Sunday, March 22, 2015

Modernity Is Catastrophe

He woke in the middle of a nightmare.
The terror lay in his room
like the body of a dead animal
covered with flies. Its teeth
shone in the grass.
                                A French soldier,
half-asleep above the stove of a peasant,
turned, restless with insomnia from his problem:
“What can I know, if anything?”
He knew he could doubt; besides that, 
could he know anything at all?

A man raised a tube in Italy
with curious lenses toward the night.
The moon bowed its face toward him.
“What will I see there, if anything?”
To his eye he put the tube and squinted.
“Will I see anything, cara Luna, at all?”

An Englishman sat carefully writing
a work of indisputable logic
through the night. He raised his eyes, reflected:
“What can a man do, if anything?”
In the darkness he heard someone whisper:
“What if he can do anything at all?”  

A gentleman in Paris totted up figures
in two columns on a smooth surface of calf-skin:
“What can I make, if anything?”
He counted again: the numbers added up, beautifully.
His fingers grasped the quill so hard it split.
“I can make more. What if I can make it all?”

It was nearing midnight in Europe.
A messenger was crossing the mountains,
taking an urgent notice between sovereigns
who had never met face to face.
Nearing the summit, he stumbled,
his boot dislodging a stone
that fell, gathering stones as it went
in a wind of rocks, trees, snow, 
collapsing across the valley
in an avalanche, burying it all.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Love, Faith and Science

The headline read in this morning’s Times:
“There Is No Such Thing as Love.”
It had been scientifically proven.
The selfish gene would not have it.
There was lust,
exquisite as acid on gold.
There was even a lazy pleasure
in a certain body’s company
when it didn’t outstay its welcome.
There was the excitement of imposing one’s obstreperous ego
on another body and mind
and the exquisite satisfaction in inhabiting
another person’s soul:
what else were the joys of tyranny
and art’s wanton thrill?
All of this was adaptive, said the reporter,
quoting a faceless biologist.

And then, of course, there is habit:
the familiar shadow
against the corridor wall,
the silhouette in the garden,
the footfall in the living room,
the musky smell in the sheets.
This reinforces the survival of the species,
and thus of the monster twined in the chromosome
like the Minotaur in his labyrinth.

There is the notorious obsession,
the adolescent psychosis,
that makes life seem a glory,
ineffable, sublime,
with all its suffering meaningful,
and all its emptiness a garden
of almost unbearable enchantment,
and for a brief hour,
the long humiliation of human life
seems actually worth the time.
But even the scientists quoted in the Times
were not yet certain
how something so clearly maladaptive
ever survived natural selection.
(My own, completely unscientific, theory
is that no completely rational species
would ever reproduce
in the prison of matter and time
we call the universe,
so, to be induced to replicate,
we need to go out of our minds.
But I am no biologist.)

And this brings us to the question
that might make an interesting debate for us here
when I have stopped writing and you have stopped reading:

Is human life worth living
if there is no such thing as love,
as the biologist claimed to have just proven scientifically—
if the human race is not (let’s face it) all that lovable
after the first years of childhood,
and there is nothing but dust, gas, stones,
whirling energetically in a space that is
incalculably vast and essentially dark?
(Scientists proved that a very long time ago – see Lucretius.)

No love—and no intelligence either,
since we are blocked from reality by our very minds
(this was also proven by scientists quite recently,
though they didn’t seem to realize
this obviates, renders null and void,
this and all of their other claims: they’re just
deluded fools like the rest of us!).
We are condemned to live in cages
of darkness and ignorance and pain,
mocked and terrified by our own delusions
from the cradle to the office to the hospice to the grave.
Neither love, then, nor faith, nor science,
those tawdry shadows of God,
to console us or to save us—
so, what are we to do?

I told all this to an atheist friend over a beer,
my dark little thread of speculation
(the newspaper I had spread on the bar between us),
to join me in an interesting debate
that might further our mutual enlightenment.
I thought he would appreciate the logic,
so elegant and simple and clear,
that I had spun from the pages of the Times,
the liberal’s bible, the secularist’s book.
But his eyes burned with a fury,
and I thought he would burn me at the stake.

Friday, March 13, 2015

A Refusal to Mourn the Death by Gunfire of Five Cartoonists and Seven Others at Charlie Hebdo, in Paris, January 7, 2015

We shall not weep, shall not rage, shall not lament—
we shall laugh, and not a bitter laugh,
a laugh from the belly, a loud and giddy 
laugh that knows no bounds,
splits our sides, shakes us like jelly,
makes us dizzy, gasp for air,
a laugh that almost makes us want to die--
but we don't die of it, 
we live because of it,
we live in the heart, on the waves of this laughter,
we laugh - chuckle - chortle - giggle - hell we can’t
stop it – STOP IT!
Nope! We soar across the sky, like shrimp shooting backwards,
airborne on shrieks,
hysterical as angels
laughing at those poor devils
who don’t know how to laugh for the sheer cracked fun of it
and never could take a joke,
who turn everything into anger and hatred,
into spite and resentment, who poison life with their hatred,
who are messengers of death, bringers of death
with their terrible pride and hatred and anger,
their refusal to look in the mirror and giggle,
because life and love are wonderfully absurd,
but there is nothing more absurd than death,
and nothing more stupid, beside the point, ridiculous
than murder and its bloodthirsty family, battle and war:
they cannot laugh, so they must kill,
they will never know that laughter is love of life,
is life itself, and whenever we laugh, life
triumphs. No:
we shall not weep, we shall not rage, we shall not lament—
we shall laugh like the angels as they welcome these twelve into paradise.

