Saturday, December 26, 2015

Morning Walk

A glorious walk this morning, the full moon lighting a sheath of cloud as it fell westwards, Venus rising huge and strangely yellow in the east, and Jupiter due south. I had to stop and stare at Venus a while. There must have been a haze eastwards: Venus is usually pure brilliant white, tending to blue, if anything; but she was as yellow as Jupiter this morning. The whole sky was a patchwork of cloud and clear, and the moon shifted the shades of everything, as she will: it took me a long time to get fully oriented. I knew nothing but Venus could be so bright as that fabulous orb in the southeast, and anyway I could already see Jupiter, high up on the ecliptic, but I wondered for a while if it was some sky-ship, or a mirage, or something. Or possibly I had walked away and slid unbeknownst into another sky, with new planets. I imagine sometimes the giddiness of seeing the southern stars for the first time: the most fundamental of disorientations. I hope I do see them, someday, and my world will yaw like a little boat on the sea. 

Walking home, northwards now, I saw that Vega was already well up over the horizon. She keeps appearing, these days, at odd times: when I was younger I only saw her in the summertime, but this year I was seeing her late into the Fall in the early evening, and now I glimpse her in the morning. Maybe I only looked for her in the summer, before. She did not signify so much in those days. Now I'm always looking for a sign that the blessing has left me. But the blessing never does: I don't understand it.

One special instance: I was on the far side of the West Hills, in the late Fall, getting my gear out the car, and one small pool of sky opened in the cloud cover, and there was Vega, just opening her wings to light on the Coast Range. Such things don't bear much handling, of course, but you can't ignore them either.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Pleasant Country

A flare when we close our eyes, felt but not seen, 
the soft plump of a transformer blowing in the middle distance: 
a fire behind us, some chemical that burns in the absence of oxygen,
livid with rage but gasping for breath.

So this is solstice-time,
and green-glazed petals drop from 
artificial plants, and the neighbor's TV
blares unintelligibly, and her curtains sway.

A young girl, just out of high school, maybe,
asks in a singsong voice:
"While you are in this facility is reading important to you?
Is it very important? Somewhat important? Not important at all?" and

"While you are in this facility how important is going outside?
Is it very important? Somewhat important? Not important at all?"
Outside? I wonder what she can mean: 
the parking lot? or the courtyard?

It turns out, as the questions go on, our neighbor would like 
some magazines to read. This is noted.
"While you are in this facility are social activities important to you?
Are they very important? Somewhat important? Not important at all?"

And it goes on, until we are wracked with pity
for the damned racist harridan who glares at my stepfather's
accented English. What are social activities to her? She 
doesn't know anyone but her son, and he doesn't come.

Outside -- there is an outside, though you can't believe it
until you get there, beyond ransom or reason or hope -- 
the gray clouds climb each other's backs to the height of high, 
and a fresh wind ruffles the trees. The rain is in our faces,

all the way from the sea and over the hills, high over the back-laced 
Tualatin River, landing on our white and frightened faces:
a sudden grace, a waking from nightmare, 
a shock from the pleasant country of life.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Invincible Summer

You can still see Vega
over the garage roof,
even in early December,

when the Winter King
is laboring up the eastern sky,
leaning on his stick,

and cursing the housetops;
and though Orion shakes
his shaggy wondering head,

after his long summer blindness.
She's still there, and the writ of her blessing still runs.
And beyond, beyond,

is the white lob of the Moon,
drawing kiltered squares
through all the blanched windows of the world:

here and across the mountains,
where the road outruns its colors,
and a pale face is turned to the pale sky.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


Come to the window,
where one orange leaf
sobs against the pane;
where chrome diamond insets
lift the light and throw it down.

The extra fabric of your collar is there
to fill my hand and splinter the news
of your warm neck through my fingertips:
ten thousand messengers
all running different ways,
bearing the same message
to the same end, while
the the rippling radiant cold of the glass
meets your breath halfway.

The fool
has said in his heart there is no God:
but he has never kissed you.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Standing With France

Well, sure, I stand with France, no more or less
than I did yesterday: I meanFrance
that sent the fleet to Yorktown, Comte de Grasse

kissing Washington on both cheeks, you remember, hein?
and ladies of Paris, who tickled Ben Franklin's 
ambassadorial toes of a morning

we go way back, France and us. Way back.
But as the dawn rolls across the uplands, gray and sad,
my finger traces my river's long descent, 

a shallow groove as of a Gallic beaver 
dragging its tail in the New World sand.
Let alone, say, all the hats and pipes,

and the voluble suspect chatter of men
who slyly learned the Iroquois, and 
taught our English Wordsworth how to sin:

no more or less than we did yesterday. 
Listen: it is not heroic to suffer
it is simply how the chain breaks, here and here.

