Wednesday, July 17, 2019

View from the Towers

The world may lift away to vapor
But the people stay
In their lost soul masks
Forever hoping that this thing
That they've defeated
Will open its doors.
The gnome of spirit moans.
Angelic realms are humming in the air
More advice than you could ever use
In the smallest stretch of space,
There for the taking.
But the sunflowers beyond
The concertina wire
Grab your attention
Every time,
The sound of fashionable shoes
Drowns out any rumour
Of the true.
A carousel that moves
Is what your mind reacts to,
Its ever-changing vistas
Of a place that makes no sense,
As empty as your silent contemplation
And the boxcars that lay idle on the track.

You can't get emptiness back.
It comes between your laugh
And the breaths you hear,
The nascent words, the hidden touch
Where arches fall
But give no help
To select the best
Or get untangled
From the rest.
In fact, the abandoned field
Will always call you in,
Burrs and wasps and all,
To the way the grasses move in sun,
The voice you never heard,
Now singing brazen
What would be yours.

Outside of Fresno

Tabletop rancheria,
Cow clusters scratch the hills,
Ruminating where the giants once feasted
(Or so the cupboards whisper).
The lightning split the tree and vanished
Like the white man
When he couldn't flatten out the land enough
For a golf course.

Tractors rust, gates squeak,
She may never come back.
She may never see this.
I wonder if she knew the city
Buried under the lake
Where I found a key
Beneath the swollen rubble.
It was all over my head,
The vulture circling unnoticed
Feeding off the white man's disease.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019


No one wants to know
How this particular story ends.
It starts with cotton fields in fall
Like clouds on endless red.
I sang "My Funny Valentine"
By the empty hosiery mill
And a full magnolia tree.
She told me about karma
At a restaurant that no longer exists
Where the only customers were us.
We went traipsing in our business suits
Through the dark woods of Uwharrie
To look for somewhere private
In the parks, by the streams, in a car,
And we'd drive as far as Whynot or Troy,
Where the only store for miles
Sold tackle and tied flies.
I have never been to that town again.
No more meeting halfway.
19 years later, I still can't shake the feeling
That is neither love nor hate, betrayal
Or complicity. Some towns hold their ghosts
As if they're still alive.

Monday, July 15, 2019


One spring I left my small children behind
For a giant poster of Oscar Wilde,
Pennyroyal in the kitchen,
And cigarettes on the windowsill
Discoursing on the death of the sublime.
How could they compete
With Dead Don't Dance, potato glasses,
An enormous bag of Vidalia onions?
That's what happens when doors open,
The pathos of the lonely finds an owner,
Like an orphaned kitten or a 19th century ghost,
Victorian as only Lovegrove, wrought-iron laced
And cobblestoned, could conjure.
We spent hours exquisitely filling each others arms
As if there was no other world, because there wasn't,
Only early Tom Waits demo tapes
And a dog-eared copy of The Banquet Years,
Which answered any questions that blew in
Through the stone-dead city windows
Until the sirens came, and everyone found out,
And, just as silently, nothing was ever the same again.
Sick of dead literature, she opened the windows when I left
To the hellfire of a Baltimore July.

Sunday, July 14, 2019


12 months in Arizona without my wife,
A place where whole neighborhoods disappear
And new ones spring up overnight,
And at a certain time every evening there's a hole
Where anything seems possible.
The guys with shining hair would visit at that time
And say the names of girls we'd met like holy codes
And pull me to yet another crazy rave
Where all the girls were sleeveless and drank jack.
I talked of how to manifest reality
To sad lashes in a Hawaiian-themed sandbox,
And got a number slipped into my phone
While I ate a sampler plate of Burundi ndagaa...
I wish that I could tell you
Of bonfires and eyes, breasts and full moons,
Huevos rancheros and kisses and curves
On slow-waking sun-pale mornings,
But there always was a world too far removed,
So I slept on my own sofa
Under a million possible stars.
The guys with the shining hair
Didn't let things like that distract them,
Still they wanted, they said, what I had,
Whatever it was.

Saturday, July 13, 2019


What did she hate more,
That I knew exactly where she was born
Without her telling me?
Or that it meant nothing to me
That she could tie a Mariscino cherry
With her tongue?
Everything I did was wrong:
When she stared at me in meetings
It was because I'd invaded her mind;
When she complained to HR of her abusive boss
It was because my energy caused her to miscarry;
When she was moved far away from my department
She cocooned herself with cardboard sheets
Because she couldn't be too safe.
It all made sense to me, if nobody else, at the time,
For Ezekiel had warned me she was one pissed-off consort
Who I'd left alone with the devic command,
And why I would do that was as much of a mystery
As why she took everything I said as seduction witchery.
Who knows what she really thought
When I shared at Archangel Michael's request
How she was the blessed Queen of Diamonds
Who was gifted in the highest spheres of healing.
She looked at me when I told her this
Like a bureaucrat at the DMV,
And she never would forgive me,
Even after a child gave her a queen of diamonds card
Just to make sure that she would have it,
Even after many years had passed,
And our paths crossed in the pebbles of a parking lot;
I didn't know who it was, but she recognized me
And gave me the final gift
Of an unambiguous glare.

Friday, July 12, 2019


The good girl learned everything she knew
From the bad boy. They would sit together
In a room, smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee,
Without a word between them for hours.
And they'd say at the end it was a great
Conversation. One that continued
After he died. Without coffee, without cigarettes.
They weren't needed any more.
Why do some come to this strange earth
Just to register pain?
Such were the questions the rest of us had,
All of them answered by wreckage,
But we learn more from that anyway
Than from words.

