Sunday, February 28, 2016

What Everything Costs

she said in a sobbing childlike way, "We could live quite well on my own fortune — it is too much — seven hundred a-year — I want so little — no new clothes — and I will learn what everything costs."

these are rich days
full of failure and deceit
the sort of days you learn from and take to heart

illness giving way
to rude health
and fretful hungers that die away with dawn

still the hammer blows
and chips of marble flying
we are not half done yet no matter what the tape

may try to compass
I have flown over
the mountains between us and they would have no end

for a little insect creature
climbing over every fold
it will have to be the airplane and the bus however

will it be false
on that account? we can only hope and labor knowing as we do

what work requires
what attention is
having learned long ago what everything costs

Friday, February 26, 2016

They Will Be Building

This weird glimmer of Spring,
and a wide horizon at the oddest times:
the turn of a concrete stairway, a window
from the inmost city, shows the hills
draggling south from Mt Hood,
blueberry-colored, cut clean against the sky.

We take to the road, and the dust
backs away, slowly miming "I have nothing
to do with it!" with ghostly hands
of dispersing motes: they are still waving --
goodbye? -- as we disappear.

I don't know if you remember
roasting hot dogs at the headwaters
of the Missouri: it was a long time ago
and the winter suns have not been kind since then.

Still the hammer strikes the concrete,
shrill and hard and shrill and hard again:
they will be building, though they don't know why.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Foul Dissipation And Forced Rout

Well, having comfortably arrived at three times nineteen years -- I have had time to grow up three times over -- it really seems like it's time to have my ducks lined up. Instead, they wander as badly as ever. 

The whole project of having one's house in order: does it even make sense? And if, as I suspect, it doesn't, is there a meaning behind it that should be grasped? In short, should I make a last, desperate struggle to understand and control my life, or has that struggle been a mistake from first to last, a confusion of life with narrative? Impressionable children who read too much may grow up prone to this confusion. You are a brave little monkey and of course you may play your trumpet in the show.

What would giving up even look like? I can't imagine.

But lately especially, the impulse to improve myself begins to seem tawdry and mean. Was I really placed here by an all-knowing Providence in order to struggle each day to eat more vegetables and fewer french fries? Even setting aside my tendency to the grandiose, it seems a little petty. I don't have to accuse myself of poetic genius to think that there are larger things I should attend to more, even in the domestic sphere. The effort and anguish don't match the project.

I am so much wiser now, so much more in control of my circumstances, so much more insulated from the scorn and praise of others... and yet, I am more at the mercy of habit than I have ever been. My freedom seems not to have expanded, but to have shrunk. This can't be right.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


Sometimes to walk slowly, barefoot, on rough concrete,
with the marks of the boards still on it, and to look up 
at moonish smear of brightness on the cloud night sky:

Or to say a long and complicated prayer 
composed in another tongue by someone
whose furrowed brow has had ten hundred years
to smooth itself to equanimity:

Or to examine my hands by electric light
and discover no mystery, no saving shadow,
but veins with ever less patience, and
less inclination to efface themselves:

Is it for this that I lay the offerings, the little bowls
of scented oil, the beads of amaranth?

Oh, forgive me! I have gone into the street
with the marks of a doughnut on my face 
and given advice to young and trusting souls:
I should have said "just say the words and wait for God,"

but a man will be prating, when he's old enough,
when he starts to be afraid that a hand will come along
and cover the mike, and help him off the stage.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

On Violets Not Being Blue: A Poem For Valentine's Day

Oh yeah! Love. Let me tell you about love.
I know all about it, because I've been with my wife
Longer than you've been alive.

So, first, love
is a state of ignorance. We are not
being fancisophical, groovy spiritchool here.
Love means not knowing the answer.

So you ask.
And then you ask again. And you listen, and ask again.
So when do you know you're not in love any more?
That's easy. It's when you stop asking.

Whether it's chickens asking after eggs, 
or eggs after chickens, I don't know, doesn't matter.
People say it's about not listening but it's not really that:
of course you're not listening if you don't want to know.

Friday, February 12, 2016

A Shift Of Dreams

A lithe old woman holds a squirming boy
while she adroitly 
eats a piece of buttered toast,
and her white cotton sweater survives it all, 
weathers the cape. You learn a thing or two
in seventy years.

I have not published my intentions
in a long time now. If my hand goes
to the neck of the sheath, where the sword
hangs from the belt
not that you see sword or belt or sheath but still
if my left hand drops casually there,
it's because I feel the weight and swing;
my right hand ready to draw.