L'héroïsme, it is 
in what we bother to repair,
and what we leave alone.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Five Paragraph Essay

There are moments when you crowd close to the computer screen like a moth to a scorching light bulb: surely the end of the uncertainty is here, there, somewhere; the moment when the runners and the tracks will line up, and the door will open smooth and sweet to

Summer, remember summer? She stuck her tongue out just as you were trying to kiss her, rude sun and cold water and the trees seesawing in the wind. You could get through if you just remembered the password,

But the problem is not that you don't remember the password, it's that you remember scores of them, maybe hundreds of them, and your fingers remember more. Ease back, ease back, you poor tired old pack horse. After a life a of carrying, what is one more fall and winter? For every weakness

There is an equal and opposite strength in your swift fingers. You know more than you know you know, lad, and the arc traced even by a winter sun can drag you skyward before you know it. Give it up now. Line up these talismans: sun agate, penny of a cowrie shell, missing turquoise sea glass, plastic "I love you" valentine (drowning in a crystal sea.) Each of them taught you something you had to know, something that even now you tell over when

The blood begins to make too much noise in your head, late at night. There is a place of rest; there is turn; there is a landing, however rough. Don't try to see too far ahead. Take an easy breath, and peel the shell away from your aching head: it will be tender, like all new things, and sensitive to sunlight, but what did you expect?

Sunday, November 08, 2015


Sleeping and waking, "Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite" has been running through my mind: And lastly through a hogshead of real fire...

I dreamed of struggling up an earthy cliff to a turf plateau, roofed over a couple feet above the grass. There were women laughing happily up there, in that narrow space.

Steady rain at last, yesterday all day: never a window for running. I'll have to get the clothes to run in the rain, I suppose. Jeans will not do. More rain this morning, and crows calling to each other.

In his way 
Mr K 
will challenge the world!

Heaped clothes and bangles and stockings on the sofa, like the boudoir scene of 1980s movie, and I the the old magus figure, I suppose. The windows look out only onto the hedge. I wanted to out walking in the rain. Sometimes you're just waiting, as Arlo Guthrie put it, waiting for the song to come around again. In the meantime, I put my gnarled old hands on those young shoulders and called on the rain gods. It's enough: even when the world is a little shrill and uncalibrated. He works his work, I mine.

And the other tune from long ago: John Sebastian singing but darling come home soon --

Saturday, October 31, 2015


Well, for one thing, I'm not Catholic, so it's not my holiday. I'm sensitive to things like that. The saints mean nothing to me, and the dead don't live.

For another, I see enough decaying bodies and mortality in the course of my life and work. I don't need the reminder. I am intensely aware of the fact that we're all engaged in a losing war with all the little things that want to eat us and will eventually break our structure down and denature us. Y'all enjoy a frisson of horror because you're going back to a world in which it's not true. But there is no world in which it's not true, and I don't mean to pretend that there is. We are rotting, here where we stand.

For another, deceiving others about our true nature? This is supposed to be festival occasion? It's an occasion I spend my life trying to escape.

So, sure, I'm a killjoy. There are some narrow joys that impede larger ones, and I kill those with gusto. And I don't like deceiving children, or playing on fears. Again, it's the daily stuff of life: it's what people do every day. Enough already. We can play at fear if we ever reach a time when being alone with ourselves for twenty minutes without distraction doesn't terrify us. Till then, we have enough real fear to be going on with. We don't need to invent any.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Rain Girls

Dawn, trees shrugging the rain off, shrubs bowing to the wind. Faint blue light. This is home, to me: the ragged trees and the rain, going barefoot onto the porch of a morning to see what the sky is doing; the steel-gray sky looking almost bright between the black leaves, black posts, black power wires; and everything moving and flickering as the windborne rain slaps it. 

Suppose you were struck blind while on a ladder: you'd hold very still while you thought it out. Then you'd deliberately drop whatever was in your hands -- hammer, paint scraper, screwdriver -- and slowly feel your way down the steps, one by one. Like that.

And sometimes I feel so light, and so much a part of the sky, that it seems like the wind might lift me and send me tumbling up over wires, where all that silver and steel light shifts and sweeps, up and up, to where the laughing rain girls live, and no one strives.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Fifth Chamber

When holding the small bird
its needle-y feet will tickle your palm.

You will need patience.
Blow gently into its open beak

to gain time. It will blink
and reconsider.

Reach with your undominant hand
and unlatch ribs four, five, and six

on the left side. Swing them open

Two or three breaths,
expansions of the chest,

and your heart will open of its own accord,
shiny and glistening:

the fifth chamber. It is important
not to hurry the bird.

Late or soon
it will flutter in, and you will feel

its prickly toes on the smooth muscle.
The heart will give a little jump,

which is normal,
and the bird will begin to sing.

Close the ribs, and wipe the skin dry
with a clean cloth.

