Monday, December 21, 2015

The Art of Survival

You say it is waste—and you have a good case.
Your fire for life, for its wine on your tongue—
you’ve had to shut it down. Push it far beyond the
mines at your foundation to just keep breathing.
                                  one – two   three – out —
To forget yet keep the card catalog—that is the
torture that puts 40-watt light in your eyes, pushes
your blood forward, keeps it creeping toward your
heart and
you know you can never go back.
All the beautiful plays left unplayed—
bellowing risks simmered down into
a quiet poultice to be clapped on your
wounds at night—tiny battles of
five typed words won underwater
as the rest of the world sleeps, weightless.

This art kills you, you think.
You think it’s killing you cell by cell—
when you think about it—whenever
you see your vanished past leap
into the well backwards, on rewind,
to play out its phantom storylines.

And yet these shackles—
you believe it—breathing
                               — in – one    two – out —
are something else—not wings, not
some false coffer of visible wealth—
but roots, maybe, not just roots that tear
down to the heart of the earth unseen—
but roots, also, that crack the pavement
breath by hair’s breadth, planning to
overthrow a great wall, a great mountain
one day—in a second—splitting kingdoms
with wide boughs that stretch out to
welcome in every rare living thing
to come build its home.

             breathingall breathing—
              then this art will turn
that corner on which destruction
is revealed to have strange design,
on which bitter pathways gnawed
by insect, fire, disease—will turn
into a labyrinth—a waterway—a
motherboard of wonder—a home—
and this time you will live—
                                            and breathe
                                and move
             and have being
—and you will
finally lose the argument
that death had its way
in this longest of winters.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

With the cold comes other gifts

All summer I longed to lie on the grass
and watch the stars. But each time I tried
the earth shook and cracked and swallowed
cities. Hordes of locust came and razed every
living thing to the ground. Fires erupted in the
root balls of my favorite trees and torched the
low-hanging sky edge of the city. And spread to
the hills, ringing the land with fleeing citizens.
The oceans spiraled down latent drains and
poor creatures of peace lay flopping on
exposed underwater mountain ranges,
even. Disaster became my old waking
word and drowning towns I could
not save, my nightmare.
And you, in the middle of it all
still slept. In your cave. Waiting to
transform but not knowing it. I called to
you from across the deserts and burning forests,
the swamps and broken-down roads full of stranded
refugees. You heard me once but thought it was a dream,
only a dream. And did not walk into that dreamtime, that
bridge to the other world where you are a citizen and a tracker
and a king and a farmer each day. I waited for you there, still
longing to lay down and look up. I sat and stared into the
west expanse as the sun dropped each end of the
shortening days. I feared the next ice age, as my
bones were already prophesying doom. I longed
to look up. And still you slept. And dreamed
without believing, thinking dreaming as
being stopped life, life without
consequence, life without
Without anything to show.
Your shaggy coat fell and then
grew supple and your heart beat slow,
storing energy for another time. And I was
alone. But then the first freeze came and the
world stopped burning. Overnight its raiders died
in confusion, plunging their swords into each other's
hearts. I ran into the field where the spoils were, and
gathered the stolen plunder of the past three hundred
years, hearing each bolt of cloth, each golden earring
calling out for its original home, longing to return to
belonging. And I looked for the blanket you once
wrapped me in, woven with your own hands over
summer with fibers of many colors. And there 
it was, spread on the grass under blazing stars,
remembering me, and I lay down in its arms,
alone, with nothing but silence and darkness
around me, loyal as my closest friend.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Riddles for the Now & Not Yet

Stills from 新少林寺 (Shaolin), 2011


It is pain in the needle in the corner of the hall.
The ether of some vision that once stung you
with hope, the kind that brings fever.

It is the fire escape nobody knows of
so that you can hang tender plants in
glass baubles from the iron rungs.

The tree in the middle of the tenement city whose
tiny lights pierce the fog every night with a glittering
code of love notes for ships passing by, lonely, each one.


Holy city of flames beneath the log in the campfire.
The great carved wall behind the unreachable waterfall in the mountains.
That music box built into the innards of an old piano in a storage locker.

Places you hide your heart; places no one looks, and if they look, no one sees.
Places I only find, eyes closed, all else forgotten, fingers on fire.
Places worth climbing to, ascending inch by inch.


