Monday, April 6, 2020

THANKS

In the beginning
was not the word,
in the beginning was the relation—

out of silence, speech
plain air
and aspiration;

out of isolation, merely
the judicious
use of solitude;

out of the huge
ineluctable gulf
between humans,

an I
who is talking
directly to you—

even though
that can't possibly
be true—

and of course: you, sitting there,
having
just woken up

like a god
who dreamt for light years
in a hall of gleaming marble

and for a second
couldn't remember
the full extent of their power

but now, without any effort
is constituting truth,
reifying the beautiful,

effortlessly winding spiral
after spiral
of light in the vacuum,

making
my little
universe happen.



Sunday, April 5, 2020

IN-BETWEEN

Uncertainly, season quivers
into season, disturbing
the stagnant imagination.

In private—or behind disguises,
some have already begun
to wonder

what mass
reenchantment might
possibly look like.

But when the the answer
cannot be found
inside,

yet it refuses to be
depicted outside either—where else
might it lie?


Saturday, April 4, 2020

QUIT WISHING THINGS WERE DIFFERENT

Again and again—
and again, let us wake up

and do what has got
to be done; let us stretch

and bend down to touch
the rutted toes of civilization;

let us tuck the pale sheets
of our stray thoughts, tensed

syntax, and go and rinse
the wistful sheen of last night's

dreams from our grave faces.
Let us remark without bitterness:

how priceless nevertheless are
the grim objects staring back;

how stark, prim, and cleanly
the spaces that contain them—

how momentous it is now
to find ourselves the previous-

ly appointed curators
of everything that remains.




Friday, April 3, 2020

APPREHENSION

I know this is not the first time
you've felt things

so huge, it was difficult for you 
to distinguish them 

from the force of gravity counterbalancing 
the spinning of the world.

All of the pain we're in now 
is similar; 

it doesn't have to be worth anything 
on paper 

but when we choose to consider it 
that way, it is.

If you can understand that 
you have seen through the trick—

you have just put yourself 
into the universe 

and then put the universe 
into your pocket;

and if you could manage 
to walk around like that 

for one minute of your existence
you could know everything 

and still not be able 
to do anything about it.


Thursday, April 2, 2020

THE DIAMOND INSIDE THE MIND

Despite the dark waves
obscuring our position

the wintry winds of
turmoil blurring or plain erasing

the boundaries
between our realities and fictions—

the simple symmetry
of spring still arrives

like a diamond that gleams
inside the mind

none can doubt
the primacy of the image

or mute the message roaring
from awareness's periphery—

one day it will be okay
it will be fine

and pure
to balk and cheer

those in attendance will rise
in observance of who's not here

the white simplicity of chalk
will fall heavy and cover dirt—

first and third
then the foul lines

and of course
that glad paradise known

as home—all of those
crisply re-identified.


Wednesday, April 1, 2020

OVERCOMPENSATION

These mornings
as I sit strict and reflect
in the church of austerity

in silence—the plate
invariably come around.
And each day I give

a little bit more
than I was comfortable with
the day before.

I watch my private
empty spaces get
handed off—

mingling like garden pebbles
with all the bits
of silent reticence

of the others
gathered far away
in shrines

of their own design
who are doing the same
at this moment

and feel at once
both humbled
and fortunate—

encouraged and
deeply afraid
that together we may be

repaying a debt
which is too enormous
not to exist.


Tuesday, March 31, 2020

DO NOT FIGHT THIS

Come let the violent
spring rain
again

from the inviolable clouds
to bewilder wrecked field edges
foggy lakesides
drab embankments

to the mute
slate gray pools
eclipsing dank park lawns

the indistinct
dross gathered
penitent in street curbs

the piles of rot and
aborted treebuds
clogging up the sewers.

From every heavily devastated
bit of nothing special

a new force
waits in its benevolent
artifice to emerge—

so undeterrable
it cannot be doubted
co-opted bailed-out
reversed or contained.

Come
let the violent spring
rain again

its benediction
that absences
can be generative too

proof
that even our conspicuous
lack
is productive.

Monday, March 30, 2020

ODE TO WHAT NOW

I guess try
to praise what's left

praise the kindling spring,
the warm wind
and increased light

praise the silenced
alarm clock, the rolling
back over, the balled-up slacks
and dusty gym bag,
the dormant blender (and instead)
the slow soaking of egg yolk
into the holes in your toast

praise the free video
conferencing app, the not-too-
steep learning curves
of home school and home cooking,
praise wax candles, bathtubs,
and yoga mats

praise the masked neighbors
waving right back
at you holding hands and
wearing matching track suits

praise the quiet highways
like the newly emboldened birds do,
praise the clean air, the poverty
and wealth of distraction,
praise your cool stubble
and scruffy long hair

even try your best to praise
the lagging instantanaeity of news,
those experts who pound their fists
and argue, the voices of fear mixed
with those few of complacency
who together illuminate
the most judicious middle path

praise the simple sound
of singing in harmonious agreement,
praise the very strange thought
of shared truths and a common ground
praise the discombobulation of fate,
praise this united state of our solitude—
and while you're at it, I guess

try to praise your tenuous,
ever-changing
hold on this existence—unless
or until that moment
when you can't


Sunday, March 29, 2020

NEVER TRUST A SECULAR HUMANIST

In times of crises such as these,
they say never trust 
a Secular Humanist 
who professes no allegiance 
to a religion or a nation, 
who seems little more than an
undocumented alien 
rapping a strange mix 
of apoplectic adoration
on street corners, or else 
spray-painting eco-friendly sci-fi 
superheros known as
ex-men on the chapel ceilings—
mutant power: bootstrapping 
spirituality—abracadabra,
kingdom-phylum into 
genus-species, thumbs and fingers 
into the shape of a W 
and used as an implement
for digging up the patterns 
in our fetid dumpsters of statistics 
in order to make lurid
apocalypse art, using
all the smuggest numbers
and most disobedient words.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

LONG PAUSE

Once I told you I just wanted
what everyone else
was afraid to—to be both
narrow and deep,

slender and bold,
less a shape than the path a solitary
arrow takes—a straight line
with an admirable slope.