Thursday, July 11, 2019


I was always on orders to keep her
From stealing things in our house.
But I dallied too long in the shower
And heard her cajoling a load outside.
I ran in my towel to see her
Drop her grandfather's accordian
Into her barely-operable car.
I stepped between her and the driver's door
And issued all manner of uncredible threats:
"If you care about your family ...",
"If you want to see your sister again ...",
"This time we will call the cops."
To which she flashed a bemused smile,
Said "it's mine, dude", and left with only
A frisson of reaction, to what was, for me,
The designated diplomat, a drive-by shooting.
She knew I was only following orders
That were corrupt from the top-down.
She wasn't particularly interested
In people saving her life, why should she
Turn to the good for me?
Yet I was the one who cleared out
Her storage unit when she died:
The emotion she couldn't show in life
Shone in every lamp
And parcel of furniture
We had to pay to give away.
And now the accordian is mine.
It plays only ghosts.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019


Even the ecru walls betrayed me.
Nothing in my house felt safe.
No thought that did not destroy itself.
My heart entirely broken.
In hindsight my walking out
To your car
Was a terrible imposition
But it was the only thing I could do.
You looked as pale and hollow as I felt,
Like you'd finally released all the love,
And even then you wanted,
Some part of you wanted,
To breathe it in again,
But instead you played the friend,
Repeating back what I said
In tones that caught the pain
But not the condemnation:
The calmness of another realm
Where there was no need for touch
Just time enough to stop the moment
Before we fell into the past
Where we made mistakes together
And call it love. I had to return,
That was your kindness,
And from that point on
Most of what I said to you
Came from the no longer me,
The back and forth of blame
For what happened to our family
For what we both felt separate shame.
But the final trick of time
Is to close the wound
When it no longer needs to heal,
Like that time on the phone,
Myself again, on another coast,
The occasion of course yet another
Stint in jail, and I asked
"What could you do but what you did?"
And your silence
That engulfed the room
Said all there was to say.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019


Her name meant “Permission from God”
But it was hard to know for sure,
As her words were like clouds
Drifting across the sun,
With no beginning or end.
I had just moved in
With my new best friend,
Who I barely knew,
Who had saved my life.
She dropped him
Without a nod at courtesy
The moment she saw me,
Making it seem so
Completely natural
We soon were on the docks at night
Contending over whether I knew her
In circles round the water light
And I chased her
Across the boulevards
As she walked in front of cars --
“They can’t be bothered to hit me” --
In her constant escape
From questions and facts --
“Cheap philosophy” she called it.
But she smiled at me from a distance
As if there was something to catch.
My friend kicked me out,
She went back to Mallorca,
I found a girlfriend.
Next summer the south wind returned
And she called up, breathless,
Wanted to meet me in that spot,
Our spot, as if the love of the world
Depended on it. She didn’t care
I had a girl, it was just a minute
In my day, she said, and it was,
As she stood there in a crimson veil,
Saw my eyes, said “I see”
And walked away.

Monday, July 8, 2019


That's what you get for peering at me
When the paint was barely dry from my first marriage.
What could I do but send you the letter
My yes mind composed but my no hand wrote?
I saw it on your desk. You had just sniffled away.
I have tried that letter thing a few times.
It never works.
The truth never works.
Better to endure the embarrassment in real time,
To fumble for words, to listen half heart all hope
And sniff out the residues in the air.
Letters are for when you become so familiar
It's safe to ignore what you say,
Or when you're so far away
There's no real requirement to be understood.
It was only, in fact, the other day
A note dropped out of a book, of all places,
That professed a lost and wounded love for me
As if there was something I could do about it
Even today.
I imagine that's how you felt,
The imagination left with so little,
The heaviest of weights.

Sunday, July 7, 2019


All I remember is the rose.
Where I got it, how I brought it
Into your car, why you wouldn't drive
Are lost now. And what you told me,
That I'm sure I didn't really listen to
Anyway, it was mixed in with why
We were there, which was only ever
The vaguest of outlines: You loved me,
You hated me, you needed me gone,
There was someone else, we hurt each other
Enough that we could stop; the same story
One can flick on anytime when looking
For something to watch or blame.
Of what it felt like, though, the most
Important part, all that's left is
The blush of that rose, or maybe the blush
Was only on your face, or maybe there was
Only a pause in your eyes when you saw
What I held, a trace of something living
As the crushing teeth of the machine
Chewed calmly and slowly on.

Saturday, July 6, 2019


The black  abandoned cabin,
Cow dung turned to stone,
Some half-framed houses on foundations,
Gas pumps left to corrode ...
It seemed, somehow, there was more:
A purity of light, simplicity
By design, a dance where the rock face
Took the shapely dunes in its hands
And twirled through the vast canyons,
A desolation that was shared
Completely, like an unseen hawk
That rippled through the freeing breeze.
The photos that arrived, without
Explanation, in a plain envelope
Had none of that. A few rocks,
Some washed-out scrub, the cliffsides
Where the brushfires were
A blur of grey and orange.
Yet I'd waited patiently -- all these
Years it seems -- for the proof
We once were one
For you stopped me at every one of my urges
To take a picture.

