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Linear Circles

L

The beginning squeezes back

like a hermit crab retreats

deeper into its ever-tightening

shell. This moment opens

into and closes off the last

and next, as we each pretend

we are a cumulative consequence.

God, if extant, does not care

about time and its causes, the click

and clack of the marble rolling

through preordained mechanics,

not the butterfly landing on her hand.

I fear pat endings’ homilies,

as if someone turns off the lights.

(February 15, 2019)

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Enough

Last year on Valentine’s day, my students were working on three of the stories which are alluded to in T. S. Eliot’s the Wasteland. On the way home that day, I listened to NPR’s reporting of the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where seventeen people were killed, and another seventeen injured. Since the Columbine High School, Every time there is another school shooting, I think about the students I teach everyday: the joy, trust, hope, and curiosity they bring with them into the world. As news of another killing happens, I cannot avoid thinking about them bleeding out on the floor of my classroom. I am horrified at the “solutions” offered by our political leaders: arm the teachers, “harden” the schools, conduct live shooter drills as casually as fire drills. Last year, I responded personally, the way I respond to most of what troubles me by writing into the horror. A few weeks later Shantih Journal ( https://shantihjournal.org/issue-2-2/) put out a call for writing about social justice after the March for Our Lives protest in Washington. I sent them the poem I wrote the day of the shootings, which they graciously published. I would like to think that there has been a change in people’s political will to do something that will end the slaughter of our children, but I fear we are too mired in sclerotic thinking to change. Here is the poem I wrote:

Today’s Lesson

“These fragments I have shored against my ruins”

                                    –T. S. Eliot

my students work over the abstract

idea of redemption in three stories

as a preparation for the wasteland

which we will read for the next class

one thousand miles away students

hide as their classmates are killed

and we are told there is nothing

nothing we can do except pray

prayers are useless balms for the dead

and pale recompense for the living

who must clean blood from the walls

and mix memory into the earth

devoid of hope near an open door

we are in a hell we have created

(February 14, 2018)

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Work on What has been Spoiled

From “Renditions of Change” a work in progress

Caught in a tight 

spiral of self-loathing,

I try to scrape

and cut away 

memory,

like a benign tumor.

Yet, I return and return

to each malignant moment,

and paint my face

in ritual guilt,

as if one could absolve

the past, and be free. 

(February 12, 2019)

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A Dagger Which I See Before

from “Renditions of Change” a work in progress

A

Tentatively, I stumble down

the hall in the dark. This time,

this is not a dream. I tell

myself I will kill myself

tomorrow. I laugh, as if

I was joking. Then I hear

a draft of a first line,

and hope I can hold it long

enough to write it down

before I drown in a river

of my own clotted blood.

(February 9, 2019)

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Again

A

Even against prevailing winds,

the pattern persists—Happiness

is a myth. Too troubled to

untangle this moment from

the last, I am trapped in

a quandary of happenstance,

an Irish know woven from briar.

Unlike Lao Tzu by a pond, I hesitate

allowing decisions to pass undecided.

I don’t wait for the wind to fall,

or the murk to settle into clarity.

(February 8, 2019)

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Possession in Great Measure

from “Renditions of Change,” a work in progress

As I teach my students,

I try to be honest

in who I am;

yet, fear

I’m a fraud.

Teaching’s resistance:

how to read,

analyze,

break meaning from words–

then rewrite

in the students’ voices

without becoming

a lie that exalts

the life

they are not.

(February 7, 2019)

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Speak Into Silence



S

As if with a spoon,

she scoops the words

from his pliant mouth.

The rounded vowels,

and crisp consonants

shred her tongue

with shards of ice.

Meanwhile, with slick

knives, he carves

all conversation, 

leaving bits of blood,

like rose petals,

to stain the ground

in a red-wet lust.

Neither he, not she,

can speak into

what was said.

They stare, stunned,

past empty eyes;

their mouths slack

like the recent dead.

(February 5, 2019)

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Fellowship

from “Renditions of Change,” a work in progress

We ate a simple shared meal,

a sixteen-bean soup with bits

of Christmas ham. Afterward

we played a counting card game:

They laughed and talked awkwardly,

as players dropped from the game.

I realized, once again,

I do not fit in.

(January 31, 2019)

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Our Trespasses

Our Trespasses

From thick decades, 

memory emerges, with 

miniscule shames and sins,

to taunt and accuse again.

Laced like briars between

raw sinew and bone,

the castigating voice

scratches and pricks.

Unable to forget, thus forgive,

all the awkward trespasses

harbored in memory

claw their way free, 

like lizards from eggs, 

hungry and ready to feed.

