A Notice Meditation

I notice the weight of the blanket on my legs. The tightness of my shorts. The feeling of one hand weighing on top of the other on top of my chest.

I notice what appears to be light around the left edge of my closed eyes. What they tell me are floaters. Luminous squares that grow and then disappear.

Notice the sound of the dog playing with a toy drowning out the sound of the air conditioning drowning out the motor of the fridge. All of it above the high pitch subtle whine always in my ears.

Notice the voice asking whether it is a whine or static, if there is a scientific explanation I once knew for it. Notice the promise to do research, to write about what I find.

Notice the pain in my right ankle. Notice the breath in and out, which triggers reminders to always pay attention to the breath. Notice my memory of the man in front of the temple. Notice the silhouette of someone in front of my vision. The silhouette that never resolves to anything.

Notice the process of scanning through memory. Notice the moment rising where I have an urge to turn onto my side. Notice the decision about my shoulder, about feet on top of feet, about being more receptive to the vibes when I am on my back.

Notice the heaviness of my head, the turn, the right hand grabbing the left clavicle, the hangnail on my ring finger, the soreness felt, and release when legs are straightened, the thickness of tongue in my mouth, the memory of grey wet gravestones, of riding bikes, of rust.

Notice the voice taking notes, and notice the one watching the voice taking notes, and someone listening to that inner voice, and someone watching the one listening, and the dog shifting its weight, and the itch behind the left ear, and the shapes becoming clear. And dissolving.

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What The Hell Is Water?

“There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?” – David Foster Wallace addressing the graduating class at Kenyon College, 2005

What are we bathed in? What have we always been bathed in which is so close and central to our existence that we simply cannot experience it? What do we swim against?

I have a guess. It is predicated on the possibility of finding what is around us by identifying what we build away from. Call it identity through antithesis.

I am still not over the ride home I took from work when I was seventeen and sure I would never again see a friend whom I adored. A part of me is still at home 1800 miles away in New York. I am fascinated by the carvings and music we’ve shot into space as a signal to aliens of our existence. Earlier today I couldn’t clear my head of a Rod Stewart song from the 90s.

We build monuments and manifestos for wars, and signings, and dead people, and explorers. Our holidays are about remembrance, our political debates about other times. All of our science is based on previous experiments and distant galaxies. In short, we are there, and we are then. We chastise children for not thinking of consequences and futures, and consider adulthood as being wise, and well-storied, and prepared. It is everywhere.

Well, everywhere but here.

Perhaps what we swim in, what we marinade in, what sustains us is this moment. The moment, rather than a three dimensional world, plus time, a one dimensional world, sans time. The water of nowness.

I have my senses. And they are present. Very few things make the then and there go away quite as well as stubbing a toe, or crashing a car, or an orgasm. What is now is this carpet, these keys, the weight of the ring on my finger. My wife is upstairs. My family’s in Buffalo. Who knows where all the friends I adore exist? As I remember them, likely, they live only in my memory.

But nowness. The sound of the dishwasher. The hiss of the fireplace. The light, unending buzz in my ears that fills the cracks of emptiness. A smudge on my glasses. Floaters just in front of my eyes. Every meditation involves breathing. Breathing is here and now.

A man walks up to another man and quips, “Morning. How’s the nowandhere?”

It’s the only place we’ve ever been.

I Wander Downstairs…

I wander downstairs in my white blousey
shirt sleeves stretched in all directions

from twisting in sleepless sheets. I sit
on the floor surrounded by silent voices

on the page as I struggle to free my wonder…

who said a line and in what verse? Rumi? Doty?
The line spoke to what it means to have a secret,

to be awake while other sleep, to be alive

while others have long died. The moon is bright
behind the blinds, dogs curl in the chairs,

the line is hidden deep. McPherson? Forché?

They’ve known things. They whisper secrets
which make bail after years in solitary. Wisdom.

Whatever that might be. When everyone wakes

I’ve done dishes. Tables dusted. Laundry
shifted. The books reshelved. And know

no more about the line now, nor myself.

El Cuerpo de Bomberos de La Ciudad de Ibarra

-for Dayko

The bodies like bombs
that fell in the city of Ibarra
were exalted to hear the pawing
scrape of nails, the long tongue
dragging along rubble,
the bay and the yap
which called fireman to rescue.

