She said there’s a clarity in each word, like the chandelier
that hung in your dining room as a child—
stars of blue-white and yellow-gold,
even purple and magenta could be found
sparking on all the walls;
each piece of the chandelier—
a teardrop whole and dipped in light—
you could see your whole life through it.
Why Reading Poetry Is Unpleasant
Before you know it, you find yourself in a cornfield where leaves hang like loose tongues and stalks stand together like people on a crowded subway, but you’ve never felt like a corn stalk on a crowded subway, more like a frightened captive following orders on your way to your own death, which must be like a corn stalk anticipating its own harvest.
And you get tired of all that mushy nonsense about love that turns a romance into something greater than any before when it actually is like everybody else’s; soon it will fade and, if you’re lucky, you’ll be sitting next to your partner without saying a word, without holding hands, or you’ll be resting, across the room from your partner, hoping, like an old cat, that you can settle into the last of the evening sun.
Just as bad are all those sorry attempts to tell you how complex everything is, how the human heart can no more be explained than the universe, how one plus one equals two is always a suspect formula, even though the best explanation of the human experience is still how you are governed by your groin, wanting more than anything to procreate as your best bet against death.
God knows all those calls to God rub against your views, believing that surely there is no God given all the Godforsaken places you hear about and how ironic it is that His name is praised when disasters, with all the fury of God, strike, and God forbid that you let the trick of a poem’s words seduce you into belief.
Or, you’re hit with all these words combined in ways that sometimes don’t make sense, and you want to say just tell me what you mean like Billy Collins or Stephen Dunn do, because these intellectual exercises where you have to fill in the blanks like the New York Times crossword puzzle come forward without a heart, like a philosopher’s conundrum, as frustrating as a liar’s evasion, and you just don’t know what to believe or if you want to do the work.
Given all this unpleasantness, you wonder why you bothered to write this, and even more, why you thought you should send it out for others to read, but you know you thought you were being a bit clever, but after reading it again, you feel that not much is there, except an open and empty palm that pulls your focus in the hope something will eventually appear.
To this day, we do not know the range of their vocabulary
When you live in the half-dark, your spirit seeks
a window; given clay, your hands shape vessels
or figures of your desire. So, on the cave wall: why not
place your inky hands to show the creatures are all
yours—great beasts to feed the hunger of ten
families? Why not draw pictures, each one
more eloquent than the one before, more vivid
as your eyes increase their skill, your hands
learn how to capture accurately the animals’ proportions;
until your final picture is worth a thousand words
and you did not need to use any of them.
Packing The Suitcase
Because in the end, every memory poem
is another leaving;
and stashed in its suitcase is the dusty
sum of something you once were that’s all you’re left with.
Because here’s this rag of sky that somehow you got out with—
stitched and spell-patched since into a dozen poems.
Tree-limbs and sparrows, its pink-black-golds of light. Leafing
and sifting for a phrase some bird sang who is dust.
There was a room back of it where frisks of dust
glinted in sun slants the window rinsed the bed with.
Your body turned there in a woman’s arms to poem…
May, the stubbed limbs of the poplars spun to leaves…
Naked, you rise to let the night air in. Caught in the leaves
are stars again, and street noise, and a city’s dust.
The wind’s subtle arrhythmias, as if with-
held in rushes. A café’s waft of smells. A sky of poems.
This poem. Gild it with spell-dust and a sift of leavings.
Your breath’s, withheld in rushes, and body’s poem. Leavened dust.
Somewhere I became invisible
wombed in confinement
my books grew dusty
hard-won friends departed and
social capital thinned
to stones and water.
Now in the brightly clownish shirtskirtjacket
a virginal me would envy
stepping out to celebrate Paige and Kaveh
two open souls I don’t even know—
from behind this pillar I wonder
when will I be noticed?
Even so, unseeable because my work
for this room is too small, raw
too arrived on this planet today
why can’t you see me I’m glorious
know the perfection I just wrote
On this day that Tony died
a fellow travelerselferased
a man who ventured far
to love what was near—
he knew his rightsize too,
until he didn’t.
Friendship’s a negotiation
I no longer understand
blinded by the black holes of self,
humble acceptance forgotten
help is seldom offered
even by me.
