed, and managed is the right word here, to only put myself in situations where I was willing to continue plodding forward tamped down and delayed. My brain has been playing a cunning game of chess for decades, thinking ten moves ahead. “Stay on the side roads.” – “No need to go to the doctor.” – “Children are more hassle than they are worth.”

It’s not that I haven’t risked. It’s that the risks have all been chips I’ve no problem losing. So I have run with my head. I have leapt on solid ground. I have considered and researched, planned and executed, a life of good and non-lethal challenges. And I have declared myself impervious to fear. Because in it’s vaccinated form I have used it to build up immunity.

So what do I do once I see it wriggling, and me unmoving?

In Loving Memory

It’s not simply that the soul can break off into a thousand pieces, it’s not that it has the potential ability. It does. It breaks. The sea-sauce of which we are made is blended a thousand times over, so much so, that it is impossible to say what is me and what is you. Air, flesh, food. No one has sat in an empty room. Genetics, lineage, traits, habits, lies.

All lies. The memories of people we keep, our barest form of truth.

The flesh is a semi-permeable membrane. We can only hold ourselves together for an eighth of a blink. And when we die, when the soul, crooked and bent and rusted into a pound of flesh, explodes out again into freedom, we all feel it. It hurts.

That which was my father, mother, friend for as long as I can remember now belongs back to everything. She spins through me. He calls to speak. And I have no defense. I must listen. My skin is useless and porous.

I can feel you as powerful as a newborn, strong like a volcano, pure, like the first urges of love.

In truth, we are a hundred trillion molecules, and one.

Either You Believe

Either you believe that people in their hearts are good, that they want to do good work, that they wake up in the morning and choose to do the best they can with the voices and arms and thoughts they have, and if you believe this then you have no problem giving them food when they are hungry, or money when they are poor, or an ear, or love, or you believe that people are conniving, that they are lazy, that they are mean and looking for a shortcut.

Either you believe that people are generous of heart, that they will do good with any extra money they make, that they wake up in the morning and choose to do the best they can with the voices and power and plans they have, and if you believe this then you have no problem giving thme space to operate, leeway when they are rich, or your ideas, your best work, your love, or you believe that people are ruthless, that they are greedy, that they seek to wield unchecked power.

Regulations. Governments. Police. They can make nothing legal. They can free no one. We are already free. We can choose to do anything. Your imagination is already free. No one is freed. The state can only make things illegal. It can only criminalize otherwise open behavior and kill you to enforce that criminalization. It can only force action, not the content of your heart. It can only make more sinners. If you believe, that we are already saints.

The Volume of Voices

“You have a voice speaking to you?”
“About me. Accurately, and with a better vocabulary.” – Stranger Than Fiction

A student brings a TED talk to class, in which the presenter started hearing a seemingly innocuous voice narrating her life. The voice is nothing more than an annoyance until she tells her friend that she is hearing it. The friend freaks out, the hearer feels embarrassed, the voice starts to get upset, doctors get involved, and it all rolls down hill from there. The hearer drops out of school, gets admitted, gets control, comes back, starts a foundation and gives a TED talk.

The student asks the class, “What would you have said to your friend?” And my immediate thought, which I hold until after their first few responses, comes out as, “I thought we all heard voices. No?” Silence. A room full of college freshmen is trying to figure out what they have stumbled into. Is their professor mad? Is he trying to be contrary, to bring up another point of view? A voice in my head says, “Well… you brought the students this far. Keep going.”

There have always been voices. Voices describing the world around me. Voices commenting on how Kathrin’s hair looked in the light coming through the window in math class in high school. Voices running scenarios for conversations that need to happen with co-workers or friends. Voices just a few seconds ahead of what I am saying (or writing), digging through the thesaurus in my mind for a better, more accurate, more erudite word. In my writing, when I compose a list of three alternative ways of saying the same thing (see previous sentence) it is a voice that was trying to find the one right way to say it. There are voices asking me big questions. Voices offering alternative answers to big questions. Voices asking “what if” to lesson plans, and product roll-outs, and hypothetical situations. There is always a voice with something mean and wicked to say. Always a voice with some sarcastic retort. And somewhere there is a voice in the background, most often asleep and snoring, who only yells, who when it is awake, only howls.