Friday, July 5, 2019


Her ID was borrowed periodically
By TV's Shannon Doherty.
That's how long ago it was.
And she came across so strong,
Like she'd seen and knew it all
And could calculate cooly
The arc of any human fall
Without a pang of pity
Or pointless disappointment.
She happened to see me that night
Enjoying my meatloaf and gravy
At the Sip n Bite
Almost another faceless figure
Smiling at a girl
Whose face has long since escaped to eternity
While Marcy's still burns.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The Scent of the Tribe

I come back to coins,
Kind words and smiles
From the lords of distant realms
Still it's the white roses
On a bush
That call.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Light in Baja 10

Security questioned my pen
But what can one do
With all of these stories
Compressed into the open air?
A whole life can fit inside the beat
And the strobe light can conceal
All one wants concealed
What the men try to catch
That cannot be contained
The ladies dressed to kill
Who surrender before the first
Fusillade of jello shots on trays
Melt the pop song decades away
Into one leaping rebellion
Against all that is --
The homeless make their stand
On makeshift ground
The distracted are mesmerized
By the unfolding arc of spin
The destitute of spirit find
Soul enough to spare
In the textures of sound and verse
As the rhythm reduces them
To one transcendent monkey

But it's ok
Starlight will wane
The daylight will tame
The loves along the way
They'll fall about the same old streets
As if they've found their way again

I told everyone about it
The end that comes in pain
I took up the sword again
I know that it slays

Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Light in Baja 9

The timelessness of Heidegger is interrupted
By talk of conquests real and imagined
While the language itself is still not known
And still masters us with such mathematical precision
We're lost, don't understand
That's how much we've been programmed
Not to think of freedom, for example,
As leaving and being left alone
To nurture and preserve all that orbits
In perfect or eccentric circuits
As the blessed ones of earth, who can,
Because we are able to die, create

The air itself is fire
The water a palette for wind and light
To become everything it feels
In intricate moving mirrors
A trick for poets, one supposes, to learn
While the others drink their words
In plastic cups with straws

Friday, June 28, 2019

The Light in Baja 8

The desert writhes
The sea promises nothing
But the chaos brought by its winds
-- The only entertainment here --
Suggests some better way to live
And the haze of the sky as it melts
Conceals the sun
As much as the blue
And the dry wind begins to seem
A wedding procession
Of dust and water
The unlovable and the ever-loving

Thursday, June 27, 2019

The Light in Baja 7

The Italian restaurant light
Glows on family faces
Tree limbs of dysfunction
Softened as the violin
Plays the only words of truth
Course after course
Indulgence and abuse
No tequila will be left standing
And whatever the busboys filled
The crystal goblets with
It is now only sadness

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Light in Baja 6

The faces in the rock
     look to the sea
The massive tails of swells
     that hiss and flail
And you cannot call it
To stand in warning
     to give anything at all
To the foolish drunks who dance
     across the rip tide floor
But faces give as faces give
     without even meaning to
And one feels at home
     on the earth
With what little there is
     to gather
After the wind and the moon
     have had their way

The Light in Baja 5

Sunset water pinks
Still the sitting people on the beach
As the beat goes on from boats
A kind of accompaniment 
To almost satisfy the longing 

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Light in Baja 4

A sky without money
Doesn't treat those under its palms
As employees -- still they barter
For pennies like birdseed
And when the day ends
They spend
To fill the immense
Furnaces inside
Inflamed by the heat of the day

The Light in Baja 3

After every irritation of sand
Is picked from your hair
The universe will open
Like sun through the arches
Of the atrium
And palms that could not contain the sheen
Will offer up the darkness of their blades
To the corridor gold

Monday, June 24, 2019

The Light in Baja 2

Stars pulse with the sounds
That get embossed somehow in the sand
Creation transferred into patterns
As minds continue to ruffle
The still pond
Its fountain imperceptible

By some miracle it stops
And a distant radiance erupts
In the joyful glow
That at last you can see
The flow
A magnificent circle

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Light in Baja 1

Past the alabaster
Is a green that stays beyond
Its tree
And the crispness of the ocean foam
Speaks of the finer form of pain,
As if it is confined as a thought
In the desolate sky.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Concerto for Solo Voice