Not of you, I am unschooled
in these forms, I speak my own language
but you may learn I am worth
the acclaim I once had
in another landlife
and I know herenow I have not done enough—
on any planet, community takes time.
I have comebecome, I am ready
to commitstrip my soul—
why can’t you see me
I am beautiful enough to notice—
to hide what I can do.
Here I traveled to grow
to reach beyond what I know
my selfspace suspects
I am not good enough, yet
I need a welcomeglance
Silhouettes from a More Intricate Light
I first discovered love
the way I discovered Neruda:
alone in a crowd,
at an unexpected place
and by accident,
at an age when I had
no business getting entangled
in that otherworldly sensuality,
nobody had warned me
there were words and thoughts
and times of day and settings
of stories, and then—
there existed that sixth sense
where flesh merged with soul
and nights held secrets
and there isn’t really
enough blue for
the consumption of
the entire universe
to meet the satisfaction
of a hungry eye that can
pierce languages in search
of the meaning that died
just before the first
that there was living,
windows of daylight
and the shuffling indulgences
that bless the dreaming dream
with charm, with quaintness
there was surviving, barely
drunkenly and defiantly
in the throes of the
the beautifully broken
that make the earth
a sweet, savage heartache,
an insatiable incandescence
where all expression
and we shall be forever
only trying, trying
and how mad
and how divine
each time we try…
The Tarot Tree
One picture might be worth a thousand words,
But what of things that eyes alone can’t see?
The staggering display of tree surfeit with fructed life—
The Empress in complacent bounty sits
Her red and gold and green, and peace,
O’erlaying limbs of taupe and umber fountaining.
An incandescent cloak of purest green
Like water’s spray, translucent in the sun,
The streaming gold behind it limning leaves with halos bright.
No image ever could quite capture
Both figure and suggested form.
The lines could never strike you thus
Across all time and space.
But words can hold both tree and queen
Entwined into one aspect new,
For words reveal what image can’t:
In words appears the mind.
Hring án gewalde, hring án gefinde
Haunted by Beowulf, he wakes
with the cry of Hwæt! on his lips
and dons coat and scarf to brave the dawn.
In Old Quad, the lawns are pale with frost,
like empty pages, where a dark Lord
and mead-halls bright with fellowship
the dream let slip away. Then sunrise
turns the Chapel windows gold.
Now he remembers. Rings.
until we carved color from the water,
there was only homer’s oînops póntos,
wine-dark sea. what we see, we name,
we claim, we gouge our nails into to feel
how its veins twitch. in the evolution of
language, blue is born last.
of the six thousand five hundred
languages alive now, more than
half will disappear by the end of
the century. chamu chamu ye tu. talk
some, leave some. your words are
wet paper tearing in the wind and a
storm is coming.
where will you go?
tilli pa yue te gbong. the ladder gave
the roof its name. in the wordless desert,
there is only burning white sky and
cinnamon heat at the back of your
throat. the light can strike you blind.
a place without language, without name,
only wooden rungs for you to climb
into the heavens.
mi nu ga hana. not seeing is a flower.
eat the sky in all your hunger. take the
sun in your teeth and swallow until
the day has passed. bury its name in
the dark and forget where you left it.
left hand, clockwise circle: i’m
coming back tomorrow.
oînops póntos – οἶνοψ πόντος, from homeric greek
chamu chamu ye tu – from the west african language kromanti
tilli pa yue te gbong – a proverb from the east african language buli
mi nu ga hana – 見ぬが花, a japanese proverb
left hand, clockwise circle – from the aboriginal walmajarri hand signs
Where Haiku Come From
Joshua wakes alone, before his wife. He extends a hand, considering waking her to share the surreal drapings that fill his dreams. He thinks of her snappish response and tightened jawline, and his hand hangs in midair.
The froggy, pointed fingers haunting him fade, leaving only bruises on his psyche. He turns to Polly, snuggling against her, hoping vaguely that proximity would generate sex.