Drink plenty of water, and for a few days 
avoid  excessive talk.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Farther Yet To Go

That edge of desire, dull now, 
but the more dangerous for that:
any pantry chef can tell you it's the dull knife 
you cut yourself on. You push too hard.

And every walk accompanied by a rising
falling drum roll, mimicking the hills: 
each raindrop tracing down your cheek like a stick 
caressing the drum's tight skin.

Far, far, we've come far, 
but we have farther yet to go;
the drummer's wild pulse will drive us on
though flowers bleed to life on either hand.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Little Clay Figures

But there are times when reality runs skittering backwards, on sandpiper feet, when something else comes washing in: a something I might taste on your lips, or that might brush against my open palm, if I were lucky. 

Today the high white clouds were swinging one way, and the low gray ones were leaning the other, two eager dogs tangling leashes, and then on the hills above Sylvan the fog was snagged on the firs, and lay panting across the red and yellow foliage below. What quick tongue, what thumping tail, might stretch across that inlaid kitchen floor? The last of the sun broke through, guessing its way through the Coast Range, and all the colors flared against the dark.

Like one fully dressed, embraced by one naked: humbled by the vulnerabilities, and trying to guess what sense is to be made -- what weakness would be strength, and what strength would be betrayal? All their protocols are useless prattle, petty sergeants imagining themselves lords. Human beings have no time for that.

And so I held your hand a long, long time, and little clay figures caught the firelight. Their mouths were little O's of wonder, and their hands were lifted in supplication or surprise.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Beyond the Quarrel of the Crows

Strength slowly seeping back into me: cloudlight, dew, leaf-stained wind. I linger in the quiet places, recovering myself. I go out to the porch at first light and watch the Douglas firs define themselves; listen to the crows' sleepy disputations.

Back into the shadowed house. I lie down, on the square of Persian rug on top of the concrete slab, and do my back exercises, while light drifts in from the skylights and the hedge windows. Reluctantly, all the clutch gives way, and my ribs can move freely. Beyond all expectation, beyond all justice, I am alive and well and even blessed. Saved (for who knows what fate or interest!) for another day.

At Tom's, I carefully work through my Spanish. I learn that an esbirro is a henchman, a minion, from Corsican sbirro, policeman. I pause on that, trying to think through what I know of Spain and Corsica, the Crown of Aragon, the court of Naples. How did Corsica come under French hegemony? I don't know: I could look it up, but it all shreds and blows away. It's one of many, many things I will never master, not this late in the day. Whatever my god is preserving me for, it's not my grasp of Mediterranean history, or even of historical linguistics. It has more to do with the high, clear bell that rings, just out of hearing, beyond the quarrel of the crows.

So: good morning, dear ones.

Saturday, October 17, 2015


At sundown the shadows come to the door
don't ringjust cast themselves on the frosted window.

Or three children play on the floor
just around the corner, never quite in view;

the tick and whisper of toys that can't be there;
sudden movements; flickers in the fading bars of light.

What can you bring between two ordinary hands
to distract from what a troubled soul

must fashion from the orange script
that bleeds through the drawn blinds,

when the sun leaves a gap in the western rim
of the world, and all that's real runs out?

The King of Nightmares checks his horse
pauses on the hillrides on.

Monday, October 12, 2015


The hammer rebounds in any case:
but still, you can tell by touch alone
whether the blow was true, whether
the nail drove straight. The kick
is slightly different in the hand.

(Clouds fall back from the ridgetops
and the mountain appears: shadowed, stern,
unsnowed and unshaven, all blue-gray,
unreachable by sun.)

Enough of stories that hit just wrong,
too soft or too hard, that slightly bend the nail
or glance. 
Give me just one that hits fair, let the steel

sink like that one perfect dive
into green water 
forty years ago and more, when 
coming up for air, and looking
into the high snowfields, you said
this much, exactly this much, no more.

Friday, October 02, 2015


When my mouth is filled with pulp
surrendered by some unfortunate --
with hard bits like watermelon seeds,
and obstinate threads
that anchor nought to nought,

but pull against the tongue -- I give up chewing.
I think maybe
there are enzymes for the job.
The night thoughts begin to recede
and plain day resumes. Until enlightenment
I take refuge in the Buddha
the Dharma
and in the supreme assembly of the Sangha.

Oh, you who have prayed the longest
and thought the least,
walk back with me along this needled path:
take my hand, all figured like Caduceus,
straight tendons wound about with veins:
still competent to touch, though
maybe for a while.

If my mouth were my own
I might formulate a halting
request for forgiveness
of the ordinary kind:
I overstayed my welcome,
but how was I to know?

I go amordazado, mute,
over last year’s prickled gooseflesh to the lake;
I kneel and spit,
and the day’s slow gods wake to me at last.
Wash out his mouth
and take him to the house:
never mind a jury of his peers.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Sweetness of the Rain

My feet sank into the wet lawn,
my toes into the mud.
Such a relief:
and my soles drank the water.

