Stephen Cushman



Flip-flop, tick-tock, ding-dong, everybody sing along,
criss-cross, hip-hop, ping pong, that’s the way, now with a,
chit-chat, dilly-dally, shilly-shally, keep the beat,
flim-flam, pitter-patter, riff-raff, sure, they duplicate
but more than that they shift the airflow back or down
in your marvelous mouth, that breeding pool for lots of germs,
wet and warm, the primal swamp, and better watch out,
floss and brush, rinse and spit, or many bad things, thrush
or cankers, trench mouth, cold sores, herpes, gum disease,
can really cut down on oral pleasure, but oh that pleasure,
anal and genital hit the dance late, but can they surpass
the joyous agenda always attending the tip of the tongue,
flexible bundle of muscles extending off the mouth floor
out through lips toward someone else or in through lips
toward someone else, no way, can’t hold a candle, well
someone I know can hold a candle, prefers the scented,
two in fact, front and back, likes them both lit, but don’t expect any
descriptors from me, no siree, no pronouns either, make the picture
work for you, now back to pleasures the oral affords, even though
the ice cream thing is lost on me, a nice big bowl of sweet cold fat,
others’ pleasure can give much pleasure, watching a kid
anoint his face with a double-scoop cone, can’t keep up
with its melt in the sun, or a gaggle of girls intently licking,
eyes on each others’ with looks that say, It doesn’t get better,
they may well be right, sad to think so, some will find out,
or a vast St. Bernard enjoying a dish of vanilla with sprinkles,
and that’s just food, the original intake, okay the others
can take in too, give them their due, while as for output
there’s really no contest, puking’s no picnic and spitting’s good
if you’ve coughed up phlegm or chew tobacco or suddenly hanker
to demonstrate scorn, but on the ladder to pleasures superlative
these delights show fear of heights, then there’s drinking,
also smoking, can’t do either with either of the others, but the big one’s,
face it, the pleasure of speaking, yes guys can write
with pee in new snow and anal or vaginal plosions can nicker,
growl or bark, caw or bray, but without a pharynx, hard and soft palates,
teeth, tongue, and lips, it just ain’t happening, what can compete
with orality, nothing, no one’s saying writing’s subordinate
or merely transcription of a spoken supreme, down deconstructors,
rest easy, Lord Jacques, but when you read or write things down,
the brain’s mirror neurons deliver small pulses straight to the mouth,
so reading and writing both diddle the oral, whatever their status
in another ontology, but all of this is way off-track,
not at all pertinent to what’s on my mind.


Stand clear of the doors.
Digression’s not a sidetrack.
It’s a faster train.

Shit-show, reduplicant, that’s how it started, though shit-shot’s the one
in line with above, yet shit-show still follows the vocalic pattern
of tense to lax, and that’s where it’s at, first you get tense, then you relax,
ease the jaw lower to manage that o, tense then relax, the primary paradigm
for, for example, sex in most movies and knockoffs at home, get all that
tension over with fast, why would one possibly want it to last,
coiled kundalini climbing the spine, slowly, for hours, sit or lie still
instead of that rabbit thing, breathe in in unison, or as one mate inhales
the other exhales, hold both her eyes, or his eyes, with yours,
and try out some mantras, lam and vam, ram, yam, ham, om, sounds
without meaning, simple vibrations for piercing the chakras, you may
start to shake, but that’s just the energy, and who wants that
when thrusting and pounding can leave lots of bruises, even draw blood,
generate infections, and suddenly it’s over, gee, that was great, maybe a nap,
and you’re both good to go, but soon it’s the shit-show starting again,
the building of tension, the need for release, but the shit-show I started with
wasn’t the sex one, it’s the election, six weeks away, no seven I checked,
conventions all done, talk about shit-shows, debates still to come,
and then in the meantime it’s death-by-paid-add, safer to smoke
three packs a day, Camels, no filters, than take in that stuff,
but on our heads be it if we turn away, put on the smug mug,
dismiss the whole thing and say it won’t matter, they’re both
money puppets or sellouts or scumbags, you choose the putdown,
elections are farces, distractions for masses, add for good measure,
and forget or write off the election of Lincoln, bye-bye Carolina,
South the next month, but North followed too, and next thing you know
it’s four years of averaging, each day this is, six hundred dead,
yesterday Antietam, big anniversary, or you can say Sharpsburg,
and isn’t this spooky, this year election day’s set for the sixth,
same day it was in that drastic year, one thing’s for sure, if it rains hard
as it’s raining today, turnout won’t help whoever most needs it.


This very minute
it’s cataract surgery
for my one-eyed mom.

Lincoln didn’t carry a single southern state, not forty percent
of the popular vote, three other candidates, can we still name them,
Douglas okay, you know the debates, but what about Breckenridge,
came from Kentucky, Buchanan’s vice president, during the war
the general who led cadet adolescents at the Field of Shoes,
and then there was Bell, carried three states, and his running mate,
Everett, who spoke for two hours before Lincoln at Gettysburg,
and here, this is interesting, first they’ll anesthetize the eye,
and that means a needle in the vicinity, here this is interesting,
earlier Everett was president of Harvard and the thirteen percent
he garnered with Bell came mostly from the South, ironies, ironies,
a decade of ironies, the question now, after it’s over, allow three hours,
she’ll wear a shield with holes for light, something like a tea-strainer,
the question now, is irony dead, first it was God, but now is it irony,
Douglas came second in popular vote but won one lone state
to Lincoln’s eighteen, eleven for Breckenridge, Missouri he won,
tsk, tsk, how ironic, right about now anesthesia’s taking hold,
but just what is irony, a luxury of hindsight, or is it class privilege,
a taste acquired, like coffee or absinthe, or what’s that Italian stuff,
Fernet Branca, last time I drank it, great bar in North Beach,
bartender chuckled, nobody’d asked for that bottle in ages,
bitter, man, bitter, tastes like a medicine made from old mud
and lots of crushed herbs, recipe’s a secret since 1845, same year
Mary Lincoln got pregnant with Eddie, who died shy of four
ten months before Willie came along, ironic you say, but no it’s not irony,
it’s simply coincidence, for which it’s mistaken, irony that is,
as some kind of synonym, or maybe not coincidence but larger
congruence in the eyes, or the eye, here comes the laser,
there goes the lens, in the eye that still sees, pace Nietzsche,
something that science cannot account for, something not wholly
of one’s own invention, something beginning where knowledge dead-ends
as knowledge always will, no matter how much it happens to grow,
bitter, that’s a taste it helps to acquire, if given a choice, pass
on the irony and go for the bitterness, don’t become bitter, that’s not
what it takes, but learn to like bitter and you’re set for life,
set for death too, or at least for the dying, is there a secret, usually there is,
in this case the distillery slyly admits to twenty-seven herbs
from four different continents, among them aloe, gentian root,
rhubarb, gum myrrh, red cinchona bark, galangal, what’s galangal,
and something called zedoary, have to look them up, she used to be
a reference librarian, look it up she’d say, at first we resent it,
precious time lost, reading rate ruptured, stomping the stairs
to find the damn dictionary, but then through the years slowly a change,
slowly the reading without looking up becomes as unthinkable
as love without touch, both come from Asia and have names that passed
from China or Persia through Arabic to Latin, maybe Old French,
and into Middle English, did Chaucer know the stuff, watch the word travel
along the Silk Road, trade routes over the Indian Ocean, globalism new,
you’ve got to be kidding, she’s been there two hours, probably now
they’re cleaning her up, starting to ready the shield for fitting,
her one window shuttered against the harsh light.


The first day of fall.
Our seasons have their places.
The first day of Maine.

Today’s crispy blue, tomorrow’s Yom Kippur, or really this evening
at 7:05, sunset and sunrise differ by a minute, makes perfect sense
to start a new year this time of year, Romans looked to March
to kick it all off, that would do too, but January, cut the crap,
it takes imagination, even on a good day, to breathe deep renewal
but throw in flu season, and you’ve got a challenge, happy nose-blowing,
happy cold snap, happy black ice, happy skidding off into a drift,
happy snow-shoveling, happy heating bills, happy hooded mornings,
seems a better time to yank all the plugs and crawl into bed
till maybe late February, first crocus coming, but the autumn option,
never really thought about it, best time of year and something to be said
for sublime decline as true inauguration, confession, check, know about that
and also atonement, but the best thing about Yamim Nora’im,
at least from the outside, looks like the granting of one last extension,
ten days of amnesty during gorgeous weather, before your fate’s final
a clear sunny grace period, low-humidity loophole, Calvin missed the boat
or set out to sink it, if you’re predestined, nothing you can do,
where’s the incentive, what keeps you trying or even barely cheerful,
but give me a chance to stave off the F, you bet I’m going to try,
cue up the cricket track, days in the 70s, windows cranked wide
and nights built for blankets, in many too many New Testament circles
I AM THAT I AM gets a bad rap, as though after Malachi
suddenly a makeover, love is discovered, along with forgiveness,
but that isn’t right, in Egypt, in Sumer, in dark scarlet Babylon
hymns sang the mercy that comes with divinity, today visibility
over ten miles, barometer steady, one of the terms in Hebrew for mercy
derives from the word for uterus, gentlemen.


To haves and have-nots
let’s add the category
hads who had had it.

