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.