Catching up after a day, or two decades, is the same,
Like starting happily over again. Still, that thing
I remember more than anything else, those words
We exchanged, that made me, in key ways,
What I am, you don’t recall them, or if you do,
You remember events differently, as befits
The contours of your journey. I am no longer
What you named me, but without your name,
I don’t seem to exist.
                                       When the therapist
With a smile finally brings the couple together,
It’s by revealing his magic hat is empty, to show
How they’ve never really understood each other,
As if now, somehow, they will.
                                                        And there were times
You saw the vapor clouds, and the shapes seemed,
In that shared space, so real,
Until each realized that there were other
Clouds, unreachable, in the eyes, unable
To express the love that’s only in itself,
What it feels as if coming from another it loves
Enough to love the feeling out
Like a foreign itch. More shocks than kisses,
More kisses than shocks; how will the crazy
Roller coaster fun end up? The equation
Is unstable, it shifts with every keeling vista
On the ship’s bow. Is it the vexacious curse
Of the senses, or the fault in the too empty heart
To want to share the silver clouds and golden fields
When they can’t be?
                                      And what if the moth
Wasn’t blue and the daffodil wasn’t yellow?
Why would you care they were really
Grey butterfly and white tulip?
Why does the animosity of another’s truth
Impinge so on your soul? As if you don’t
Belong here if you don’t know
The basics.
                     There is no more agreement,
I suppose, with ghosts, who sit and dispute
In the comfortably empty chairs, and sometimes
I will change my mind, if the winds have shifted
Enough, but, more often, for no reason, I don’t.
After a time a kind of unquiet silence ensues
And then, maybe, laughter, with the air of something
Forgotten, or remembered only at its warm edges
Where what actually happened frayed into feelings
That carry some universal regard, within reason,
For the inexplicable proclivities, the maddening
Perspectives, the flat-out, perverse intransigence
Of one’s fellows.
                              Now it’s so common
It’s hardly noticeable, like the individual
Glints of sunlight on the river, and they flow
In the same lazy, agreeable journey, not asking
Even to be followed, it just flows in the babble
Of discontent that pays no heed what you say
To it, or whether you are even listening
At all. And it starts to seem a natural process,
Like bird song or the neighbor turning on
The lawnmower at 8:30 every Saturday morning,
With the same import: Something is happening
You will never understand, that will just as
Unfathomably pass, but that will feel
Somehow familiar, because some pattern has
Been entered into your brain to accept its codes,
Whatever they turn out to be.
                                                      At least we agree
To feel compassion for the lonely ones
Who walk with their bikes along the desolate tracks.
How small, we think, their world is without us,
What pain would have made them turn their backs
On happiness? At this remove comes the urge
To give, to confer the blessings of heaven
– Such as we’ve actually received – upon them:
Stock tips, gazebo tickets, same-day pastry,
In hopes they will do what we expect them to,
Say “thank you”, gaze into our eyes
As the fires in our souls kindle
Separately as one.
                                 But put any two animals together.
What do they do? Is there any extending
Of one into the other? Or do they turn
Listless and dull, poised between a victory jump
And a scamper to freedom? It’s like their whole scene
Has been cruelly stolen by some doppelgänger
Interloper. Yet they make such noise about the other!
Yearnings for God, from the birds above, and
Warnings from the ground that the road’s not safe
All somersault in the air with plangent urgency
But no apparent need of a response!
                                                                  The answer
Is in the question, mystics say, there is no real world
Beyond your head. But cities burn every day
Because the questions go unanswered, and most
Are of the “what can be done” variety, and refer
Specifically to the other worlds orbiting your eyes,
Jewels shining, clouds moving, faces so hungry to live,
For one moment, in another, to replace them,
More correctly. You so readily perceive
The bitter beard, the anxious curl of red,
But the differences are too great to see anything
But sameness, to understand anything
Of what’s behind the glass of eyes
Except the deep-seated sense of obligation
That you can’t move on
Until everyone does.
            But there’ll be no moving
Today, except that sideways jaunt of a crab,
A position you must assume if you want some kind
Of hearing, and your heart is such, the strangeness
Of speaking your truth in such convoluted settings
Takes too long to become obvious, for they
Laugh at the bells on your skullcap, not your jokes,
And this only when they have become bored
With all the attention.
                                        At the other pole, they agree
Before you even say anything, as if the spirit that you carry
So matches their own the words mean anything they say.
A world of disagreement is instantly wiped away
By a cast of eye or a mustache twinkle. We know
What we want, we travel in packs, we share all the
Spoils and sorrows. And when the wave
Of common disgust goes away, there is loss,
At all the never-was-said, the not-really-heard,
The speaking for and the hearing from, how they never
Worked out the terms, the divisions of validation.
And it’s not the blocks obliterated by missiles,
The hungry wives, the traumatized children,
It’s the loss of pride that you gave so much of yourself
To a cause that didn’t quite appreciate you, that moved
As if all the splinters in your mind didn’t matter.
You could have been the general, foiling their doomed-
In-hindsight plans, as if the troops who marched as one
Were anything but phantoms, denied individuals
Under a common flag, who were content with any color
But surrender.
                           But they thought that everyone else
Was not only like them, but actually them. There was no
Evidence otherwise. The bravest actions were what
The braver you did, the best words you at your most
Eloquent, the stupid mistakes were those of your youth:
The insouciance, the reckless ire – and of all of the youths
Of all of the fathers gathered round now to tell
The credible tall tales in a haze of battle smoke
And corn liquor. Maybe this war we will remember.
And some learning, it seems, comes out of it, in
Microscopic reflections on the infinitely far away,
And the smile for once will mean something, the words
For once will seem to be more than the repeating shells
From a long-ago hill, and we can almost
Say we know.
                         Another war, on the boudoir table,
Where the powder and gels vie for some invisible eye,
Some ineffable observer, who will turn the endless
Into permanent approval, what is inevitably and
Quickly seen through, though not necessarily to a soul,
But to something resembling comfort,
Like cinnamon stick on a cold day, at least
In the way it’s enjoyed and not requiring to be
