Wednesday, July 31, 2019

AUTUMN CHILD

I am a fall child; I arrived
in October—those rough days
of angles and auburn,

the smell of thick stew,
and the texture of book pages
in light from a wonderfully shrewd
consolidation of afternoon.

So if I'm caught off-guard now
by these humid blue breezes,
the post-rain swelter
of gutter puddles evaporating—

if I am cautious
to discharge wool socks;
to fire my shirt sleeves, roll up pant
cuffs, and go wading
off into the lush quiche
of a muggy summer street festival—

it may be
because each always feels like
the first one I've ever seen,

and I'm dubious.
I still suspect I might be better off
back in the comfortable-
temperatured dark,

before there was even mock-
twilight to speak of:
just me and my heartbeat, listening
to this season, not experiencing it;

instead of believing,
make-believing
I haven't even been born yet.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

DAY-TO-DAY

My body this morning—
a disheveled high-rise in the 1980s.

Blood, phlegm, lymphatic fluid—all
the disparate wearied residents
trudging reluctant through its
paper-thin halls.

Organs—online, but struggling
appliances—coffee makers,
dish washers, sputtering

and spitting out their
proxies for day-to-day existence.

Bones—the rattling ductwork,
concealed by repeat-stressed and
yellowing ligaments
of bored and boring drop ceiling.

Several lightbulbs blinking,
several gone out,
several more missing—

luckily not appendages or teeth.
Perhaps these
are my viewpoints,

affiliations, closed perspectives;
the rueful
poverty-stricken condition of

my never-inspected
subjectivity. And yet, I can feel
new ideas stirring:

those wispy stray and
secretive ones—moths in the back
of some mildewed closet;

those scattered few
which are actionable—
all hard-hats, all cool shiny

boots on the ground—black roaches
in one of the bathrooms.

Monday, July 29, 2019

WAKING UP WITHOUT AN ALARM

First thing
in the morning,

emerging
from the furniture;

clockless time—
arriving completely

as a package does, as a
newspaper

slaps against
(imaginary) edifice of brick—

light through blind slits:
hieroglyphics,

staff paper
to the musical novice.

Any guesses? Any requests? Any hints?
Hamper, bedside table, pull-

chain combination
fan and light fixtureeverything

is landing—
nothing sticks.

a stiff rug,
winterwarm, the

summercold
hardwood—seasons pass over.

which
day is this?

Sunday, July 28, 2019

MORTALITY

It's like—you know you know
the sky is blue;

you don't need some poem
to throttle it into you.

But every time you look through
the window,

it both thrills
and
unnerves you a little

to poke
at the smoldering discovery.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

ORTHODOXY

One day
a mosquito lands
on the ashen planet of your ankle,

claims this land
in the name of Queen Whichever,
or perhaps God—

not God in the abstract,
but the immense
expanding and contracting

hide
of one heartsick African
elephant in particular—whereupon

it plants a funny kind
of flag, and makes to
refuel the ship before blast-off.

You—the you who
construes this
on a green-painted zoo bench—

you are not God.
You are no one
to it: sheer alien surface,

concealing new potentialities
of the most essential resources.
It

is most definitely
nothing to you.
Not even this. This

is artifice; another kind
of surface,
a different kind of exhibit.

The unreconstructed
truth—you never even
noticed it.

Friday, July 26, 2019

LES FLEURS DU MAL

Yes, it makes sense: Evil
always has its roots, so it must
by extension, have its
blossoms too—and Goodness

they say, in time, bears fruit,
ensuring its perpetuation
with its own sweet reward.
But what about

the potential efflorescence
of simply not caring, one
way or the other? How come
no one seems to wonder

how fresh-faced and mysterious
could be those alternate
shapes that would hang
on the stems of no preference,

no inclination, no opinion?
Imagine for a moment those
First Prize-winning specimens:
their angles razor-sharp—

from years of assiduously
doing no harm to anyone—
perfectly contrasted
with the voluptuous contours

of never having lifted one
finger in assistance.
After all, it's so common 
to be greedy and dishonest;

so garden to be a champion
of positivity in all circumstances.
How exquisite a life might look
in contrast, how achingly rare

and masterfully complex
to cultivate within in its vast
arable landscape
the Flowers of Nonchalance.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

DAILY WRITING PROMPT

Not purity
initially, but

purity
by purifying.

