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.