That deep thunderous sound (do you hear it,
shaking things up in the background?)
is the Old Man undergoing the tickling treatment—
first a grin, then a giggle, then a chuckle, then a chortle,
then a titter, a guffaw, wheeze, sneeze and the bees’ knees –
it’s a hurricane, it’s a typhoon:
hold on to your hats, ladies!
hold on to your heads, gents!
Those guys must’ve just shown him that cartoon
where God’s in a bar, saying to the barkeep,
“Technology! I keep saying, ‘Fiat lux, fiat lux,’
and the goddamn light won’t go on!”

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

The Invention of Fire

One day I heard on a street of this city
a man shout out, with a laugh, “You can’t
disinvent technology!”

But, darling, what if we could, you and me,
undo that great, golden shackle of works,
practical disasters and wonders, back
to the wild dawn of it all? What if we could
unpave, unpollute, unpoison the world
that we are destroying with our civilized life,
that Frankenstein’s monster of terror and sweat?

—The cell phone suddenly melts in my hand
like a Milky Way left too long in the sun.

The laptop wrinkles like an autumn leaf,

the desktop goes up in a puff of smoke
at the sparrow’s pass of a magician’s wand,
goes up with a smell of burning wood.

Servers curdle like bottles of milk.

GPS goes out like a light.

Monitors line up like dead fish on the sand.

Abruptly vanishes the World Wide Web
like a spider’s cobweb catching humans like flies,
and with it the stranglehold of the internet.

A wind picks up over the empty land:
it blows forests of sky dishes away,
flocks of radios, stereophonic herds,
the clotted brainpans of obsessive nerds,
landfills clogged with wireless TVs,
movie cameras, projectors – not those! – yes, those
too – molten flash drives and CPUs,
busses and rockets and snowboards and skis,
rollerblades, Velcro and nonstick pans,
silicon chips reduced to sand,
rare earth metals melting down with smartphones,
the burnt-out husks of intelligent homes,
trains and steamships and telegraphs and sails
crossing the seas like clouds of white whales,
skyscrapers and skylights, iron alloys and glass,
the first lawnmowers smelling of cut grass,
and the central beast at the heart of the wheel:
the million-headed Hydra, the automobile;
the casket elevator, the pick, the spade,
the tackle and hook of a cable of braid,
the IUD, pill, the condom, bidet,
vaginal rings and penis pumps
(the tech of pleasure isn’t spared its lumps),
Glocks and anklets, in vitro wombs,
water-sealed coffins and virtual tombs,
warheads and nylons and nuclear bombs:

the wind of time in reverse sweeping away
everything we invented: the plough, the clock,
the spectacles on the pimpled nose of a monk,
dreadnaughts, dreading everything, at long last sunk,
pencil, parchment, typewriter, quill,
propeller, salt cellar, egg-beater, scythe,
horseshoe nail and dentist drill,
uncool change lanes and cool Swiss knife:
everything that fell from the war of life
into our far too-clever brains
that are never satisfied and never tire,
back to the beginning of everything until
we lie down again in the mud of a cave
and, snuggling together, as we know best,
disinvent the one we can blame for the rest:
the two sticks that first rubbed together into flames.

See? All gone! It couldn’t be done?
We’ve done it, you and me, in the course
of a little fantasy and, with apologies, verse.
But then, I never needed any of it.
I have needed you, deep as I am in the mire.
Each time we embrace, we invent fire.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Cretan Wreath


Three licks of bronze, clustered
fingers at the crown.
Then four, then five, oh more,
woven, prickling,
leaves from autumns’ floor,
but gold.
               Take them down,
leaves, stems, drop-like berries,
pebbles, circle-bent,
no wider than a hand, and place it
on the blackness of your hair.
There,
it glitters, like soul
fire. A queen, at last,
has her crown.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

The Garden of Infinity

The multiverse is an infinite garden
with an infinite number of universes
within it. Each universe is a flower.

Each universe is an infinite garden
with an infinite number of galaxies
within it. Each galaxy is a flower.

Each galaxy is an infinite garden
with an infinite number of stars
within it. Each star is a flower.

Each star is an infinite garden
with an infinite number of worlds
within it. Each world is a flower.

Each world is an infinite garden
with an infinite number of atoms
within it. Each atom is a flower.

Each atom is an infinite garden
with an infinite number of quarks
within it. Each quark is a flower.

Each quark is an infinite garden
with an infinite number of strings
within it. Each string is a flower.

Each mind is an infinite garden
with an infinite number of thoughts
within it. Each thought is a flower.

Each thought is an infinite garden
with an infinite multiverse within it.
Each multiverse is a flower.

As above, so below; as below, so above.
infinite, infinite, infinite,
forever, and forever, and forever.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Great Tubba Ponders What It Is Like to Have Lived for Many Years in the Same City

He looked at me
with a leery eye,
Great Tubba, he
of the wandering eye.

“What used to be a blank slate
is now covered with scars.

Everything once said freedom to me;
it said, sweetly, the future.
Everything now says fate to me
and reminds me of my war
and my defeat.”