Not inborn
beauty's

vanity, but
vanities

made and
demonstrated.

Discipline,
not punishment;

ministry,
not religion.

Revision
is musicianship;

the instrument
is rhythm.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

TOUCH ME NOT

Red impatiens
white impatiens
pink impatiens
yellow—dilating

in an obscured
sort of row

on the easement
adjacent to this
fraught intersection—oh

how I adore
that no one asks what's
best for you;

they've just left
you alone to
do the one
thing you

already knew
how to do.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

"HOW CAN YOU STAND TO LIVE IN A CITY?"

It starts with the steady
daily comfort
of cars—

hundreds
of them glinting, perhaps
thousands, in

far light. All
so similar, all parked
strangers' cars,

ordered in penitent
columns and hugging
every serviceable curb in sight.

A sweet constancy—
quite unlike that
of the stars

burning in their
fixed points
out in the country—

whose cloyingness
is tempered
by the salty indeterminacy

as to
which cars, specifically, on
any given morning.

Monday, July 22, 2019

THE EXISTENTIALIST'S TRIP

Nobody else besides you
seems to know—the real value
of vacation isn't memories,
souvenirs, or entertainment;

it's the momentary compression
of the whole agonizing world—
all the purposelessness
and politics, the goal-

seeking and codependency,
all the cold- and hot-
running lust, hunger, dread,
and work/life stress—

into the neat strip of wood
and concrete they
succinctly refer to as
Main Street around here.

And boy, oh boy, wouldn't you
like to shake
hands with this mayor?
For a few soothing days' worth

of saunters, it's: never mind 
the bullocks and the dregs;
never mind the low back pain,
memory loss, and constipation.

Instead of detailing these
internal feelings, you'll catalog
the scenery; and in lieu of periodically
ducking conversation,

you'll duck a little quicker
into corner wine and cheese shops;
and instead of a bad loan, a
long grudge, a struggling marriage;

you'll take some coconut fudge, please,
hold the string of a glossy red
kite in the park, or heck—
maybe simply dose off for a minute

in a warm canvas chair near the pier,
secure in the knowledge
that if it all has to end, at least it'll
all end right there.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

MACKINAC ISLAND WILDFLOWERS

On a rag and bone specimen
of Great Lakes limestone,
between cedars, lining
buggy paths, blurring the bed

and breakfasts' backyards:
lambent shaggy pilewort clusters—
sun-mad, puddle-thick
low-growing buttercups

swirled around everywhere—like
tobacco smoke, like husky
flute notes, like the ancient Native
American narratives

now breezily used as tourist lures.
Or perhaps,
like Apollo
as an unkempt senior citizen—

Eternal Sunshine himself
come to roost forevermore,
to rest anonymous at last
one July afternoon

on the sleepiest,
most wonderfully
outmoded—and forgetful surface
of the Earth.

Friday, July 19, 2019

VAULTING AMBITION

          I have no spur 
          to prick the sides of my intent, but only 
          the vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself, 
          and falls on th'other...
                —Macbeth Act I, Scene 7 .25-28

While hopefully not
quite at Macbeth-level, I admit
to being driven

by the vaulting ambition
to someday write
the greatest poem ever

concerning the heights of human folly.
With each new stab
of the rhetorical knife, I feel

I'm getting closer to
glimpsing the top,
though strangely, not any better

equipped to explain
after the fact, the path by which
I marched up there—because

the worst trait in the world
keeps changing day to day
and minute by minute

(not to mention
those inevitable handicaps
of subjectivity

and translation; character defects
being so disparate
person to person

and place to place).
My latest strategy
is to approach the mood

obliquely—not face to face,
but through a glass
darkly. That is: I take a few sips

of iced coffee each morning
on the back patio while
perusing a few tragedies,

purloining certain key phrases
and re-triangulating
their inclinations. In fact,

as the great Thane
of Cawdor himself discovered
fairly quickly,

the whole endeavor
seems to boil down
to a solitary game

of keeping the plates spinning
and explaining any
cognitive dissonances

not as madness,
but as part of life's
dynamism—for example,

privately plotting
to rid oneself eventually
of those indwelling gremlins

which one hates most,
while still staying faithfully
married to them in the interim.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