Seven lives
by that four year old body. Seven.
God’s number. Sins and virtues.
Psalms and parables.
The day on which the Creator rests,
(while we suffer our bodies and our injuries)
caressing a loyal, faithful friend.

https://www.facebook.com/bomberos.ibarra?ncid=txtlnkusaolp00000618

ChrisPaulMikeDave

I have met you
in chunks, like clones
that march endlessly
around corners, blocking
every escape.

I have seen you in
your archetypes, each calling
back to their kin,
a victim of initial,
impulse, and name.

Chris. Spending your life
as a suggestion of the Christ,
consumed with the need
to be top, first in class,
center, A+, savior.

Paul. Sounding like a pall
or appalled, but also
ending in All.
Helper. Friend.
Dour, damp, but giver.

Mike. Loudmouth. Feedback.
All talk. Braggadocio.
Center of every
meeting. Captain
of every team.

Dave. You hit me.
Not just me. Everybody.
Did no one teach
you Dave, in your naiveté,
a better way to behave?

For My Generation X

It’s happened. We were informed, since the day we were born
first children of single parent, divorce, abortion, contraception.
First children of AIDs, heroine, just say no… experimental.
We were told by our diminished numbers in a bureaucracy
that our children and parents would split the spoils. And so…

one more election where baby boomers bitch about the lot
they’ve been given and how to divide it. One more argument
left over from the dorms about America becoming browner
and gayer and immigrant and feminine. One more election
about what we can’t afford. Next one… some young millennial?

To Anonymous Hands

The food on my table has no label,
no name of the founders who traided
with the natives when they had no word

yet for ownership. No snappy slogan etched
in cardboard in order to convey health
despite the fact we know it’s meal and sugar.

But I know a hand must have tilled the field,
picked it from the soil, chose it from a lot
of rejects, bagged it, packed it, trucked it.

And I’d guess their name wasn’t Kellogg
or Dole, or Kraft, or Johnson. The meal
was grand, an honor to anonymous hands.

Six Flags America

In Six Flags America children under two get in free,
so if they ask you do not tell them that you are three.
In Six Flags America you must be 38 inches to ride,
so stuff a sock in your sneakers to make you that high.
In Six Flags America you can get free soda refills,
so we snuck a cup in we have from last year still.

There are rules and policies and ways to cheat
in America we condone them
as ways to compete.
In baseball the juiced ball.
The banks at the margin call,
short sells, derivatives, micro trading with ease.
In DC the insiders writing policy.

In Six Flags America is not explicitly illegal.
We wrote it vaguely when we put it in the bill.
In Six Flags American everyone gets rich,
everyone that is, willing to scuff up the pitch.
We promise and cajole and hunt for an edge
and anyone who does it is only “alleged”.

I Fucking Hate This Week (April 16-22)

Each year it’s as if our position in revolution
or the tilt of our axis causes all of us to slip
off our cusp, to blow up or gun down, overdose
or fall asleep in jeopardy, never again to wake.

Something about the movement of Spring
stubbornly into Summer, of Prince
into a sarcophagus, of Chyna into Tibet,
of oil into water, of Aries into Taurus.

Something causes us to protest life and be slaughtered
for it, to strap to our chests our worst
intentions and find new, seemingly unthinkable
maddening ways to spit at our making.

What I Saw In Banja Luka, Tabitha Fortis

-based on The U.S. Poet Laureate episode of The West Wing

In Banja Luka a father leads his son to the shores of the Sava River
for an afternoon spent listening to the water, like life and time, passing.

He teaches his son to cast his metal out into the moving current
and to wait patiently for a connection, wait until something tugs at him.

The boy, with his pole and his pride and his father, mistakes a relic
rusted out on his hook for the wiggle and struggle of some reward.

For half an hour he drags the ring to shore, fighting a pointless war.

In Banja Luka the remains of a boy are laid to rest. The hands,
a foot, what’s left of a chest, the blood of the boy exploded

into the pores of the father’s dark, muscled, scarred arms,
blown into the grey flecks of his once jet black hair, his own

childhood stolen, like a first kiss is stolen, like land is stolen.
And the father, all day, whimpering to emptiness, “Mine, mine.”

