Thursday, May 6, 2021

Ode to the “S” Key on my Keyboard

after Pablo Neruda’s “Odes to Common Things”

Do you know,
brave captain,
what is in store for you?
Both leading
and following your
soldiers
into battle,
you will be
the first to fall
beneath
the hammering blows
of the enemy,
your face
worn away,
unrecognizable,
slain,
since you never
surrendered.

I would
save you from
sacrifice,
and yet
cannot
do even this
without
your help,
my steadfast
scribe.
What can I
say
without you,
or how even
say
that I
say it?

Your sound,
so sibilant,
soft as a
snake’s sneakers,
a susurration
of simple
sequences,
sliding and slippery,
snows gently
upon
my senses.
And yet, too,
you scintillate,
a sequined soloist
shining
in splendor,
seeming to
surprise
even
the startled
stars.

And so…
and so
you see
that even here
at the
end
of all things,
of all plurals,
of all ones
that would be
twos
and threes,
I need you,
I savor you,
I seek your
supreme
summation of all
the seeds of life
into the
superlative
super-plurality
of the cosmos.

Friday, April 30, 2021

A Day Early and a Dollar Over

Could pre-crastination become a habit,
find itself a regular gig,
like its more professional cousin?

Could we put on for today
what we might have done tomorrow?

Could the horse be trained
to close the stable door himself
before being tempted to bolt?

Could we choose to celebrate Mercury
when it charges joyfully forward,
rather than bemoan it in retrograde?

Could I—possibly, sneakily—
have written this poem yesterday?

Could April next year perhaps begin tomorrow?

Thursday, April 29, 2021

On the Mount of Temptation

Twelve hundred feet up a sheer cliff,
through the winding passages
of a monastery carved into the rockface,
you come to a stone. A stone whose career
spanned forty days and forty nights,
two millennia ago,
and has not been sat on since.
A stone, complete with footrest
—that devil thought of everything!—
rising invitingly out of the solid mountain.
You yourself are shielded from the temptation,
by a considerate casing of glass,
leaving the holy seat secluded and unsullied.
Well, there are just some things
that you may travel the world to see,
only to find that someone else has decided
you still can’t touch them.
But your hand brushes the cool rock wall
on your way back down the twisting stairs,
rough-hewn edges worn smooth by the centuries,
and you enter the chapel, still encased
in the raw flesh of the mountain.
And there, beneath your palm,
throbs, slowly, an aeonic heartbeat,
a pulse that knows no difference
between cliff and wall and seat and stone,
between seeing and touching and blessing,
between itself and the planet it joins
a quarter mile below.
                                   And still
your fingers, even now, remember
how it felt when the temptations of the world
were traded for your soul’s desire.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Sijo on a Moonless Walk

A pre-dawn moonless morning, the temple path scarcely visible,
in my eyes nothing but dark, I ease forward into the woods,
letting the dirt beneath my feet whisper the way to me.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Extreme Caution

“Bicyclists use extreme caution,” a sign advises me,
and immediately my pulse quickens, racing,
seeking the exhilarating rush of complete safety
that only the most extreme caution can deliver.
Heretofore, my discretion has been moderate at best,
my carefulness tame and boring,
my prudence falling short of the breakneck intensity
one achieves only when striving recklessly
for the daredevil’s ultimate buzz of insane wellbeing.
Mindfulness to the max! Heart-pounding heedfulness!
Risk everything for the breath-taking,
adrenalin-pumping thrills of utter serenity!

Monday, April 26, 2021

My Horrorscope

My Libra is in the ascendant, having been shot from a circus cannon without a helmet.
Scorpio is in the fifth house he’s been evicted from this month.
Sagittarius in the Louvre, where he’s been lost in the Richelieu Wing for three weeks.
Venus is in a pillow fort hiding from the doberman she’s meant to be pet sitting.
Mercury is in a stolen pickup truck somewhere south of the border.
Gemini is in a police station calling Aquarius to post his bail.
Mars is in a cryogenic deep freeze, awaiting the day that Saturn will revive him to overthrow the world.
Jupiter is stuck at customs without a visa in the Beijing Daxing International Airport.
Ketu has his head buried in the sand while Rahu is out looking for trouble,
and with the way things are going, I think he’ll find it.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Perlocution