Sometimes a face is helping one face it, may it be so you know one of those
shining your way when nothing else does, but the Big Face, that’s tough,
scripture mixes signals, and Whitman’s glib dictum, re contradiction,
doesn’t help much in cases when faces you see could destroy you
faster than Medusa or the basilisk, fatal halitosis, says right here
You cannot see my face and live, Dickinson quoted that one too,
but nine verses earlier there’s face-to-face speaking, as someone speaks
to closest friends, inside the tent, or here in this psalm, Seek ye my face,
Thy face do I seek, Hide not thy face from me, is it a death wish
one has to have to sing such a thing, is there a fundamentalist
somewhere in the house, there’s a word that’s been treated badly,
worse than most who do the complaining, what could be wrong
with love of the fundament, the buttocks, the anus, the natural features
of a land surface altered by no human being, primary definitions,
checked three dictionaries, none of them on line, and what do you make
of Exodus 33, right at the end, when Moses gets a glimpse
of divine backside, sometimes it’s tricky, reverence and heresy
can sound very similar, and when does the former in some ears
cross over and turn into blasphemy, deserving of brimstone,
this is not blasphemy, it’s the drive to get down to the bottom of things,
the basics, foundation, faces are fine, but can you trust faces
in a country that spends on cosmetics eight billion, don’t get me wrong,
I love a good painting, Manet’s Dead Toreador hangs in this room
and in the hall Guernica, no reason why the painting of eyes,
cheeks, lips, and nails has to be censured, if your body’s a canvas
bring on the palette, but divinity’s face, should it wear make-up,
is that what we’re seeking, Job saw the face, 42:5, is that what it takes,
you have to lose everything, or did he see otherwise, the Almighty
buttocks mooning him big time, not necessarily a gesture of scorn
except to self-righteousness Job was not free of, the moment you say
why me you’re toast, then the moon flashes, but find a way somehow
to say it’s my turn, everybody takes one, this one is mine,
and then there’s the face, unpainted, eye contact,
another good book is Esther, who’s gutsy.


the first non-anonymous
poet known to us.

Here’s the puzzle, priestess of Ishtar, daughter of Sargon,
emperor of Ur, or whatever they called him in southeast Iraq,
whether you’re hymning a goddess on tablets, in lines of cuneiform
cut in two columns, before the clay dries, or rattling away
on some aging keyboard five more millennia farther down the chute,
no song without rhythm, no rhythm sans pattern, but when does a pattern
run into rut, what goes for lines goes double for lives, Tuesday again
and once again raining, how does it know, and who does the knowing,
is it the weather that’s tracking our week, or does the god Tiu
we got from the Norse, boss of the sky, also of war, say my day again,
bring on the rain, irony there, not a good war day, hard day to march
or land or bomb, rivers rising high, cloud ceiling low, feel the squeeze
of the soggy sandwich, lots of wet Tuesdays during this stretch,
call it coincidence cause that’s what it is, the slow coinciding
of two separate rhythms, usually oblivious to the other’s operation
but for a short interval exactly aligned, that’s when things happen,
when rhythms enmesh, one mounts the other, whether it’s weather
or cuneiform columns or the other coinciding as I go inside
the temple of you, want a guided tour, every hour on the hour,
no thanks, I know my way around, but I’m happy to leave
a small donation, sure, it’s repetition if we’ve interlocked before,
and all repetition’s risking a rut, or sometimes one’s rhythm’s
off on its own, the other’s unaligned, not a catastrophe, let it push through
to pleasured conclusion, but if the two rhythms should finally combine,
nobody leading, everybody follows, good golly miss molly,
batten the hatches, watch the fuse blow, suddenly ruts risked
repay with rich rutting, two Tuesdays ago it also rained hard
but with lots of wind that sent branches snapping, limbs on the ridge
swinging like pendula Poe could make hay with, not a smart day
to hike the walk up there, but the danger was thrilling, everything thrashing,
lots of it dropping, not very prudent, I have no excuse,
more acorns falling than I’ve seen before.


Will they benefit,
my beneficiaries,
from this policy?

Maruirui, what does it mean in Kiswahili, party hard in Zanzibar
you’ll know soon enough, a word for hangover tells one a lot
about a language distressed heads hurt in, electrolytes lost, tummies a mess,
how many languages Hemingway drank in, there’s a topic one can suggest
the next time they whine what’s there to write about, much more interesting
than did she get laid is whether Ms. Dickinson wrote with a hangover, if so,
how often, maybe a theory for some of those dashes, she made wine jelly,
can’t do that unless you’ve got wine, tough to get the recipe right
unless you taste it, one thing, it seems, leads to another, you can’t get tight
on air or dew unless you know what tight is, Whitman, sure,
loved to get loaded, now for the superstars, Lowry in Mexico,
Kerouac anywhere, bad-ass Bukowski, who pointed out rightly
it takes strength to drink, Williams didn’t have it, gave it a try, (10/16/12)
but lacked the constitution both to go boozing and see all those patients
at dawn or at midnight, it’s a dark matter, this matter of enhancing
how we perform with various substances, or how we come down
from performing we’ve done, even Lord Jesus had to go off, pound down
that solitude, he drank too, in Cana, hell, he changed enough water
to keep the party going another two months, everybody knee-walking,
do the math, six stone jars, twenty or thirty gallons apiece, all very well
to say he’s your savior, but do the math, excess, excess, Blake is right,
it’s not just the road, it’s the multi-lane interstate, if not to the palace
then the rest-stop of wisdom, but excess isn’t the only road,
ask an anorexic, unless that’s excess in cross-dressed get-up,
it’s a dark matter, the line that divides ascetics from addicts,
drinking responsibly, what a weird phrase, thanks so much
for the kind invitation, afraid I can’t make it, too many responsibilities,
drinking among them, but if you can manage to get through somehow
without immoderate moderation, tepid oatmeal, mediocre tapioca,
you and your muse, espoused all these years, are just plain old enough,
if not to know better, at least to appreciate each other’s infirmity,
sure, it was great back when you could say What in me is dark
Illumine, and just like that, she’d come and go down, or make it a he
you used to invoke, but let’s stick with she for this illustration,
she would do anything with first-rate technique, but now it’s so nice
to rock by the fire, watching her knit, a line at a time, long rows
of phrases, knit one, pearl one, there in her bathrobe, comfortable slippers,
bifocals, chatting, no answer needed, she does like to talk,
patter away, the weather for instance, another blue day,
high sixties, October, leaves snapping on, she understands
if you nod off, she’ll be there still talking whenever you wake,
what was that, honey, did you say dark matter, twelve years ago
someone discovered twenty-three percent of the visible universe
consists of dark matter, throw in, for dark energy, seventy-three more
and here’s your change, mister, the visible universe we love and we praise
a mere four percent of what there is out there, a mere four percent,
and here Einstein scoffs, in a letter just auctioned, yours for three million,
at childish stories contained in the Bible, saying instead his only religion’s
the structure of the universe, now there’s a big Duh, so much for genius,
a child asks where babies come from, you say the stork, that’s pretty
childish, but childish or not, it doesn’t mean there’s no reproduction.


If beauty can kill,
October assassinates,
high-powered hit-month.

Feast of James today, not the son of Zebedee, who fished the Sea of Galilee,
shindig for him’s not till July, best in Santiago, in lisping Galithia,
pero cuidado, es peligroso, o puede ser, vaulting bonfires after wine,
try the Albarino, this gringo machine won’t make an enya, met a senorita,
era muy bonita, who’d stalled in mid-vault, legs got it bad, third-degree
monstrosities, medication mitigating ongoing agony, skin-grafts to come,
celebration’s riskiness may explain why it’s so awfully rare, safer to answer
pollers who call with stern disapproval, safer to say hell no I ain’t satisfied
than sail out today and fall on stiff knees at the sight of the sky
like Kit Smart in Hyde Park, danger, danger, there she blows again,
got blue eyes, put on shades, otherwise cataracts will soon play the scales
clouding your future, a friendly optometrist will peek in those bulbs
and say they’re not clear, one must be careful with praying for radiance,
there you go intoning what’s dark in me illumine, when bang it happens,
somehow the switch suddenly flicks on and now you’re blinking
nearly blind, colors start fading, night-driving’s out, how does this happen,
each time I come here I’ve got stuff to say, brought an outline today
and meant to admit to struggling with hatred for undecided voters,
wanted to think about wandering hominids steering to Sumer,
and really really hoped to chat about the Daddy Longlegs
emerging in legions this time of year, an order of arachnids
also known as harvestmen, makes sense, it’s harvest time, harvest moon
will be full soon, but they’re not spiders, haven’t got venom glands,
and boy are they friendly, crawl all over you, climb up the hand
holding down a page, next thing you know it’s up the steep ascent
to shoulder and neck, they like the hair too, these guys are ancient,
been around, fossils show, since the Devonian, how can they be so trusting,
if people swatted them, descent with modification would surely mean
they’d be much better at evasive action, so it must be the case
we’ve treated them well, how could you not, forelegs tickling
the skin right nicely, but it didn’t happen, opened a book,
found James’s feast day, and look at this mess, is this what the young,
attentions deficient, struggle with always, metonymy gone mad,
contagious contiguity, where can one turn to pull it together
when there’s the rapist hiding in therapist, notice me, notice me
everything’s shouting, and then, should you notice, everything’s interesting,
if attention were money, this would be spendthrift, but today I’m determined
and will see it through, something at least, let’s make it James,
the Teacher’s little brother who while his brother lived, gospels all agree,
wasn’t much impressed, but then the Resurrection, his brother paid a visit,
and James is at Pentecost in prayer with the others, next thing you now
he’s climbing the ladder in the church at Jerusalem, no, no
no detour this time, no talk about nepotism, no more paralysis
by prating parataxis, what matters here is James could really listen
when Paul came to town, that’s how to solve things, let’s not get started
on elections just now, the tongue is a fire, that’s something James wrote,
the tongue is a fire, can burn it all down, hey here’s the enya,
can’t help her legs as James’s brother could, but at least here’s an enya,
señorita, hermanita, at least let the tongue, maple leaves flying
from baring trees all morning, say you correctly.


of cricket stridulation
means their end is near.