Now. No—then.
The night before.
A day later.

Your name was
written for you
in the book of life.

We sat in silence,
we left in silence,
we aged in silence.

Not now. Yes—then.
Another year later.
Another second before.


You tell me.

I tell you fragments of the
story that surely you know in full.

Mystery loves me madly, and these vows
are a wearying thing, wearing thin.
I wonder that nothing is found.

I wonder that you still appear only to wander
when I know you battle by night; that you feel
the pain of this want even as you march forward,
straight-backed. As I crawl toward this sliver of light.


The only truth:
we are to become.

And love for this becoming
is only grasped by fools who wait.
And wait. And­—

You are; this substance
is held in cherished suspension, a notch
in history pulsing blue fire.

I am, and we
are pulled from the river mud with
joy, with pride. Even in the dregs of our slumber.

Put aside these thoughts of ruin;
you are here.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Escape Artist in Reverse

Royce Bair : Iron Rod Art

The landscape you run from is not desert, not blue hills, not
jail cell, not electric barbed-wire fence; it is within. Where your 

hunger brawls at night, paper for supper doing nothing but make you
dream of tractors that fly, helicopters digging tunnels to China. Or

the other side of the Black Plague, where the sick get well in droves.
It is where you don’t want to go. Where your father fails to come home

again, take you fishing, watch you say three lines in the school play,
make you put on socks before you put your cowboy boots on. It’s where

fire smolders tire rubber in the barn, where someone you love presses a
gun barrel to the vein on your temple, pulsing syncopated heartbeat.

You have to go there. There is no parole till you do.

And when you finally decide to do the fast, to let God be your mother’s
brother who takes you to the wilderness to wait for the vision that will

name you, you’ll still want to run. But this time your hunger will be
the merciful handcuffs with the lock you can’t pick, the prison jumpsuit

you can’t slip out from—if only because it wants you to live. Your heart
will grow legs instead and take you, plodding, even, to the center of that

black hole that whirrs in a roar, as it did in your mother’s womb, when
you first thought to steal in order to live. And if you do fall—relinquish

to gravity with tears and loud cries like those of the Son of Man.

You’ll finally see around you the translucent house you live in that
flies silent over the city in the hills, where your true home hides from

you now in its shyness. Your thirst will wrap its arms around you  
in a braid of safety, risk, and safety you can never escapetill you 

drink what you think is a mirage of water guarded by a desert 
lion. Your healing’s on the other side of time, that is to say, now.

Now to make sure every drop of this bitter water’s not wasted,
the poison brine making alchemy in the maze of your intestines.  

It will be your oldest sorrow that covers you till this sandstorm, 
otherwise deadly, passes over in a terrible shifting of terrain. 

It will be your oldest pain that rocks you to sleep, this dark night 
no blazing rock in the sky reaches out to turn the waterfall gold.

When you wake in the holy morning, mist evaporating f
rom your 
strange, beloved hand—you'll find it’s your skin that's gold and new.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Last of the Basketweavers in the Last of the Wetlands

When you go to gather the grasses,
you better listen to what they’re saying.
To you.

It could be: wait, wait, wait, wait.
Better to burn us. Harvest the new shoots.
Watch for a brushfire.

Or: You are the keeper of worlds.
You are the creator of thresholds.
You are to weave us into intricate keyholes
no one but the wily will see.

Even: We wish we could use your strange heart 
as a form to wend around instead of the whiskey 
bottle your grandfather left. We wish your fingers felt
more in their nerve endings. We wish you
felt less before splitting us in threes.
We wish you sang like you once did.

And yes, then you can sing your low register
track over the bridge that holds all the sweetness,
all the power of a moment of water beneath it.

Not everything you look for will hear you.
But the one that recognizes the unrepeatable timbre,
the fingerprint in the air, the underbelly of
a molecule’s frame—this is how you will be drawn.

