Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Meaning of Life, in 20 Stanzas

To admire the simple lines and serene elegance – in a word, the beauty –
of this unassuming, little, purple plum

to analyze it into its smallest constituents, its bound quanta of energy,
of organic molecule, atom, electron, proton, quark, meson, gluon, Higg’s boson,

to mark its modest place in the multifactorial hologram of spacetime
between the quantum vacuum and the arguably infinite multiverse

to notice how it is shaped
a little like a heart,
a little like a scrotum
before it wrinkles

to pop up from a blossom
on a black, slim bough
and hang there, thoughtless,
under the sun and the bees,
until an overworked field hand
plucks it down and puts it into his basket
before sending it off to market

to sit bored on a produce shelf at Whole Foods,
spritzed every few minutes by a mist to keep it
Looking Fresh,
for weeks at the height of summer,
its price going down half a dollar a pound
each week,
until a price-conscious shopper
snaps it up, in a ridiculous little bag,
from the throw-away bin,
for a truly insulting $.19 a pound

to decay with slow dignity in a fruit bowl,
where it was forgotten when the family
left for vacation

to set it on a table
and paint it
in the 10,000,000 ways,
from Shubun to Chardin to Picasso to Damien Hirst

to stick it on the nose of a clown
followed by an amorous butterfly
trailed by a delirious frog
and eyed by a suspicious acrobat
left behind by a bankrupt traveling circus

to exchange it for credit in the commodities market
against a future shipment of papayas,
kumquats, huckleberries and passion fruit

to combine it in a clever scientist’s laboratory
with an orange and an apricot
and come up with the ingenious

to weigh it in a grocer’s scale,
take it home at Christmas
and cook it in a pudding
and serve it with brandy
in flames

to dry it until it becomes a prune
and distribute it to elderly folk who suffer from irregularity

to wait until the little plum
is perfectly ripe
(testing it every day
until it feels soft
and tender)

giving it one last, admiring glance,
open your mouth
and eat it
                        then take its pit,
drop it
into a hole
in the garden
and grow it
into a plum tree
where its delicate, pink flowers,
will always be the first blossoms in spring
and young girls and boys in Chinatown
will carry them through the New Year’s streets

to write a hymn praising the plum
as it sails across the heavens,
like a fat, purple moon,
rising to play its part
in a feast of the gods

then disappear,
like a magic act
in a hushed theater,
the lights streaking through the darkness
looking for it,
though it is never
to be found

visions of Plums
dancing in children’s dreams
in the night

to see it with the eye
of God.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

War Poem

He takes the clock in his fist.
Sirens cover the laughter
on the other side of the river.
The air limps over the field.
Squadrons loom through the marsh fog
and search beams strip the sky
of long remnants of light.
His other hand  cuts out the springs,
and time scatters, like pennies
from a child's piggy bank,
the coins dark as scabs.
The grunts rush across the meadows.
If only it were a question of burying
the numb memory of the fever,
but not quite. On the contrary.
It is the command of the monarch,
the chrysalis in the congress of iron,
failed drugs, mutant diseases,
minds picking souls from the gardens like daffodils,
and the curling slab of a history book
burning in a bowl on the ice
in the winter twilight.
History is peculiar. It seems unbearable,
and is all we are sure to leave behind.
Here are the words you left.
They burn under history like a pair of hands.


They ripple like velvet on the ocean's skin,
their eyes sorrows no one knows are questions;
they look right through you. "What is my nobility
to me?" A flick of the tail undoes the paddock.
The little fellow lifts his butt sky high,
and Lightning, Hot Mama, Candyland and Grace
charge across the mud.
I know nothing. Particles and chance
work like a hand to bring your prize to me.

People Should Not

People shouldn't die. It's a disgrace,
obscene to wreck what you create like toys.
Tell the bastard when you meet him, face to face.

It's mud and savagery of little boys
outside the celestial bullpen where we race
to see who wins the prize for who destroys

with a swifter whelp from end to end of space,
like refined mosquitoes, an irritant that annoys
the back of Phlegethon burned under ice,

music of a silence spiced with outraged noise:
they should not die, once born - that is the disgrace:
an artist stabbing his canvas, writer bilking his cries,

musician drowning his instrument, beauty shattering her face,
breaking a world under a welkin open as joy.
It is not right. It is in bad taste.

Say it is not. Repeat it: it is not. It is lies.
People should not die. It is His disgrace.
Tell the bastard when you meet him, face to face.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Disappearance of the Flies

      " 'Secular humanist' - it almost sounds like mockery."
                          - Overheard at a climatology conference 

So, the word’s finally out:

I am the world's Nazi,
and you are my Jews.

Not that I hate you absolutely –

on the contrary, I enjoy you,
for the most part;

those of you I cannot eat
or flog into subservience,
to help or amuse me, decorate my
upscale live-work high-end design space
now – or by no later than the end of next quarter –

are just in the way,

as I thrust ahead

to glory, sweet power,
and a suffocating wealth
built on the dependable human delight
in the enchanted moment of acquisition.

I’ve got you,

I’ve got the world.

It is no longer God’s or nature’s;

it is mine,

I own you,

I who hate to have and love to get.