It does not. Polly readjusts herself, tucking deeper into the covers. The erection that had begun to stir fades like his dream, and Josh gets up. Once he does, his routine takes hold of him. Pee while rubbing face with hands. Stretch back, turning left, then right, left, right, always in that order. Brush, floss, gargle, vitamin. Dress from the rack of twelve business shirts and six business jackets, generating two months worth of combinations. Constrained variety. To the kitchen for one of three standard breakfasts. All sensible, all fibered, all fruity, none fatty.
Joshua likes the cereal, and he chose his routine carefully and independently. Those facts, plus the chains of habit, are what keep him on track when he thinks or feels. When Joshua thinks, he lays plans for his own business, for eliminating the neighbor’s cat that regularly pawprints his car, for an invention he’s absolutely certain would improve mail delivery, had he time and capital to develop it. When Joshua feels, his foot moves towards the gas instead of the brake when a pedestrian steps in front of him, his lower teeth bite into his lip when the neighbor slips out to get the paper in just that robe that’s about an inch too short, his hands form fists when images of his manager flicker through his mind, as they do more frequently the closer he gets to work.
As far as he knows, Joshua likes his work. No. Joshua approves of his work. It meets his criteria. It fulfills its tasks. It does what it needs to do, for him and for his employers. In his soul, Joshua knows he hates his work, and that accepting it, day after day, comes from failure.
But as far as he knows in his upstairs, light of day, public face mind, Joshua likes his work. He has regular hours, is paid well, and is stretched but not strained.
The result of this idyllic arrangement, though, is that on his two tens, Joshua does not go into the break room. Nor does he stay in the office, sip some coffee, and chat Lost or Idol with his peers. Though he saw them this week, and watches them every week. Josh is normal, after all.
On his two tens, Joshua steps outside. If people ask, he says he’s getting some fresh air. He is getting some air, but that’s not all, and his co-workers don’t ask. They stay in. Joshua steps out. This too is a framing routine. Joshua’s two tens help his co-workers define themselves as not-Joshua. They are a tiny public service.
But for twenty bifurcated minutes, Joshua Cramer is outside, with no destination and no failure and no thing but the elements. For 1200 seconds, Joshua breathes.
That’s 240 breaths of freedom. These breaths start at a rate of roughly 14 per minute. When he steps out the door Josh is anxious, and unaware of it. Each of these facts costs him a pant per. By the end of the break he’s into high single digits, and color has returned to his knuckles.
When he’s dropping into the 11 per range, Joshua Cramer sees the light. He’s freed of metaphors, like seeing the light as something like understanding or realization. Instead, he sees the light.
This is Seattle, so sometimes the light’s occluded and gray. Beyond diffuse, it seems to come from nowhere and everywhere, to bathe without penetrating.
This is Seattle, so sometimes the clouds shift and the sky clears, all in 51 to 63 breaths from breakstart. What was shadow is now dappled, and the pregnant beads—dew, rain, tears— adorning slugstalks move from mere moisture to diadems transient, kingship divinity eternity lasting only inhalations before shifting.
This is Seattle, so sometimes clear skies and dry beams of summer heat fail, roots cut by patterns invisible, the Sound reaching in for the mountains, chilling Josh’s triceps till he holds himself as the grass tickles breezes in response.
atop slug stems shine
temporary tears, short term
crown, then clouds dethrone
And it is gone. Or it is an attempt, a striving, a reach-for that Joshua does not define and cannot articulate. But he keeps a haiku file on his desk. He does not evaluate them. He does not plan them. They come with calming breath.
The two tens pass like the clouds, and Joshua returns to the business sunlight of florescence. The routine takes him up, and revs him up. He forgets this ten, as he forgets all tens.
Except that in between entering data from X and reviewing data entered by Y, and when he’s not being absolutely normal and checking email YouTube job sites unblocked porn sites, Joshua opens a tiny file and makes tiny changes. “then clouds dethrone” becomes “till clouds dethrone.” “atop slug stems shine” becomes “atop slug’s stems shine” and then unbecomes it, electronically.
Then, later, at dinner, at home, Joshua says to Polly, “Hey, guess what? I saw a slug today with these huge water bubbles on its head. No shit. It looked like it had a crown or something. It was just the light, of course, but it looked so…weird.”
And Polly reallys him, and nods, and puts plates on the table, and Joshua Cramer’s routine moves on. And that’s where haiku come from.