I stood there
swayed by the wind but not by wanting,
and the tips of my fingers tickled;
just the budding of leaves,

the slough of flesh, the bones
more slender all the time,
long whips that swished the sky.
and my toes finding their slow way

into softnesses you can't imagine
in your animal hurry. Oh, 
the sweetness of the rain! And the wind
of heaven in my hair.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Lines Poor Euclid Dreamed Of

6:00, and first light has not shown itself yet. The clock ticks. I sit in the glow of my laptop: yonder is the light of the landline screen, a hazy greenish smear, with the winking lights of the router beneath it; and beyond it the bluer, sharper numbers of the microwave clock shine in the dark of the kitchen. Above me, the red light of the smoke alarm appears a moment, and disappears.

At one of those periodic stands, when I can endure neither my ills nor their remedies: as usual, these happen with no apparent reference to the circumstances of my life. They seem to follow their own rhythm, a slow building frustration with my spiritual insufficiency that takes years to crest, culminates somehow, and goes quiescent again. 

I remember in grade school sometimes having a pencil I could not sharpen to a point without snapping the lead. I could either write with a dull pencil (which I hated: the fat lines and the sloppy glide were repugnant to me) or sharpen and break, sharpen and break. I wanted a pencil point so fine that its line was absolute, dimensionless, like the lines poor Euclid dreamed of. I could consume a whole pencil that way in the course of a class period. The shavings would wad up in the little clear plastic holder, like the clippings-bag of a lawn mower, with which my sharpeners were outfitted. When I got the lead sharp enough for my liking it would sometimes tear the cheap exercise paper we used. I preferred that to the glide of a dull lead, though. I wanted my writing to cut.

Now hints of light through the sculptured glass of the front door. A lightness at the window blinds. I am glad that the dark is easing, though I'm not ready for the day, and I hope to get more sleep yet. Perhaps I will try it even now: lie down on the sofa and see if I can unmoor it from this wakefulness, and take it out to sea.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Old Copper

I had a revelatory moment, a couple decades ago. I was experimenting with an antidepressant, effexor, I think, which damped down my libido. And I suddenly discovered an obvious truth, which had been hidden from me by its sheer ubiquity: that I ordinarily had a lot more desire than other people. Because now I was having responses that were more like the mass of people, who had always puzzled me. It no longer took all my will power to tear my gaze away from someone I found attractive. Something disgustive -- loudness, unkindness, poor hygiene, stupidity, even poor dress sense -- could trump sexual desire. My desire wasn't gone: but it was only one player on the stage of my mind, competing with others.

I walked around in wonder for a few days, savoring the unusual experience of being normal. My moods, also, had stabilized. No more surges of ecstasy upon reading a poem or seeing a cloud mountain slowly toppled by the wind. No. Good poem: nice sky. Next, please. And no sense of ominous looming presences, of shapes speaking just below my hearing behind my back, foretelling disaster and desolation.

It was deeply instructive, and went far to help unbuild much that was harmful in my habits and my personality. I'm grateful for the experience. But it wasn't where I wanted to live. I discontinued the drug. I went back to the world as I knew it, albeit with a hint of transparency. It was the world as I knew it, but it wasn't the world as it was.

(Not that the normal world was the world as it was, either. I'm still Buddhist enough to hold the conviction that the world "on its own side" is inaccessible to us. What we have is the world of appearances.)

But. Now my own chemistry and personality, as I age, is running its own new version of this revelation. Fortunately the clouds and the admonitory presences remain largely as they were. But the desire has dwindled, and changed. Young women no longer engage my attention much: they often strike me as ill-informed and self-absorbed, and sometimes even vapid. Presumably it's my cathexis, and not the young women, that has changed. 

Last week I saw a woman of my own age, with a fierce, strongly marked face, and a mass of iron-gray hair shot with black, padding across a parking lot like a great cat. I was surprised at the depth of my response. I would always have found her attractive: but now she is an exception. Her image retains its intensity in my mind, when most others fade and go dull.

What does it matter? What do such things have to do with me, now? But it does matter, nevertheless. I have nothing to rewire with but the old copper. Whatever the current that makes this consciousness play, it's the same as it ever was, and I can only draw it in the fashion I'm used to.

We had our fallen ash tree cut down level to the ground, this spring. What was left was flat splotch of spongey, damp, crumbling wood. But all summer long, through the long drought, with not a leaf to its name, the roots of that ash kept wicking up water from some deep underground source. It was always damp. And I don't doubt that we'll have stubborn shoots to cut back for some time to come: maybe even years.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Why One Becomes A Massage Therapist

You take me down long roads dusty with grief
and show me: "Just there. The water used to fill a little pool
and spill over: you could cup your hands beneath."