Chirp, chirp, the males chirp, while silent females, more than likely,
roll their cricket eyes, as for chirp, if imitative, how does one explain
in Greek the crickets teretίzo, maybe our crickets are monosyllabic,
understated, taciturn, because they’re, it’s possible, a little depressed
so far from Olympus, where meanwhile their cousins, tipsy with ouzo,
keep waxing garrulous, why cramp with one syllable what it is yearning
to stretch itself fully over three more, sometimes mimesis isn’t the thesis
that helps us explain how we sound off, sometimes our sounding
just grabs the wheel, shoves poor meaning under the dashboard,
and flat out floors it, come on let’s see what this baby will do
out here on a straightaway eighty ninety a hundred woooooeeeeh!,
what did that sign say, something by Pope, channeling Aristotle,
seem, baby, seem, that’s how sound relates to sense, seems to echo,
deferential, does what it’s told, lies there quietly, thinks of the queen
while meaning mounts up and bores us to death, you know damn well
sound is ready to hop on top, then wimpy meaning, better take your pill,
here comes eruption from the sub-cortical, other day a youngster said
I got myself so metrically mesmerized I had no clue what it all meant,
alleluia, could have kissed him, but didn’t want to lose my job,
joke’s on me, keep your old job, we’ll make you a loser some other way,
administrator’s motto, cast it in Latin, trademark it, brand it, put it on
the school seal, hey none of that, that’s neo-cortical, roof of the brain
where one can talk off the top of the head and pass for thoughtful,
questioning myth will take you so far and only that far, tautology titillates,
the myth, for example, that crickets chirp by rubbing legs, in fact
they don’t, sound’s emitted by rubbing wings, each wing with a vein,
a very large vein, running along its bottom edge, and that vein’s serrated,
toothed like a comb, so now what he does, he rubs a wing’s top
on the bottom of the other, scraping teeth, does so holding both his wings
open, acoustical sails, that’s all this is, acoustical sailing, ready about,
hard to lee, the part about chirping rate reflecting the temperature
of his cricket environment, that part’s true, Dolbear’s Law, probably fun
to booze with Dolbear, first name Amos, middle name Emerson, in 1865
invented a telephone with permanent magnet, eleven years before
Bell came along, couldn’t prove his patent though, lost his case
before Supreme Court, but didn’t fold, didn’t collapse, published instead
“The Cricket as Thermometer,” 1897, find yourself a snowy tree cricket,
add forty more to number of chirps in fourteen seconds, and voila
that’s the temperature, Fahrenheit, not Celsius, maybe that’s enough
for one day’s work, maybe it’s already more than enough, the cricket
who started this at some point clammed up, probably not yet
for the last time this year, who knows, didn’t notice, can’t pay attention
to everything always, you want teeth and insects, Revelation 9,
demonic locusts, human faces, women’s hair, lion’s teeth,
golden crowns, horse’s bodies, scorpion tails, we’re overrun
with lady bugs these days, clouds of them swarming ceilings and walls,
used to like ladybugs, used to like that rhyme about them,
sort of ghoulish, your house is on fire, fly away home,
not anymore, fie, fie, fie, a pox on this apocalypse.


This dreary morning
eightish million blue-staters
wake to no power

or wake to lots less than they already had, which wasn’t so much
unless you’re a billionaire, in which case you brandish a little more, maybe,
than a skinny vote apiece, but even your dough cannot work wonders
in the same major league as raising the dead or calming a tempest
lashing up storm-surge under full moon, runways flooded, airports shut up,
unanchored objects launched into missiles, what are the limits
of political hatred, seem to be few, possibly none, red states, blue states,
same two colors as Civil War maps, the sesquicentennial
of Meade at Mine Run, upon us next month, and here we are using
Civil War silverware, same knives and forks, haven’t even washed em,
only difference is the sections are larger, fat red confederacy
splitting the blue to sandwiching slabs, superstorm spawns eerie scenes,
whoever wrote that headline has some potential, at least has an ear
the mimesis thesis hasn’t yet housebroken, tamed into thinking
alliteration emphasizes or, even worse, highlights
the hurricane’s force, when all that’s in force is audio libido,
auricular’s oracular, aural the aura, let the sound lead,
meaning will follow, pile like sawdust when blow-downs get cut,
in one ear, out the other, sorry, don’t think so, if hearing didn’t stir
such deep deliria, then what about water torture, Chinese or otherwise,
faucet in the bathroom’s dripping right now (bunch of loud geese
honking on the pond as high winds ease up), drip, drip, drip, drip
into a soup bowl, empty the bowl into a bucket, empty the bucket
into the toilet tank, flush the stuff down, if we lose power,
into the septic, empty the septic every four years, truck with a hose
sucks it all out, nothing’s non sequitur, everything follows
another comma suture, afraid you’ll forget when the septic guy came,
remember November, election for president, never fails, foolproof,
cast your vote and empty the tank, if those two don’t rhyme,
nothing else does, keep a sharp listenout for groanings of the spirit,
worldwide wailing, not hard to hear it if your own hurting
has turned up the hearing-aid, to hymn it’s to limit
the hatred that simmers, take all the power
but leave us the current.


Bread on the waters,
Mr. Ecclesiastes,
and votes in small booths.

Whatever you do don’t ever begin
a missive to someone, wireless, papyrus, something stamped
with a new-release stamp of Lady Bird Johnson, Edgar Rice Burroughs,
USS Constitution in the War of 1812, how about that, October’s the month
of national stamp-collecting, good old October, miss it already,
philately’s better performed in October, used to be into it heavily myself,
had a big collection but gave it away, no longer say I’m into philately,
can’t afford offending many folks polled, no kidding though, what’ll we do
if the post office folds, what about stamps, the colors, the pictures,
used to stare at red ones of Hitler, spiky swastikas, there in the stamp store,
taboo, taboo, expensive too, much too rich for this piggy-bank,
learned a lot of history, even more geography, staring at stamps,
whatever you do never begin a missive to someone with sorry I’ve been
too busy to write, formula for liars, losers, the lazy, exceptions will be made
for those in combat, though combat can produce assiduous correspondents,
or open-heart surgery, cutter excused, likewise the cut, but otherwise saying
I’ve been too busy does nothing but announce to the hapless recipient
where she or he ranks on your list of priorities, too busy what,
turning the clocks back day before yesterday, too busy absorbing
mehr licht in the mornings, sunsets at rush-hour, or was it first frost
yesterday morning, cattle in the field crunching white manna,
that broke the straw’s back, pushed you right over the manageable edge,
made it impossible to tap a few keys, scratch a few lines, or did you say
boozy, I’ve been way too boozy, in which case, okay, at least
I admit it, boozy, too boozy, not on the booze
so much as on Jupiter, rising through evening, and also on polls
of who will vote how, been chugging them big time, not safe to drive,
thank goodness today is finally Election Day, lemme go vote
and then take the pledge, not another poll, I promise, I swear,
back to prohibition and an unplugged quadrennium,


chilliest morning
November has given us,
toe in the twenties,

and now the northeast, no sooner nudging itself back to normalcy,
needs a nor’easter, after the hurricane, the way a hemophiliac
needs another nose-bleed, not only that but this one packs snow,
Joshua ben Sira, the book of his wisdom, has things to say
about snow that are wonderful, how the eye marvels at all the beauty
of its fine whiteness, how the mind’s amazed by its silent descent,
usually don’t think of Palestine as snow-belt, don’t believe Apocrypha
has to be apocryphal, Norma in Norwalk’s probably not nodding
to Joshua’s passion, striking for the Bible, which rarely treats weather,
especially inclement, as something aesthetic, Norma needs her heat back,
needs her old furnace to fire up again without those explosions
when pooled oil lights, oil having pooled because her nozzle leaks,
her draft needs resetting, oh Norma, Norma, moments like this
we surely regret foreign oil dependence, though dependence on our oil
companies will comfort few souls either, thing about climate change,
it changes the climate of what’s safe to talk about, used to be fine
to greet a total stranger, or maybe that neighbor you’re trying to love,
with Gorgeous day, isn’t it, but now you never know, maybe your neighbor
will next time shoot back What did you expect, don’t tell me you believe
worsening weather is anthropogenic, poor old small talk, suddenly it’s gone,
vanished, extinct, everything’s political, certainly since the sixties,
maybe since Marx or farther back than that, bad enough in bed,
So my snoring bothers you, you effing oppressor, but now the rain, too,
the tempest, the gale, the typhoon, the blizzard, now they’re all matters
of stumping and lobbying, shaking hands and baby kisses, party hacks
and party faithful, no more Zephirus with his sweete breeth,
now his breath stinks, whichever way you think, half the others hate you,
used to be divinity, back in the day of cultic fertility, had jurisdiction
over the weather, seasons, climate, but then came the gerrymanders,
divinity out, enlightenment in, enlightenment out, politics in,
and now politics lords it over quaint divinity, left, right, center,
pay your money, take your pick, too easy, too glib, maybe so, maybe so,
but the absence of small talk makes most talking frictionless, one little nudge
and off you go sliding into grand things, esp. the young, gaga for theory,
unlike the old, gaga already and on a strict diet, bread-and-water facts,
digestive tracts grown theory-intolerant, having fed on so much praxis,
this year gerrymander celebrates two hundred, Elbridge Gerry namesake,
who drew that nasty salamander as governor of Massachusetts,
next year vice president under James Madison, snuffed it in office,
and while we’re at words, let’s not get started on new fad of naming
winter storms too, this was Athena, next one’s Brutus, someone’s got it bad,
a Greco-Roman hangover, while we’re at words, someone explain,
pretty please, mother may I, why in nor’easters one wears a sou’wester.


Martinmas Sunday,
Roman soldier who turned monk.
Veterans Day, too.

Palimpsest, palimpsest, scrape it again, there’s a gizmo I’d like to see
instead of devices that traffick in messages, more received, more to ignore,
give us a gadget that palimpsests history, strap on stereoptics,
pop in earbuds, wire up haptic system for tactile information,
forces, vibrations, the feel of motion, and dial up a day, make it today,
November 13, there it all is, any big thing that happened today
happening again, before your very eyes, blue, brown, or green,
hazel or yellow, your red very eyes, your very red eyes, verily, verily,
in your very face, ears, maybe nose, take a big hit of how the past smells,
the gizmo goes tickling debauched kinesthesia with a monster collage
of every anniversary pegged to today, intensifies anachronism
to pure apotheosis, St. Brice’s Day massacre, as Æthelred orders
the killing of Danes (look, Ma, an ash, a capital ash), Louis the seventh
marries Adèle, only five weeks after wife died, childbirth, childbirth,
two Augustines’ birthdays, Hippo and Canterbury, Nevado del Ruiz
erupts and melts a glacier, Supreme Court outlaws segregated buses,
Rosa Parks cheering, first naval battle of Guadalcanal, bad weather,
dark moon, Friday the 13th, two admirals killed, you get the drift,
this average day, forty-eight more before the year’s done, headcold,
laryngitis, rain overnight, clearing this morning, this average day
affiliates thickly, its seconds humming, worship the present into a fetish,
sure, why not, present’s an echo chamber, turn up the sound
and strum the last leaves with the pick of the past, past is a presence,
someone long gone exhaled molecules we fill our lungs with,
Augustine, Æthelred, Martin the soldier, don’t hold your breath,
the beggar approaches during a snowstorm, naked as a bear cub,
Martin cuts his cloak in half and that night dreams he has clothed me,
when I was five I had to be tested, testing guy said I’ll tell you a story,
you say what’s wrong, Once upon a time man died in his sleep,
then the next day he went off to work, what’s wrong with that,
don’t know I said, then he explained, kindly, gently, still I don’t get it.