In the days when words were old and meaning was young, love signified a small, reddish-gray stone, smooth, with a slight indentation on the top, about the size of a thumb. Nobody could agree on whether this was too common, or too specific. Some who couldn’t find such a stone decided that what it really meant was a blade of grass, and traded entire meadows for rocks that were still rather coarse and heavy. Others chose the graceful speed of an antelope, or the precise shade of stormy green where the sea meets the sky, and wouldn’t trade them for anything. Time passed like promises, words faded, and meanings multiplied, proliferated, fractaled themselves, even as we desperately bound them into books, stored them in vaults, arrayed them in cathedrals, and occasionally tucked one away in a small box of faded papers, a mix of bills, letters and poems, at the bottom of which lies a small, reddish-gray stone, smooth, with a slight indentation on the top, about the size of a thumb.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

A Slant Rhyme Rainbow

Red
    rent
    wrench
    lozenge
Orange
    scrounge
    sounds
    salvo
Yellow
    aloe
    alone
    again
Green
    grown
    grew
    blow
Blue
    below
    elbow
    burble
Purple

Friday, April 23, 2021

Time Travel Triolets

#3
When you travel back in time,
remember this is what I said:
Effects and causes often rhyme,
but when you travel back in time,
they seem to be far more sublime,
all sewn up in silver thread.
And when you travel back in time,
you’ll see that this is what I said.

#1
I’ve seen you before,
and I’m seeing you now,
and I’m not keeping score
but I’ve seen you before,
so I have to implore
—for I cannot think how—
if I’ve seen you before,
then can I see you now?

#2
If that was now, and this is then,
the future may predict the past,
and I’ll be seeing you again,
since that was now, and this is then.
So if you tend to wonder when
we’ll ever reunite at last,
it’s in then’s now, and in now’s then,
where future is the present’s past.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Pining

I’m pining for you in the forest,
I’m willow-weeping by the river,
I’ve been more sick with the sycamore,
than I’ve felt in elm-most forever.

I quake like an aspen, I lurch like a larch,
my fir is standing on end.
It’s not oak-kay to be feeling this way,
as the withy withers to ash again.

Through all the days by the alder trees,
my laurels rest and moan
like wind in linden boughs to say
the holly hollers to call you home.

I feel as sappy as a sapling,
madrone is going out of tune,
I’m hem-locked up in agony,
a sighing cypress, missing yew.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Planned Obsolescence

Death, it seems,
was evolutionarily optional.

Microbes are immortal.
Redwoods grow taller and stronger
over the course of centuries.
Lobsters and clams do not age,
are only killed from without,
never within.
Flies and worms in a laboratory
have received a death-ectomy,
removing the senescence gene
and living on.

And so, somewhere, somewhen,
in our vast, mutual
and ancient family tree,
a well-meaning ancestor
must have realized
that survival of the fittest
might not require literal survival;
that true growth might entail
a shedding, not only of skin,
but of our very identity;
that complete and utter transformation
could be our ultimate destiny,
if we will only allow our Selves
to follow evolution
to its logical,
glorious
conclusion.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Things That You Are

You’re the cat’s pajamas,
the bee’s knees,
the mullah’s llamas,
the elephant’s sneeze.

You’re the alpaca’s backpack,
the crocodile’s smile,
the jackrabbit’s flack jacket,
the peacock’s style.

You’re the snakes hips, the chicken’s lips,
the aardvark’s awkward birthmark,
the kipper’s knickers, the octopod’s ticklers,
the butterflies’ orange monarch.

You’re the toucan’s two cans of canned tuna fish,
You’re the delicatessen’s most delicate dish.

You’re the pepper’s doctor,
the mountain’s dew,
the koala’s cola,
the bear’s Irn Bru.

You’re the crème de la crème,
the sine qua non,
most fatale of the femme,
the c’est in c’est bon.

You’re the go in a tango,
the wing in a swing,
the dot in a polka,
the highest land’s fling.

You’re the bee in my bonnet,
the slice in my bread,
the rhymes in my sonnet,
the tune in my head.

Anything I can name that’s too good to be true
may be great, but it can’t hold a candle to you.