But it's been such a long time since
I've taken up space,
and now I'm sure nothing is left
of that inclination—

even though so much of its math
will always remain
in the sound of my voice wavering
on the phone. Tonight

I wish I could just stand back up
and ride those waveforms
into the glow,
the bright ranks of code,

the strings of positive numbers
I still have memorized—and hope
are still written
all over your face.


Friday, March 27, 2020

OCCASIONAL POEM

With so much out of reach
now, I reach for simplicity

Don't want to say any 
more than I need to 

Don't need to be Tolkien 
to imagine all is not lost

Now is not the time to weave 
a complicated plot

Now is the time to ration 
all the skillful means I've got 

Only the melody 
ought to get a solo 

Only a splash 
of Scotch for these rocks 

Only the sharp keys 
of small words to pick 

the padlocks 
on the big thoughts.



Thursday, March 26, 2020

STANDS TO REASON

When we cannot kiss
but we can choose
to walk about and listen

when we can talk
and sing about
the extent of the doubt
and mistrust we must be oozing

when it seems like there is
no room left
for the size of the thoughts
we must keep holding in

but there are still open windows,
mellow sun, cool rain,
wind blowing

who needs touch,
as long as there is still feeling?


Wednesday, March 25, 2020

SOMEDAY SOON

When early light streams
through the trees, spangles
cold sidewalks, forging fresh steam;

when robins, sparrows,
church bells, all singing the hour
carry much farther
on the still, silken air;

when the mulish dogs pull
their stiff sleepy masters faster
and farther across empty intersections

in which no meek child
is being tugged by the arm
or herded by green-yellow guards
to the yards of their prisons

and no overdressed-yet-
disheveled men and women
are rushing to catch up
with insensate trains and busses—

all of this may yet be welcomed
as one chooses to greet
a special occasion

replete with ripping
arrangements of blossoms,
cool thin mimosas, gossamer strains
of traditional song:

all the carefully curated trappings
of some universal day
of easeful celebration—instead

of what we encounter today—
the habitual triggers
of daily anxiety,
dread, and suspicion.


Tuesday, March 24, 2020

ALMOST APRIL

Whether pierced by sun
or stabbed by shadow, no piece
of this place is ever ruined
completely. Shredded
to ribbons and spread around—
either like shrapnel or
parade confetti—no city
or town is deserted; no tree-
lined street is not
the province of its robins;
no block devoid of
squirrels practicing
balance on the power lines;
no empty neighborhood
park baseball diamond
not using obsolescence
to prime extra green.
No part of these bodies
will be unmade so easy;
no promise of the peace to
come could be more lovely.


Monday, March 23, 2020

TOWARD RESILIENCE

Unnaturally stunted and
silent city—what can I say?
Where can I go? All of your shops
and offices are closed, and the
noisy nonchalant spirit of your millions
has been frozen, distilled down
to a hard bullion of wearied tenacity.
Like a few others, I still find myself
out this morning amid your repeating
patches of snow, grass, concrete,
and shadow—I have been listening
for the music of my own voice;
but without the din, I don't expect
to find it. It felt almost natural:
the impersonal patterns of motion,
the generous friction of this close-
quartered existence, the obnoxious
excitement of your traffic—
the concatenation of car horns
and police sirens, truck belches
and train groans—I'd like all of this
commotion to speak for me
again this morning, the way it
has so often—but it won't, I know it.
So I take a cue from you, inanimate
fortress. I hunker down and make do.
I cash a little hope in for resilience
and try my best own it—for a bit,
I'm going to have to do this alone.


Sunday, March 22, 2020

QUITTANCE

Suffering is
a neverending clench—
freedom
is just enough-
ness.

when it comes true
that you
can do nothing—
what else
really can you?



Saturday, March 21, 2020

ANTIMATTER

Eventually, you may come to see
the mystery—your life
was the one gift which
you could not have been there
to be given.
Nonetheless, you were
its only recipient.
somehow you received it
without ever having accepted.
Like fire from lighting,
invisible waves of radiation,
the radical fringe theory's full implications.
Nothing was destined, but now,
so much is supposed
drastically on the back of each
last supposition—questions ricocheting
off of questions, like white light
in a closed circle of prisms:
what are you going to do
with this present,
this deep and soulful pattern
of absence still dancing,
now that it goes
by a name that you know?


Friday, March 20, 2020

FROM OUR ISOLATION

After the storm,
birdsong crescendos

The ripe scent of mud comes
reaching for our windows

Empty streets gleam
like the cheeks of newborn children

The rest of our lives now
reveal themselves

as massive clouds riding out
beyond illusory horizons—distant

and intangible, tumultuous
and free

Thursday, March 19, 2020

COUNTERMEASURE

Spring is upon us,
and so, accordingly,
stalk all these mysterious
shoots and buds—
soon to be proudly
individual leaves,
hardy stems, or
delicate flowers of
profligate texture—
perhaps daffodils,
creeping jennies, or ivy
tendrils, red then green—
redolent blasts
of lilac, magnolia,
musk of crab apple,
dogwood, and pear branches,
all quaking in rainstorms to
make their return.
And with this recurrence
resurges our belief
in balance, routine,
process, remedy, faith;
each new petal, frond,
and leaflet blooms
as a new vowel sound
in a rustic and obscure
sort of prayer—
that every injury out there
currently festering
for lack of care,
every poison, pestilence,
canker, infection,
every malady on earth
may come to us perfectly
paired with its cure.


Wednesday, March 18, 2020

THE JUICY PART

It's the middle of March—
when everything in nature

is frail, under-confident,
dingy, immature.

The trees are not ready.
The sky is dingy gray.

Wind gusts are obliterating even
the sparrows' rainy praying.

If we are lucky, they're saying, tomorrow
we may still be here to remember

today, and just how instrumentally
we treated each other. But

if life were an allegory, this
would be the juicy part—right before

whats feel like a hard dead-end
turns out to be the porous middle,

the abandoned well we've fallen into
is revealed to be a magic portal,

and all that surplus gunpowder
hastily manufactured for the war

gets ingeniously re-purposed
to make frivolous fireworks

so that little children can clap
while their grandparents sigh

because no matter how black
and dispassionate the night,

tomorrow, our orientation
to the rest of the solar system

will shift on its own
ever so slightly,

and this whole place
will be angled just right

for a change
toward the light.