There was once a despot
whose footsteps bloodied his time.
After he had conquered the world,
bored with his possessions,
he decided to destroy them:
slaughtered his slaves, his women, his sycophants,
sent his soldiers to the ends of his empire
to pillage and sack it, out of boredom and rage
that he had no more worlds to conquer.
He burned his own palaces to the ground.

In a raging drunk one night,
he broke his neck in a ditch.
The peasants crept up to his filthy, stinking body,
the one that had conquered the world,
and watched the flies flickering over it.

There are no peasants tomorrow.

There are no flies.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Sun and Ice

With edges sharp
as your eye’s knife,
it stands, suspicious
of the rite,

the callow, beg-eyed, leg-thrummed calf,
the wet, thin-fleeced, wobbly lamb.

The chasuble
drapes the rail.
The crow opens his wintry beak.

Where’s the blood that saves the mark?
Somewhere under Easter week.

Their sacrifice
will not suffice.
The heart is made
of sun and ice.

Oh, how I hoped how we might sing! How
wrong I was. It’s like a tick,
that sticks to the skin, or jerks the eye.

The square will not
the circle win,
though roses open
in her hand
and thorns stigmata the winter land.

The altar stands
between taut oaks.
We ’wait the god
and kneel in mud.

Slap the drum.
Pluck the dance.
Eat the blood.
Horses, prance!

Bring in the callow, leg-thrummed calf,
bring here the thin-fleeced, wobbly lamb.

The eyes stare
and staring, blind.
Drink the heart
of human kind.

Love is not a fallow field.
It ripens, or it does not yield.

The sacrifice
will not suffice.
The heart is made
of sun and ice.

Thursday, January 23, 2014


… white as a slab of pork,
white as scuffed and angry cement,
a dust rag moist with lemon oil.
White as a dirty hand.

Nada es muy blanco.

White as pink gray yellow blue.
White as you.
In other words: not white at all.
(Nada es muy blanco.)

The gall
to call him from the depths of night
by what he is not: white.
They call them what they are not, too:
all of them, they sort them out
like beans in bins,
recycling tins,
by more or less grotesque colors,
trash here,
cans there,
garbage over there.

Bitcoin martinet,
petty aristocrat,
tyrant of the file folder,
form grid, matrix,
the broken glass in the yoga mat,
bureaucrat –
you know exactly what I mean.

Burn them in hell,

or call them by their names.

Nada es muy blanco.

Saturday, October 13, 2012


It’s a big picture. It appears to be dead noon, under shrilling grasshoppers.
The heat looks heavy as a vice.

Off center, a peasant, wearing a pair of
eloquently battered boots, dozes under his hat.
A metal pail that once held a mid-day meal
pewters dully in the weeds.

Straw-yellow grays ride up to a line of hay ricks,
low hills, a sky pocked with little clouds.

A woman sits by the peasant's side, slouching forward,
half asleep, awkward, unaware of the observer,
for a moment lost in a wild country of thought
that fills her thick features,
her surprised and dismayed black eyes,
with . . . well, what might it be?
an unexpected, and unwelcome,
discovery? –
Whatever it is, it came to her as she drifted asleep
and thrust her awake with astonished pain.

There’s no way to know: the painter has told us
only what we see.
We know nothing but this fragment,
nothing before, and nothing after –
a quick snapshot in oil
on the magisterial canvas.
Then it’s gone.

You step back into the museum crowd,
and her blind, wondering face,
frozen on canvas for as long as the canvas will last,
disappears behind a wall of cloth and backs
into the gallery’s subdued glow,
and the sounds of shuffling feet,
and the bored, suspicious gaping of the museum guards,
and the scratching scratching scratching on paper pads of art students . . .

It does not disappear:
it follows you out, into the sun,
nagging, futilely, yet with an odd sweetness –
you ponder the woman in the picture as you might
the most obscure philosophical questions,
the metaphysics of loss, the holiness of unknowing,
or a lover’s impenetrable enigma:

a strangely enchanting question that has no answer.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Animal, Success

What, after all, is the success of a life
if not the bull’s-eye, hit
at the maximum range,
whether seen or not
by the indifferent crowd
or the riotous judges?

Celebrity, that vacuum,
makes its greatest
boy’s noise
as it, jeering, escapes,

turning into scorn
everything it admired,
just to prove (in case we hadn’t
gotten it) that it,
and only it,
makes and dandles and ruins
every reputation.

Yet how this foolish fellow
wanted to be admired,
to hear frank praise,
be faced-off with awe
and eyes humbled, dazed.

His vanity will feel
the scathing it asked for,
the laughing eyes,
the taste of the lash,
sooner than the oil
of admiration’s seed,
the puff of genius
for any of his deeds.

Few are chosen
to stand in the dance
that makes life half godlike,
half myth and half holy,
a life’s sacrifice, to honor
the impossible in time.

Fewer still fit the shadow
of the antique dream
out of life’s dust,
time’s cut and sweep,
the dream and its shabby realization,
the inevitable defeat of the impossible hope
in the cunning joke called human life,

and our refusal to laugh at the mocking
between the shake of a head and a fist,
the sleep and assent as we nod
between our dreams and our losses –
to slip on the cloak of the sacred
and mask the face of a god,

the human and divine overlapping,
bodying forth the holy
as they ghost away into paradise;
eternity breathing sweet nothings
into time's faithful ear.

The rest of us have only the mirror to fear.