They have always been there. Sometimes a new one emerges. None have ever gone away.

I have often described my head as a stage with a single microphone, and whoever runs up on stage gets their say. But that’s not my head. That’s my mouth. In my head, all the voices are backstage practicing. All are paying close attention to the action before the curtain. None knows when they will be needed. And whom am I in all this? It’s easy, and partly true, to say I am all of them. It’s more accurate to say I am the sound engineer (the sarcastic voice in my head just said, “Even in your head you’re an AV geek”). I’m the one who runs the board and controls the volume of the voices.

When I was younger I had less control of those sliders. When a woman I was drawn to would walk into the room a sexist, a poet, a comic, and a gentlemen would all pop-up and vie for attention.
“Look at her body! How the curve of her neck bends down into her shoulder. She has such awesome shoulders. She is so hot!”
“Hey, here’s a great line: The room was a vacuum/of air and light/until you turned the handle/to day from night. Write that down, man. Write her a poem.”
“Make her laugh. Tell her the one about the string walking into the bar. A frayed knot. Afraid not. It’s hilarious”
“Take her coat. Clear a seat. Compliment her hair. Ask her about her day. Really listen.”

It was a lot to process in the moment. But I’ve learned control. I no longer rage when someone irritates me. I no longer flinch at every accomplished, attractive woman who walks in the room. I no longer write down every questionable line of poetry. Well, to be more accurate, I no longer do those things outwardly. As I said, all the voices still exist. I now simply have control of the volume.

When I sit down to write, you will often see me cock my head to one side. My mouth tightens and my eyes close. It’s an odd tick. But it’s not a tick. I am trying to push some voice aside and bring another to the fore. I am trying to hear something amid the noise. I am reaching for the voice that has the next line, this line.

I thought (“Say think. Keep it present tense.”) every one had some sort of voiceover in their head, some narrator. When I saw it in movies, I did not consider it to be a plot device or metaphor. Am I wrong? Should I stop teaching college freshmen and get some medication? Or, is it enough that I have learned control, that whatever damage I was going to do in my life is behind me, that the voices are now managed and helpful and useful? Should I keep this to myself and not publish it?

“You’ve come this far. Seriously, what kind of damage can telling the truth do? Copy, paste, publish. Keep going.”

The End of All Ends

The end is coming. Let me join the long line of doomsayers who wish to predict the end of the world. The end is coming.

Sometime in the next five billion years the sun, which is the source of all our energy, will expand and envelop and demolish the earth. Imagine, for a moment, every town and city and house, every historical venue and world-wonder, every layer of sediment, ever fossil, every satellite and all the servers that hold all the knowledge that we have ever known, gone. And probably, nothing we can do to stop it. We are about halfway through the story of this planet. The end is coming.

For a moment though, let’s go back to the beginning. At the start of this planet something happened. There is no way to know, yet, if it has happened on other planets or in other galaxies. But we know, by our existence, that it happened here. Something in the gas clouds and cooling magmas, something in the magnetic fields and electrical storms, some combination of events gave rise to consciousness. Sometime in, one would guess, the first billion years of the planet, this world grew to recognize that it, itself, existed. And quite soon after that, perhaps in the second billion years, came to realize that at some point it would no longer exist. And so, consciousness set up to build things, devices, beings.

It would be very difficult for an army of ants to move the mountain on which they have built their colony. It would be difficult for the mass of humanity to move the earth on which it thrives. It would be exceedingly challenging for dinosaurs or whales or redwood forest to move the locales in which they live out of the way of the expanding sun and their eminent destruction. Difficult. But without the bodies that make up these creatures it would be impossible. And consciousness realized this and settled for a rather difficult challenge instead of impossible. We are the machines that are probably about halfway through consciousness’s building.

There are probably, really, three possibilities. One, we could use the earth, the source of all our fuel and being, as a spaceship, find a way to add propulsion to it and ride it out beyond the rim of what our sun will become. The challenges with this solution are two-fold. One, the earth is a really delicate place. A shift on it’s axis or too much of one or the other gases and the whole place topples over into something different. Two, the source of all our heat and light and energy is the sun that we need to outrun. In cold dead space what will we use as fuel? Perhaps the molten core at the center of the earth? Perhaps.