Repeat after me,
thundering redundancy;
repeat after me.

Almost Thanksgiving, November no novice, rifles replacing
both bows and the muzzle-loaders, hunting season’s simple, after it opens,
stick to a walk on antlered days only, Saturdays excepted, also a holiday,
and best to watch out at dawn or at sunset, otherwise buck days
should be okay, doe days watch out, they come in two kinds,
days for the antlerless and either-sex deer days, if you choose those days,
heads up, id est, keep your head down, lady on the road got shot in her yard,
ka-blam, fell flat, right on her face, hands in her pockets, dying like that
solves many things, too bad the deer can’t ape the geese, get the herd
airborne and flap for the south, first come the hunters, then it’s the winter
and winter thins herds, not just in ruminants, winnows us too,
sure, get a flu shot, arm aches a bit, but flu shot or not, make way
for the scythe, icy white blade, swoosh swoosh, getting whetted
up in the Arctic, come along then, let’s get on south, never mind the idiom,
if the market goes down we say it heads south, why should that be,
because on our maps southness is down? gets pretty silly
with respect to thermometers, mercury falls, did so last night,
needle-sharp stars, do we say temperature’s suddenly gone south,
and if your partner should do something southerly, yippee unto you,
you wouldn’t complain, your south feels good, let’s get on south
and pay no attention to attempts to explain, some sage on line
attributes the expression to Sherman’s northern chauvinism,
which somehow found voice, where else, at Atlanta, so much for on line,
Sherman loved the South, and not just our south, had his mind blown
by Rio de Janeiro, reading his journal, Friday last week, handwriting tough,
never been published, no one’s transcribed it, intense young lieutenant
rounding Cape Horn, two hundred days, New York to Monterey,
“most beautiful harbor of the world,” he wrote, age twenty-six,
hadn’t seen much other than Ohio, New York, West Point, Florida,
uppity Charleston, not much competition with Rio de Janeiro, not much
to San Francisco when he finally got there, most beautiful harbor,
hope that’s fair use, don’t have permission to quote the phrase yet,
intellectual property, law student said it’s the gold-rush specialty,
odd idea, get an idea and post it with signs, keep your ass out,
don’t think about trespassing, but what’s the idea that isn’t beholden
to other ideas, whichever comes first, words or ideas, what’s the idea
that doesn’t need words it didn’t invent, kill all the lawyers,
Henry the Sixth, Part Two, Act Four, seems, perhaps, a tad extreme,
listen to Lincoln debating at Gaylesburg, not the same thing
as sailing to Rio but talk about rhythm, he had it down, eloquence lulls
like the roll of the sea, wave after wave, parallels caress, rhetorical schemes
sucking both earlobes, chiasmus, antithesis, do it again, anaphora,
epistrophe, baby you rock me, auxesis, gradatio, don’t stop it now,
but then the spell breaks, he sprays a cold shower, “I take it I have to
address an intelligent and reading community who will peruse what I say,
weigh it, and then judge whether I advance improper or unsound views,”
intelligent, reading, weighing, and judging? you mean us, Lawyer Lincoln?
we were so close, just about there, then you go dousing our fire with this,
did Gaylesburg deserve such generous confidence, if so, we’re hosed,
compared to your audience we’ve surely gone south, degradation
past redemption, winnow the herd it won’t make a difference, can’t breed
for readers in numbers sufficient, and as for weighing, it’s not what we do,
no time for scales, balance is boring, we poll instead, you and Judge Douglas
weren’t angels either, plenty of smearing going both ways, but, Counselor,
you counted on something we’re lacking, even with hunting season
still gotta walk, day before yesterday (black-and-white woodpecker
outside the window, spot on his head only red left, the maple so leaflorn),
Sunday it was, no hunting Sunday, defeated that bill, grinding uphill,
almost to ridgeline, no coast, no river, no large lake in sight, nowhere
to fish from, repeat after me, these are the mountains, fall’s dried the creeks,
how many times do I have to tell you, you belong on the national seal,
not here, lifting off from a tree by the trail, white head, white tail,
don’t belong here, wingspan like that, see, here’s the book, “in migration,
also mountains,” gee whiz, double shucks, wrong again, you’re just
passing through, like the white-throated sparrow, tight-lipped November’s
only sweet tune, my walk your pit-stop, merely a drive-by, all that we are
is your one-day stand, before you go south and off toward the coast,
off to some beach to feed without breeding, lucky duck, wait up,
empty talons, I could ride there, please take me with you.

Stripped down to nothing,
black maple skeletons,
but yellow tutus.

Carotenoid, tannin, xanthophyllis, anthocyanid, each autumn pigment
has plenty of pluses, danger, dyslexics, watch out for pulses, each has
a downside too, however, brown study, yellow fever, red scare,
except for old orange, nothing pejorative comes up for orange,
cowards are yellow, sycophants brown-nose, embarrassment reddens
pallid Caucasians, while orange gets off free, fair compensation
for rhyming with nothing, wait there’s a hand raised, yes ma’am,
your question, what about levels of airport security, excellent point,
but orange was the normative, green kissed good-bye, just as in fall,
along with that system of color-coded threats, tata, toodleoo, no longer
works here, no good reason, notwithstanding, not to moot questions,
so let’s moot her question, name the last time you saw moot as a verb,
orange was the normative, no way they’d lessen the threat to mere yellow,
let us get smug, comfy, complacent, and really how could they,
who wants to say, hey there’s no threat, no need to worry, whatever you do
you’re safe today, perfectly safe, might as well grab an aluminum pole,
climb on the roof during a thunderstorm, denial won’t help you
dodge the fat bolt, orange was the normative, and so it still is,
even without a system of pigments, so it still is, walk out the door
you could get mugged, stay in the house house could burn up, get in a car
all bets are off, orange is normative cause danger is normative,
danger and orange, what a nice couple, can the normative be pejorative,
bingo, bulls-eye, that’s the question, to be, not to be, puny kid stuff
when to be’s not to be ever secure, why take your life, living is suicide
in super slow-motion, your life will be taken, won’t have to wait
until the sun snuffs, almost full moon, got home last night, wicked long day,
resplendent raccoon dead in the yard, belly-flopped flat right by the chair
for reading outside on warm days in winter, bundled up in weakling sun,
flipped the corpse over, twenty pounds easy, rigor mortis well established,
flipped it over, found her a she, belly fur white, then rolled her back,
no signs of struggle, nowhere torn, how’d it happen, how’d she get here,
fur still perfect, black mask, ringed tail, small ears, made for scratching,
nose for stroking, aglow in moonlight, so soft, so soft, dead things
are heavy, no small job to lift her up, cross the road, lower her over
shining fence for vultures to find her, most of what we do is lifting,
list what we lift we’ll soon be listing, inclined to one side under the load,
trick is to list and somehow stay upright, itemize ills like anything else,
i.e., until the catalogue debilitates, the inventory undoes, don’t go that far,
you go that far you’ll need uplifting, only faint praise worse than uplifting
is call a thing interesting, touching’s bad too, oh that’s so touching,
uplifting, interesting, throw in cute you might as well shoot it, too bad
the she-coon had to start stinking, commence her corruption
whenever it warms, stroking her soothed as Jupiter rose,
slipped into place, Orion’s pierced ear.


Strew the ridge with deer remains;

watch your canine wolf.


Should’ve seen it last night, jackpot moon, jaundiced by sunset,
and off its perimeter, how does that go, pi times diameter, wonder
why Emily D. didn’t say My Business is Perimeter, another hymn meter,
perimetrical, off its perimeter, two thumbs at most, about ten o’clock,
not the time but the place, Jupiter there like the race-winning sperm
all set to cross the fertile egg finish line, knock Lady Luna olympically up,
celestial conception, incestuous too, say adios to virginity, Artemis,
payback for Actaeon, also Adonis, puts mile-high clubs to runner-up shame,
what should come next, that’s the tough question, usage note says
sequence implies that things follow things in some kind of order, numerical,
chronological, or order than indicates logic, causality, you think
this is easy, casting a usage note into this rhythm, you think there’s
no sweat here, you could be right, sometimes it is easy, that wasn’t bad,
see how it goes with series this time, series implies, same form for plural,
series imply successive relations, related successions, B follows A,
that would be sequence, sing the song kids, you know the alphabet,
but B follows Serbia, what have we here, nothing sequential, that’s for
darn sure, could be sheer randomness, maybe not quite, same page as series,
but find a relation and you’ve got a series, key is the third term, bring on
flapjacks dripping with syrup and that’s quite a stretch, not much of a series,
but listen more closely, syrup, Serbia, B lost its voice, phonemic laryngitis,
sequence is given when syntax obtains, not only in English, let’s hear it
for English, God save the queen, and word-order lingos, inflected ones too,
syntax still governs, sorts out the pieces, jiggles the jigsawn bits into place,
but series, well series, what should we say, it, or they, is, or are
in ears of beholders, any two things not simultaneous, that took a while
to work out the rhythm, any two things not simultaneous, let me repeat
out of sheer pride, barefaced bravura, can kick off a series, add a third thing,
you’re off to the races, time to go soon, dog wants a walk, beautiful day,
November’s penultimate, to air is canine, so, syntax wedded lawfully,
as in these phrases, frisky and feckless, sequence calls shots, but series,
how to make one, or how to make many, that’s where we get
to have ourselves fun, you bring succession, I’ll find relation,
sometimes I crave a relation vacation.