(January 31, 2019)

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The Taming Power of the Small

from “Change,” a work in progress

Our government horrifies me,

and I feel powerless–

Each day I read and talk

with my students;

they exude such optimism

and hope, I’m humbled.

A slight breeze stirs

the oak leaves;

dawn breaks slowly

over all.

(January 25, 2019)

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Holding Together

to Lisa

from “Change,” a work in progress

Holding Together

For decades now—

I cannot imagine

waking without you.

We move together

like rivers

through the earth.

Even when lost

in tidal shifts,

we are an ocean

holding together

who we are

in the world.

We share this day,

with each small embrace.


(January 25, 2019)

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Waiting (nourishment)

from “Change” a work in progress

Too often, when I find time

to write, the clamor of the day

staggers about drunkenly,

muddling my thoughts. So,

I wait, go for a walk, cook.

Eventually all the falderal

falls away to silence;

and, I write again.

(January 22, 2019)

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Safe Passage

Amid twilight’s slow dance,

along a moment’s periphery,

always some other lurks close,

whispering him toward the rocks:

“Don’t stop. Over here, no here.

Somewhere other than where

you are, someone other

than the person you are.”

As the voices rattle like bones

in a box longing to be heard,

he barely notes the susurrations,

never knowing where he goes.

Thus, the lackadaisical waves

slip him limply past the shore.

(January 16, 2019)

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Returning Home


Like lover’s forgotten notes,

disturbed dreams fold

into night’s pocket. I wake

into another dark morning,

surprised I was still asleep.

It’s wearing to be aware

even in one’s dreams. The days

protective surety thins

and the ground falls away

into air. Too often I return

to you, who does not exist

beyond my desire for you

to exist. Like stepping 

suddenly into a forest 

clearing, each narrative 

trace left from dream,

or memory leads me into 

a present space. Not caught 

up in past complications,

nor the fractal explosions 

on the verge of occurrence,

I notice momentarily 

the effulgent light along

The edges of the shimmering 

leaves, and I am happy.

(January 15, 2018)

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Ars Poetica: The Fiction of Truth


Since I do understand the importance

Of narrative, I tell stories without

Telling stories, like now, as I write this

Poem. I’ve created a fiction of me,

Truthfully, yet still a grounded fiction,

Who is speaking to you, someone absent,

As if we were strangers ordered to share

A rough table in a pub. But instead 

of talking about the local football 

team, or rudely about the government,

I talk to you as if you are in love,

Listening, as I speak, rather than write,

These simplistic thoughts upon this blank page,

And pretend you did not leave years ago.

(January 11, 2019)

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Chromosome Damage

(a post-modern renga)

(draft 1–this is the complete 46 stanzas, I will remove the numbers (syllable counts) when I finalize the whole. I am looking for comments

(23)

Lights break auras

As night deepens

The rain. The solstice

Grows closer through the dark;

Grim days shorten.

(28)

Half-way back

To summer’s long heat—

In afternoon hours,

It hurts to step

Outside as if someone

Near waits with knives.

(14)

Patient enough now

To watch all this unfold

Into spring.

(40)

Outside, another cold day:

Most of the leaves have fallen

From the sycamore outback;

Its white bark stands in contrast

To the stark grey sky. Beauty

Lives with our view.

(43)

Nietzsche said, among other things,

We experience only ourselves—

Even when I shift toward you,

It remains me who must see

The shadow which falls starkly

Between us on the floor.

(36)

If no one hears the Eliot allusion,

Does it make a sound?

Or should one pretend

A studied nonchalance

To carry one through the late afternoon?

(39)

Thus, an old ritual snickers

To a close, the porch lights

Turned on, the curtains

Drawn. I feel safe,

Less exposed, contained

With the pattern—

A spider moves toward motion.

(34)

We’ve woven our disparate dreams,

And become subsumed beneath the totality

Like ocean waves rolling upon themselves

Far from shore.

(28)

My anger sits at a distance,

It does not go away—

It whispers discontent

Like whip’s end striking wet flesh.

(41)

Ubiquitous as fear,

The air tightens

Without provocation.

Yet, still we sing,

Sing our song,

As if redemption

Can be gathered

Like bags of wet cotton

Blotched with blood.

(23)

I caught my breath,

And did not speak.

Is writing equivalent

To speech? I loved you,

In silence.

(42)

Self-doubt’s constant

Caterwauling echoes,

Like now— I mock

Attempts to quiet:

Hush, hush

Little baby hush—

All these scorpions

Are your own, each

Tail-strike skitters

Across skin.

(11)

Memory circles back to savage the corpse.

(42)

If only the dead would remain with the dead;

The past cannot so easily be revised—

I know what I desire to have happened;

Yet a mirror cannot be unbroken.

(12)

I can only see what

I think it is I see.

(4)

A lens warps light.