Boston 4/15/13

At the end of the marathon everyone’s legs are gone.
Most just want to rest, stripped of their grievances,
humanity, civilization. Glycogen stores depleted.

But there were emergency vehicles, and screaming.
Confusion and heat. Shards of metal from barricades
meant to keep the runners from their loved ones.

Safe.

At the end of the marathon everyone’s euphoric.
Strangers around them breaking through enemies
and therefore soldiers, brothers you’d run with.

Our animus burned away. For four days no one
moved, left, blinked, slept. Poured over photography
and evidence. “Come out, if you want to live.”

Iconography

What question has you that the Gods might answer? The one
about right choices and your destiny? The one about the lives
of your children? About which team to take over the weekend?

Immediate deistic intervention into a traffic jam? And which God
will you ask? The monotheistic God seems overwhelmed and busy.
Imagine being in charge of everything. But the bureaucrat Gods
feel like something might get lost; that the God of lost souls

might have different jurisdiction than the God of lost causes.
And what of the atheists? Trapped by the gods of physics,
the gods of reproducible evidence and the observable universe.

The Gods who meet the dead and the newborn. The Gods
of customer support. Gods of laundry and chores. So many
Gods one must check your own inbox for requests. Who
needs you today? Who is praying for your own meddling?

For #8, Gary Edmund Carter

On a rainy day in April we twist and turn into Cooperstown
where I’m interested only in laying hands on one bust.

Kids expect no one in sports to be worth their trust, no one
in the upcoming election, no movie star who won’t someday

soon be caught in a situation fraught with pride and excess,
the kind of temptation offered only to those of endless fame.

I liked the way he held his bat. The way he walked and ran.
The joy with which he met the warm air and the lined dirt field.

Older Than Elvis

I sit on the toilet and wonder what rhythms
might rise up from these pipes to claim me. Left eye
whipping around a corner in her Mitsubishi.

Patsy Cline each time I board a plane. Jim Morrison
in the bath. Jimi in bed. Janis on the floor by the bathroom.
My feet on cold tile. I’m older than my soundtrack,

than all the good music of love and heartbreak,
than idealism. Overdosed on realism
and stumbling towards old age,

worries about dementia and an enlarged
prostate. They died so young. Young
and knowing, and pretty.

At The Garden

At the Garden ten men take the floor
while 10,000 stand in front
of seats, dreaming. A hundred
more sell popcorn, run the soundboard,

wash towels. At two in the afternoon
someone wipes the seats, At five
someone opens parking. America
may highlight the tall and the strong,

lavish on talent a jersey and a spotlight.
But most of us hope just to get close,
to have some walk-on roll
in the success of a nation.

To say I met Ewing once,
handed water to Carmelo,
made some law work, returned
the wagons, polished the apple.

The Mount Rushmore Metaphor

1

The bust of a baby taking a first step or shit,
eating strained peas, soap, or cursed words.

2

One could say, in my day, a car was freedom,
that we drove west to fuck folks we didn’t yet know.

3

In our 20s we climbed trees, rocks, each other,
thought our bull-bare bottoms were revolutions.

4

Some work for evolution, living ideals, generosity
towards others. We’ll put a bullet in their head.

Era

The headline reads, “Steph Curry Redefining Greatness in the Post-Michael Jordan Era”
which I complain to my boss would be like A-Rod defining home runs in the post Babe Ruth era
or Jágr in the post Gretzky era, Obama in the post-Lincoln era. Humans: post dinosaurs.

All that’s left in the house I grew up in are scratches on walls, meaningless to anyone
who was not there to see them made, paint chipping away while the story
of how we chose the color and the hijinks of hanging it, the brush strokes long gone.

All life exists in the post-microbial, single-celled, post-bacterial era. All cities exist
in the post fertile crescent, post Egyptian era. All superheroes in the post Phantom,
post Superman era. All love in the post-first-love era. All kisses post first kiss.

A Filter

For the third time today the boss refers to her as “hon” and she chooses
to stop the meeting for a sec to ask him to quit it.

A teacher recognizes the introverts are passing tests, though
not participating. Stops class clowns long enough to ask.

Sekou Sundiata must type his name over again to prevent being
seiko sundial. Others are onto the next line.