Tuesday, March 17, 2020

AT LEAST

it's okay, because
I don't need much
anyway. Maybe just

this morning—to walk out
among the smirking mud,
the purring bare branches,

the glad right angles
of brick and limestone
apartment buildings—

each one perfectly etched
in that promising kind
of light from the east

which causes you
to squint a little,
forcing a half-smile

while you inhale
the enigmatic air
of a not-quite-yet spring

and say to yourself
(and mean it
more than you don't) that

it's okay, because
you don't need much
anyway. At least

not right now—
and maybe
not even today.


Monday, March 16, 2020

STILLNESS IS A DIFFICULT MOVE

when even the crocuses are
fastidiously working;
the snowdrops, drop by drop,
keep making steady progress;
the proud arrowheads
of soon-to-be tulips, already piercing
the stiff barriers of their soil,
have hit their marks perfectly, or even
slightly ahead of schedule—almost as if
the rest of the planet's odd affectation
of doing its best to keep perfectly still
for the season's duration
were preferable to its ordinarily
violent rotation.


Saturday, March 14, 2020

RELAXATION TECHNIQUE

Settle back—you, having
split once again into
doctor and patient,
are attempting to council your
patently worse-off half—
think of each breath
as a good-willed flame
which serves humanity
before extinguishing itself politely;
or, if that doesn't work, maybe
it's a new species of bird—
a hugely important
missing link to the dinosaurs—
which has yet to be discovered.
Or maybe—this breath is just
shit and trivial, but the next one
is sure to be super special?
Pinning down the winning analogy
is proving more difficult
than either of you imagined;
but eventually, you both agree
that each breath is definitely
a round in a game called
Let's Pretend We Can 
Keep This Up Forever
and that all of your friends
are playing too, and, for once
everyone is happy to use
the exact same rules.


Friday, March 13, 2020

SOME ASSISTANCE

Just now, it might help 
to think of some 
enormous objects—

planets, for instance,
and their frozen moons,
jagged mountains in the distance,

even the fridge 
inside the apartment—all as 
effectively weightless, 

because 
without some assistance, 
it might never even cross your mind 

to imagine the possibility
of everything, at some point,
having been lifted.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

MY FIGHT

These hands will not
prepare for war,

or censure or
impeach for peace;

these hands
touch pages,

dog fur,
piano keys—

handling secrets
neverending,

straightening
and wiping clean

those treasures
first brushed by others,

and thereby worthy
of preserving.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

ALL IN A DAY'S WORK

Each day, to preempt 
disappointment, 
I stand and renew 
my vow to renounce 
all satisfaction;

I shove my hands 
in the empty front pockets 
of my pants 
whenever I talk or go 
walking around. 

such baffling knots 
of aversion 
and amelioration 
can unclench and relax 
only in their apparent lack,

warmed by the friction 
of amicable dissonance, 
by the obvious 
and the oblivious heat 
of concealment. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

EAVESDROPPING

On a cold March morning,
when downtown skylines are
not yet apparent and the rooftops
still frosty in the feeble sun,
a few pairs of legs besides mine
are trudging to reluctant trains or
columnated cars still frozen
in last night's shadow—
but no one in their right mind
is speaking, let alone singing
quite like the sparrows
all congregated naked in the
tight-budded lilac bushes.
They sound deliriously happy—
just to be cold and conscious 
and hungry. In fact, though,
the constancy of their chirping
unsettles a little; it is difficult
to ignore, and I find myself
trapped between resentful
and jealous: how foreign it sounds
to celebrate a lacking, how
unnervingly strange and perfect
is the pitch of awareness
which is borne on the breath
of absence itself.


Monday, March 9, 2020

THE LIVING SITUATION

It's understandable.
I guess I must just have
fallen in love
with your most ungovernable parts—

the teenagers raging
in their locked-door bedrooms
at the ends of each
of the tips of your fingers,

the note in your face
that bends blue in defiance
whenever you say yes—
as you always do—to everything
everyone asks of you,

the ghost inside your
terrified mind machine,
moaning something about being
a political prisoner
who was hanged long ago by
your turncoat convictions,

but mostly, the séance
that is your rogue tumescent tongue
when it speaks its messages
to me in tremors, with none
of the rest of your
body's consent, and dooms me

again and again, to a life 
of asceticism 
locked in the dark 
basement of your heart, 

and yet, still manages 
to charm me with its 
provocative dances into paying
my half of the rent.


Saturday, March 7, 2020

PRACTICE

I watch the light move
slowly over the painting,
the sparrows darting quickly away—

so certain,
so unnecessary—each morning
I renounce my fortune

in the name of touching
even a thumbnail
to fortunes far greater than mine.


Friday, March 6, 2020

MOTIVATED REASONING

I know it's only a trick—
your mouth
does not actually talk,

your ears are not hearing this,
your eyes do not see.
After years,

your face still looks
the same to me,
though I could swear

I am so much older
even than I am at this moment—
old enough, at least to comprehend

the parts of us
that still interact
are far from the obvious suspects;

just like the organs responsible
for the wood thrush's loneliest singing
are themselves perfectly silent,

and the mechanisms by which
a whole universe longs
to linger on and listen,

though very simple,
could be invisible—or else
very cleverly hidden.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

THE POINT

8:57 a.m.
and still you haven't written
a goddamn thing;
instead, you have been pensively reading
the poems of other people
(most of whom are dead now)
with only the light of the stingiest window
in your woozy apartment to
illuminate the pages.

Yet, you wouldn't dare
change this. You don't want to
stir and risk dissipating the
air of quiet fullness.
You don't want to have to
stop in a few minutes and
attend to other things, because
you're getting it—really
getting it—that invisible thing

which you hope to someday articulate
is standing, for once, in the
very same room with you;
and though you could never
work up the the nerve
to say hello, you also know
you absolutely
cannot let it leave.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

THE FUTURE MIGHT NOT DEPEND ON YOU SPECIFICALLY

One morning,
how would you like to be
lifted up

as one of a million
haphazard v's
of northeast-bound geese—

those ordinary but unmissable symbols
of no luck or promise,
innocent but hellbent.

