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Self Portrait Before a Bookcase

I am the books I have not read—

perhaps begun, or perhaps not, then

abandoned like a sack of kittens, 

to stack on side tables until relocated,

years later in a flurry of decluttering 

before a holiday, to a shelf where 

the petulant spines whisper, beneath 

the dust, their clucking disappointment

with lost possibility, and false claims

of the myriad loose threads which lead 

directly from the maze I only thought 

of entering, when instead I opened a book.

(December 1, 2022)

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Dana Prajna Paramita

1.

Where are you going?

You’re already here.


Now, let that go—

but stay


without

staying.


2.

It is easier 

to be the authority


and pronounce

bits of bated wisdom,


as if you know

anything more than now.

3.

Listen, you are here:

the pulse of wind through the trees;

a loud distant sneeze.


(November 30, 2022)

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Set and Setting

I wish I were drunk,

but I am not—

There are no soft edges left.

Rage waits. Boys, with guns

bigger than them, walk

casually into classrooms

and churches to kill.

The house is cold;

the Mexican blanket is not enough.

Plague festers the air; and, 

we breathe deeply. Savoring

the fear, we watch the street

humming darkly to the wind.

Again, we say what’s been said:

the same muttered rituals,

with the same fruitless results.

The world is broken, and I am

tired of this sober life.

Bit players, we dance awkwardly

in the blurred background

without lines to speak,

nor character enough to change.

(November 29, 2022)

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Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense

Look, Sunshine,

the strippers at the club

are like the aurora borealis, but

never would I presume to tell you

the beauty of a jiggling moon.

I have too many privileges to grind

to toss that kind of monkey wrench.

Beauty,

after all, is the truth we pursue; and

never would I presume to tell you

how to pass a lonely afternoon.

(November 22, 2022)

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Yet

This is my story:

a prelude to nothing

beyond this moment.


This is my story

as I tell it today

unrevised, unfiltered.


This is my story:

different than yesterday,

different than tomorrow.


This is my story

I must tell to myself

each day, every day.


This is my story;

I have not told, yet.



(November 16, 2022)

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Vacancy

A student tells me

she cannot hear an

inner dialogue.

How lonely she must

be to have silence

as her only thought.


A flame burns without

a flicker, alone

in an empty room.

It illuminates

itself and the walls 

along the light’s edge:


nothing can be seen;

there are no echoes.


(November 13, 2022)

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Absence

“there is no absence

that cannot be replaced”

—Rene Char

She sits in a hole in the room

where time drifts like dust motes

through sunlight. There is no time

anymore for resentment, or anger,

to fester their dark intentions.

Everything fades. The half-life of names

expands absorbing our vague desires

in the absolution memory grants

with each revision. She is tired now.

Patchwork obligations, like cages

without keys, contain her reasons.

In her way, she is dying, as are we all—

an obvious cliche, yet rituals

daily provide us with parameters

where we feel most comfortable.

Life is painful enough. Outside the air

clutters with snow, and rime forms

along the fence line. She watches the door.

Once, long ago, someone knocked, then left.


(November 12, 2022)

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Wish List

You ask what I want.

I have no answer

that is not abstract:


Happiness, less drama, less stress;

no flagellant memories

laced in guilt and blame;

time to think;

time to move about the house;

time to take for our life.


time to remember:

who I am;

who you are—


to find ourselves

together again.

(November 9, 2022)

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Position

“To see a world in a grain of sand/and a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour”—-William Blake

An eternal pause

which opens in a moment

then vanishes


(like a leaf fall breaks

the still flow

of the autumn air;


or a stutter step

in a dance

almost breaks rhythm;


or a match flares

an aura briefly

as the wick takes flame)


is where we are,

always.

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place holder

in the dream this time

I wrote a line to start

then again inevitably

I woke to remember

nothing but the sense

that something had left

something consequential

something now absent

like the vacancy we fill

each time we move quietly

through an empty room

something that’s always there


outside the dream I write

myself through the delusion

that I have something to say

beyond my mundane day

beyond my awkward cliches

beyond my last glimpse of land

where gulls screech to the wind

their sneers of mockery and desire

where I’m stripped of my words

and left alone with what I am

a tongueless mouth gasping

for air beneath a dying sea

(October 20, 2022)

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Causal Vacancies

Mist moves through the trees

which loom overhead.