A record broken
sounds like a broken record
when it comes to warmth.

You going down, ‘98, dat piddly old 71-degree thang, dis December day
gonna kick yo lukewarm butt, whip it, skunk it, cream it, shellac it,
wallop, slaughter, hammer, massacre, whatever happened to winning
without woofing, 72 degrees, that’s the high forecast, should be observed
around 1 p.m., got a little travel clock shows the temperature too,
damn right we’ll be out there, amidst all the lows can’t miss a high,
Stevens on weather, he raised the bar, but now come on weather,
you find it all major, to sing of the weather, the seasons, a climate
is nothing but elegy, forget Adonais, Lycidas, Thyrsis, want to weep hard,
weep for seedtime, dog days, season of mists, Indian summer, first frost,
Groundhog Day, think there’s no work for poems to do, best think again,
all those old weather saws, gonna need new ones, no not the saws
like Stand Alone Weather Sensors or South African Weather Service,
I mean the ones like red sky at morning, Rosso di sera, bel tempo si spera,
rosso di mattina mal tempo si avvicina, nice little poem, spectral diffraction
scattering light, find it in Matthew, chapter 16, how about Seagull, seagull,
sit on the sand, It’s never good weather when you’re on the land,
another I like, When halo rings the moon or sun, rain’s approaching
on the run, and who can beat this, When windows won’t open and salt
clogs the shaker, The weather will favor the umbrella maker, nifty iambics
or affable anapests, poems had big jobs to do, sorry can’t stop, A cow
with its tail to the west, unh, makes the weather best, unh, A cow with its tail
to the east, unh, makes the weather least, unh, it’s not that we’re in for
nothing but heat waves, that would be simple, not easy but simple,
it’s that daily weather itself has gone Dada, all the old lore,
what good is it now, now climatology’s the new avant-garde,
sharpest edge cutting, just opened the windows, 10:20 a.m.,
FedEx driver wished he had shorts on, did have short sleeves,
something about this reminds me of lust, sure feels good, take off
your clothes, but a tab will come due, don’t mind the tab, keep up the lust,
some people think the world is ending, two weeks from Friday,
record high that day’s only 64, don’t make fun, anxiety’s agony,
you think you’re together when here comes the panic, amputated breath,
unsteadiness, faintness, accelerated heart rate, trembling, sweating,
everything altered, trippy, discomfort, slicing chest pain, dying, I’m dying,
losing control, here in the store, the street or car, government’s promised
the world won’t end, message from NASA, thank goodness for government,
makes taxes worth it, assurance like that, but what can big government
say about Advent, fourth day today, John of Damascus died on this day,
749, born in where else, I’ve been to Damascus, been to the mosque
where John the Baptist’s head’s entombed, since the war started
friends there don’t write, how arrogant we are, strutting connections,
along comes a war, suddenly they’re snipped, sturdy as cobwebs,
ripped by a flick, fourth day of Advent, thing about Advent,
it’s not just the buildup toward Christmas Eve carols, it’s preparation
for second arrival, consider the signs, as lightning comes from the east
and flashes, weather again, always an emblem, so will the coming
of Namelessness be, don’t make fun, there’s more to it, maybe,
than doomsday delirium, give ancient wisdom some minutes each day,
it’s possible, just possible, it got something right, anything come once
can always come again, but only if one makes the self a place it can come to,
or put it more simply and say you’ve come once, who wouldn’t want
to come again sometime, along comes someone who says second coming’s
coming some day, hooray you say, I’d better make ready, shave a little,
take a shower, pretty this poor body up, but then there you are, awaiting
the phone, the doorbell, a knock, waiting and waiting, it must be a joke,
but the joke is on us when we all could be coming, and coming, and coming,
no need to wait for special delivery, your partner’s at hand, let us get started.

John the Baptist asked,
Are you the one we wait for?
No numbskull, his skull.


Happiness courts the light, so we deem the world is gay, says the lawyer
Bartleby discomfits, but then comes the but, announcing antithesis,
hypotactic harbinger, and while you’re at it, replay that move, but
then cames the but, epanalepsis, now spread-eagled across an enjambment,
take up again, take up again, syntax is seizure, a sequence of seizures,
petit mal commas, sometimes a big one, anacoluthon, sustaining sequence
suddenly wanting, metatactic tactic to focus attention on syntax itself,
oh relax, I’m just messing with you, no harm done, Greece is sucking
the fiscal mop, least we can do is celebrate her lexicon, got friends there too,
if not self-imposed, austerity blows, Ireland also, when will these references
sound quaintly dated, let it be soon, my friends need relief, my enemies too,
I’m messing around and feeling your oats, not quite as wild as I wish
we could sow, reading is reaping, don’t let me keep you, I’m feeling good
because my December, cold-shoulder sweetheart, she’s back on the track,
found the frigidity she misplaced on Tuesday, smashing the record,
kicked it on up to 74, but after that fling she’s back straightly narrow, 29
this morning, she’ll rise to the 40s, I’m messing around because we’ll return
to Bartleby’s lawyer, you know it will happen one of these lines,
and then when we do, it’s wet blanket time, then I must change
These Notes to Tragic, intransitive goes transitive, Milton the party-pooper,
wasn’t his fault, stuck to the script, Bartleby’s lawyer makes a good point,
happiness posts, truly loves posting, pictures of itself, generous sometimes,
as though to infect us with similar felicity, sometimes vindictive
to stir up our envy, and sometimes just thoughtless, heedlessly wrapped
in the legs of Fortuna, but the part that comes after the lawyerly but,
here it comes, heads up, misery hides aloof, so we deem that misery
there is none, see how that’s done, Melville’s rhythm differs from mine,
not a neat fit, so slingshot his clause around the line pivot, pick up that
whisper of that as demonstrative, push off with there, flip-turn if possible,
from left margin wall, and off you go clean into lap sixteen, half-mile mark
in a fifty-meter pool, well Herman that’s wrong, are you establishing
untrustable narration or is this a problem with your perception, all I can say
is I don’t go out much, I mostly converse with those I imagine,
don’t have TV, don’t read a paper, radio’s busted, try to keep
screen time to a workaday minimum, email mostly, sometimes research,
and even I’m drenched with the mistings of misery, cancers alone,
it’s hard to believe that anyone’s left outside the oncologist’s,
I used to like breasts because of testosterone, now I’m just grateful
any remain, the prostate, the rectum, pancreas, lung, it’s like a sick game
of musical chairs, duck-duck-goose, who’s next, you’re it,
and then the depression, me oh my, the young, erstwhile vigorous,
bang down they go, hey how’s the family you ask an acquaintance,
next thing you know you’re both tearing up, his daughter’s a basket case,
her son stays inside, twitching with terror, their lives have caved in,
here I had to stop, bawl for a while, no stichic break though, stiff upper line,
when the old get to sadness, it hurts real bad, decades dwindled down to this,
and the sad middle-aged, come on, it’s cliché, disappointment, divorce,
bodies gone baggy, but the young, our young, when young have succumbed
the climate has changed, come on, talk back, delight in defiance,
give us the finger, do anything but crumple, this is before gigantic typhoons,
wheezy starvation, chemical weapons, what should we do, I don’t assume
what you shall assume, I’m pretty clueless, here a small hawk,
probably sharp-shinned, alights out the window, smack in the middle
of this line of sight, until a pissed crow flusters him off, for humans
it’s hunting season even on Sunday, dear we’re the deer,
some of us does, some of us bucks, whether or not
we’re game to be game.

December’s April
minus chiggers, ticks, and snakes,
free of leaves, light, frills.


Twelve Twelve Twelve, no not midnight noon midnight, not three juries
or sets of apostles, advanced, intermediate, lowly beginner, bless beginners,
for they may be, as Francis said, the only gospels neighbors read,
no not a tercet of alexandrines, though separate lines with diagonal strokes,
forward leaning slashes, virile virgules, 12/12/12, and you have the clue
for writing out checks today, lots of big checks, bounce them all high,
last chance this century for a pen to deliver numerical triplets
before the century goes adolescent, enters its teens in a couple of weeks,
now the breast buds, cracking voice, but soon the full slate of lusts, losses,
maybe a baby born today will live to see this date next century,
not a long shot, likely to shorten, if molecular biology figures it out,
ta-LAW-mer-ace, enzyme maintaining the length of our telomeres,
which shorten with age, cell division, leaving chromosomes easy to fray,
shoelaces ready to come unraveled, figure it out, we won’t come unraveled
or not as fast and less degradingly, maybe others will see it also,
today’s distant cousin in twenty-one-twelve, common era, oldest person,
according to Guinness, 116, there’s a good psalm, thanksgiving for healing,
I lift up the cup, the cup of salvation, today get your license
and blow out the candles on a cake they’ll bake in another hundred,
how far can they push the years of our life, fivescore and ten
or by reason of strength sixscore, seven-, eight-, call it two hundred,
so now you work for a hundred years, or a hundred and fifty, and live
with your mate a hundred and eighty, give or take, is this improvement,
silver, gold, diamond, but sesquicentennial, what will that be,
happy Mars rock anniversary, honey, lots more questions, how will it work,
but the big one’s, you guessed it, can they make death ever obsolescent,
if so, what happens to capital punishment, suicide, homicide, assassination,
oh yes and war, unemployed Ares collecting his benefits, or will we still
be able to kill, sixth commandment never archaic, one would assume
this will be true, a mountain’s not mortal but we can destroy it, blow it up,
bulldoze it off, could take a while, but it can be done, same holds for us,
longer longevity, cancer extinguished, won’t do a thing for driving drunk
or crimes of passion, another great phrase, ambiguous of, in the last century
twelve twelve twelve was Florence Herman’s wedding day, a giant job,
doctor’s wife, two sons to mother, and always her husband’s double life,
make it triple, maybe quadruple, he’s in here too, each time a line
begins with no capital, each time a sentence spills over the edge,
don’t overdo it on straddling runovers, especially repeated one-word
remainders, lately the young have taken to Paterson, things could be worse,
happy anniversary, hell-raiser, healer, once met a woman
you had delivered, that Flossie didn’t divorce your ass
offsets a Pulitzer tardily posthumous.