Who could regret
not being born demure
and delicate as a swan

when there is so much ugly
work to be done.
No promised land,

no such thing as heaven,
their days spent leaning
into the weather,

or else bending determined
around another ridiculous
cloud, and shrieking—

one season,
in delirious despair,
the next

in celebration
of the same insignificance
you fought against.


Tuesday, March 3, 2020

LENTEN POEM

In early March,
the small shock
of a cardinal

appearing
like a flame before me—welcome
but undeserved.

I watch as his dart-quick
perfect angles
of arrow-sharp red
and yellow

maneuver onto the uppermost branch
of the still-bare catalpa 
outside my window.

But
when he starts to sing
in his foreign language
the first refrain
of a long responsorial,

the rest of the congregation below—
all tooth-aches
and scar-tissue,

all still dressed in their
somber brown
and gray graveclothes—

look puzzled, at best
by the echoing missive.

The groggy, the undead,
those fiercely unprepared 
for a sermon

would inevitably mistake
any gospel
for braggadocio;

What earthly utility 
could exist,
they would wonder,

in crowing like this, 
so early in the morning, 
about something only he 
was made to know? 


Monday, March 2, 2020

THE TRUTH

Some days
even the chalky emptiness
of sky that fills the window

can strike you
as so tricky and complicated
it becomes
overwhelming to describe

rates of change
so certain and specific
they cannot be legally gauged

a real honest
to goodness person
could never simply
state a feeling

this is the lie
that got baked inside
every sweet bleached
morsel of the language

there are politics involved
and certain things just
aren't discussed

lips must have
first evolved their
plushness for the biting

even in private
we are embarrassed
to mention this

the poets
are as peasants

standing before the procession
of their emperor

the page
which
may not be blank

but it is still
always naked.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

SLEEPING IN THE CITY

what kind of rest
do you expect to get
at all

what sort of recompense
for passing which state
of remoteness

when there is no bat
no rodent
no owl stirring

no moonlight silver
water lapping
against a cistern wall

with no lush
canopy overhead
no dense carapace

how is a body supposed
to zip itself up
for a bit

to stall infinity
between two blinks
of armistice

to see only the pureness
of the ink and not
the words written in it

to pull its head off
and push it
off into the black

stream of that
same ink
on the pillow of oblivion

and then turn around
without guilt
and forget


Friday, February 28, 2020

BURNING QUESTION

If there is one, the reason
for it must be
spread so thin
and evenly across the planet

that all the men and women
and even children dodging
do not see it,
though they lend it

a little more credit
with every new instance
of their constant and
deliberate looking.

The only scintilla of a hint
they get is the golden,
splendid, spacious
daily-ness of it.

This unnoticeability
is encouraging
to scientists; scholars say its
constancy reassures.

The burning frivolousness
of light illuminating
empty space might serve as
evidence—how dependably

each night it fails;
just as in the morning,
how it never fails
at returning.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

VOID WHERE PROHIBITED

What about those times
when you say you feel fine—
not sick and not well,
not relieved, but not particularly
miserable; when you do or don't stop
to muse a little, or complain, or
demand a satisfying explanation
from anyone about anything;
when you get through all your email
but haven't begun to reply;
when you don't mind crying
as long as it's because of the bracing wind
blowing in off the lake, the onion
your dutiful chef's knife is chopping,
or the big song from a movie
coming on full-blast in the car;
when you have neither failed nor succeeded
at graciously receiving the redundant
gift you've just been given,
deciphering the confusing
wording on the assembly instructions,
or giving your last trace of love
to this small battered animal
called daily life
who must trust someone soon
if it wants to survive
but doesn't remember how
and has no idea who?

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

THE SYMPTOMS

It feels a little like
Christmas as a toddler—if you were
just begging for
a little more self-consciousness.

It's as if you realized early on
a good night's rest could work
much better as a sacrifice
to the kind of divinity you believed in.

It's reminiscent of the time
back in school
you had actually studied
but never got tested on the material—

the calculus devised by
Newton and Leibniz, meant to pulverize
the smooth curves of existence
into a fine dust of fractions

which of course you couldn't keep
from inhaling; after that
you found your own lungs had grown
worse at filtering unrarified air.

Now it greets you surreptitiously
like someone who doesn't know you,
as if you really needed this new way
to suffer, another name for the flu.

The disorientation causes you
to swoon, forget your own name,
fall back and then band
together with the rest

of the nameless populace
bearing witness to clear and
certain experience, instead of just
its tenuous first-personness.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

OPTIONAL

For a few hours in the early morning
I can choose
to use a language which is private
to speak of
only what is optional.

I might just be softly lobbing dreams
into tautological algorithm
machines; I may discover—a poem
is either a song, or it isn't
much of a poem at all,

but there is no dissent
from the audience—the remnants
of eggs and coffee black
or the headless sardines
not yet extracted from the can.

And I know how all that
might come off
out there, but
I don't have to care all the time
about what is optimal; I say

let the midday break
as my validation; may the sky
brighten a little, as I
hurry off, as if
I have just gotten away with something.

Monday, February 24, 2020

HYACINTH AND IRIS

How precious
is each
endlessly regenerative
special occasion?

How fresh and exciting
the unprecedented loss
of our counting

of whatever
new thing just
predictably happened?

How significant
the prefabricated sentiments
and ornamentation adorning
the most trivial events?

Nature has given us
a quick heuristic to follow—

the more anthropologically
significant the flower,

the deadlier the petals
if ingested.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

IT'S YOUR CHOICE

Any point
in an elliptical orbit
might as well be the end
as the beginning

someone who must meet you
has just been born

someone who you have met
has just died

on the road
to the chapel of influence
or the bright silver hospital
of exegesis

a crow overhead
a scavenger bird
alights on the path

and denudes you with his
bewildering rasp
all mouth, but no voice
you are given two options

express your ideas
and suffer the risks
of their getting pecked
and shredded apart

lay your beating heart down
naked and liable
to be picked clean
of all its feeling

or else choose
later on to read in the paper

of the silent auction of both
and suffer

the same humiliation alone.