(38)

We are woven through our day

Despite our proclivities

Or desires. A thread’s easy

Enough to trace in retrospect

As being a part to a whole.

(31)

And here I am

Beneath a December moon

Waxing its way

Across a gray night.

Fate, or circumstance,

Is of no consequence.

(36)

He touches his forehead

To the damp ground

In a patterned response

To appease God’s chaos.

Here things are quiet;

Here one pretends

There is this center.

(6)

She waits, then dons her mask.

(7)

He scurries beneath the rain.

(41)

The sideways shift and snip

Clatters across the sand.

It’s easier to move out of the way—

Trouble passes, one remains

To proceed with plodding step

Along one’s path.

(3)

Time’s slow arc

(34)

All the variables led here

As inevitable as this morning’s

Sun striking the sycamore’s white

Bark; no god laughs as our choices.

(14)

A left, a right, a yes, a no:

Life’s crushed to binary.

(16)

I close an eye

To see the obvious

Connection: the moment.

(15)

I stumble step across a bridge

Swinging above a crevasse.

(21)

No saints guide us home,

Nor care how far we fall.

The emptiness opens

Like an aura.

(43)

This morning everyone sleeps in

As fog drifts between the trees

Near the creek and the gray sky.

The last brown leaf has fallen

From the sycamore; the solstice

Passed under a full moon.

(30)

Dusk and dawn, progressive

And simultaneous, flow through

The landscape. Yet, we think

Our futile actions have consequence.

(3)

I’m a lens.

(19)

Like you,

Light bends

Along each wave’s edge

Into separate

And singular parts.

(36)

I live on the periphery

Whispering songs

To the dry wind–

No bold flights 

Of choirs or timpani rolls

To assuage the silence

Which surrounds me.

(15)

Edges, like borders,

Allow difference

A false consequence.

(5)

Mirrors are echoes.

(26)

Like Narcissus,

I see only

What I want

To see; like

A song wedged

In my ear,

A flower grows

Nearby.

(35)

Another flower flowers

As if it were made for you

Each flower flowers

From bud to petal fall

The flower flowers

With or without you

(35)

In action, the noun is

Verb without separation.

The sentence inscribed

In bone, slippery as blood

Along a knife’s edge,

Leaks into our veins.

(34)

The sun moves and spins;

The earth spins and rocks;

The galaxy twirls along

Its own circuitous dance.

Nothing stops. I am tired,

And wish to rest.

(45)

The creek behind our house has risen

As the rain has been unrelenting

For the last few days. Work begins

Again tomorrow; over time I’ve grown

Accustomed to the pervasive fear.

(36)

Each day leads to another;

As do such platitudes; thus

We humbly don our daily masks

As those we meet present their own,

Forever and ever.

(12)

Rituals bring comfort,

Like an old dog its bone.

(16)

I keep revising the past—

Hoping for a new denouement.

(32)

She unfolds the origami crane

Next to his bed, but does not

Write the note. Oblivious,

He cannot erase what is not there.

(40)

We make only one choice.

Possibility’s extant only

In possibility. The first

Motion’s desire, which

Collapses upon itself

Continually.

(1)

Choose

Featured

Chromosome Damage (work in progress, part 3)

(41)

The sideways shift and snip

Clatters across the sand.

It’s easier to move out of the way—

Trouble passes, one remains

To proceed with plodding step

Along one’s path.

(3)

Time’s slow arc

(34)

All the variables led here

As inevitable as this morning’s

Sun striking the sycamore’s white

Bark; no god laughs as our choices.

(14)

A left, a right, a yes, a no:

Life’s crushed to binary.

(16)

I close an eye

To see the obvious

Connection: the moment.

(15)

I stumble step across a bridge

Swinging above a crevasse.

(21)

No saints guide us home,

Nor care how far we fall.

The emptiness opens

Like an aura.

(43)

This morning everyone sleeps in

As fog drifts between the trees

Near the creek and the gray sky.

The last brown leaf has fallen

From the sycamore; the solstice

Passed under a full moon.

(30)

Dusk and dawn, progressive

And simultaneous, flow through

The landscape. Yet, we think

Our futile actions have consequence.

(19)

Like you,

Light bends

Along each wave’s edge

Into separate

And singular parts.

Featured

Chromosome Damage (continued)

(Work in Progress)

(23)

I caught my breath,

And did not speak.

Is writing equivalent

To speech? I loved you,

In silence.

(42)

Self-doubt’s constant

Caterwauling echoes,

Like now— I mock

Attempts to quiet:

Hush, hush

Little baby hush—

All these scorpions

Are your own, each

Tail-strike skitters

Across skin.

(11)

Memory circles back to savage the corpse.