The why of my way

trails vaguely behind,

catching on branches

like tufts of soft fur,

clinging to the briar.

The negligible

wind falters then dies;

and, the air thickens

as the earth reaches

for the distant sky

like a supplicant

to an absent god.

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My Thought Provides an Easy Prey

My cliches wander in

with a negligent ease.

They have no compunctions

with rude visitations.

Like a tabby stalking

a yard of a neighbor

who fed her once

years and years ago,

they simply stray from

the page’s periphery:

an easy image

returned to repeatedly,

providing a brutish clarity

to a violent mendacity.

(October 6, 2022)

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Waiting Room Allegory

He sits in a wooden chair

in the center of a locked room.

The chair is bolted to the floor.

The room is bare, but for a light

hanging above him like a sword.

The light is dim, without a shade.

He is not wearing a blindfold,

but he might as well be—

for there is nothing to see

beyond the industrial gray walls.

No one has come into the room.

He is not sure how he arrived,

only that he is here now, alone.

If he listens he can hear his breath

otherwise the room is silent

as if all sounds are absorbed

into the walls before they enter.

he sits with his back to a locked door,

or what he assumes is a locked door,

for he has not attempted to open it.

Every now and then a light flickers

beneath the door as if a warning

to him in a code he cannot fathom

even if he were able to see it.

The room is cold, not overly so, but

enough to cause his nose to run.

He would like to wipe his nose

but his hands behind his back are tied,

as are his feet to the chair’s legs.

He doesn’t know how long he has waited,

nor how much longer he must wait,

nor what he is waiting for exactly:

just that he waits in a chair, alone, 

in a room; and, he is just like you.

(October 4, 2022)

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eventually we fall

Somedays I am here

more than most:

Thin flesh over fragile bones,

unable to hold a thought

from dream, I wander

from room to room

metaphorically lost

in a house I once knew.

My hand on a window,

I feel the winter sun

briefly at my fingertips,

before the shadow falls

between the bare branches

lightly laced in ice.

(September 30, 2022)

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for days then years

the sadness grew

its tendrils

through the rooms

of their house

casually

laconically

until

it touched

and troubled

their lives

staining all

in a yellowish

brown smudge

as if an old

mattress

tossed to the side

of an abandoned

dirt road

(September 27, 2022)

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Inertia

What can I say?

After years

of writing,

I am tired

of my life

as it is;

and yet,

I’m too tired

to change,

or stop.

So, I go on

writing toward night

as if I had

somewhere to go.

(September 22, 2022)

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Hand on the Gate

Here we are

at last, lost,

wondering what’s next?

Desperate for a redemption

to justify

our petty striving,

we sacrifice our souls

for a future

we will never see.

While the present vanishes,

a silent effect

to an unvoiced cause,

the gate clicks

closed

on its own.

(September 19, 2022)

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Masonry

The rough stones, I stack

in a circle around me,

slowly wear the skin from

my fingers until they bleed.


Nearby, but far enough,

you too build your circle

mixing traces of blood

into the wet mortar.


This is how we live:

each day we wait—

for a new excuse

to slowly bleed out,


then lay the last stone

of our sarcophagus. 

(September 19, 2022)

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dissect each moment in memory

to eviscerate

all that could have been

and all that there was

each day since birth’s cry


to worry the wound

probing the center

as a bee a rose

deeper then deeper


to pin the skin back

exposing the flesh

as if broken dreams

to prurient eyes


to recoil in fear

until a last breath

rises from dry lips

as a final kiss

(September8, 2022)

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Revising a Poem I Lost 40 Years Ago From Memory

Each day that summer as I walked home from concentrated classes at the University (Early Modern Philosophy: Descartes, Kant, Hegel, Hume, Berkeley all in six weeks), I would wave to an old woman who sat on the porch of her disheveled house drinking coffee, I assumed. Each day for a couple of seconds, we would affirm each other’s existence in the other’s life. One day she called out to me, she wanted my help with something. I hesitated — for I had places to go, people to meet all afternoon. I was afraid she would take more time than I had to give. After I negotiated her neglected front lawn, she held out an old alarm clock, “It’s broken,” she said, “I don’t know what the time is anymore.” I took the clock from her crumpled hands, turned the key a few times, and it started to tick loudly. She thanked me, and I went on my way. The next day and the day after that for the rest of the summer, I never saw her again. Although, now and then, for the last forty years, I think of her, her clock, and the time she took that day.