Friday, February 21, 2020

ARTIST'S CONCEPTION

All throughout
history, the people longed
to take it easy.

The wisest 
in society were the first 
to notice clumps

of warm rocks, straight 
trunks, a thick 
dry stump, eventually 

evolving the chair, 
the high stool, the plump 
couch, the chaise lounge, 

and finally, the throne
with its baroque contortions 
of polished oak and its

rare earth metals
embedded across its splat and crest—
whatever worked best 

to instill reverence and congeniality, 
imbuing its incumbent 
with dignity and grace.

The physics came easy:
any sitter would have to concede
to a taller chair of power,

the closer to their
indentured artists' conceptions
of heaven, the better.

But that was before 
the painted sky they'd been praising
began peeling and falling 

in shreds from the ceiling. 
The desperate populace 
in the streets, all alarmist 

and starving 
from generations of bending and 
kneeling and standing and running,

had no choice but to eat it.
Unfortunately, the lead 
made them all go crazy.

After that it was the noble
who were in trouble.
Everything they excelled at—

sitting tall, keeping still, 
receiving wisdom 
from above, sending help,

preaching hope, 
invoking love—was worse 
than useless.

In this pandemic, faith 
was a deadly placebo; the 
only cure was doing work.


Thursday, February 20, 2020

THE FUTURE ISN'T WRITTEN

Certain commandments
never got handed down;

some rules are so right
they just aren't taught.

instead they get borne
away inside, folded in half

like dormant molecules
of foreign RNA

waiting patiently
to unclasp and replicate—

first, like newlywed
husband and wife, next

like dust motes
dancing in a light beam,

then, like the small
nag of an ache

that will one day
transubstantiate

into a pain so great, it
exonerates your life.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

BAD NEWS

Dear tired toilers,
meekly dallying
toward the reward
of a weekend which
never seems to come—
it's safe to say mistakes
were made, Gregory's
math got a little messed
up, and that calendar
on your phone is bunk.
Truth is, there's no end
in sight to this week,
no place where all
labors cease, no private
retreats or untapped oases
left on the map. In short:
no rest until you're
dead—and even then,
it's looking questionable.
Lest you forget
from those endless
religion classes: the kingdom
of heaven is spread
so thin on the Earth that
no man can see it; heck,
even Eden was no paradise.
Eden was a test.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

GESTALT SHIFT

Beware those words
which first appear
open as the air, transparent
as apertures—for even they
must be mounted
in very particular frames
and offer only one or two
points of view.
Everything outside is excluded
by definition; everything interior,
an anemic excerpt of
the gestalt perspective.
Notice how subtle
and slowly they accrue,
until they are assumed
to be self-evident
as the mountains, as those
pre-existent layers of sediment
which stratify the planet.
Recall from your past
mistakes how often
a wall of glass was
still a wall, and remember
any thought you think
you can see through now
is potentially false
and cruel as this small window
in your prison cell.

Monday, February 17, 2020

POEM FOR YOUR SECOND CHILD

If I could talk to her
in her own inestimable language
I would tell her

how tough it will be
to love the tough loves
back in return.

And how
just trying to do that will cost her
every other thing she earns.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

PARADISE

Saturday morning,
mellow and predictable,
pale gold light shreds
in the half-shut blinds,
ceiling fan still pulverizing
last night's dreams into bits
which settle back like a
thick static on my
tongue and my chest.
Desperate not to move,
not to risk losing
the balance of my inclination
on this delicate tangent line
to wholeness's floozy ellipse.
Whatever that distant rhythm
of being, whatever life
might still be left outside
the walls of this bedroom might
stand in a minute more
for the Eden I knew
and know I can't return to.

Friday, February 14, 2020

ALMOST

I know it must sound
almost boring.
Here I am, sitting in a chair
thinking about
everything: the rhythm
and the melody, how it was
and how it wasn't (beautiful
and awful in both cases).
Out the window, I can hear
the morning gossip of sparrows,
see the determined
look of sobriety in the ice blue sky,
and recognize them both
as chordal harmony. For me,
the song is always almost
exactly the same—except
that it's constantly modulating.
It goes: I'm sorry I did that, 
I'm sorry I said that, but 
I see what you are, and I 
know where I'm at. 
Like a great burning blues,
the tune is sad but satisfying,
it comforts you as it
disenfranchises. Like a red
letter date, it always reminds you
everything that used to
exist for you has been destroyed
almost completely—
but not completely.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

MIRACLE

You are free to to notice how
the snow comes and goes
like a mysterious saint, replacing
degradation with dignity
and erasing morass back to white.
Like a series of nested infinities,
see it accumulate—more like
a magnitude than a number,
more a mindset than a mood.
And although the gruff populace
claims to long for specificity,
there is still an order in the ripples
which gradually spread from mind
to mind, like the simple meme
of a blank rectangle. Gradually
this penitentiary, filled with a guilty
3.5 million, grows a little
less accountable; no one thinks now
of pressing charges. Nobody—
not a child, or a brown squirrel
on the frozen power line—wonders
why or how it's possible
this gossamer cloudstuff falls
down—instead of the
other way around.


Wednesday, February 12, 2020

NINE TO FIVE

Watch closely
there is nothing in my hand
except maybe for my other hand

listen I am just making all this up
for our mutual benefit as I go along

hacking at the thicket of quiet
with inherited machetes
troves of words dulled but trusty

toward the grove of a possible future
which could enfold us both

when we're inside
it comes as a relief
simply to be included in the mystery

but just the same I ache someday
to do work that is real

I know this is wrong but I
still believe it
my heart is an engine

my brain the grim determined conductor
this body the aggregate
of loud black iron tunneling

headlong into the formless newness
the sheer insouciance
of tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

LINES COMPOSED SOME 11 DAYS AFTER THE ANNIVERSARY OF MY 12TH CHICAGO FEBRUARY

Somehow, even the inimitable
rings of Saturn—so musical
and gossamer,

so holy and Pythagorean
when viewed from afar—
no longer seem quite as mystical 

now that they're
all chopped up and crammed
in the gutters,

along every streetcurb, under
every idle grayscale car
and too-tired-to-fall-down

overpass in town.
This time of year,
surveilling the infinite

bits of gravel
and the odd example
of alien junk suspended

in chunks
of ancient ice—is nothing
special.