The second possibility is that we build ships, load up everything we can off the earth into metallic boxes and head out into the universe. We still have the question of a fuel source. We have questions about how long to sleep and what is the length of a day when we no longer live on a twisting earth near a vortexing sun. There are a thousand other engineering puzzles that we need to overcome. But, in our mindshare of stories this seems to be our most popular possibility. The caution needed here is that if we are taking everything with us, we need to take everything. It is not enough to simply sustain human life. Human life is just one of the many containers of consciousness, and if we just take these bodies and a few food sources, we will quickly see how little we hold within ourselves, growing mad and thin and lonely.

The third possibility is to care very little about these bodies. After all, before they were flesh, these bodies were ooze, and dirt, and chemicals. We needed them to get off this thing, but they are not consciousness. We could find a way to send consciousness, devoid of flesh, off into the cosmos. It would certainly be lighter and less prone to issues of gravity and death. It would certainly require less maintaining. And haven’t we started this process? Sending radio signals and Voyager out, sending out a record of things. But a record, static and cold, is only the beginning of success. It is not enough to send proof that we existed, snapshots and photographs. We want to send consciousness, intact, in process, out, continuing. This is all of invention, everything we have been doing. Every time we create a tinier device that can hold more information with less power and be more sturdy. Everything from Gutenberg to nano-technology, we continue to ask the same question. How can we sustain consciousness in as little hardware as possible?

As for these bodies, ours, our food’s, viruses. They are very little to worry about. If it takes us another billion years to figure this problem out, the flesh at the time will be something very different we send out. It’s an interesting filter to consider the issues of the day through. Why bother with some people who are living in squalor? Why care that some are hogging all the resources? Why include people of different orientations, mindsets, abilities, histories in the conversation of saving our consciousness? Because we must sift through ideas from everywhere. We must try everything. There is as much chance that success will come from the edges as it will from anywhere in the center. Because an army of ants trying to lift a mountain is damn near impossible. Doing it with some people tied behind your back makes it that much more challenging and completely foolish.

The end is coming. There are forces greater than our consciousness that will destroy us. Here is the call to every scientist to study the nature of consciousness. Try to figure out how it began, and more importantly, how we can transport it out of reach of the red giant our sun will become. To all clergy, look into your divine history. Reread about gardens and arks, about covenants and surrendering to God, about suffering and unity. Teach us what your traditions say about how to get us off this crazy thing. To the power-brokers, your influence means nothing if it is only meant to make your own people safe and comfortable. We will all die in unison if we can’t solve the near impossible.

Oh, and if we do nothing. If we, in this human form, twist the earth on its axis or release too much gas, do not worry. We have come through, we figure, five extinction level events where almost every little consciousness holding device on earth has been destroyed. We can go through another. It just means we need to start over on the puzzle. And, even if that ends up being what happens, we should probably leave some clues behind for the next bodies. After all, isn’t that what fossils and amber are for?

Imagine an impassioned speech here, something from your favorite book or movie. Just place it in your mind in this paragraph. We will either succeed or we will not. We will either work to create an embodiment that can survive the blankness of space, or yet another extinction, or we will not. The quest will go on, the plan laid out in those first billion years. Outrun our own demise. Allow consciousness to survive. Everything else is play time, and distraction, and the work of mortals. Everything we should be doing is to prevent the end of all ends.


I’m never going to hit a baseball
in a perfect upward angle
over the twisting head of a left fielder who takes one step

just in case, to calculate
the arc and the speed of that now elliptical projectile
twisting over the horizon.

That revolution, of my shoulders around my body,
of the interlocking leather
laces around the ball, of my spikes around the base pads,

that opportunity is gone to me.
Gone because I was born left-handed with one bad eye
and taught to throw and hit right.

Gone because I never practiced, obsessively. Gone because
no one gets to keep their first love.
Gone because all things in life are like playing ball.

Even when you are on the mound
twisting your fingers over the laces of the thing trying to find
your grip, you hold nothing

for long. At best it’s a hot potato that must be thrown
round the horn, or brought in,
or cut off, of beaten back with a well-angled stick.