PATTERN RECOGNITION

How familiar is this feeling
that it's about to rain, how
dead simple to go and look out a
west-facing window and
watch this ominous thing approach—
less like some work of tragic
flash fiction than like the surfeit of
bad dreams you've been having—
which are, you must try and
remind yourself constantly: terribly 
real, but not at all true.
How normal for your little corner
of the world to go so
intermittently dark and strange;
how comfortable it is to dislike
what you're seeing
when it's all over the news that
you're not alone in your views;
how encouragingly consistent
with your poor tortured body
is the entire abused and
mistreated world all around you:
continually getting rinsed, then
dried off a little, but never once
offered the chance to start new.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

THOUGHT EXPERIMENT

It's a lot to unpack: whether
the little collective

of coffee beans I automatically
pulverize each morning—

then sluice
boiled water through—

then throw in the trash
and distractedly

sip the resultant brew
while reading a few Tweets before

dashing out the door—
was heretofore treated equitably

on its journey
from Ecuador to Chicago.

Most days, I'm too distracted
by my ongoing lack

of contentment, too worn out
from last night's argument

at the bar, or else
I just find it a little too convenient-

ly early to contemplate:
whether there is really

such a thing as
a good person,

a better thought,
a noble action—

or if it just feels that way
by comparison

when one tends to go around
thoughtlessly extracting

only those bits
which are most useful

from one
bitter assemblage—

one shit-
situation—after another.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

MASSES

Astounding—the dark clouds
which have gathered
this morning

could only have come
from nowhere,
could only be going

nowhere. And yet,
here we are
beneath them again—the believers,

sipping our coffee
a bit more devotionally,
letting our eyes wander

that much more slowly
over a few extra columns
of the day's first reading,

wavering a little longer
in the dimly lit front halls
where the rain jackets

and umbrellas are reverently hanging,
before diffidently opening
and closing our large doors

and beginning the gravid procession,
to and fro, past one another
without candles

or crosses—but because
we recognize
the damp feeling of being

audited
from an alter
somewhere behind a screen—

with our heads bowed
automatically a little
closer to our arched shoulders.

Monday, July 15, 2019

DOCUMENT

Back home for a holiday,
watching smudged approximations
of former special
occasions on television

as magnetic tape slithers—
unspooling and recoiling away
inside its thirty-year-old
VHS case—I'm wondering

if blurry is even the right word
to describe what it is I—
and mom and dad
and Jeffery—are seeing.

I don't remember being there
that time I turned seven
and the ice cream cake's candles
proved too tricky for me to handle

any more than they can
seem to recall plotting it, snickering,
and bearing witness. And yet,
here it is (albeit dark and a

bit fuzzy): proof positive
that it happened; that it was brutal
and savage—and that, still, somehow
the dispassionate world

kept on turning.
But I can't help but figure
that, if he were here, my tight-lipped
old Grandpa would remember

operating all of those arcane controls,
forcing his one good eye
into the uncomfortably
hot rubber socket

of a cumbrous state-of-the-art machine,
and proceeding to achieve
his cold sober objective—like
it was yesterday.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

ALWAYS

Out of what must be millions
upon millions of those
maple tree whirlybirds,

my eye
always seems to focus
on one ruddy outlier

as it helicopters—
perilous, heroic,
and lonely—out and down

to some very likely inhospitable
patch of new ground.
And I wonder,

for the thousandth time,
whether
everything I am

is just all the things I can't
stop doing.
And then, for the first:

what will become of that heap
if I keep neglecting
to sweep it

since I'm always
so busy jotting-
down these spare phenomena.

Friday, July 12, 2019

AFTER THE POEM IS DONE

Of the tens of murky self-
similar thousands,
there is only one

crystalline moment
immediately after
the poem is done

in which I don't feel exceptional
pressure to explain
anything to anyone;

not the intimate
nature of my relationship
to friction and its coefficients,

not the gory details
of my long-standing three way
with Gravity and the Normal Force,

not even the vague way in which
uselessness wells up and
clashes with hope

when I stop to acknowledge
the velocity at which
the surface of the earth has been rotating.