Monday, February 10, 2020

DIFFERENTIAL OF A FUNCTION

The trouble between
the two of us is—you
have always been
easy to locate.

Every day you change
by exactly the same increment;
a distinctive piece
of bowed cello music

at a consistently rolling tempo.
Each month and year of you
beautifully congruent
as the wavering

of the seasons. To cut it short:
you are the climate,
not the weather.
But I'm in a different spot

on a different line;
duplicitous in my constancy
and erratic in my stubborn
stabs at simplicity—

I don't even have an atmosphere.
I'm more like a bonfire
raging on the surface of
the daytime moon—not hard at all

to picture in theory,
but impossible
to get out there
and actually find.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

DOLLHOUSE

Photo: Geert Hermsen
The people before us were French doors— she wore her hair alfresco; his bon mots were rococo. There was so much room in the sky's loosely- translated word for all-time that the way our phonemes fit together after all, like the last puzzle pieces stung like an insult. Did the sky blush to bloom, a parasol in a fruit- drenched cocktail at the way we took luster and let her linger a holy wafer dissolving into after— our tongues hummed. How we longed for italics, ellipses, anything to expunge the blandness of texture the pure falsity of sand begetting glass begetting windows to the dollhouse of transparent
love which is
such a perfect container it imprisons us.


—Dan Smart + Reka Jellema, February 8, 2020


Friday, February 7, 2020

YES, AND

Technically, there is room
and time enough 
in the universe 

for any foolish thing you say 
to come to pass eventually.
And there might even be 

utility in roughing-up the things 
which hurt you the most, 
even if, they, technically, 
no longer exist.

But those stacks 
of beige-brown days leading 
back toward adolescence  

start to smash together 
pretty fast, like the 
peanut butter sandwich at
the bottom of your backpack.

Imagination, that 
desire to create—this, too 
tends to halve itself over time, 

although less like a sandwich 
than an infinite series 
approaching its limit. 

Making verses 
killing time

is a correlation undefined 
as dividing 
by zero is. 

Not zero as in: no longer interesting 
or pleasing to the fickle crowd;
Zero as in: no distinctions 
of any kind. 

Try to keep in mind, we're 
talking about infinity here;
it's meaningless to choose 
between distinctions 

when the truth 
the whole time is: 
you could be both 

spending 
and wasting your life. 

Thursday, February 6, 2020

APOLITICAL POEM

I know it's not
relevant—let alone decent
to talk about

in public. So
instead, for the millionth
time, before I go out

I purge this grim fetish,
excoriating my discursive
soul for the

urge in the process;
I create a few lines, then
mutely discharge

into the pure offwhite
void of each
column

on the page
some of my favorite
words:

hyacinth,

sugarcane,

coffee,

and birds.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

NEEDLESS LONGING

When I am quiet,
but the soundness hums;
when the pen is still
and the page is empty, but
the inquest is done—

let it be
because there is nothing
I am seeking—no holes,
bored deep by sharpened forceps
of grief, which must be

cemented-over; no fuss
to cover the few bare scars.
No one who needs to see
will come. No one will know
how contented I was.


Tuesday, February 4, 2020

CONTEMPORARY DANCE

As a spectator,
you struggle to understand
it. An addict

of experience,
you fiend
for significance;

want
every gesture—need it—
to be special.

Only after you're driven
to participate
does it start

to make sense. Now
you know:
balance, intuition

upkeep, repetition,
the satisfaction of building
a pattern that lasts.

You find yourself walking
around the proscenium, 
kowtowing

to righteously indignant-
but-mistaken
eye-witnesses,

then bending
toward the floor
miming kisses,

as if pressing
your delicate lips
to the blackened

marks on the resolute fists
of the corpse
of your past.

Only the darkness
at the end
of each performance

could be considered
referential or important,
and only because it's

the exact same dark
as the dark
at the start.


Monday, February 3, 2020

MORE THINGS ON HEAVEN AND EARTH

This old cemetery,
like all the others, is overrun
with alien creatures—
humanoid hybrids
made of igneous rock, but with wings
broad and muscled as an eagle's
and ghastly looks of longing
on their uncanny faces,
as they extend their hands
(easily their most
recognizable feature),
desperate to absorb
the radiant heat
and invisible light of this grim
homeostatic bonfire—
before flying off through the
cold of deep space, back
to the unfathomable
place where they came from.


Friday, January 31, 2020

ACCUMULATION

With each passing week
of winter, it gets harder
to live with, harder to
live without

waking before seven
to find once again
the primly
coated neighborhood—

white
branches and cable wires,
all the status-
symbol and the beater cars

equalized.
As if
everything that was
last night has been

killed. And then raised up
one level of attainment—
younger,
but more wizened;

lighter, but increasingly
solid as carbon;
faster and looser, yet
ever more devoted

to its rigid discipline:
evincing a razor-
sharp purpose
in this imprecision.


Thursday, January 30, 2020

FOR GLORY

Some day I'll have to be
braver than this. I'll have to learn
to work even harder.
Some day, it'll
fall on me
to found the new religion—

the one in which
I, in my
solemn maturity, permit things
to matter

as means
and not simply as
ends in themselves—
to admit

Sunday service is the reason
one slim brittle
widow keeps enduring
the weekly twisting of her hair
into such ruthless and
impeccable flowers.


Wednesday, January 29, 2020

ROUTINE HURTS

A year or two ago, I unplugged 
even the radio; all those small 
pleasures of yesterday

now a thousand routine hurts—
like a mild allergy, another aunt 
dead, a trick hip—impossible to forget

yet
simple enough 
to live with.

A quiet life is one 
in which the joyous things 
are the moments that ask for nothing—

they don't even remind: 
If I had cared more, 
would I have fared even worse? 

This is called grace. This silence 
is a mercy—

anything's possible 
is an incantation rattled-off by 
astrologists any mystics. 
If anything, 

the reverse: 
obviously, this is not 
where I hoped 
I'd be—but it works. 
 

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

THE INDIVIDUAL

At the back
of the store, in a
frosty glass case,

steelheads—laid
tail to head
to tail, in

edifying sequence—
each face
aghast-

yet-serene;
each frame,
a proud silver tear-

shaped muscle,
streaked pink and
flecked green.