I cup my hands beneath. Your shoulders rise 
with hesitation now, born of pain so automatic
that no joint moves without a grimace. Still

I pull the whole arm up straight and reach behind
for a spot that's hidden by the scapula else,
I let my fingers settle into the flesh, like

the bare feet of a happy four-year-old
in wet beach sand. I ponder the empty feel
of the house: I ponder the echo and the silence.

I heard the beginning of your apology
for not being cheerful. Forget it. The gift
of good cheer is cheap: use it once

and throw it away. The gift of plain suffering
is a gift that will guide me in the parched hills
when all else proves worthless. This

is the gift I came for: this is what my hands drink in
when I cup them under the little stream of light.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Law that Shatters the Pot

There are days when everyone seems to be dying;
others, divorcing. You lay the porcelain pieces together,
but they don't fit, and the fish are fleeing: 
a wriggle and gone. Scales and flakes
are what we have left: a gleam on the ground,
a flash in the water.

Still, you heft a sleepy little one over your shoulder
and carry him up to bed. Asleep before you lay him down,
and the moonlight signing the floor,
sealing a contract you never knew you wrote.
Knowledge of the law is no excuse, they say:
but they have to say something. Deep down
nobody knows the law that moves the moon,
the law that shatters the pot.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Unaccustomed Worry

And here, the startlement of September, deeper than ever before: nowadays every season comes before its time, crowding the one before, pushing and shoving. September of course was always a longed-for surprise: but now it's a sudden split in a rock face, with the sun splashed across, and no reasoning changes it. The wind has the upper hand. If you don't have deep roots, you better hold on.

I go cloaked in unaccustomed worry. I no longer understand the wheel of the seasons or the moods of the sky. The aquifer of love, the one thing I've never doubted -- is it running out? Is that possible? And if so, what becomes of me? I am dwindling.

At the same time, I can hear the knock and rattle of percussion instruments, the long roll and rattlesnake buzz of sticks on a drum head, clear pings and whip-cracks. Someone is playing. It's not the music I've attended to for most of my life, but maybe it's been there, waiting, the whole time.

So it's time to stop -- buffeted though I may be by the wind, and unhomed as I am -- and just listen. Listen and try to make out the time and the beat. Honestly, what choice remains to me?

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Fierce and Graceful

"I am not fierce or graceful," she said.

Well. So autumn is coming, after all: whatever autumn means now. We'll find out.

When you come up the slope the the Vista House, and the Gorge opens up below you, the row of hills behind each bend of the river gets its own color, and the farthest is a featureless slate gray: a smooth cutout against the breathing sky. Maybe it's always that way: its the transition from terrain to geometry, and back again, that entrances us. God writes in shapes against the sky, and if you could just find the proper focus, the right distance, you'd be able to read it.

(She is fierce and graceful, she is nothing else. That's the geometry of it, though; and she sees herself, up close, as terrain. These things are as they must be.)


Jarrett took a picture of the Three Sisters, stripped and despoiled, from his airplane window. "I have never seen the Cascades so bare of snow," he wrote. If you think they will not exact a price for this humiliation, you don't know much about mountains.


Handling my poems, and sending them out for publication, I find that they are not very good: they can be tightly woven or they can have verve, but they almost never have both. And a poem should have both. I think maybe poetry is a mistake, for me, but I'm not quite sure. It doesn't matter.

My neck and cheeks are all bristly. These days I have an insuperable resistance to shaving and getting a shower before breakfast. It always seems tremendously important that I get out of the house, and leave fussing with my appearance for the trivial parts of the day: mornings are far too important to waste on primping and trying to disguise the fact that I'm actually, in my soul, a slovenly old man. Or maybe, further than that, it's as a slovenly old man that I have anything to say at all. A tattered coat upon a stick may have something to say: but whoever heard a word worth hearing from a brand-new coat in a shop window?

September. Whatever September means now. Every season is new and terrible: impermanence with a vengeance.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015


Where the thumb of its own accord comes home
in the hollow between two hills of bone,
between the second metatarsal and the first,
where the grief of standing upright is the worst:
there is the fons et origo of love,
whatever they may say above.

Christ washed the feet of each disciple
not to display his archetypal
disregard for hierarchy
or humble future patriarchs. He
soothed the flesh that split and flaked,
and rubbed, because their insteps ached.

Sunday, August 30, 2015


The mist that slips away 
like the skin of an overripe peach
as the sun reaches 
over the ridge 
and lays hold of the beach;
the laboring cry of the gulls 
pumping daylight up from the sea;
each footstep filled with luminous water, leaving behind 
a wandering trail of notes on the staff lines of the tide.

Saturday, August 29, 2015


I wonder why they make those "road work" signs so like kites? I walked by half a dozen, this morning, blown over, groveling face down in the street. One had blown over the freeway bridge rail and down into the gully: it looked like the discovery-of-the-body scene at the beginning of a mystery story.