Understood, except as it becomes available, as tricks
Of trade, to consummate the arrangement,
Dissociated love words as targeted as candles,
Pleasing chords and a plaintive voice, moved
By objective beauty to move the objective forward
With logistic precision. And her further and further away
But lured back to some common caramel, an otherwise
Missing skill, a division of labor and care, a shared
Absorption in a flickering screen so distant
It is not there at all, but enough of a presence
The frailties of being there together in the flesh
Can be waxed over in the light of its putty,
The glow of what never was and should have been.
It is only the things, these images, that were done
By them, to you, betrayals turned into drama
You can laugh along with on your break
From them happening.
                                          They bring color     
To the face and light to the eye: People
In the glow of admiration, for it’s the way
You want to be admired, although you know
Such admiration brings them nothing but misery
And bitterness, a mob town of the emptiest eyes
Following them as they disappear into a mask
So deceiving all that’s left is an outline we
Can fill in as we are told, and we don’t mind,
For the presence opens doors, and makes the houses
Connect, and the flower scents seem relevant –
Like somehow we belong, the magic we reach for
Reachable if not quite ever really known.
                                                                           That same
Feeling we have when we express who we are, one eye
Always on the others. It all looks the same from a
Distance, a vying for love in a closed circuit,
As if your art wasn’t meant to stand above
The rest, apart from the mere outsiders.
And decisions are made somewhere else,
By strangers, about what you’ve done
And what it is worth. And the portion of it
That is not transparently useful (that part you call
The Uniquely You) will be conveniently
Removed. But some slips through, enough that
Another artist, catching it, sees something
Unexpected in your vision and wants to throw
The years of work away in a second, 
As if to not assimilate everything is to fail.
Never knowing how beautiful we are
We want the beauty of everyone else,
No matter how many there are.
The canna knows it’s being seen
But how could a new-born know what joy
To parents its face can bring? And what they might
Do for a smile? The world must begin to seem
To be there to serve. Until it doesn’t.
There are patterns, yes, rules to be observed,
One eventually knows what others will reward and shun
One for, in a kind of mechanical system, but real
Interactions always seem a target moving away
On a map one cannot see. Do they love me, do they not,
A question asked at every junction in the journey,
With the same kind reply of silence. There are as many
Rules as there are players, each credentialed with
Impeccable logical rhythms that are
Impossible to decipher.
                                           So one wanders around in a fog,
Like a spirit from table to table, admiring the tobacco smell,
The richness of the felt, the intricacy of the moves
As they get more baffling and incongruous
The longer the game goes on. The players, too,
So locked on their own cards, can’t read in other’s faces
The implications of their moves, how the rules are
Mere guardrails, keep nothing safe.
There are other rules
To minimize the surprise, of a rogue driver, say,
Invading your lane, and the constant constraint of
Having to abide by the training, and having to live
With the indignity that others so easily break the
Restraints and violate some unwritten, unspoken
Contract. That was your heritage of birth – noblesse oblige
But this squeeze too shall pass, as someone new comes
Stumbling in with some vaguely familiar query,
Sentiments, for example, from a letter you wrote
Some 30 years ago, and asks you with a grin
What you think. Then another one sidles to the stage
To agree with you, and seem to see you,
Only to, at the opportune time, bring himself
Trembling like a crystal to the delicate point
Of disagreement, only to display
His own feathers as if that was the point all along.
And you can respond as if this person doesn’t exist,
With a joke for the crowd that has gathered around
By now, to blow smoke into the whistling coke bottle –
And the room laughs enough to indicate
They at least think that they have been there
Or want to have been, when the feeling
Of the strange was pulled from the same bag of
Multi-colored jawbreakers.
                                                  And it is the alien
We recognize, the indistinct we cultivate,
That is what makes sense in the end, when the
Fragments are forced together with tape
And the picture emerges of what you had seen
Before, though it merely fell into the familiar,
Ahat your instinct tells you to be true
As my instinct, now, says that you will understand
What you have no reason to, and even now insists
That you care about me more than as a trope,
A story of hue and shame, a variant of the unknown
You are fumbling to become.
                                                     They are on
Every corner, standing in lines for what they want,
What is never good enough. Why are they
Waiting? Such need in the faces, for what,
It would take several lifetimes to know. Lifetimes of
Misdirection and sloughing off and not being real
With how one feels.
                                    Of giving the greatest gifts,
Which start as an annoyance, an encroachment
On private space, rigorously fought against
For the entire course of treatment, as a matter
Of sheer necessity, and maybe, grudgingly,
Many years later, a nod that someone tried
To teach them something – Where are they now?
I wish I could find them, and tell them how much
They meant, when in fact whatever teaching
Was imparted, it couldn’t match
The lesson received. It was somewhere in between,
In a vapor of need where two streams converged
And disappeared.
                                The child, after learning to take
Every gift for granted, learns not to expect anything
From anyone, by marching right up with a pure
Enough heart to admire the lack of clothes on
The emperor, who nevertheless sends his charioteers
With their whips, to teach them a lesson called respect,
Which means to withdraw, callow fool, from any
Real thing, in favor of a pragmatic fantasy,
Where no one is different, wounds have all been healed,
And one can only be lonely, never alone. And, eventually,
It seems normal to turn away from those you desire
The most, and pretend to understand what makes
No sense, and not understand what does, to be
A hostage, voluntarily, to a version of reality
That evades what is real on either side
In favor of an agreeable illusion. Where one
Accepts the prizes and teases with grimaces,
For they have nothing to do with anything
One’s done, in this place where those who use
The platitudes of undifferentiated abuse
Are beloved and those who tell the truth
Are mocked. It’s all a part of making
Us children again, a theoretical universal
Where we all feel the same, the state
Of innocence before the infernal disagreeing,
The different perspectives that clouded the view,
The questions of others and oneself
That could never be answered.
                                                        And everyone
Looks away from the way it felt then,