Moving closer,
my own face, super-
imposes on

the transparent window—
the individual,
floundering

for freedom,
always striving
for greater and more personal

modes of expression—
while these simple iterations
of the same animal

glisten eternal
under the florescents,
proud and stoic

as monuments.
When I die, I think
I will leave behind

a distinct lack;
no more reflection,
no way to preserve

or to sample
exactly who or
what this was

that once
would stop in a store
like this to wonder

which of us, person
or fish, has had
the worse luck?


Monday, January 27, 2020

TRUANT

Coherent yet bewildering—these abiding
vast gradations
of January brown
and gray

gentler than persons
passing through them—the deep black
shadows rushing
down to trains

softer than
the shoulders lipsticks
wingtips on the frosted platform—steeper
than their reasons.


Saturday, January 25, 2020

ONCOLOGIC

Exponentially more
and more,
certain cells of ours have
one track minds.

If only you and I
could synchronize
our efforts like that.

Who could deny
the passion synthesized—
the heat and the sparks,

the gravity and attention
generated by
blind automaticity—

the power
exerted by
even the smallest secret alliances,

however inconsequential,
however innocent,
however soft
and wet the Judas kiss—

when multiplied
by the number
of our constituency who are innocent
and divided by a lifetime.

Friday, January 24, 2020

LESSON ONE

After X begets Y,
which is, over time
consumed by Z,

nobody ever thinks
to suspect W—
let alone A B and C.

As you're about to see, this world
will be filled with monuments
to those three.

It's only afterwards,
when everything outside of
the circle
has been eliminated,

when you are finally
not anyone—even less
than the bits
which you've been

broken into—that
some disembodied sense
will realize it
already knew

how to recite
the complete Shakespeare
from memory.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

MERCURIAL

If you were just
a massless photon
barreling
toward the Earth

from across the hopeless
absolute darkness
of frozen
interplanetary space,

your entire experience—first,
of being
lost and alone;

and then
finding me, staying,
learning to say
I love you—

would be completely
instantaneous.

However,
if this thought experiment
were to be
perfectly inverted,

where I was the one
moving now

away through
those mazes
of countless infinities

at the absolute
limit of light-speed—

from your point
of view,

I would be telling you
always.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

MOVING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

Overall, I'd say it's been a rough
month, trying to play it all
capricious and moonwalk
back from the grim obliteration of
another winter solstice.

But research suggests, if we're
galvanized by anything
it's pattern recognition amid
the novelty of challenges.

Last month, we had resolved
to be stoic
and static as the adamant ice;

but once we had the chance
to thaw out a little bit
we got desperate, felt

heavy as the rain pelting
the surface of the Earth
as it spins and revolves
and brightens all at once.

But I, for one, don't care at all
how the planet looks
from the outside;
I long to stand still

here and now, as a puddle
of meltwater on the ground,
feeling around
for the gradual tilt.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

SELF-CARE

So certain days, you don't get up early
and leave
the apartment building,

exit to the street, glutted
with frozen-over slush,
and breathe
the exhaust of the blue garbage trucks

as you walk past the windows
of the buttoned-up
businesses on the block, hardly believing

the truth of expression
in that stretched-out and stained
reflection brooding back.

Some days, you stay in
instead. You make coffee
and sit by the living
room window, trying to contemplate
the steam,

like a dissipating dream, repeating
little snippets of last
night's conversation, make-believing
you're smoking like the old days.

You swear—the harder you try
to keep sill, remain calm, take care
of your heart, and all that—
the more anxious and steadily self-
obsessed you get.

You try to insist, you don't see
any damn poetry out there
anyway; at the moment,

just a silhouette
of a mysterious guy
in profile, driving briskly by,

and vaping
like mad in a shiny, black Audi.

Monday, January 20, 2020

ABSTRACT TRAJECTORY

Following intensive
bombardment—

from infancy
to decency—

to impotence
to infamy—

the shape of this life
is so beautifully

irregular
and complex in its structure

that metaphor itself
has lost

not only
its allure, but all power

of fluidity; see it
lumber as it cools

to a stubborn boulder
of sheer dumb perplexity.

Simile's design
turns out to be

even worse
than powerless, since

by now there is
just nothing

else like it in the
visible universe.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

THUNDERSNOW

Suddenly, clouds like bleak hands 
overhead, clenching and
blowing seismic saxophones,
knitting a million prickling
holes in my fingers, toes, jawbone.

Mad crowds dispersed abruptly
as bombs slow-
motion bursting into soundless
outer space. I turn around, no memory
of where I thought I was going.


Friday, January 17, 2020

THE REJECT PILE

Tasteful poems
are obviously not these
trifling, day-to-day

things you've been writing;
at most, they're the
once-a-week, Sunday-

best variety—
forged from the clearest
crystalline nouns

each one mined slavishly
from a dark
participial tunnel

and adorned
with the finest
custom adjectival inlays

which gleam
with a rare heavenly
adverbial filigree—

all of which
are then delicately suspended
along precision-length chains

of dangling
prepositional phrases
like beads

along the latticed length
of a flawlessly perfect
symbolical circle.

These are priceless
Tiffany necklaces we're
talking about here—not your

church basement
crates full
of plastic topaz rosaries.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

CONFIRMATION BIAS

     Everyone believes himself, a priori, perfectly 
     free... But a posteriorithrough experience, 
     he finds to his astonishment that he is not free, 
     but subjected to necessity, that in spite of all his 
     resolutions and reflections he does not change 
     his conduct, and that from the beginning of his 
     life to the end of it, he must carry out the very
     character which he himself condemns...
          —Schopenhauer

          *

Good news—
you might think
in passive time

with the rhythm
of a drab lackadaisical

hammock swinging:

I have wasted my life. 

But you might
not have

chose to.
And that
thought might

have just changed it
from deep

in the center
on out—one vowel,

one lonely syllable
at a time.

          *

This just in—
sexy new pictures

of the cosmic
microwave

background radiation

have proven
to the stunned providers:

the complete emptiness

you were feeling
is both

a complete system—
a sign unto itself—

and
no longer counts

as a pre-existing condition.