Monday, April 19, 2021

The Dragon, the Lady, the Knight

To be enjoyed as: 
    1. Choose Your Own Adventure 
    2. Mad Libs 
    3. Poetry 
  1. The Dragon 
  2. The Lady 
  3. The Knight 
  1. did flame 
  2. did flee 
  3. did fight 
  1. upon 
  2. unto 
  3. before 
  1. the castle 
  2. the lair 
  3. the moor 
  1. but when 
  2. until 
  3. unless 
  1. despair
  2. defeat
  3. distress
  1. enshrouded
  2. exposed
  3. dispersed
  1. the fortune
  2. the armor
  3. the curse
  1. the white knight
  2. the woman
  3. the wyrm
  1. discovered
  2. forgot
  3. confirmed
  1. its tail
  2. her dress
  3. his steed
  1. was burnt
  2. was torn
  3. was freed
  1. forever
  2. but never
  3. and so
  1. the fearless
  2. the fair
  3. the foe
  1. was vanquished
  2. was honored
  3. was praised
  1. in glory
  2. in shame
  3. always

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Mastery

Wednesday noon, Campbell Recital Hall, Stanford University,
the piano students of Fred Weldy perform for a scattered audience
of friends, miscellaneous staff and faculty quietly eating their lunches.
One by one, pupils who have been studying since they could walk,
practicing hours a day, for fifteen or twenty years,
perform Beethoven, Chopin, Scriabin, Brahms, Rachmaninov,
blurring one flawless performance into the next.

The final student on the program is sick that day, and absent,
and the professor apologizes. “But we’ve got a few more minutes,” he says.
“Why don’t I just play you a little something I’ve been working on?
This is Aaron Copland’s Three Moods.”

He drops casually onto the bench, as if he’s just invited us into his living room,
but at the first touch of a key, I feel something inside myself,
something that I hadn’t even known was holding itself on edge, relax,
relax in complete surrender to chords that sing out
with such a clarion inevitability that they create their own reality,
a universe predicated on the sheer impossibility of doubt or error,
a universe dedicated to the apotheosis of music and musician,
a universe in which each one of us listening find ourselves,
in this moment, forever, complete in our own perfection.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

The Fiddle’s Infiltration

for Merida

When the mood takes her, my fiddle
will put on a violin’s ballgown,
and spend an hour coaxing her curls
into a semblance of propriety,
before excavating my tuxedo
from the closet and thrusting it towards me
with a meaningful look.

The first flyaway ringlet,
like a loose bow hair,
had already made its break
as she turned away from the mirror.
Stray specks of garden dirt and rosin
adorn her fingernails, and her bare toes
peek out beneath her petticoats.

Each partner she passes in the cotillion
is left slightly disoriented
for no reason they can name,
but not unpleasantly so,
and when the dance returns her to my side,
I catch a wink behind her mischievous decorum,
and a subtle poke in the ribs.

She dances the sarabande
like an Argentine tango,
the quadrille like a square dance,
and when we polka her laugh
trails behind us in a wake
of ruffled hoop skirts and coattails,
and arched eyebrows.

But well before the evening’s end
she blows a kiss to the orchestra
and we twirl out the door,
leaving shocked whispers behind us
as we run into the night
to find a pub, a ceilidh,
and some fast Irish reels.

Friday, April 16, 2021

A Discount Love Sonnet

Yeah, but I really really really like you.
No, srsly, I mean it, don’t you see?
That’s why I’ll write a sonnet, not a haiku,
to read to you while sipping your iced tea.

(That’s you who’s sipping it, of course, not I—
I mean, I’ll get my own if I get thirsty—
but anyway, where was I?... oh, that’s right...)
I’ve worked on this since practic’ly last Thursday.

Okay, that’s only yesterday, but still
I hope you know I mean it when I say
that if you say you love me then I will
immediately jump and shout hooray

and dance and laugh and sing and spin and hop
and… what? Enough? Okay, I guess I’ll stop.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Poetry Jukebox

Put in a dollar, and after a few minutes, you will receive a glorious sonnet extolling the virtues of your one true love, full of subtle metaphors and exquisite imagery, guaranteed to melt the coldest heart.

For a quarter, you may have your choice of a complex but mediocre sestina, or a simple yet pleasing villanelle, on a subject selected at random.

For a dime, a tragic ballad in which the family member of your choosing is lost at sea.

A nickel will get you a limerick, dirty or not, as you please.

Today, all I have are pennies.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Antipodes

for Patrick

When the world is upside
down around me, I sense
you there on the opposite
side of the sideless globe,
a pinpoint of precisely calibrated
connection, on which the entire
planet is balanced, spinning around
a single plumbline of gravity
connecting your feet to mine,
leaving us rightside up together.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The Best Worst Poem

A green cow went Moo—
and Trampled me.
-M.A., 7th grade


Do you really think this poem
—all two lines of it—
is in the style of Emily Dickinson,
per the assignment?