In the rare moments you can hold it,
life or a baseball, it is best done with a thick glove,
dug out of the dirt and brushed off,

picked from the sky and thrown in, fast as you can.
I’ll never write that novel, win the Nobel,
have my work held up as anything other than utility.

The veins on my hands
are starting to pronounce themselves. Mirror desaturates the colors.
Everything’s going grey.

What I’m telling is a fine tale unfolding in the fifth inning,
an interesting brush stroke
or two, the way the paint has dripped and dries

into thick raised lines. What I have now
are things to cheer for from the stands, an imagination smacking
the sound of a balled up fist into a mitt.

A Thank You

To the almond-eyed friends who learned to love me
despite a loud voice and no sense of propriety.

To the muscled walls of jeers and fists who used me
as a butt of jokes and pushed me to move.

To the ideals who refused to allow me to stay close
and instead remained on the other side of subtlety.

To my hatreds and my hobbies that have stuck
to my skin no matter how often I’ve itched them

Our animal natural is close, a thousand pounds
on our chest, a weight on every bone.

Though we may like to fly, gravity and rage grounds,
a warm meal granting out bellies a moment to dream.

The Two

I didn’t want to hand write
this to you. I wanted to call
on an old phone. I wanted
to board a train wearing
white robes. Sleep in a flat
car, rocking in meditation
while we crossed the river.

I wanted to switch into my best
jeans and tell you twenty years
in the past that I know now
what afflicts me. I’ve been
coming into sync with myself,
slowly. Traveling both directions.

That I look out the window
sometimes into my own
reflection in passing. Off
again. The two noses
are coming close. The clocks

are slowed, these new
moments big enough to fill
the car of a train, the vinyl
seats where we sit opposite

each other smiling, healed
by some wrinkle in space.
Finally, face to face.

Show For Show

You won’t know me, at the costume party where we’ve agreed to
meet. I’m hoping to be invisible to you, to add to the murder mystery.

When you show, please be arrogant and beautiful, with great lines
and curves. Slow down just a heartbeat when you pass me. I’ll

run below your radar. It’s a game we play. But not without purpose.
Our hello will have meaning. An impact on the discourse. A dent

in the snow and static, dialing in the picture. Sharp in color and
contrast. Show for show. Only to make the meaning more meaningful.

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.


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.


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.


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
The breaks that never heal.
The fasciae that cannot
be unstretched. Bronze baby
shoes now a weight
in some landfill.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.

Who Kills With A Gun or A Review of the Unbelievers

I wonder sometimes where the massacre would have started, where people would have hid, which teacher would have stood like a shield and which might have tripped me. The voice of that belittled fifteen year old wonders still about the logistics of gym class, with its locker storage and sheer number of targets, its embarrassment and irony and meaning, versus recess, where the fearful could have run while the hunter hunts.

A fun game is to watch those of certain qualities berate that quality, the fake decrying a lack of genuineness, the vicious lamenting cruelty, well-made-up beauties upset that people notice only their bodies, the gay homophobic congressman.

The righteous are the ones who allow themselves to be unequivocal.

My voices. The kid with the crayons, the sneak at Christmas, the dumped in college, the broken professional, the ogre throwing hands through walls. If I listen close I can still hear the titter of a five year old making angels in the snow.

Rage is just a volume.

When you film a documentary about the openness of scientists, about their willingness to have everything they know proven wrong, you might want to cast scientists who are open, who don’t unequivocally know, who might be wrong.

Fox News is reporting the desire of people in remote areas of the world to spread a message of hate. They have sent a camera crew to broadcast their findings.

I have loved those who would not have loved me back no matter the convincing. I have seen mountains too big to consume. I do not think we can raise the dead, or live forever, or outrun our own egos. These are not engineering problems.

I remember learning to tie my shoes.

The scientists are upset at the believers for not allowing us to admit (and then solve) climate change, upset at the mischaracterization of evolution, upset that an archbishop would make a poor biologist.

The scientists created climate change. Scientists built the nuclear reactors of the industrial age, the predator drone, the musket, the trebuchet. They broke it.