Wednesday, January 15, 2020

THE VANITY

It's no contest—every morning, light
fills this room much better
than I do,

makes even the cold tile
patterns look more
familiar

than that copy of me who
slowly enters, avarice
still numbed;

who always woozily refuses
to be the container,
even as

he grows larger, sharper-
cornered, and more
vacant—until,

slightly confused, he'll start to pull
back a little from
the mirror.

He usually does not look
quite as shocked as I
think he ought to.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

NONVIOLENT PERSISTENCE

Does anyone know
the names
of these strangers—

who make
the most unique and
uncontainable music

huddled in the bleak
zigzags of twigs
by the gate

which rims
the drab park perimeter—
who sing

as if nothing at all
was amiss in the
frozen fog

that keeps
this feverless winter
coma going strong?

I can only determine
they're often referred
to as sparrows—

but to that crass
collective slang word
they never turn to answer;

nor does it sound
nearly specific
enough to accommodate

each one's
individually
persnickety song.

Monday, January 13, 2020

BAD GASH

January sky, empty sky,
gray-as-dead-eyes
sky, formaldehyde skin or mouth-wide-
open sky—

how do you remain so
agape all the time?
So exposed, so susceptible.
How could I too

resist healing over, welcome
supersaturation
with flying impostors? The sheer
tolerance, the lack

of pressure feels impossible.
I make a poor
open sore—after a while, I grow
uncomfortable speechless,

impatient crying out
only in waves,
not of nervousness,
joy, or pain—but of luminous

electromagnetic radiation—
obscured light
and useful rain.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

THE RIGHT WAY

I hear you say—
the sky today
in every direction

is a loveless dreaming-
eye gray

and the winds are blowing
cold rain.

How can I ever be lonely?
I know

when you wake
and you go
from the window

you will not take any of that
away from me.

Friday, January 10, 2020

BLINK OF AN EYE

Even in total
darkness, we still know
the weight
of that shadow—

that fact of the matter
always prevailing,

that something in the room
which drives even that
which it manages
to suspend.

We do not understand, exactly
but it feels like we're
onto something
big when we say so.

"I see" makes eternity fit,
chopping it
into ponderable intervals;

but still we intuit—
an "is"

with eyes closed
or blinded

must function
different

than an "is"
which was always

eyeless
to begin with.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

BEFORE LANGUAGE THERE WERE NO EXPLANATIONS

Somehow, our building
blocks themselves
never run out.

The electrons don't
get dirty
careening around;
up and down

quarks don't get scars.
The bosons and photons
don't have memories
or future plans or prior
conditions or ages.

And yet
here we are—afraid of
that experience

which cannot be touched
or counted or
accounted for—
more often than not

believing in
something very similar.
Before the end
we'll practically declare we knew

it was there:
we knew
everything we felt
must be true

because of the meaningful way
we looked all our lives

without ever seeing
one thing
that meant anything.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

IMPROMPTU

If you have ever
walked south
by southeast down
a diagonal avenue

and come to a sudden
ramshackle clearing
in the freezing brightness
of a 10 a.m. January

and seen—above the few bare
sycamores there, the triangular
rim of bedraggled building cornices,
and the boarded-up fountain lying
dormant in the center—

dazzling dozens
of undulating pigeons, all
graywhite and frenzied
and swooping in clusters,

all flecked iridescent
with the high-angled light
and perfectly synchronized
in their ad hoc pantomime;

then you might
have understood
for a fraction of a second

at once, both
the thrill
that must lie beyond a word
like spontaneity 

and the rarity
(bordering on magical)—
anywhere on earth,

let alone the universe—
of such a thing as
a single
unified gesture.


Tuesday, January 7, 2020

STING


Slowly and carefully
year by year

I've set up
the perfect perimeter

refined the edges
groomed the green deputies
built and maintained all the equipment

mirror shades
teeth clamping
down on a toothpick

any minute

I'll catch the man

I'm afraid of
becoming

(a look-alike
fiendishly clever)

talking funny
acting off or

getting everything wrong.


Monday, January 6, 2020

JUMP THE SHARK

So here we are—
our post popular series
of big-
budget nightmares

has been greenlit
for another season.
Which is good
since I'm still trapped here

under that avalanche
of my own first
draft pages
of the narrative—

hogtied and lips blue,
praying
to be rescued
by you, same as ever—only,

this year,
in order to bolster ratings
and dash
all expectations,

I'm guessing—
in a much more spectacular,
reckless, and
improbable fashion.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

IN THE DETAILS

It seems
no matter
what the situation—

waiting rooms, dinners
out, hikes through the forest—
there's always

the most punctilious
devil
on my shoulder;

life-and-death
talons clenching
sensitive skin

bright red
wingtips urging, change direction 
again, go faster go faster

or tweeting
out to his legion
of followers—as if I was no longer

counting myself among them—
is it over yet? god 
this is boring.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

SAME BOAT

O the simple rules
obeyed by ocean waves.
O the difficulties

complexity faces
trying in vain
to mimic those movements—

the smooth morning rolls
and the unabashed afternoon sighing;
the silent fortitude

ordained by the moonlight
and the painless breaking
away overnight

of form from its
inevitable function.
So this then

is the crest
and the pinnacle—
the refusal of flow

to relinquish
the edges of itself,
to register the pressure,

the largess
of all of the others
who have broken before this—

our fathomless
vast unwillingness
to depend.

Friday, January 3, 2020

A POET

is hardly an author 
the way 

a maker 
of forests is—

black squirrel 
carrying, spitting, shedding,

a few finches 
shitting indiscriminate seeds.

But it's a relative cinch, 
I think, to grow 

something complex 
as an oak tree

from a blueprint 
or sketch—

and it's hell 
collapsing 

it back
to the acorn again.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

HERE'S WHERE IT GETS INTERESTING


Perhaps
it actually
isn't that abstract—

you look out
and see your own
ignorance

rippling
through anyplace
you don't exist.

The edges
between you
and it

glint—so sharp
and sheer
they could cut anything

living
logical
or symbolic

to shreds
so subtle as to be
impossible

to grasp at all
meaningfully as—back
from the dead.