(42)

If only the dead would remain with the dead;

The past cannot so easily be revised—

I know what I desire to have happened;

Yet a mirror cannot be unbroken.

(12)

I can only see what

I think it is I see.

(4)

A lens warps light.

(38)

We are woven through our day

Despite our proclivities

Or desires. A thread’s easy

Enough to trace in retrospect

As being a part to a whole.

(31)

And here I am

Beneath a December moon

Waxing its way

Across a gray night.

Fate, or circumstance,

Is of no consequence.

(36)

He touches his forehead

To the damp ground

In a patterned response

To appease God’s chaos.

Here things are quiet;

Here one pretends

There is this center.

(6)

She waits, then dons her mask.

(7)

He scurries beneath the rain.

Featured

Chromosome Damage

(in progress)

DNA string against black with clipping path

(23)

Lights break auras

As night deepens

The rain. The solstice

Grows closer through the dark;

Grim days shorten.

(28)

Half-way back

To summer’s long heat—

In afternoon hours,

It hurts to step

Outside as if someone

Near waits with knives.

(14)

Patient enough now

To watch all this unfold

Into spring.

(40)

Outside, another cold day:

Most of the leaves have fallen

From the sycamore outback;

Its white bark stands in contrast

To the stark grey sky. Beauty

Lives with our view.

(43)

Nietzsche said, among other things,

We experience only ourselves—

Even when I shift toward you,

It remains me who must see

The shadow which falls starkly

Between us on the floor.

(36)

If no one hears the Eliot allusion,

Does it make a sound?

Or should one pretend

A studied nonchalance

To carry one through the late afternoon?

(39)

Thus, an old ritual snickers

To a close, the porch lights

Turned on, the curtains

Drawn. I feel safe,

Less exposed, contained

With the pattern—

A spider moves toward motion.

(34)

We’ve woven our disparate dreams,

And become subsumed beneath the totality

Like ocean waves rolling upon themselves

Far from shore.

(28)

My anger sits at a distance,

It does not go away—

It whispers discontent

Like whip’s end striking wet flesh.

(41)

Ubiquitous as fear,

The air tightens

Without provocation.

Yet, still we sing,

Sing our song,

As if redemption

Can be gathered

Like bags of wet cotton

Blotched with blood.

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Whirligig

“Desire is a moment with no way out”

            –Anne Carson

I parse each moment’s possibility

Pretending the past can be reconciled

With present desires. Memory wears me

Like a palm stone smoothed from idle handling,

Until no difference exists between 

Me and what I have perceived to be me.

The unstable threads interlace with all

The lies, the truth, the last dry sip of gin.

The metaphor for myself unravels:

The little that was left unsaid is said,

And the air sparkles with embarrassment.

I have built constructs out of Tinker Toys,

Vast whirligigs of simplistic ideas

To clack and flail in an ignorant wind.

(December 6, 2018)

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A Present Absence


As if braille,

I cannot be traced

Without a quick

Flutter of fingers

Across the page.

Even as I hide

Within words,

My handwriting,

Like kudzu, disguises

My intent.

I don metaphor

And stand still

To cloak certainty

In comfortable 

Deniability.

My whispers are

My camouflage—

Hints and misdirection

Like bells nearby 

In the dark.

(December 3, 2018)

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Parasite

I project myself onto a new world

Which is not mine, but simply becomes mine.

These become moments when something happens

And nothing happens. I exist tangled

In marginalia, a handwriting

Stitched upon the edges. Another book

Becomes a palimpsest to my tired thought,

A filter to strain away the slither.

Roman priests examined the intestines

Of animals slaughtered for sacrifice.

To devine auguries in the moment,

When something happened, and nothing happened,

They would take the eviscerated signs-

The clots of blood, the bits of flesh, as truth.

(November 30, 2018)

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Weeks Before Winter Solstice

W

                                      “and I am

out with hanterns, looking for myself”

                        –Emily Dickinson

Despite the lights in the house,

The darkness penetrates.

It assumes positions in corners,

Presumptuous in its domain.

Like lions pace a cage’s confines,

I am lost in loops of thought

Looking for a set of keys

Which will let me inside.

Yet, there is no rest within

Nor without which can comfort

Enough to bring a closure;

Locked in my obsessions,

I worry each item in turn,

Tangled like tumblers at a fair.

(November 26, 2018)

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How Poetry Works

An image like a flower,

something simple, a cliche

even, to distract away

from the slight of hand performed

beneath the mark’s open gaze.

Like now, for instance, you turn

your attention from the poem,

secure in your own slow thoughts;

what you trust to know trembles

as if a leaf in autumn.

Here exists my truth and yours.

I can explain myself true,

in a way that you cannot.

Thus, seeds grow into flowers.

(November 25, 2018)