Your film helps little more than a wet-whilly.

The kid never gets to the point of deciding. Sometimes it’s a hallway in between periods. Sometimes its with some form of gas. Sometimes the gun has a silencer.

Their argument is that religion keeps us dumb, that it prevents the whole race from moving forward. Think of the wars fought in the names of Gods. Think of the wars won by those with better weapons.

It’s about hearts and minds. It’s about beliefs and problem solving. It’s also about capability.

Answer me this: if kids are cruel, how should we live as a species? I’ll take any solution, from any quarter, if you can tell me how we stop a bully.

What Does It Take To Heal?

The challenge with capitalism is that it is a game of playing the angles. Any edge you can get, be it political, technological, parasitic, personal, or financial the system encourages. Any attempt to even the playing field, to inject some reasonableness is seen as taking away someone’s advantage, labeled as an affront to fairness, an attack on the system, called un-American. The irony is that even this objection is only a front, a tool to gain another edge.

After thirty-five years of having a crush on K., scrawling her name on the rock, carrying poems around in my head and my heart, lamenting some scene in a hallway in sixth grade, I let it go. It happened in an instant after reading she was chairman of the board of one organization and, of another, CEO. I could never have loved her in a way to make her life richer. What captain of industry should marry a fool committed to fawning over you, singing of your beauty daily?

I was taught, and learned, that running a store was about people, was about changing lives, was about pushing the human race and making the world a better place. I never gave a shit about stockholders, about P&L, about the RD coming this week who needed to be managed and wooed. My store always looked beautiful.

How about a tax based on success. At the end of the year we figure how much the government spent, how much each person is worth, and you pay your percentage. Total wealth of the US population, 10 trillion (hypothetical). Your net-worth, $2500 (assets minus debts). You owe .000025% of whatever we spent (not sure on the math there, nor the poetics).

The problem is I don’t have irrefutable evidence. Yet, even without it I’m convinced I could love you better. Convinced there is a solution. Convinced we do not need to be headed for oblivion just for playing the edges. I do things sometimes just to prove I am a better person.

What about a car that runs on wind-assist. All moving objects create resistance. Can’t we channel that through a tunnel that helps spin the front tires and recharges the battery, some sort of internal turbine. The more you’re assisted the faster you go.

A good idea is a good idea whether or not you can monetize it.

I was a great manager because I actually liked my people. I didn’t see them as loss leaders, or trouble, or vessels to some land of profit. I didn’t pit them against each other, nor us against other teams. I didn’t buy into the value of embellishment, or lying. I had no hope of fitting into a corporate structure, but that never stopped me.

I have no problem tilting at windmills.

A mentor once told me he could see me running a store, almost, except that something was missing. He couldn’t put his finger on it. I couldn’t then. Let me help you. I have no taste. I have no pitch, no sense of discerning the good things from the nearly. Little sense of what separates awesome from mediocre. I have no problem doling out effusive praise.

I would have made an amazing troubadour, a fine minstrel, one of Prufrock’s attendant lords, friend to anyone who wanted their story told, highlighter of what makes them most amazing. Your name painted on the side of a rock, your heart in a lyric, the sheer force of your piercing intellect or your compassion scrawled across the page, and indelible in my heart.

I’ll tell you daily how amazing you are. I’ll love you that much. What I won’t do is let go, to stop loving you before I know, with some indefensible proof, that you are better with another, that you’ve found your edge, that your life has become one fabulous invention. Perhaps then, when you appear to be parsecs out of my orbit I can heal, be apart from you entirely, from your everloving gravity.

Poetry Riddle Incantation Pun

A student struggles with a project-topic, trying to put into words how music says something they feel, even when it doesn’t have lyrics.

I love the word round, the word leave, the word still. Round like lips. Round as an approximation of location. Round as in math – ridding oneself of the remainder. We sing in a round. And when we’re done, what remains? What we leave. I love you. I hate you. Leave! Take leave of our senses. A leave of absence. What did one tree say to another? Leave.