(September 5, 2022)

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Origin’s Layers

Pattern’s traces, worn through

repetition, call from dance’s edge;

where shadows pulse like breath,

and flicker leaves against the sky.

I hear only the sharper echoes,

of the little dog at my heals,

whose yips and growls cut past

the surf’s surge far below, but not

the curved contours cloistered

closer to my heart. I am a fool

to trust so blindly in a god, 

who allows me to languish

in faith’s certainty, as if

cowardice could protect me

from the final fragile shattering. 

The bits and shards scattered 

along the broken grounds are 

difficult to winnow. I become lost

in a melodramatic reverie

where each memory excavates

a self-abnegation usually reserved

for saints confessing their silent sins.

(September 4, 2022)

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Ikkyu Reiteration: Centered

#CamerasandDancers by Jacob Jonas The Company. Dancer: Jill Wilson.

“there the dance is”

—T.S.Eliot

to move from this mountain,

I am nothing;


to return to the temple,

still, nothing;


to remain—

nothing.


(August 26, 2022)

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Ikkyu Reiterations: Put Asunder

The roses you planted decades ago

still bloom despite their age.

A slight breeze dances the trees,

and I remember I must leave soon.

We rest our heads on each other

as rain clouds deepen our night.

(August 25, 2022)

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Ikkyu Reiterations: After a Few Days Alone

Dew upon the grass,

the moon open to the sky,

for years we sing our song together.

Rain and tears flow through my heart

only to vanish in the river’s flow. 

Outside the tree’s branches

reach into the dark night.

(August 23, 2022)

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Sunday Afternoon With Friends

We drank beer, and

talked about music,

and art, and poetry,

and all the other

inconsequential

moments of life

which make us

more than we are

when on our own.

(August 15, 2022)

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Ikkyu Reiterations:  and which part of that is now

Having returned a cow

with my horns clipped,

I chew my straw sardonically,

as my sad-brown eyes survey

the undulant fields.


The cow herd pats my neck,

looks across the open field,

and asks me, a mere cow,

with a casual disregard,

“What’s this?” then walks away.


I have no language to unlock

this moment from time now.

Each song ends with desire,

a flutter of a solitary bird

falling from a tree.

(August 10, 2022)

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Time and Integrity

I crawled to earth

gasping for air;

I am no more now

than who I once was.

I’ve maintained myself

in memory’s traces,

tucked between the hours

and the tired minutes.

Centuries passed slowly,

like summer afternoon

shadows thicken over

slovenly trimmed lawns.

(August 6, 2022)

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to trust

to throw into the fire

the better part of you


your heart as sacrifice

to the life desired


secure in the arms

of your clarity


like a child held

tight against the night


secure no danger lurks

beyond the fire’s edge


where the shadows flicker

with insidious pleasure


(August 4, 2022)

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Sonnet

My voices echo within a labyrinth.

Scraps of some other’s stories without form

return as someone else’s dark whispers

where all our monsters are of my making.

My lies breathe wetly in the dark where

I take up my veins like a woolen skein

to braid these lonely secrets from my heart

to some broken cross I drag though the night.

There are not any guides to trace the way,

no straight lines to unravel  obliquely

as if some kind of redemption were there

waiting for love and forgiveness for all.


Hope is the final lie, the last true lie:

the sun breaks over the trees without us.

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Balanced

The fences were in need,

as always, of repair, 

not mended like Frost’s, 

but more of a courtesy

to recognize an accord

with a tone of enmity

slipped in like mortar, 

or a knife beneath bone,

as an acknowledgement

of a division where X 

does not equal Y, 

even in the abstract.

(July 27, 2022)

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Self-Portrait as Someone Else

Late at night when you cannot sleep

and you step silently through the house;

or lost in thought driving to work

and you do not notice your normal exit,

then the niggling whispers gain a clarity

that cannot be partitioned or pardoned.

No little boxes filled with secrets to be

placed locked in other larger boxes

appear to safely hide your face within. 

When all your variant stories disentangle,

and fall away like petals on a dying rose,

how do you begin to confess the lies

manifested through accidental negligence?