No internet connectivity at Tom's today. I cut my breakfast short (for me.) Read a couple of Luisa Igloria's poems, did my Spanish Anki flashcards, and was home by 9:30, feeling strangely grounded and un-anxious. That's something to put into my pipe and smoke.

Still no drench, after all these weeks: only scattered drops and a stiff wind. I walked in my tee shirt and was never chilly. It still doesn't feel like the Oregon I grew up in.

I close my eyes, and am aware of an immense weariness. I think I will rest some more, and let the wind shake the leaves. I'm still waiting for the rain.

Friday, August 28, 2015


The extraordinary weight of quotidian desire,
even when it has faded to a tenuous burden:

if one tried to land a ship on Neptune
one would sink at first through imperceptible air
for longer than the earth is wide, until the weight of it all
was insupportable, and the air under its own heft
became a viscous ooze. Exactly so.

(Still, what medium else, to carry a shout?
Whales may sing in the water, but we may not.)

If I honor my misplaced hands, it is not for their strength,
but for their curiosity. I cup the syrupy air in one hand --
pour it to the other. the difference
between gas and liquid was never made clear to me:
I only know that neither can be mastered.

(All bellowing would be only the blowing of bubbles
and the thrumming of vocal cords, damped and strictured,
would be the faintest grumble on the muddy ocean floor.)

Still, some work of noble note may yet be done, 
or anyway sketched 
onto a whiteboard, blurred and thumbed.
Rally, my hearties, and raise a cheer
to rise, like a pout, from under boiling eggs:

we moved heaven and earth from here to there, upon a time,
and if we knew nor whence nor whereunto
was that our fault? We did as we were told.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Spa Day

I heave myself up. You have no idea 
how much muscle it takes to raise this mass 
onto the rocks. No clever monkey hands,
not me. I come from the deep water, the cold places,
and when I snatch it's with my teeth, 
and for keeps.

Still I love to sun myself:
it's worth lurching up onto the warm basalt.
I time my lift with the surge of a wave,
wriggle up - with some loss of dignity -
while the water drains away 
and my full weight makes itself known:
Twenty five hundred pounds of pinniped
can spare some pride on a spa day.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Far Side of the Hill

Sometimes just to see that light, that slow light of afternoon washing over sidewalks and the faces of buildings, sometimes just to see it is to betray myself, to go back to being a boy.

I will never be at the mercy of others again, I say fiercely, which is nonsense: we are at the mercy of others every day of our lives. But at huge cost we build up the illusion that we are not, that we are adults, and masters of our destinies. Across a wide array of cultures, those most committed to independence and individual freedom have been the most stubborn slaveholders. The Golden Polish aristocracy, who hired and fired their kings; the American Southerners, who were willing to fight to the death for the principle of radical independence, the free Athenians who acknowledged no lord -- the more famous they are for their unwillingness to be ruled, the more likely they are to have held others in subjection. Only the poverty of our education leads us to find this strange. It makes all the sense in the world. We fling the toga or the cape over our shoulders. I am free because I am a master, we say.

But it is a fantasy that sickens and turns, because we are never masters enough. The slave on his heap of rags, dreaming in his filthy corner: is he flinging a cape over his shoulder? Not wasting his glance on the canaille as he strides down the street? Likely enough, and kicking him awake won't change it.

But again. How I am to avoid that poisonous afternoon light? I am not a boy any more. I am as free as I am going to get, in the dappled interlude between the prison of boyhood and the prison of old age. The air is pure and cold. There is time yet, there is time: but that doesn't mean there's time to waste.

The high call of the osprey. I own no one, least of all myself. I pray that the poison of the afternoon light may pass and leave no stain. You do turn and look back, you must, as you reach the ridge: you turn and look back on the land of humiliation. But then you walk on over the ridge, and the stiff pine needles break and release their sweetness under your feet. Even if it's only a day, or an hour, you have been on the far side of the hill. No master and no slave.

Breathe again, that resinous air, so you will remember it the next time that memory rises to choke you. There is freedom: there is a far side of the hill.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sun as Orange

A sun as orange as an orange rose
behind the gray, staggered

limbs of the douglas firs:
fires, fires all the way
from Mt Adams to Lake Chelan.

The radio spoke of particulates
and of vulnerable alveoli in lungs
long used to the rain and the breath of the sea;

there is a smell of campfires
as it lingers in damp sleeping bags,
and thrusting gray fingers of

what would be fog
if this were October: there's a catch
too far back in the throat to unspring.

The world is a vacant church
lit by high stained glass. Tonight
a sun as orange as an orange will set

behind the crumpled hills,
and a gasping bloody moon
will waver in the wind.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Long White Sand

Struggling to bring this ashore, to roll this corpse up over the tidemark. Not sure, not at all sure, that I shouldn't just let it wash out to sea. Still, some pieties are inescapable. (Not that I'd care to be brought in myself: let me go.)