For one rock-solid second,
I feel obligated
never to explain

anything that's been going on with me
ever again.
And when this happens,

it's such a strange combination of
a relief
and a rush,

a hybridized feeling
so complete, yet unique—
almost to the point

of being unheard-of—that
just this once, I
had to tell someone.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

MATHEMATICALLY SPEAKING

Still thinking about you every
so often, I wonder whether
the paradox of Zeno

isn't the real reason
I still feel safe reaching—
across camouflaged time

and dubiously
empty space, tiptoeing lightly
as I pass

around all the noisy hollow
containers, the trash left over
from sugary memories,

and the pale changeling bodies
of every possible
unborn child—

and if simply halving the distance
stepping by-numbers,
then fractions

of numbers,
isn't the best, if not only way
to move forward

incorporeally
toward what I take to be
your face,

two outstretched
arms, and chest—in a theoretically
classic gesture

of comfort
and genuine condolence,
without ever

having, mathematically
speaking, to wreck all that
by embracing.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

FIRST PLACE

At the starting line, there are so often
things we mean to write or say
aphoristically—but it
never turns out that way.

In no time flat, the words begin
to clump in herds,
to yoke themselves up—and we
can't resist plowing

aimlessly forward:
mowing down the clean
mentality of trees,
uprooting the humbler mammals'

homes as we go on constructing
another eight lane road to god-
knows-where, without even caring
which direction we're going.

But then, where in hell have aphorisms
ever gotten us anyway?
I remember hearing once, for instance,
that love is all you need,

that it'd be just the thing
to light the way, to show me
where I was going and
where I would stay.

But now I think
the most useful emotion
is whichever one
is still in the tank,

whichever residual feeling
remains, whichever mood we still feel
lingering in the sweaty air
at the end of our labors

once we've finally had the courage
to drop every implement, turn
around filthy, and survey the truth
about where it is we came from.

Friday, July 5, 2019

THE TITLE COMES LAST

As if we're never quite sure
what we're asking for
until some much more scientific
future version of ourselves
deigns to review
and reanimate the words we interred
a long time ago
in a galaxy far far away—
the title of a thing
almost always comes last.
If at first, this order of events
might seem counterintuitive;
the reality is, composition
can only proceed this way, since
the context of our intention
so often shifts as we
invent it—the only constant being
the implausibility
of discovery: tectonic plates hidden
beneath the feet of mountains
asleep under oceans
of green liquid methane
on the dimly lit fifth moon
of a strange exoplanet
which has not even been looked at
by the eyes of sentient beings yet,
let alone colonized and named.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

AN ABSENCE OF COOPERATION

What's the difference between
the silence
of the tiger

lily and
the tiger sleeping—
between the pale lotus

flower and the still-paler
moon smeared loosely on the
surrounding water?

Even closer
to home, I hear so many
of these absences

which seem to work together—
the quiet of morning
coffee in my cup

and of the downstairs
neighbors who
moved out last month;

the peace of the municipal vehicle
at the end of the cul-de-sac
not backing up

and the similar tranquility
of the steeple bell around the corner
during all the minutes

that mercifully exist
in between those horribly
ironclad hours.

In fact, there must be hundreds
of thousands of different
kinds of silence,

each with its own
loud dark way of knowing
something connected

to something else.
And I can't help but wonder—
which pair is the most like us?

I don't mean the species—I mean you
and me: two points,
two dots

at the top of
two necks, always connected,
always yolked as efficiently as possible

on the geodesic
surface of this planet, but never
really talking.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

WORD PROBLEM

If it takes amount of minutes
every morning to out-wake
a bad dream,

how many days;
how many busywork late
afternoons, silent

cold dinners, mild dry-eyed
television nights—each calibrated
so meticulously

to the shape
of its own goneness—will it
take to finally outlive it?

Monday, July 1, 2019

SUMMER IN THE CITY

     And babe, don't you know it's a pity 
     that the days can't be like the nights 
     in the summer, in the city?
     -The Lovin' Spoonful

I don't know; you can give me
a grotesquely hot
sunny day

any day,
and every
night: the same

lone protuberant tree,
old—and frozen
to the spot, a stubborn paragon

whose huge inarticulate
soul I could
stand in

like the shadow
at 2 p.m. that mercifully
subsumes my own.