Let’s compare it to our notes.

Emily is fascinated
by the mysteries of nature
—why is that cow green?—
not to mention Death. Check.

Dashes and Capitals—yes and Yes.

A surprisingly elegant
slant rhyme of Moo
and Me, leaning into
absent consonants.

Short and untitled—those are gimmes.

And to top it all off—
the drama! Action!
Mystery (again with the green?)!
Even dialogue!

Could this be, perhaps… a masterpiece?

Monday, April 12, 2021

Life, the Universe, and Everything

When I am 42
then I myself
will be the answer.

But am I the answer
to a question already asked,
or a question yet to come?

And will I be ready
to ask the next question,
and become the next answer?

Sunday, April 11, 2021

The Scotch Tape and the Snail


A nearsighted snail exclaimed to his friend,
“You’ll never believe who I’ve seen!
The gem of the garden from here to lawn’s end—
in my eyes she’s truly a queen!

“Her trail of slime has a marvelous shine,
its stickiness has me enthralled!
And her accent’s adorable—Scottish, I think,
though I can’t understand her at all.”

“Do you think this is wise?” the other replied,
with antennae at skeptical tilt.
“I shouldn’t disparage cross-cultural marriage,
but I think you’d look odd in a kilt.”

“Oh, you wouldn’t so frown, could you hear my heart pound
like a passionate, snail-paced drum!
For her I would crawl through the salt flats of Utah—
But quiet now! Look—here she comes!”

Several minutes later… the Envoi:

“Ach! Dinnae ye fash yersel’, bonnie wee snail,
yer een havnae led ye astray,
fer we’ll doon tae the kirk an’ be marrit at once,
an’ I’ll stick tae ye all o’ me days.”

Saturday, April 10, 2021

[The branches that are Cut away]

after Emily Dickinson

The branches that are Cut away –
May seem a heavy Loss –
And roots that – unbelieving – seek –
May chafe within the Pot –

The tree may scorn – to be a shrub –
Nearer Ground than Sky –
May grow only – longing for –
A false Immensity –

The Gardener – He knows –
And shows us through our Scars –
However small this Life may be –
Yet still it may be – Art –

Friday, April 9, 2021

Inheritance

“How many things in your home
are older than you are?” my class asked
when I signed on to Zoom today.
I found four.

From a grandfather,
a “grandson clock,” lovingly restored.
From the opposite set of grandparents,
an antique illuminated music manuscript.

From a great-grandfather,
a banjo-guitar, heavy with suppressed volume.
From an equally great-grandfather,
The Pilgrim Hymnal, “copy for the pastor’s study.”

A ringing chime, a melodic line,
a powerful strum, and a choir become
the family thread that never dies
as generations harmonize.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Do I Have To?

for T.S.

Do I have to do the assignment?
Do I have to do all of the assignment?
Do I have to show an interest in something outside of myself?
Do I have to put out actual effort for my own benefit?
Do I have to develop my inherent talent by improving my skills?
Do I have to expand my awareness and appreciation of the world around me?
Do I have to transcend my self-imposed limitations?
Do I have to achieve true ownership of my body, mind and will?
Do I have to have complete freedom to act for the best in every situation?
Do I have to attain everything my heart truly desires?
Do I have to be a blessing to everyone and everything around me?
Do I have to realize my full potential as a human being in this world?
Do I have to fulfill my ultimate destiny as a soul?
Do I have to?

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Two Poems Unworthy of Emily Dickinson

I: A Double Dactyl

Rickinson, bickinson,
     Emily Dickinson
     hid from the world and
     wore a white dress.

With quatrains and slant rhymes, i-
     ambic septameter,
     Dashes and — Capitals
     she was obsessed!

II: A Clerihew

Emily Dickinson
thought Nature was magnificent,

except for that dang fly
that went all Kanye West on her when she died.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Fully Named