Who needs to know? I am walking
out of an office building downtown
with my head held high. That will do for now.

There are some who get good mileage 
from dreams they bruit abroad, dreams
they've embellished for forty years or more.
I'm not one of those. My dreams shift,

terrify, humiliate: and the richness
of one glimpse of a shadowed face,
turned three-quarters from the light,
will pay me six years of hidden,
desperate joy, changing shapes more often in a minute
than yours in all the years of your integrity.

Each drop of rain makes a white shellburst
as it hits the street: the light runs slant from the east,
obscured till the event. Invisible before and after,
known only by the sudden, brief flower
that lingers against the retina, seen properly 
only in helpless reconstructed memory --
a moment later -- in the dark.

The toast finished, lips wiped, syrup dabbed
from young Hercules' fists (strangling napkins
now, in augury of greatness) the lady lifts him
easily, and proudly -- how well I know
that lifted chin, that haughty gaze! -- he rides 
her white cotton shoulder from the table to the gate.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Una Llovizna Fina

Una llovizna fina, una
claridad que se cola
por las rendijas de las nubes:
y la mañana vacila en el umbral,
el día que teme nacer --

And I, I am fine, thanks for asking! Though I am in some political despair: I loathe the politics of personality, and the perennial inability of Americans to grasp that no one is going to save them from themselves. They long for a king, and sooner or later they'll get one. I hope they like it.

Well, I reckon democracy was about played out anyway: it's not well-suited to large diverse populations, and our version never got its experimental kinks worked out before it took on a larger load that it could bear. Data and surveillance were due to change it all anyway. I know all this, and I know that it is not hard to manipulate people, once you have the strings in your hands.

For a' that, and a' that, a man's a man for a' that --

Well, yes, but what's a man? a leaf blowing in the wind, a trout snapping at a fly, a dog rolling with its paws in the air, hoping for a treat.

Enough: no one asked me, anyway. There are amusements enough down here in the servants' hall, and as long as no one objects to me sneaking a book from our masters' library from time to time, I'm content. What for do I want to lay down laws for my fellow trout? I owe them nothing, and they owe me nothing. Even steven. Call it a draw, and go for a long walk of a Tuesday.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

For The Box

After all, you rise from the sleeping bag, and wash your face in the stream: the sky a long unraveling skein of high white cloud, and the day's ten miles easy, well-known, ganz bekannt. Resurrect last night's fire, boil water for coffee -- just dump the grounds in the cup, and scoop off what floats to the top; the rest will settle to the bottom, more or less -- and anyway it's not unpleasant to chew the bitter bits of grounds that don't, while you trace your route again with a finger in the morning light, and your mind turns the green contour lines of the survey map into tactile impressions, so that you'll remember them. All that, we know.

No, the question is: are there really earless dogs, related to seals, that roam the pampas, or did César Aira make them up? "Otarias" his soldiers call them, "sea lions." Or "perras," "bitches." (Why the feminine?) So much I don't know, and the earlier part of my life all folding into darkness. You don't know at first, when you're eagerly moving into the future, that your past is winking out behind you: that very soon you are forgetting at the same easy pace as you learn. But enough. Ten miles today and we're happy. Even an old man can walk ten miles in a day.

As I strode out the door, at work, my left hand fell to my sword belt, grasping the imagined sheath at the neck. Old habit: then you're ready, at need, to draw your sword quickly and surely with your right. How many years since I first imagined that, or imagined it clearly? Yet that, at least, has not faded. Leaving a tent, or an office building, I throw my head back, my nostrils flare, and my left hand falls casually to my belt. Those who trust memory because it's deep and ingrained, take heed: doesn't make it true.

And the inlaid box of memories, can I place these there? I have no other place for them.

Lift my head and look at the moon:
Bow my head, and think of home.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Primarily, In Three Rounds

Every once in a while I get short of sleep, I mean, really short of sleep, to the point that I hallucinate. Once in that dark underworld of consciousness, a voice may say to me: "you really should explain your political views to people."

So hey. (Pause for musical intro.) Round one.

1) In the primary I intend at present to vote for Bernie Sanders.
2) This is primarily (get it? Ha! Pun!) because I expect him to lose. I often vote this way.
3) May. The Oregon primary is in May. We never decide anything anyway. It's all over by the time they get to us.
4) I expect him to lose because leftie white people comprise only about a third of the Democratic party, and we're the people who like him.
5) Conservative and moderate Democrats are not a mirage conjured up by the evil specter of Wasserman Shultz. They exist in large numbers.
6) Especially in states such as Florida and Ohio, which have been known to influence presidential elections.
7) But you know, a man likes to be counted. I think wealth inequality is out of control and rapidly getting worse, and I think it's the main driver of lots of bad things, and a vote for Sanders gets that out there.
8) Besides, if he's going to lose, no harm done.