The clink clank of hammers, far away, of work that I used to understand. A stiff wind bending the beach pines. I remember nothing of all those things I worked so hard to master. There was some Latin verse: passion and a raft figured in it. Virgil? Ovid? I don't remember now, though I remember copying it out. 

It's still so hard. I have to be ruthless, though, about cutting things out and leaving them alone. My time is shockingly short. By some methods of reckoning I have a one in seven chance of having a heart attack, in the next ten years. I don't believe my chances are that poor, but still, I'm in those crosshairs. Sooner or later. And that, of course, is barring accident or misadventure.

Still there is no better way to proceed than to go methodically through the to-do lists that I have made. One thing, and then the next. I keep circling back. Roll the corpse over onto its stomach, then onto its back again. A yard further up the beach.

Oh for the long white dunes and the beach running off into a white haze of spray on either hand! I am doing something wrong. I am doing something wrong. I don't know what, but I know the signs of it. 

The knees of my levis wet from the sand. Grit under my fingernails. Heave again. Come on, man, up we go. You weren't a picky eater, lad! Tucked in with gusto.

As I rock back on my heels, and try to wipe the sweat out of my face without wiping the sand into my eyes, it occurs to me to wonder: what if this corpse is mine? I mean, after all, whose else would it be?

Because in that case I would really be free. Really. To walk away on the long white sand.

Thursday, August 06, 2015


We will not be called upon to justify our lives. No ledger appears at the close, no recording angel holds an exit interview. What's forgotten remains forgotten, and the rest spins, as it must, in the slipstream of other people's stories. We are characters in their lives, mostly minor ones, and we play our parts in memory as the staging and the script requires. At the Foundation I see people setting up memorial funds, confident that scores or hundreds of people will donate to someone's memory, and go on donating for years. A few gifts come in. One or two people even give again a year later. But mostly -- your stock falls rapidly, when you're dead.

If you're deeply aware of this transience, you sometimes feel that your death has already sped past, and that your presence here is a haunting. Not so much alive as a living memory, walking carefully on imagined paths: so much of our existence was spent dreaming of things that would never happen. I imagine ghosts cluster most thickly in places they never arrived in life: they search for memories they never had a chance to make. It's Anne de Bourgh, not Elizabeth Bennet Darcy, who wanders the halls of Pemberley.

Still, a pale blue or a pale green fire follows my fingertips as I drag them along the gutters between your ribs, and my own breath is a efflorescence of crimson. The colors are almost intolerably vivid, between whiles. You could make a parlor game of it, if you liked. I prefer to let it be.

Instead, I hear the thud of my heart, like a distant pile-driver, and the tide-surge of my lungs in the stillness. There's a faint echo in the nerve cords, stretched from point to point, which hum under their breath. Listen and the sound will stop; look and the colors will fade. "Only things that can die are real," says someone -- the Unicorn? -- in a Peter Beagle novel. Sure, it's a point of view: To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

Sunday, August 02, 2015


Midsummer, leith an if you care;
the foreleith and the afterleith can fail
to knit. The intercalary comes there,
the fontanelle of the year, the fruiting swale

bandaged, but never healed, by a traitor moon:
we stumble on in haste for the hunter or the harvest,
but never quite escape our hearing of that croon,
that soft and pulsing place, when we are farthest

from the Yule. Suppose it blossomed then,
suppose the sutures opened, like all the doors
on a summer morning, and the cool air came in,
kissing knees and faces, pattering on all fours

over every linseed-polished floor,
suppose we gave a welcome to the third
glorious midsummer moon and called it lord,
suppose we all fell silent until his voice was heard.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Something New and Vigorous and Shameless

Toast with marmalade. Ancient sunlight resting lightly on the northwest surfaces of curtains, restaurant tables, hands. Feeling in full possession of myself at last. The dark rind of my heart settles deeper in its nest of ribs, and I scan the world with a hunter's eye, relaxed but deliberate: the sense of being master of my surroundings, once so common and recently so rare, has come back.

I slept, in two stages, until I was all slept out. It's been a couple weeks since that last happened. I feel like the grass that finally got its rain a couple days ago: a sudden unexpected strength is running through me.

Not that this sense of invulnerability is to be believed. It's one face that turns to me, out of many.

I'm tired of all the old stories, the laments for vanished makers, the regrets for fallen kingdoms. I want to make something new and vigorous and shameless, something that will gleam, something that will catch the setting sun and hold it in the sky. Something that will force other faces to turn to me. There are more, there are more who have business with me before the end. It's time to call them up.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Where The Target Is

Downtown, a woman fell into step with me on the sidewalk. She gave me an open, curious glance, and then asked, "Are you from here?"

"From Portland? I am," I said.

"Do you know where the Target is?"