As direct communion between self and world,
No confusion, no misunderstanding, no distance
Between, as if the thought of it is too sad to bear,
And to dream of it so appealing it can be willed
Into the weave of gold, the eyes like sponges.
Eden is lost every morning, as dreams subside
To waiting, and you wake up knowing you won’t
Make but gouges in the grain of the stone
That is your sister and brother, but you resolve
Again to try, it’s like you are born again,
Memories dissolved in the flow of living,
Where the others distantly pass, in a controlled
Release of what would otherwise be unable
To be processed, for the boundaries are there
To keep us in our minds. Do we read too much
Or too little into each eruption onto
The fabric of silence? There is no point
In questioning, when there are walls
That limit access to what
Can never be reached.
                                         That family
With the white dog in the brown house
And the heating oil truck in front, the plastic pool,
How light passes through the empty rooms
And one can’t hear what’s said when they are
Full. And even if one did there would be
A litany of memories, observations, irritations
In the way, it would be like silent jaws moving.
Even then you’d know they wanted something
Beyond what they were precisely asking for,
Some modest thrill of superiority to keep the
Shadows of worthlessness away. A game,
An outfit, a treat – how little we sell our souls for,
And how hard it is to say no to the offer,
For we want to be liked, admired, not
Resented, disrespected, but the things
Are such they turn the receivers gratitude
Into acid before too long, for someone has come
Between them and their dreams, again,
Their dream of someone. Someone different,
But the same as them, undefinable, but perfectly
                        Yet I feel so bad for letting down
What doesn’t exist. A nest of critical eyes
Focused on my existence, waiting on my
Delight. No one seems to notice I’m missing,
I’ve come in late, or that my master speech
Of actionable facts might as well have been
On TV. It was no more real to them than the news.
They loved me only as far as they could know me,
As a shadow that they vaguely sensed a long
Time ago, with lines and phrases to remember
Them by, a presence that became,
As faculties failed, larger than life,
Who they were never alone with, until he died
Or moved away.
                              The feed of life, though,
Was so continuous, so varied and unpredictable,
People seemed to flow the emotion away,
Moving as they do in crowds, that infiltrate you
For a moment before dissipating into other faces,
Which only serve to carry impressions, which come
From dimmest memories, that are instantly
Transferred to others, for it all was a dream,
Those moments of closeness.
                                                      When in the harsh
Gray glare of day, even the simplest instructions
Are batted about, like a cat would paw away at
A mouse, and the most willful declarations
Are only understood as a form of pleading,
For something that one has already. Perhaps
That’s why the crowd seems so driven, so pulled
In a direction, that they see through
Everything, and are moving to a place of resolution
Where the needs of other humans are a far off
Reverie, forgiven what clarity reveals, their falseness
And their heat, for they tried too hard to earn love from
A stone.
               That quality was somehow there all along,
Without need of a hand reaching away from itself
To them, yet we insist on such, the unconditional,
The freed from an ego, as if our pale existences
Can only endure as the center of the world,
And it’s not as if the world no longer tries,
But it’s so hard to read when it’s all on the inside,
When it stays in the head.
                                                Which, perhaps,
Is best, for we can’t have heads spill out their lack
Of self, at least not simultaneously. It’s better to
Observe what can’t be seen, and make it into
A private thing, that fades in the undisturbed obscurity
Of oneness, as if that’s all it needs. And if whatever
Is there to be read can never be really seen
There is something else – not some 1000 monkeys
Of wrong that may one day make a right – but
The kind of wrong that changes things, that takes
The staid orbits out of line, and obliterates –
They call it creation. Another try, for what is better
To be destroyed than what is in error?
                                                                      It would be
No more, we’d agree, than taking out the trash,
If it weren’t for that matter of the truth,
Which binds as some necessary condition to all that is,
Only to spin in great nebulous circles, where the eyes
Begin to blur, crowding towards the door of the way
Things are, as if the truth can live inside a room
Filled with people.
                                  It’s a paper world,
Where the things I know and touch and feel
Are irrefutably solid, yet your world, because it
Doesn’t match at all, seems to stand back and sneer
From a distance at everything I am. How are we so
Limited to believe all worlds must be the same? There are
Dillions of planets, life in every gap, as many opinions
As there are holy asses, why is it so hard to believe
I exist in a different set of facts than you, with different
Physical rules that make the – seemingly perverse to you –
Laws of right and wrong adhere? Is there no possibility
Of connection when I persist in believing that apples
Are blue and the heavens are one giant eye? Why
Should the paradise I walk through each day be lost
If no else can know it? Isn’t it enough to know
Each person has their own, impossible to touch
From here? Must we envy what we don’t
Understand? Make it pleasant enough to visit?
Or is there some way these islands
Can share the same tides, congruent flowers,
Similar fruit?
                        Ooh, it is all too familiar,
That is what causes the terror, like you’re walking
The same street over and over, and if the pineapple
On the house was at the right side of the door
You might even believe it was your own.
Oh, the familiar, how it lulls us into the comfort
Of feeling everything will be safe. There would
Be no “I thought we had an understanding…” or
“You’ve had way too much coffee today.”
But of course there are such words, many times a day,
And it begins to feel as if the world is not your own,
That you are a stranger in your
Own home.
                     So you peer into the mansions
And the prisons for something to become, to assimilate
Everything, as vast and as incomprehensible as it is.
You can be anyone in your mind for a soulful moment:
The mushroom farmer who’s become his crop;
The vet who looks out for those fresh to the streets;
The shaking woman with her cart who would say,
If you get close, help me; the guitarist for the multi-
Billion dollar enterprise who feels blessed to portray
The common person just as any life that she knew
Of that has completely slipped away. In a flash
You become something of them,
But the reality of the dream slips away
Like the sun behind a cloud, equally quickly,
And it begins to seem a matter of survival to find
Another one, like a hermit crab, to inhabit. Though
You never quite see the world through the eyes
Of these portraits, pre-painted with greatness
Or condemnation by invisible deciders.
And it doesn’t matter if the shiny figurines are real