“Real names tell you the story of the things they belong to.”
—J.R.R. Tolkien


My name is written on pages and pages, turning and turning, being read as they are written
My name is a secret that I tell to everyone I meet
My name is a temporary permanence, always the same and ever-changing
My name is brother, son, uncle, friend, lover, student, teacher, gurubhai
My name is artist, writer, musician, dancer, singer, yogi
My name is monk, and not a monk, and perhaps both, or neither
My name is inscribed on the side of a mysterious tollbooth
My name is the drips and blooms and splashes of a watercolor in D major
My name is a jig with brown hair and blue eyes
My name is a mandolin calling to a fiddle singing to a guitar
My name is a G9 suspended chord, capo three
My name is the ubiquitous underlying hum of a harmonium
My name is a silly saga of sibling Christmas letters
My name is I don’t dance becoming May I have the next waltz?
My name is I love you, and As you wish, and Don’t panic
My name is the sound of Muppets dancing the Big Apple on Erin’s Shore
My name is the sound of Shiva’s footfalls pirouetting across galaxies
My name is Anachoron, Nataraja, Lord of the Dance
My name is two miles long in waltz time, 160 beats per minute
My name is Expecto Patronum and Felix Felicis
My name is employee number eight hundred and thirty one
My name is scattered across nine translations of Cyrano de Bergerac
My name is the complete works of Shakespeare as adapted by Gilbert & Sullivan
My name is the steps of a clandestine polka ringing through an empty church
My name is a serious parody of a silly song
My name is chocolate chip cookies and chai ice cream
My name is a rhyme for silver, ninth, purple, month, and wolf
My name is alternating feasts and famines of poetry
My name is Aum Namo Bhagavate and Aum Namah Shivaya
My name is Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me
My name is a pilgrimage through holy lands, within and without
My name is a tiny bubble of laughter joining the sea of mirth
My name is an inhalation, and an exhalation
My name is a mantra repeated exactly once, forever

Monday, April 5, 2021

A Year and Change

Thirteen months ago we went indoors,
imagining a kind of stasis,
a quick nap from which we would awake
to find the madness over
and the world ready for us to step back into it,
not knowing how long it would take
for our lives to dissolve around us
and reform into a new creation.

Some of us weren’t ready to grow wings yet,
still preferred the known comfort of crawling.
Some of us thought we already had all the wings we needed,
and were eager to keep flying.
Some of us were expecting something else entirely.

All of us will be surprised
when we finally emerge from our cocoons
to find out what we—and the world—have become.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Easter Every Morning

Ask a linguist,
or a yogi,
and they will tell you
that the root of Easter 
is not in ease,
but in aurora,
a deceptively easy
daily miracle 
of quotidian splendor,
of transforming flames,
from which we hide,
behind our alarm clocks,
imagining how easy 
life would be
if we could simply 
stay here,
in our old
familiar
darkness.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

I Am Not

My name was Simon—“listen” in Hebrew—
and so I did, but listened with my heart.
I heard the subtle voice of Truth within,
upon which rock I became Peter.
And on that rock, perhaps, I let myself
recline too easily, that when it shook,
when I was told I would not—could not—follow,
I fell instead. I could not hear the Truth,
but now only my own, my outer, voice
felling that church as if it were mere stone.
“Are you that man’s disciple?” I am not.
Three times, and with every repetition,
I undo myself. Another piece of rock,
of my reality, crumbles away,
as I hear myself declaring I am not
the only thing I ever truly was.
Three times denying, withering, and dying,
three times, before the crowing of the cock,
recalling His words, breaks into my despair
to save me from myself, and all I find
that’s left of me is tears. But now how long,
how long must I remain what I am not
before I hear again, and know, I am?
Three lifetimes, even, must be insufficient
to rebuild from nonexistence. And yet, Three days,
He said. Destroy this temple, and in three days
I will raise it up again.
What temple?
What temple is there left to be restored
but that within my heart? Where are the stones
that I can gather, that I can give to show
that Builder that, yes, I am still Peter,
when—as He must—when—oh, at last!—He comes?


Friday, April 2, 2021

Fascinated

Withdrawn from the world,
I can almost forget
that I long for it,
a gray window
of self-preservation
showing only a haze
of weeks and months,
a monotonous blur
of separation.
Raising my sleeve,
I find my heart hiding,
not on it, but under,
and when I see it,
I remember.
I welcome the sharp pain,
accept the threat,
invite it in,
and make it part of myself.
And in my surrender,
the world, too, opens,
and shines with the colors
of hope and possibility.
I gaze around me
with new eyes of wonder.
I am fascinated.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

The Mashed Potato Song

for Natalie and Eric to sing to Eli [video]

Mashed potatoes make me smile,
Mashed potatoes make me grin,
Mashed potatoes by the mile,
Mashed potatoes for the win!

Bring… some… 
mashed pota-
toes, mashed po-
tatoes, mashed
potatoes,
mashed pota-
toes, mashed po-
tatoes for me!

[repeat until hungry for, or sick of, potatoes]