I had to think about that: there is newish one downtown, I think. "I'm afraid not," I said. "I have a vague feeling it's over thataway," and I waved my hands towards the Southwest. "But I really don't know."

"OK," she said. "Thanks!" And we parted at the next corner.

People often approach me for directions downtown: I tend to meet people's eyes and smile, which makes me approachable, but I walk briskly, like someone has definite business somewhere, which makes me seem easy to get rid of. So that was unremarkable. What was remarkable was that this woman was black.

My first thought, upon meeting her eyes, was that she was African. There was an easy boldness about her, and a cheerful friendly confidence, that was not at all typical of the guarded, formal interactions I usually have with American blacks on the street, and especially not with Portland blacks. This is not a city with a happy history of race relations, nor a particularly happy present. But this woman's accent was pure Midwestern, probably Chicago, with no African trace that I could detect.

So the interaction was heartening. It was not a "here I am a black person approaching a white person" interaction, it was an "I wonder where the Target is?" interaction. Like almost all Americans, I have a desperate longing for the racial history of my country to disappear. This little interaction made me feel that it had. We could start over. The world was new. 

There has been so much bad news coming over the wire that many people feel that things are getting worse, or at best, that they will always remain this way. But I don't actually think that's true. I think that comes of not ever having fully understood how bad things have been, not really having understood or digested the long white terror after the end of the hot phase of the Civil War. Things are bad now. But they are actually better. The fact that people can say how bad it is means that it's better.

A single interaction on the street is not evidence: it barely amounts even to a data point. But I'm old enough to feel it in my bones: this was not an interaction that was possible in my youth, and not one that was likely even twenty years ago, in this town. There is a cultural shift. The wind has changed.

There's everything yet to be done. But I'm filled today with an unreasoning joy, and a certainty that in the endin the end long beyond my end, of course, but still, in the endwe are going to win this one.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Leaving The Water

I break the surface of the water, and wait
breathing the strange air, feeling my gills
heal over: my arms were so tired of being fins.

Of course, a man can drown
or be asked to pay back taxes,
which doesn't happen to fish.

But hands can grasp hands,
or the nobbles of a steering wheel, or 
the handle of knife;

and fish, however calligraphic,
break down in the dotting of 'i's.
I will take this world of searing air

and the terror of sun,
the scrape of wind on the skin;
I will take the epithelium

of your lips pressed on mine,
I will leave the water
one time, one last time.

Thursday, July 16, 2015


I love a woman so black
the night overflows with her,
so big that there's no confining her.

There are the scars that feather backward;
there is the grace of flesh and the jet, ramen-
noodle kink of hair against my arm;

there is the curve of eyelid
that makes the heart stand still,
and listen for an answering beat.

No, not looking for absolution;
the long count of crimes can go
and sing for its supper. It's love,

the only love I know and the only one I've held
through a long strange bright and lingering summer
paused at the tremor's edge.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Hatred of White

A spider, having learned
she is not going to take it at a run
takes a step and pauses
takes a step and pauses
on the vertical porcelain.

Can we call it patience?
Has her desire to escape the bathtub
decreased, or increased? 
Is she aware of human eyes
watching her ascent
with oblique sympathy?

If she falls again
I'll drape a washcloth over the side
for easy access, but she can't know that.
She is betting her life on this climb;
and she knows well enough,
snowblind in this blaze of white,
she is a mark for every passing araneophage.

Or maybe she does not, maybe she knows only
unease, distress of spirit, hatred of white,
and the pause at each step 
is helpless as a fall.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Morning Light

Yesterday evening I walked west, toward the city, down from our little upland, across the 82nd Avenue gully, and up the slope of Mt Tabor, high enough to see the dark hills farther east. No mountain: a low cloud cover hid it. But I could see across to Mt Scott. I just wanted to walk, walk forever, hilltop to hilltop. But an hour was about what my knees would do. I turned back for home.

Always this ache, this longing to find some path out. I am so tired, and I can't keep up even with my daily tasks. I have tried to simplify, but the formula eludes me. Too many things too fast. I become duller-witted with each passing day: and even in my prime I was unable to untie these knots. What chance do I have now? Each mistake leads to the next, each waste entails more spending, every sleepless night leads to another. The taste of defeat is on my tongue. A deep breath makes me cough. I've played my bets and lost: why am I still at the table?

I know what's wrong: it's all these days without rain. Feeling sad and wan. Our neighbors aren't watering the tree they planted last year, and it's dying. 

In the morning, the young crows wake first: those strange, bleating caws of the very young corvids, demanding to be fed. They pursue their parents, begging, begging even as they forage. They forage quite competently, but they're still driven by the habit of need, even now when the need is gone.

Morning light filters into the house. I could try to sleep again, or I could wander out into the day. Sleep, I think. Or at least lie down on the couch, and imagine the paths out, and the cold rain. It will rain again, someday.