Here’s to you, [guess who],
who have stretched what you can do:
homage in haiku.

Maybe it’s time we talked about teaching, I really hate grading,
but scribbling that squib on a young lady’s poems gave me a lift,
her I hope too, she’d learned a lot, so had some others, for them it’s better
to do other things, if those other things are things they’d do better,
teaching is pouring your blood in the sand, Roethke said so, he did it well,
whereas me I’m O negative, universal donor, so I can give to anyone
but no one not my type can give to me, maybe that’s the hitch,
not the same hitch as shingling roof, done that too, rough on the back,
but what’s not didactic, answer me that, student means eager, if one is eager,
everything teaches, pedantic’s something else, not recommended
though some have that fetish, teacher-student pairs aren’t any freer
than other relations from SM economy, you want someone grinding
a heel in your face, find yourself a pedant, puffy, ponderous, I know a lot,
happy to help, they come in both sexes, all colors, most ages, (12/15/12)
hard to say why I’ve kept pretty mum when it comes to this teaching,
this very year I’ll have taught longer than person number two
of the shape-shifting trinity had to put up with earthly incarnation,
six thousand students and lots more to come, Insh’Allah, who am I fooling,
as though I’m a hermit out in the desert or Left Bank bohemian
off the pay grid, no truck with taxes, Mondays, and head colds
and people above me it’s hard to respect, I try to respect them,
wired that way, but then they say something, show what they’re thinking,
or rather not thinking, or worse they write something and send it around,
then there’s no turning from stunted misshaping, meanwhile the classroom,
is it a refuge, a wildlife sanctuary for mental-life wildness, is such asylum
even desirable, or is such a picture dangerous delusion, loopy ideal
when really what’s needed are boot camps for burghers, nothing but schools
for middle-class puppies to master obedience, sit, stay, and heel,
shake is good, too, for economic embryos not yet enfranchised, is that
the goal, if so far better, many will argue, than Hemingway’s fantasy
of days when it’s legal to shoot whom you wish, various policemen,
Italian statesmen, government functionaries, Massachusetts judges,
all on his wish list, mine would lead off with people who parrot
A picture’s worth a thousand words and then use their phones
to photograph food someone has served them, eat up and nourish
ekphrastic impotence for which there’s no pill, next on the list
come gas-bags who bloviate Those who can, do, those who can’t, teach, easy
to say until the day comes when having thought fast to shots in the hall
and coaxed her first-graders to hide in their cupboards, the underpaid teacher
faces the gunman and somehow convinces with level last words
No one is here, they’ve gone to the gym.


Twenty children dead.
We used to live in Newtown.
10 Reservoir Road.

Yesterday my birthday, turned my grades in and turned
the same age as the year I was born, sunset’s already one minute later,
no student’s called to complain about grades, grade most bewailed,
the buxom B+, if anyone does, offer this deal, send in a message
comparing, contrasting, in prose or in verse, the second commandment
with the second amendment, we’ll see if we missed something,
sometimes it’s hard to accept one is average, distinction is everything,
even if spurious, especially challenging for over-praised apprentices,
well-polished apples of various eyes, Psalm 17, duplicitous phrase,
always envisioned a latter-day Eve longingly eyeing a crispy Macintosh,
now we’ve got Galas, Granny Smiths, Pink Ladies, maybe pomology
would have been better to study than poems, but apples of eyes
aren’t healthy objects of fibrous desire, they’re genitive links
those circular apertures that center the iris are likened unto,
here’s another option, send in a message discussing in depth,
in prose or in verse, how pupil meaning student somehow connects
with pupil meaning center of the pigmented iris, look up the answer
if such things amuse you, they certainly do me, if not, carry on,
but you know I will wait, who would I be if you weren’t along
for ridiculous rides on the Tangent Express,

you write things in lines,
whether short ones or longies,
you’re always on line,

let’s sing of arms, arms and the man who goes round the bend
and shoots up a school, a church, a theater, once we had snipers
picking off drivers, I’m reading this book that traces the Pilgrims
from Scrooby and Leiden through Mayflower days, then all the way
through King Philip’s War, which the book says, adjusted to percentage
of respective populations, was two times as lethal as America’s Civil,
Shiloh, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Wilderness, better not think
too much about that, not at Thanksgiving, and here’s the hard thing,
if one can claim kin with the Separatist crowd, tough sons of bitches
with brats and tough bitches, stinking their way across the Atlantic,
teeth working loose, a symptom of scurvy, smelly gums bleeding,
in order to worship the way they damn pleased, no panty-waist pietists,
they liked beer and wine, if one comes from them, twelve generations
from a Canterbury grocer, also a wool-comber, who lugged back to London
aboard the small Fortune, one-third the size of hundred-foot Mayflower,
Bradford and Winslow’s manuscript version of the Pilgrims’ first year,
so Morton could publish it, attract new recruits for merchant adventures,
if one comes from them, and more of us do than at first looks apparent,
Pilgrims weren’t celibates, they multiplied fruitfully, thirty-five million
descendants today, but does such an estimate consider the slave-owner
grafting his genes onto African stock, native or Asian, Puritan juju
isn’t restricted to blue-eyed blue-bloods, if one comes from them,
somewhere in there, in DNA’s cards, is high-proof high-mindedness,
let’s hope it’s used it to keep the mind high and daily life plain,
let’s hope it sees the wordless unseen, afloat on the seen, tomorrow
the solstice, 6:12 a.m., tilting North Pole farthest away, Arctic Circle dark,
Antarctic blazing, but here’s the hard thing, that high-proof high-mindedness
also believed that muskets meant muscle, matchlocks for flexing,
from very first contact with plague-whittled tribes, Nausets, Pocassets,
Naragansetts, Pokanokets, the newcomers prayed with arms by their sides,
you can say literally, too often misused, this is one place it’s more than okay,
they prayed, they farmed, they traded, they killed, Bradford sent Standish
off to Wessagussett, March 27, 1623, massacre there, that changed the tune,
Blessed shall he be that taketh and dasheth thy children against the stones,
throw in more English, arriving in waves from over the waves, [12/27/12]
Massasoit’s death, death of first son, second takes over, trades in his bows
for latest-make flintlocks, English paranoia disarms Pokanokets,
Philip loses face but later lucks out because of English land-greed,
with money they give him he rearms his warriors, there’s an old story,
weapons as wampum, and what do you expect, Welcome, Englishmen,
Samoset said, and soon it’s all killing, Great Swamp Fight, December 19,
1675, week ago today, Narragansett women burned up with children,
A voyce was heard on hie, a mourning and bitter weeping, Rahel weeping
for her children, nothing new here, take out the children, take out
a permit for one concealed handgun, required to carry, in public places,
more than twenty rounds, A voyce was heard, what can’t the mind do
when it comes to self-protection, anyone’s indifference threatens
my existence, not such a stretch to see it that way, not everybody else
enjoys invisibility, damn right it’s my right to carry this gun
and pre-empt the strike of anything menacing my first-person fort.

The Feast of Stephen
armed the roof with icy snow.
Sliding chunks chuck stones.

Now a new year, eighth day of Christmas, eight maids a-milking
snipped the Lord’s foreskin, gave him a name, noonish last Sunday,
cruising past a field shaved down to stubble, fifty-five only, out in the field,
loping in tandem, going north too, backlit by sun we’re now tilting toward,
a pair of vulpine silhouettes, worthy word, vulpine, sounds sort of dirty,
pining away for voluptuous vixens, voluntarily vulnerable but never vulgar,
two vulpine silhouettes loping in tandem, there was a fullness, even pleroma,
at last an –oma not to be dreading, or maybe it’s dreadful, foxy theophany,
in non-malignant ways, some completion’s dreadful, fullness can frighten,
foreshadow vacation, waning will evacuate selected fulfillments,
post-union disunion, Long Night’s Moon no longer full, already shrunk
down to a hunchback, glass half-full or is it half-empty, remember to ask
if the liquid level’s dropping, is there a leak, a crack in the glass, if not,
evaporation will do the draining too, eight cups a-draining after running
over, that effect was cheap, last one of those, at least for a while, let’s give
some thought to hope versus optimism, are they the same, optimist says
the glass is half-full, not only that but what a great glass, half-full is plenty,
more than enough, beyond my deserts, water tastes sweet, comes up
unclouded from never-failing wells, underground river flowing nicely full,
an artesian Thames that Denham could cherish, Though deep, yet clear,
though gentle, yet not dull, free of chlorine they suck down in town,
Sir John had the comma thing figured out too, wine’s for the lyric types,
short pours in big glasses, give it some air, help it untighten, even decant it,
two or three pours, call it a night, more means a headache, waking up late
to bag-of-ass palsy, your mouth metamorphosed, a hazardous waste,
you want to try epic, it’s water for you, according to Milton, Emerson also,
drink all you want, here’s to our health, epic’s a steadiness no wine can help,
a lengthy exertion, you have to stay hydrated, hope is the same, it’s epic too,
it makes no commitment to best-case scenarios, bad stuff is coming,
heat-seeking missile, if you stay cool, may help a bit but won’t help enough,
you think I’m inventing, why would we say hope for the best if hope
meant the best, as optimism does, optimists’ boners balloon for the bonus,
more power to em, don’t sneer or envy, but hoping is different, it can’t deny
the worst for the best, it loves the worst too, or that is the aim, come and go
down on the pussiest pessimism, a young alcoholic’s, to take an example,
wholly convinced her life is a waste, a shame, a shambles gone bloodless,
optimists promise things will get better, making it, sometimes, rather helpful
to have some around, but hope makes no promise, hope is the confidence
things will fulfill, it’s pure expectation, trust in what’s coming, even in cases
when the next thing to come neglects my self-interest, drastically worsens
lives linked with mine, excruciating intimates, hope against hope,
what does that mean, it would mean nothing if hope weren’t opposed
to how it goes sometimes, or sometimes for most of us, mostly for some,
consider a comma, God rest you merry gentlemen, punctuate that,
you see a lot of gentlemen resting after merriment, merry old souls
down for siesta, I thought so too, but the comma turns out to come
after merry, how about that, draw your own moral, maybe you’ll find
using hopefully correctly helps you catch the drift, meanwhile a nipple
in Spanish is masculine, if on a woman’s breast, on a man’s feminine.