How do you begin to open the sarcophagus 

you have for so long hidden within? How do 

you even begin to begin to live again?

(July 23, 2022)

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Ikkyu Reiterations: As Above

There is no truth to face;

these circles are closed and reflexive.

War is endless: we walk blindly

through one blooded field or another.

Nothing matters. Her one endless song

is too full of flowers and mockery.


*


I float between sleep

and dreams of sleep. 

With no other joys,

no other pleasures,

I sink beneath

waves of dry tears.


(July 18, 2022)

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There Then Here Now

I talked too much, saying little.

Then a decade of unbroken silence

followed without your laughter.


Yet, I still felt the silent trace

of your fingertips along the length 

of my bare arm, as you spoke.


Our intentions were never clear.

Then we left, each to our ways;

and, I became a ghost to you.

(July 10, 2022)

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Ikkyu Reiterations: Late Autumn Night

Returning to the mountain, I ignore 

the bitter taste in my mouth. Forgetting

my grey beard again, I shamefully fall 

in love again, as I listen to her sad songs 

late into the lengthening autumn night.

(July 8, 2022)

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Ikkyu Reiterations: The Sacred and Profane

Summoned from Shaman Mountain

as his lover for the night, she steps 

lightly from dream rising on waves 

surging from a storm. The flowers 

give way beneath the plum tree’s 

branches; and, the scent of narcissus 

lingers like the moon before the dawn, 

as she wraps her thighs around his hips.

(July 7, 2022)

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Ikkyu Reiterations: Practice

“If I knew what I was doing, I’d be doing it right now…”

—Radney Foster

Another morning sun trickles

through the cottonwoods. Today,

I have time to write. Instead,

I watch the cardinal pair twitter 

from branch to branch, fluttering 

like drunken dancers in love.

I have nothing to say; yet, today

that is enough. The cottonwoods

slowly clatter in the soft breeze,

while the grey cat purrs at my feet.

(July 1, 2022)

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Ikkyu Reiterations: Samadhi (2)

Each day I shuffle about the house

lost within the duties of the day.

I wonder: all these poets with their advice

full of absolutes and disdain for others—

when do they find time to write;

to sit alone with their words;

to scrape the burnt rice from the pan?

(June 30, 2022)

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Ikkyu Reiterations: Samadhi

In the early evening silence,

cicadas and doves, hidden

in the trees, whoo and trill,

as the sprinkler fans the grass

with artificial rain.


This is enough,

as the sun tips the tops

of the tallest trees

with a light-green fire

before it sets behind the hills.

(June 24, 2022)

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Ikkyu Reiterations: Who Knows?

While degrees

prove persistence

more than

knowledge gained,

one cannot pretend

through screams

and violence

to know anything.

If one attends

to each breath

and stumble along

the garden path,

one’s practice should be

enough; yet, life

disguises wisdom

in each rose’s bloom.

(June 23, 2022)

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Ghosts’ Stories

The ghosts enter my dreams again. They dislike the arrangement of the furniture. So, they move the leather couch to the opposite wall, reset the clock, close all the doors, open all the windows, letting bugs get in, and finally turn off all the lights except the one over the kitchen table, which glows eerily as if in a noir movie from the 1950’s. I have to admit the new arrangement of the room makes for a better flow overall, yet something is still wrong.  Although I see all of this, I am not there. I am somewhere else, disconnected from my life like a mirror. I try to speak, but the words come out backwards, the syntax jumbled and slurred. The ghosts look perplexed, but as an act of condescension, they don’t pay any attention to me. They serve themselves tea from a fine china teapot into matching china cups. They speak to each other nonchalantly, about memories I recognize as mine, but do not recall well enough to contradict the revisions they are making. After I wake, and then through the rest of the day as I wonder about the house, I pick up scraps of what was said, and try ineffectually to sew my desires back together as if they were a patch work quilt collectively stitched on a Sunday afternoon over gossip and prayers. Yet, something is missing: I think it might be me.

(June 18, 2022)

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Ikkyu Reiterations: Loss

Together we drank and sang

into the night; we were true

to ourselves and each other.


Today, even the half-hearted

are cut down by the heartless.

What chance did our song have?


Tonight in the distance, 

I hear a solitary flute player.  

I think of you, and weep.

(June 17, 2022)