Except as you turn them to your truth, and your truth
Turns around, unobtrusively as a planet,
But without the certainty that you have any substance
Left beyond your eye, and your place in the scheme
Starts to shrink, imperceptibly, and you begin to defer,
For the dream from outside has moved within,
And you play with the fragments as if they are pieces
On your personal chess board, free from the need
Of another player, a virtual figurehead at best.
                                                                                     And yet
The dialog continues, the endless forth and back,
Positions made for dueling points, designed to support
Being right instead of truthful. It can go on through
The night, as the wind helps to unravel what the moon
Has made obscure. There is terror with the love,
Inextricably mixed, and defense turns into apology
Too slowly, accommodations are temporary,
Like a hotel room with coffee enough to burn
The darkness away. But one is left at the end, again,
With oneself, and the chance to re-do the script
Again, to the same numb response, the same illusion
Of conclusion. The antagonists come and go like that
Throughout the hero’s journey, they smile and frown
Then dissolve to a place in your mind
Where something that hurts wants to be dislodged,
And despite the backwards image of the mirror
The others present, it might get solved, swallowed down,
Digested, and thanks will go out all over town
For the support and unconditional tolerance
That everyone shared in your dark night of the soul
That came when someone said … something
That didn’t feel right, or true, or fair about you.
Meanwhile all the congratulated had spent their time
Reflexively all-knowing, in measured condemnation
Skewering by proxy, arch with insinuation, to pull
The mythical victim down into the pool of the doomed,
If only in their ever-so-changeable minds, where they
Soon forget this inquisition without a defendant
Ever occurred. If pressed they’d say no harm done,
All’s fair in gossip and love, for how can those who
Condemn themselves so thoroughly ever understand
Mercy for a figure of straw?
                                                  And what of those
Who seek to change this callousness in others?
How do you lead a horse to reflection? The only way
Seems to be by depriving them of your own, to disappear
The chimera, turn the other cheek, they say, like
Allowing the children not to murder each other
After all, for the truth has a long fuse but insults
Are short, the silence always comes to calm the noise
That wears itself out in the night of 60 million moons,
And leaves the lovers to believe in love at first sight,
The godless to measure the indifference of light,
And make any theory turn out to be right
In countless examples observed, the observer
Cued to what he can make true. All rains being equal
Fall over isolated seeds, which grow together
And die alone, a peculiar condition
These soils take on, how to harmonize
The universe in microcosm with itself.
That’s what’s done. We’d never know it.
The tangles and scars remain all our lives,
The servitude to the sun and other
Incommunicative objects persists.
And we learn, at a glacier’s pace, to speak
To them, not expecting, for once, a reply,
But using our voice as a guide
Through the brambles to understand,
If not ourselves, the bees and the flowers,
Which become, after all, what we are.
The universe glistens with silence, filled
To every crack and pore with the sentience of life
And every prick of light is a cluster of galaxies
In strands that extend forever, the smallest string
A functioning part of the larger brain that
Powers the grids of light in its simultaneous
Network of thought – and we sit on our rocks,
Throwing crumbs into a dark ocean,
Imprisoned by a sense of absolute space. That there’s
Something inside of us to trust
                                                         … merely escapes us.
The slightest hints of changing wind and we realign
The compass, we know where we are heading
From the feathers in the undertow, we know from
The subtlest indentations the plants we can eat,
Can measure precisely the angles that will keep
Our dwellings plumb, but at the first sight
Of other people – it’s like the blood of the universe
Stops; we try expressive gestures,
And to make the clay of words
Adhere at least to one singular concept …
Finally we resort to intimations of war,
Projections of strength and weakness from a
Well-hidden blind, the way of deception because,
As they say, we can. There’s no way to know a motive
For sure. And when we look within ourselves
There is nothing, it seems, there either.
                                                                        So why not
Look outside, to the distinctness as far as the eye
Can see, and notice how it all connects into shapes
From beauty’s foundry, and lose yourself in the whole
To find, somehow, the lone one, the thinker
At the edge of a star, a self as transparent
As the tracings of constellations, in free float,
With no need to reach into the darkness for a hand
To pull you to the safety of shadows.  
                                                                   Because we are one
We have agreed that there is one world
But it is not so! It is merely a convenient prop
For the work that you have to do, in your singular
Station, where you can hold all the others away
In the abundance of your love, or bring them so close
You become nothing but fear. As a painter
Works with hues, you gather the colors of others
As if they are a rainbow, but you are the tool
You are using, to understand your thoughts
And the work you do, pulling at the strands
Of the universe from the inside of your bubble,
Bringing it together. But it’s a richer life,
Believing that there are others,
As it's better to think the worlds you create
With a being that is only a song
Are things that you may have
                      Yet you feel the souls go by
Sharing the slightest hints of longing
Before they fill your time and space, who you are,
With their tales of emptiness that gently
Rustle, like tree limbs shedding
What is secret. Their talk becomes a constant hum
Of inarticulate desire for someone
To take them as they are, incomprehensible
And frightening.
                               What is it that makes the soul
Grow? This constant interaction of magnetic poles
Moves the thoughts in increments ahead; it’s doubtful
We could even feel without that vacuum
Of someone else’s feelings; and spirit loses down here
The inability to be separate,
And gladly leaves its merged state for the fresh air
Of independence, only to so much miss what is missing
Life itself becomes a longing
For what can never be found:
The fact that you are not alone.
                                                         And so
The things of daily life – its flowers, breezes,
Words – take on a valence of yearning,
For everything is so close, as it is so far away,
And we look at it from a place of
Collective trauma, individual grief.
But there’s nothing we are grieving for
When we suppose that love is missing,
The better to search for it,
As the glare in the mirrors keeps
The truth away, just like fog in crystal balls
Makes obscure what is known too well,
The veritable all.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Three Fragments by Hölderlin