A foreign language
is all the foreign travel
I manage first class.


Steep a fig in pee-pee, you’ve got a fig urine, check out the new line
of panties without lines, why are they a good thing, mistress of my distress,
lines express your sexy nexus, one could do worse than be a settler of letters,
cheapest thing to eat in Spanish is anything con arroz, close enough to eros
at no extra cost to give the meal a little lift, a spicy cootchie-coo
without the anal after-arson ignited by a habanero, no enya on that one,
ask for habañero sauce, betray your hyperforeignness, apparently a word
this computer doesn’t like, red-lined again, sorry old gal, how can it be
I’ve never named this laptop, named all the cars, Monty and Blanche,
Henderson, Pudge, now I’ve got Pedro, Pedro’s cool, Asian and black,
creeping up on a hundred thou, it’s not a pleasure to think past Pedro,
in parking lots he’s dirtiest always, doesn’t boast a sound system
a thief would steal, unless she plays cassettes, go ahead, laugh, how I learned
some Spanish though, but rotate his tires, align his wheels, and watch us
waltz a county road, manual transmission takes thing in hand, time to stop
in some city lot no one parks like Pedro, we can squeeze in anywhere,
turn on a dime, is that your comparison, Pedro turns on a baby aspirin,
keep your old dime, Pedro and I, we’ve kept our virginity, we made a deal,
no tattoos on my skin, no stickers on his bumper, sure we have affiliations,
Pedro’s got a naughty streak and isn’t apolitical, one time had to lecture him
on cutting off another car simply because it’s four times his size
and gets a quarter of his mileage per gallon, despite the jingoistic slogans
shouting from its shiny ass, no no Pedro, this is the United States,
it’s in the Constitution, recent amendment, I’m pretty sure, we have the right
to lots of gas, or is it the Declaration, we have the right, if you don’t like it,
go back to Asia, shouldn’t have said that, hurt his feelings, he didn’t let on
but I could tell by the way he idled at the next red light, I apologized,
drove him by a car wash so he could ogle cleanliness, but Pedro and I,
we’ve mellowed lots, some trips to town we stay in the right now,
don’t pass at all, don’t speed or tailgate, Pedro likes it this way, so do I,
still enough power to perform when it’s called for, but less and less need
to be where it’s called for, Pedro’s ten, almost eleven, if he goes another ten,
maybe we can go together, soon as they say he won’t pass inspection,
we drive off a cliff, bust through the guard rail, what am I saying,
any day someone may say the same to me, sorry bub, inspection failed,
you won’t ever pass, make the grade, cut the mustard, is that what the geese,
honking on the pond this morning, are trying to say, why here now,
it’s only early January, yes we usually get a thaw, kingfisher days
to calm the wind and open the windows, but if geese are moving,
it’s more than a thaw, somewhere south the signs must be starting,
winter’s tough if you’re not a ski bum or don’t make a living
plowing snowy driveways, and who would complain of early spring,
but winter’s part of the package too, like old age, the rhythm’s not right
if you don’t weather some, don’t go overboard, with Buffalo or Bangor,
both getting hammered right about now, but getting old is part of it too,
the multi-course meal today sets before us, don’t fill up on appetizers,
save some room, if not for dessert, at least for a look at brandies and ports,
study the list, ask a few questions, then order a good one, take a small sip,
and call for the check, la cuenta por favor, long-suffering laptop,
I christen thee Patience, Patty for short.

The magi traveled
as far as Colorado
is from Charlottesville.


And by camel no less, and I will give him the morning star,
strong at pre-dawn, way to the south, over the ridge, about eight o’clock,
fist-width from a thinning crescent waned to rind, the whole cheese wheel
still in outline, eight’s the direction, time was only seven, ciel del sur
perking up, sunrise having ticked a minute back to half-past seven,
thanks so much, most generous January, for bitty crumbs of morning light,
morning star, Venus this time, soon invisible, same as us, soon the sun
will steal its show, overshadow without a shadow, morning sweetheart,
how’s my Patty, how’d you sleep, feel like a roll in the hay with me,
morning’s best for Patty and me, ain’t it old girl, dream webs clinging,
teeth left unbrushed, she gives me her morning mouth, I give her mine,
Patty let’s party, I’ll bring the chatter, you do the clatter, hate to think
how old she is, in laptop years, if dog years are seven, what’s a laptop,
ten, fifteen, Patty you’re old and I’m close behind, never tried it that way,
not with her, for us strictly missionary, she opens up, leans back a little,
and I do my darnedest as long as I can, fingers only, hope she likes it,
never made her grunt, that’s true, but sometimes she hums, doing it now,
she likes these lines, long with segments, another partner might guide you in,
Patty just whispers right margin’s coming, close to the edge, might not fit,
but you did, sometimes the patter has to spill over, break things up, provide
some relief in the epic routine, but usually it doesn’t, not nearly as much
as beginners believe, want a line landed inside the margin, Patty can help,
she’s my constraint, I overshoot, she doesn’t scold, says try it again,
reshape the line, let her constraint help you construct, forget the nuns
and fret yourself not, Patty’s narrow room isn’t too narrow, plenty of space,
frontier still open, had to get up and eat an apple, Patty sips a cup of current,
geese again, hear them honey, thirty-three counted, day before yesterday,
way more than normal, when I went out to look at Venus, I know, I know,
I left you behind on a messy little desk, had to take down the weekly trash
to end of state maintenance, happened to stand there, noticing Venus,
at conjunction of night and day, how did I know, heard a cock crow
from a northward neighbor’s the very same moment coyotes were howling,
two worlds met, nocturnal, diurnal, that’s the right ethic, the one we want,
Patty and I, darkness and light, darkness and light, both get their due,
or here they do, no loading dice, no fudging data, don’t get me wrong,
we’re not the equator, Patty and I, nobody’s saying dark and light split
equal time all the time, we’re not a balanced equinox, not every day,
sometimes it’s summer, light overwhelming, and sometimes it’s winter,
darkness is dominant, way it is now, somewhat, it’s true, got a few problems
that aren’t getting better, person I love is lost and hopeless, just phoned up,
but that’s not the point, the point is the place where light and dark meet,
always they do, no matter the season, this is the place, describe it they say,
hear em Patty, the people who read this, if they exist, they want description,
vivid description, packed with images, lots of details, maybe a metaphor
unheard before, what do you think, what should we say, maybe we shouldn’t
tell them at all, that line was hard, took several tries, Patty Patty help me out,
what do you say, don’t hurt feelings, that’s a rule it makes sense to follow,
not quite golden, maybe locust, hickory, walnut, sometimes, though,
it’s important to try, point out alternatives, well here goes, description,
let’s see, is often delightful, no wonder it pleases, those with fine powers
of description deserve our grateful admiration, like folks with good teeth
and on-demand smiles, but surely you’ve noticed the ancient convention,
words can’t express, it’s beyond words, still widely used, inexpressibility,
has its own topos, look up adynaton, see aporia, in classical rhetoric,
post-structural versions will likely bewilder, the point is the point
where description must fail is always the point where we want to be,
Patty and me, I for the grammar, me for the rhyme, something describable
description degrades, ties the thing down, limits, encloses, is to the thing
it describes little more than its passport photo, imperative for immigration,
flattering perhaps, but once you’re inside, put passport away, you’re free
to be mobile, at least in some countries, to move on the silence, language
of divinity, aftermath of intercourse, mountains, oceans, terrible storms,
highest joy, deepest grief, oh how sublime they say condescending,
oh so romantic, no problem, we tried, those who prefer it
down here keep describing, meanwhile Patty
keeps humming, entrancing.


What’s fidelity
if not starting, shine or rain,
each day with Patty?


Hello Patience, murky morning, rainy, raw, high about 40, special today
filet of welkin awash in grayest gravy, this is more like it, generic January
lets down her hair, northern hemisphere’s Lady Leadlocks, nasty infection
making the round of legions of lungs, lasts four weeks, dark as a crotch
inside tight pants as late as seven on a unsunned day, this is more like it,
shake up the nature-lovers, so-called, self-identified, find out whose love
has strings attached to vistas and sunsets, balmy breezes, dappled shade,
oh yes and warmth, find out who’s hot for muck and mud, who gets out
to ruin old boots for a couple of hours, we need the rain, yep that’s true,
but who needs rain enough to go out in it for its own wet sake, cold
and dangerous after a while, hypothermia, great way to go, today is perfect,
onset so subtle nobody knows, core temp drops, goofy, clumsy, blurred,
reaction time longer, judgment impaired, and then, yeah baby, hallucination,
wander off visionary, lie down to rest, so long, adios, maybe faster
to have looked up symptoms on somebody’s web site, but a reference book
is so much sexier, skimming an index, anything else you might also like,
Hypertension, Hypnotic drugs, Hypothalamus, Hysterectomy,
rhythm alone, what a turn-on, no pushy screen burping up words
to finish your sentence, take your time, peruse the menu, come again
some other day, protect the environment, this is environment, soggy,
socked in, needs no protection, thanks all the same, we can pave everything,
screw up the seasons, days like today will still come our way, somewhere,
they will, this round’s on me, barkeep I’m buying, double-shots for all
the tree-huggers up there, meet on the ridge at midday today, nothing lovely
about today, that’s what’s lovely, no effort made to come off attractive,
that’s what’s attractive, not a good day to bask or picnic, strut your stuff
half-clothed in a park, stop in the street to chat with a friend, today,
which is Tuesday, Feast of Saint Paul, First Hermit, of Thebes,
not to be confused with Saint Paul the Simple, today could care less,
tough day to imitate a saint in the desert, no desert here, clear spring
or palm tree, no leaves for raiment, no fruit for food, it’s BYOB,
bring your own beauty, if you can’t do without it, if maybe you can
today you’re all set, today’s sort of like last Friday night, poker group met,
played a few hours, wild games mostly, Baseball, Night Baseball,
Anaconda, Chase the Queen, don’t bother scoffing, straight-poker purists,
this is no threat, polemic, critique, there’s room for all, even a group
of second-half old guys, ready to bet as high as a quarter, played a few hours
and lost every hand, but that’s not the story, one can still lose
with lots of great cards, I had no hand believably bluffable, not even
four-fifths of a straight or a flush, at first I fell into the usual loop,
Doña Suerte hates me, this is an omen, par for my course, but soon
the perfection of absolute poverty made us all marvel, uncorked a kind
of primitive joy, what freedom’s like freedom of getting dealt nothing,
nothing to waste, misplay, overlook, today is like that, I think
it’s my favorite of days I have lived, all twenty thousand
four hundred eighty-six, threw in the leap days, fourteen to date,
gotta go Patty, downpour is calling, a shame etymology
yields nothing clever in the case of a poncho,
time to break out the radish red rain pants.