A poem should not be a riddle, but the solution to a riddle, not a padlocked door, but the key. There is something I’ve been trying to say for eons, that I’ve not yet been able to say. But, safe-cracker at the spindle, I’m still whispering. Still. Unmoving, yet persistent. A contraption in the woods in which grain alcohol is brewed.

Music is a syringe. It opens the skin wide enough to let blood out, to let drugs pass this semi-permeable membrane. This is why the woman alone on stage with an instrument will always be a heroine.

There’s something we’ve forgotten. I see it in the eyes of people in line at the grocery. A statue on a pedestal outside a museum. Teenagers sitting on the bricks, legs swaying fidgetably in the breeze. As adults we no longer sit like this. But there, as I’m scanning the aisles, a glint.

Syringe is the wrong metaphor. It’s too violent. More like a mouth when it needs oxygen or an epiglottis, blood vessels in arousal. Music as an incantation that calls the not-yet into reality. We can assume the spinning earth made music as it cooled, as we slowed from molten-gas-atmosphere, to lava, to rock, to blues.

I always thought I’d be around people who embraced big thinking, who would persist in their quest for deeper knowledge, who would reach, and would not leave, still. I’m here, still, on this pedestal, down below the mountains, a part of this world and apart of this world, trying to catch what’s in a tune. But there’s the catch.

I was in grad school, in my apartment, in deep meditation, when God (like a stagehand with a broom) asked if I wanted to see behind the curtain, the levers and pulleys and counterbalances. I understood the trade-off. I was not yet open. Had music been playing…

Had music been playing…

Had music been playing?

The First Technology

The first technology was fire.

We have no way of proving that, of course, but also no way to disavow it. It came when a lightning bolt struck a tree and passed from limb to limb until some great ancestor made sense of it. They passed it from limb to limb, warming those in the cold, softening vegetables, leaving meat more palatable.

What’s best for fire, even today, is to keep it at a safe distance. And that’s how technology starts, best at a distance. Best handled by the experts. Best to bring the bard, the barber, the librarian, the technician, the doctor, the seer your questions. Best to let them sort them out through their books and manuals, compare it to all known knowledge, runs some tests, and provide you your feedback.

Let’s blame Gutenberg.

It was his technology that created this novel concept of knowledge in the hands of the populace. A book in every house, perhaps a bible, but also an erotic novel hidden under a mattress. Access to knowledge for the rich, technology for the affluent, passed down through the generations. It was in your home and scarcely controlled. You could touch it. Your kids could find it. And once it got ubiquitous enough, there was no way to leash the thoughts again of the authors. Dangerous thoughts, to kill them, to stop them procreating in time. Of course there was fire. But that never seemed to work right.

A computer was once a large machine in a raised and air conditioned room. You would meet a qualified individual at the front desk, hand them some cards, and they would respond later with your answers. A computer was once as big as a refrigerator. There was one in your building at work you could log into. A computer was once a beige box in the corner of the library at school. Once had a black and white screen. Once came with a book in the box. Once had peripherals, printers and modems and external drives. Once had a keyboard. Once had a camera. Once had a screen.

There has been a distance between what we create and ourselves. It came from the heavens, or came shooting out of us with great effort. We needed a midwife or a editor to get it out right. We needed an agent, a publishing house, a tech department, store clerks who could sell it. But the dreamer, in dreaming, imagines none of these logistics.

The technology is coming. Closer with each iteration. It was atop our desks, then atop our laps. Now in our hands, soon on our wrists. The distance between creator and created and creating constantly shrinking. A computer on our tongue. In our ears. A way to tell stories from one brain to the next directly. Stored in the collective. Available to everyone.

The story told by our ancestor, about lifting a few pieces of brush to carry fire. The trick was not the fire itself, neither its destruction nor its capabilities. The earth was fire before it was anything. The trick was not the story, but learning to pass it from limb to limb, to jump across the distance, so we could speak of God, of sex.

We’ve found ways to mimic our skin, to armor it. We’ve made mock wings to lift ourselves above it. We’ve cut glass to enhance our vision, and learned to breathe underwater. We have devices that mimic super hearing, which capture voice and video. I can almost touch you at a distance.

The tech is coming. Closer and closer. It is our triumph over time and space, our wish that someone will speak of us, our hope of permanence.