Round Two. (Pause for complicated intermezzo, quick fiddle work, a little snappy snare drum.)

1) I like Hillary Clinton.
2) I'm not making this up. I like her. I want to bring her a beer and give her a foot rub at the end of a long day. Sue me.
3) I know she takes money from corporations. I know she thinks corporations are the foundation of American wealth, and that it makes sense to subsidize them, and that taxing their income puts them at a disadvantage against other national corporations. And actually I think that too.
4) (Most corporations are still decidedly national, not global. Did you know that? A lot of leftie white people don't.)
5) So I like corporations, actually. I'm with Sanders in that I think they have way too much political influence. I think giving business entities first amendment rights is preposterous. & I'm with him about breaking up the banks. But I don't think supporting corporations economically, when it's in our national interest, is necessarily Betraying The People And Being Unprincipled.
6) I know she's militarily aggressive, and I don't like that. She basically supports the American domination of the globe, and our fantastic levels of military spending. I hate that. See Round One. I'm voting for Sanders, remember?
7) She's taken incredible, continuous vilification pretty much all of her life, and she keeps working for the public, for peanuts. If you don't understand how much money someone like her could make, do a bit of research. She is not doing this political thing for financial gain. She's doing it out of a commitment to public service that's in her bones, so deep that she doesn't even know how to express it and would sound phony if she tried.
8) So I think she's fabulous. Yeah, I think she's wrong. But I like her.

Round Three. (Somber music. Dying Fall)

1) Nobody in this race is anything like so radical as I am. Have you looked at Sanders' tax proposals? They're depressing. They would not begin to address the inequality of wealth. Nobody seems willing to do the arithmetic on this. Redistributing wealth is not something you do with an upper income tax bracket below 70%. It's just not. And Sanders' most radical proposal (not that any such thing would get through Congress) is fifty-some percent. As is Clinton's.
2) Both candidates are Democrats of sorts we've known all our lives. They both believe in huge centrally controlled and administered government programs to address, well, pretty much anything you might want to address.
3) Both come from the land of Oz (i.e. immediately post-WWII-America, which controlled a staggering 40% of the world's GDP, and all of whose competitors had just spent six years bombing each other's infrastructure to bits.) In Oz, no one EVER has to worry about competition or unemployment, not in the long run.
4) We don't live in Oz any more.
5) Also: neither one of them gets it about the environment, any more than Obama does. They don't understand the scale of the disasters impending. They basically live in the "tweak a little here, regulate a little there" world of their political youth. (see Oz, supra.
6) Sanders has a history of endorsing embarrassing pseudo-science. Alt med, homeopathy, all that stuff. Like Obama. This is a minor point, but (living as I do in the belly of the alt med beast) it annoys me disproportionately. 
7) Not only has no one been able to convince me that Clinton mishandled Benghazi, or her email; no one has ever even been able to give me an intelligible summary of what they allege her to have done, that is different from any other secretary of state. 
8) Oh yeah. That electability thing. I do worry about it with Sanders. Not because of the "Socialist" label, which I actually don't think is particularly meaningful to anyone who might vote for a Democrat any more. But because, if there's a major terrorist attack or international incident in the run-up to the general election -- will he be able to sound bellicose enough to satisfy the American thirst for blood-vengeance? Will he even try? I doubt it. In which case he's toast, and Ted Cruz moves into the White House.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016


The lamb in the womb, the milk in the teat:
three Brigids healing wounds and writing verse
and beating out the shoe on the anvil --

Luck? That's for those who don't believe

in the writing of a cloud on the hill. A spinning coin
is offered to the sky who gives it back

hot with meaning, warm to the touch,

falling this way or that because nothing (but a man)
lands on its edge and stands.

Imbolc, in the milk, in the family way,

even if the lambs came early this year,
gray and unsteady in the wet 

pasture, while the snow was still falling on the ridge;
and even if the white-headed eagles strayed 
from the river to the freeway to attend,

even so, we light our candles -- or say, yet more,

because if this year is wrong shaped or wrinkled
next year will need, even more,

the winking coin spun high in the sun,

and Brigid's shadow written on the hills.