Rain will turn to snow.
Roads will get more difficult.
The forecasts say so.

Thou shalt take a walk, oh what we lost when thou didst desert us
sometime in the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth century, depends
on the class, the region, the source, thou, thee, thy, thine, think what
thou dost and all that thou art, all that thou hast, what thou wouldst know,
how thou drivest, whom thou lovest, Quakers still do it, thou-thee that is,
plain speech they call it, Conservative Friends, I want some of those,
but would they want me, first thing I’d ask is dost thou say fuck thee,
and what dost thou mean, this is important, though now it’s PG,
no, looked it up, PG-13, one of the harsher sexual words, used just once,
though only an expletive, requires at least PG-13, no question there,
more than one requires R, well this is tough, Patty do you think
we’ve crossed a line, was that an expletive, let’s be safe, go with R,
and ask all the readers sixteen and under to skip these next lines,
this is important because it requires a clear understanding of who
doth the fucking, say fuck thee and what thou couldst mean is go
thou and fuck thyself, whatever that might look like, fuck is subjunctive,
also imperative, fuckest indicative, of what, touché, or say fuck thee
and who really knoweth, perhaps it’s ellipsis for I’d like to fuck thee
in ways that thou wilt not enjoy, or maybe it meaneth may thou be fucked
by some other person or power or thing, third-person imperative
like let their be light, let there be fucking that lands hard on thee,
but if we solve this one, having been snubbed by new Quaker friends,
there’s still the question of how getting fucked became a bad thing,
when did this happen, you’d think the reverse would be the worse curse,
may you never get fucked again, unfuck thee, never, never, never again,
not everyone would be upset, the celibate who’ve taken vows,
sexual slaves, exhausted prostitutes, the raped or prematurely fondled,
those whose parts cause sharp discomfort, to people like these,
and there are a lot, maybe fewer than have the flu, but still a lot,
fuck thee to these would be truly hurtful, you want to cause hurt,
this is the way, add to this group those who’ve aged out, or feel it so,
those who are bored or don’t want the bother, and those who sublimate
into the winner’s circle, who won’t be able to play the bassoon
nearly so well if they start to bonk, that leaves a few who’d be sorely vexed
at finding themselves so poorly sexed, safe to bring back the kiddies now,
safe to bring back the reference to Quakers, their position on thou,
see chapter ten, No Cross, No Crown, William Penn’s title
is not quite the same as the weight-lifter’s mantra, no pain, no gain,
really not true if you’ve just blown a shoulder, only gain there
goes to the surgeon, see his nice car, he wants thee to lift, add on some more,
no cross, no crown, iambic, alliterating, means, we’ve been thinking,
Patty and I, pain is the gain, not the bad side-effect of pumping up muscle,
pain is the kiss, some get a peck, some a long French one, pain is the kiss,
go take a hike, yea thou shalt do so, not for exercise, pleasure, distraction,
but for all those who can’t, in bed, chair, or cell, those who can stretch
their lost legs through thee, second-person singular, be their familiar,
their ultimate intimate, they blow thee their kisses.


Soon waxing Wolf Moon
will fill the northern windows
with its full howl.

There, see, what’s so hard about haiku, five-seven-five, count it, done,
third grade learns it, of children’s first poetic form and the fruit
they need to eat much more of, nothing to it, yeah you think so, how
about howl, how many syllables, most ears here will hear a rhyme
with vowel, towel, bowel, each with two, careful kids, howl has one,
dictionaries say it’s so, the vowel of howl a two-pronged diphthong,
in Japanese ni moras, pop that ow before a liquid, l or r, howl, hour,
you got a problem, or maybe a chance, if syllables aren’t sure, what is,
didn’t want to bring it up, but since you asked, I must confess
Patty we been snubbed, I know, I know, should have checked with you
before sending off a chunk of our chatter, someone out there asked to see it,
got it back, along with a note, sorry can’t use it, it’s probably just
my limitation as a reader, bet you a nickel he doesn’t think so,
chin up old girl, true, it’s true, rejection still makes the hot blood rush,
blurs the eyes, pounds the chest, but not for as long as once it did, tanha,
pure tanha, craving, desire, selfish blind demandingness, notice me,
notice me, affirm me, promote me, tell me I’m the cat’s meow,
the bee’s knees, sun’s buns, sky’s thighs, praise me, prize me, more,
more, please give me more, affection, esteem, Buddha’s right, it hurts
to live, our days discomfort, tanha the irritant, I’m not a Buddhist,
I kill bugs, stink bugs, ladybugs, this time of year, in summer mosquitoes,
black flies, ticks, swat em dead, you bet, winter begins I try non-violence,
but now a stink bug who flies in my face gets it, crunch, off you go bub,
back to samsara, your chance to advance to higher existence, how does a bug
accrue karmic merit, what can boost him up a rung, I’m not a Buddhist
but Buddha helps me live my life, reading him now, Benares sermon,
Noble Truths, Dhammapada, first read the stuff at eighteen years old,
marking margins in ballpoint pen, first noble truth, don’t mark in pen,
if it’s all transitory, better hold tight to a chance to erase, wouldn’t we like
to do so now, erase some things, start over in pencil, what mattered most
back at eighteen, life without pain as eighteen knows pain, it does, it does,
the young have it bad, fresh and virulent, few immunities, lays them low,
some it flattens, some forever, third Noble Truth, end the craving you end
the suffering, right, that’s it, one more truth surely self-evident, detachment,
detachment, Eightfold Path, when craving’s acute so is the suffering,
curb the former you ease the latter, what could be plainer, to teenage cravers
most of all, not just the lust, it’s will there be a place for me, what will I do,
whom will I love, will anyone think me halfway acceptable, think my past
passably prerequisite for any future, racking torture, who wouldn’t want
to be like Buddha, plump and serene, dying at eighty, fanned by friends,
he earned it, no question, no doubt a few do die that way, but now I think
suffering’s endless, no matter how detached or plumply serene, the ladder up
from stink bug to monk simply rises through new layers of suffering,
extinguish all the stink bug cravings, get the whole family to do so too,
the entire creation keeps on groaning, sunlight’s sobbing on the floor,
this isn’t metaphor or, worse, instruction, how to deepen your compassion

in ten simple steps
in the language of your choice
or your money back,

it’s really a query, what about people demons possess, translate,
please, to clinical lingo, if you prefer, those whose psychoses
dissolve the selves behind selfish cravings, yet pain persists, usually worse,
a self that can see it’s the source of its suffering’s a self already one step up,
what about those who can’t get that far, who don’t have minds
mindfulness helps, who hear the trees scream, feel clouds pounding
long spikes through their feet, Siddhartha Gautama, he was a prince,
had a head start, abandoned a kingdom and beautiful wife, (1/24/13)
but had a kingdom he could abandon, he was an optimist, vide supra,
believed in a cure for all that ails us, the Nazarene was less serene,
this is the cup, you have to drink it, doesn’t taste good, can’t pass it up,
thickened with honey or spiked with brandy it still tastes bitter,
you’ll drink every drop, chew on dregs, private programs of self-perfection
won’t do dick, can’t find that verse in many a Bible, but it’s there, yes it is,
hear it whispered between the lines, so where’s the good news, must be
in heaven, isn’t that right, drink the cup now, gag and cramp, but it’s okay,
there’s cake for dessert, people divide on that kind of vision, some want cake
without the cup, some drink the cup to get to the cake, others make fun
of cake-crazy sweet teeth, think a dessert of just deserts is silly illusion,
they have a point, Buddha can help, attachment to outcome is also a fetter,
craving your cake is still a craving, something’s amiss in seeing it all
as one hefty program of cosmic rewards, register now, start earning miles,
increases business, a program like that, puts others off, sets them to scoffing
but scoffing contributes nary a crumb, makes the scoffer feel superior
but doesn’t advance the level of seeing, our cups are rising to our lips,
what’s the good news, the good news is that drinking our cups turns our guts
away from junk food, the reward for drinking’s having drunk, finding out
what happens now, three new inches of overnight snow, this is the kingdom,
three new inches of overnight snow have fallen upon the unceasing pain,
helped the branches into white sleeves, the cup is full of something emetic,
drink it all down and cast thyself up, once cast up the self can’t block
the way into snow, lows in the teens, schools all closed, once cast up
the self leaves room for a heart to expand, increases the chances
of spraying divinity into the street while walking along, a beneficent skunk,
multiply droplets by world population, seven billion, sixty-one million,
seven hundred thirty-seven thousand, seven hundred seventy-seven
at the moment of writing, and now try scoffing, just clicked up
to seventy-eight, welcome new helper, cheers, here’s your cup.


STEPHEN CUSHMAN lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, USA. His most recent book of poems, Riffraff, appeared in 2011, and his next book, a long poem titled The Red List, will appear in 2014. He is general editor of the fourth edition of the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, published in 2012.