Everything is intimate

      That's parting

Such is the poet's salvage

Bold adventurer! Wanting to see
      Face after face the soul
                        You are going down in flames.

One man approaches the people eating
To him, who lives without

and describing shadows he would have
Inflamed eyes

A mare in heat, eternal lust
To live, as when nightingales
Sing soothing tunes of home, or the snow goose
Intones above
The world, yearning,

22. [Gestalt und Geist]
Alles ist innig

     Das scheidet

So birgt der Dichter

Verwegner! möchtest von Angesicht zu Angesicht
     Die Seele sehn
                       Du gehest in Flammen unter.

Ähnlich dem Manne, der Menschen frisset
Ist einer, der lebt ohne

und Schatten beschreibend hätt er
Der Augen Zorn

Zu Rossen, ewige Lust
Zu Leben, wie wenn Nachtigallen
Süßen Ton der Heimath oder die Schneegans
Den Ton anstimmet über
Dem Erdkreis, sehnend,

Aus “Plane und Bruchstucke”; Holderlin, Samtliche Werke, Grosse Stugggarter Ausgabe, 1951

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Sketch by Holderlin: "What is God?..."

What is God? Unfamiliar, still
The face of the sky is full of his
Properties. The displeasure
Named lightning is of a god. The more one is
Invisible,               the strange goes with. But the glory
Of thunder is God’s. The love for immortality
Is the property too, as are we,
Of a god.

“Was ist Gott?...”

Was ist Gott? unbekannt, dennoch
Voll Eigenschaften ist das Angesicht
Des Himmels von ihm. Die Blize nemlich
Der Zorn sind eines Gottes. Jemehr ist eins
Unsichtbar,            schiket es sich in Fremdes. Aber der Donner
Der Ruhm ist Gottes. Die Liebe zur Unsterblichkeit
Das Eigentum auch, wie das unsere,
Ist eines Gottes.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Sketch by Hölderlin: “What is man’s life…”

What is man's life an image of the divine.
As the earthbound all wander madly under the skies, see
This one. But reading, so to speak, as
In a book, that mocks infinity and mimics man’s
Wealth. Is the sky simple-minded
Because rich? How flowers are yes
Silver clouds. It rains, however, to bring
The dew and the dampness. If, however,
The blue is expunged, the simpleton’s
Mat shines equal to marble, like ore,
Display of wealth.

“Was ist der Menschen…”

Was ist der Menschen Leben ein Bild der Gottheit.
Wie unter dem Himmel wandeln die Irrdischen alle, sehen
Sie diesen. Lesend abergleichsam, wie
In einer Schrift, die Unendlichkeit nachahmen und den Reichtum
Menschen. Ist der einfältige Himmel
Denn reich? Wie Blüthen sind ja
Silberne Wolken. Es regnet aber von daher
Der Thau und das Feuchte. Wenn aber
Das Blau ist ausgelöschet, das Einfältige, scheint
Das Matte, das dem Marmelstein gleichet, wie Erz,
Anzeige des Reichtums.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Sketch by Hölderlin: "Once I asked..."

Once I asked the muse, and she
Answered me
In the end you will find it.
No mortal can steal it.
I will be silent about the highest.
Most of the fatherland is like laurel,
Forbidden fruit. But everyone
Will eat in the end,

Much beguilement early
And late.
But the final one is
The sign of the divine, that tears
                and                man
Away. That is, of course, what Hercules
Feared. But because we are born
Slowly, it calls for the falcon, so we
Can follow the flight in the clearing
As he hunts.

In                                if
And the prince

                and fire and smoke fumes bloom
On dry grass
But unmixed underneath
The release of battle,
The good-hearted voice of the prince.

The vessel makes an artist.
And acquires it

                            when, however
The verdict is reached
And its chaste lip
Touched by a demigod

Presents the barren
To its loved one
The sacred, from that point on, 
Can no longer be of use.

“Einst hab ich…”

Einst hab ich die Muse gefragt, und sie
Antwortete mir
Am Ende wirst du es finden.
Kein Sterblicher kann es fassen.
Vom Höchsten will ich schweigen.
Verbotene Frucht, wie der Lorbeer, aber ist
Am meisten das Vaterland. Die aber kost'
Ein jeder zulezt,

Viel täuschet Anfang
Und Ende.
Das lezte aber ist
Das Himmelszeichen, das reißt
          und                       Menschen
Hinweg. Wohl hat Herkules das
Gefürchtet. Aber da wir träge
Geboren sind, bedarf es des Falken, dem
Befolgt' ein Reuter, wenn
Er jaget, den Flug.

Im                          wenn
Und der Fürst

                 und Feuer und Rauchdampf blüht
Auf dürrem Rasen
Doch ungemischet darunter
Aus guter Brust, das Labsaal
Der Schlacht, die Stimme quillet des Fürsten.

Gefäße machet ein Künstler.
Und es kauffet

                            wenn es aber
Zum Urteil kommt
Und keusch hat es die Lippe
Von einem Halbgott berührt

Und schenket das Liebste
Den Unfruchtbaren
Denn nimmer, von nun an
Taugt zum Gebrauche das Heilge.