It’s a race. To the top. To the bottom. To the suburbs.
To the watch and the view and to automatically rolling down your window.

It’s an obstacle course and every peg is a filter meant
to slow some down, the non-conforming, non-typical, non-hackers.

It doesn’t have to be. We choose it. So it is.

Out West These Days

Out west these days the fences are made of hoods
of plastic covering concrete, made to look like wood
but never in need of painting. And so Tom Sawyer need
not come up with some intricate, conniving idea to feed
to his dupes and friends. Instead he’s graduated from
the University with a degree in finance. The dumb
folks he took advantage of now spread worldwide
and paying him a dime for each dollar they make. Hide
of some expensive animal no longer his cap or coat
but the shine of his shoes. Snakeskins on his boat.

A Superhero Is Someone

A superhero is someone who uses their advantage for the betterment of others.
A superhero is someone who uses their ability for the betterment of others.
A superhero is someone who uses their strength for the betterment of others.
A superhero uses their freak for the advancement of others.

There was an incident.
A horrible accident.
A miscue, a mistake, a miscalculation.

Someone died.
Someone came back changed.
Diana, Peter, Reed, Steve, Anna Marie, Clark, Susan, Bruce, Ben, Scott, Logan

A superhero is someone who chooses to make life better for others.
A superhero is someone who chooses to sacrifice for others.
A superhero is someone who chooses their own risk for others.
A superhero chooses to live for others.

The Key, 1946 – Jackson Pollock

At six the kid loved the long lines, the swirling puddles, the intersection
of dried color and what she dubbed, “its barking and
its funny.”

At sixteen she could not be bothered
to accompany her old man to the museum
where “everything is so dusty and boring.”

By twenty-six she’d humor me
once a year, and complain about
the lack of narrative and the bourgeoisness and the patriarchy.

By thirty-six she loved his risk, and our memories, the wonder of her own child
and of my failing body, as we crawled
inside the painting.

At forty-six I hope
she cried, though with a hint of a her smile. I hope
she’s missed me and my commentary.

And that she kept going.

Henry Hudson Never Saw The World

Henry Hudson never saw the world
I was raised in. Railroad tracks
over cracked concrete pitted
with fresh tar and overflowing,
flowers of oversized homes
sprung up along the forested
shores, weeds of trailers
sprung at their feet.

No. He doffed his cap and trimmed
his sails without the smoke
stacks pumping out concrete,
the barrier walls and the docks
nestled up against the rocks
where I used to tie my line
and wait for the bass to bite,
lost in the bosomy mountains.

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

uncamouflaged

scar.

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.

Push.

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.

TBAP: WFM

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…
…again.”

(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

Foreword
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.

Introduction
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.

AM

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.”
“SOOOO HOTTTTTT!”

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.

Forty-Two

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.

Playground

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

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

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

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

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

Catch Light

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

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

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

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

Archaic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mutation

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

Hue

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

When the world comes around again

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

Irresponsible

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

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

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

Filing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ten Degrees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What They Never Told

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

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

*

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

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

*

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

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

*

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

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

A Shell On A Beach

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

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

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

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

Meditation, 2nd Hour

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

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

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

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

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

Dandelions Grow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Convergence, 1952 – Jackson Pollack

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

nor shade. Paint knew

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

to life. Someone spoke of war, some

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

Composer, fan, and teller of things.

So Simple It Moves

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

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

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

A Girl In Pigtails

-for Lysa

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

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

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

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


April is National Poetry Month, #NaPoMo

The Entangled Muse

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

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

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

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


April is National Poetry Month, #NaPoMo

Two A.M.

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

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

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

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

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


April is National Poetry Month, #NaPoMo

Two-By-Four

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

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

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

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


April is National Poetry Month, #30for30

Paella On An Large Hot Ceramic Plate

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

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

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


April is National Poetry Month, #30for30.

Fruitful

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

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

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

April is National Poetry Month, 30 for 30.

One Night In New York City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


April is National Poetry Month, 30 for 30.

To Incarnate

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

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

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

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

April is National Poetry Month, 30 for 30.

Duel Addictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beatriz

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

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

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

Ship On Stormy Seas

-after a painting by Ivan Aivazovsky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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