Not to the strands, but to the final shape, the
lovely curve you will be the first to discover
in this medium; 

the interlock of age and use
and color that never touched 
before you thought
them into movement.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Pearl

You cannot reason away the
blast of the sound barrier, the

neon fire that blankets the city
and melts your arm. It is

what it is, even when they
tell you it wasn't. No argument

to dismiss the power of the
pure at heart when it annihilates

a thousand viruses under the
microscope. No words are

adequate ridicule, even though
this cure, this beauty, this

suffering is a foolish bet to sell
everything for. You would throw

it all away for a pearl. You would
let them put out your eyes for a

glimpse of the coming kingdom.
You would ask the unknown

question. You sail in your skin
boat over the edge of the world.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Forecast Map

Storms are coming.
The air so heavy you could shape it into castles. 
You question the prophecies that haunt you 
for the thousandth time and—

A raindrop drives down your forehead just so 
and down you go, stairs sliding, the last one ramming lightning 
up your spine and into an open vision 
of invisible castles made of air—

Held under the rapids—
     tangled in a downed tree—
                   chariots, tidal waves
    rushing at your heels

A hundred viruses stalk you.
Poisoned grains of rice hidden in every bowl and
ancient snares with kills in the millions 
set on every corner you’re known 
to chase at night.

But the cruel slivers that keep your eyelids 
pinned open drive you toward each sharp exacting 
turn that keeps your feet on every 
fragile skein of web.

So follow your anger.
      Let contempt make you write words 
             on the ground. May your hands again 
     make ceremony.

When sleepless fever 
chains your body to the racks, stay awake for it 
to purge you of bravado before 
you go hunting.

There is treasure in this field, 
in this muck and wet soot. Clues in the 
telltale words of whispering hail,
stone-fisted disaster.

Search out the faces
        of your many hungers.
             Dive into the dark heart
   of this pain.

Monday, May 18, 2015


There is no light; only morning.
And so I sleep with all my song-churning
organs awake and plotting. They are
for me when all else in my body betrays;
they plan to live, and live hard, this
blind factory that loves you without
protest, even as I doubt the weather I 
ask for.

I scent disaster, charred aims and burst
hope, yet my gut keeps me alive by making
bargain after bargain. It doesn’t matter
what pain is applied to the skin, inside or
out; the vice in my bloodstream meaningless
in the din of work. Can’t you hear it crash
against your psyche in the middle of your most 
troubling dreams?

One day all this faithfulness will see its 
reward in the shape of itself as a winged creature 
no one would expect. And then, like some rare bird, 
it will wake me with a flurry of unspoken reasons 
and carry my trudging heart in its talons 
to the resting place where 
every invisible sheave
is stored.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Psalm to Trickster

I have lived a very long time.
Enough to see your infinite cunning.
I will not list the ways of the unlistable.

Instead there is geometry.

The schematics of every breathing machine
in all creation, diagrams undecipherable by 
all who depend on every tiny part working.

Only the science fools me, so I perform it. 
In galleries. When the small crowd is gone and 
only cement floors and white walls see me as I am.

You and your many wires, many knobs,
many tubes of salvation—the sound of living 
things passing one another, breathing in unison.

The sound of airwaves rolling over lies
to reveal the very first creation story.

The sound of mythology winning
the very last debate, the sound still 
hijacking every sense that all is lost.

The howl of pages turning in the hurricane, of
alphabet soup exploding into War & Peace 
by chance.

These sounds.

All because of the flurry 
of your invisible fingers.

You trick winter into summer into winter,
and none of us knows what hit them.

Why any oak spreads wings over 
the city floor is beyond me.

I cannot guess your next move.

You lead me into underwater caves
in search of a hidden library.

Rewrite my history, make me 
wait out the invisible roar.

Bombs hit all the wrong landmarks,
and that is how aliens read our 
gorgeous hieroglyphics from afar.

We never understand your play.

You pull back all the tracks but 
one, and that is our life story.

We never hear that classic rock masterpiece
all heaven hears on a Sunday afternoon.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

A gift, any way you look at it

The hawk didn’t fly by itself. Something was pulling its 
feathers through the air current, making it soar like 
ink from an ancient brush.

Something was making the old oaks sigh in 
five-part traditional folk song, and
it wasn’t the wind.

When the dancers flew around the circle as though their
legacy depended on speed, it was something 
spinning their father’s father’s father’s 
unerasable DNA. 

These are forces that go ignored in three dimensions, maybe four.

These are the sounds you only hear deep underwater as you drown.

This is the wheel you walk in, too big for you to notice as any pattern.

Don’t you know your every word that flows into the sieve of the
microphone flies direct in one hundred simultaneous translations?

You fail to see the full scale of your fingerprint, wonder of the world.

Even as you lay there, kept locked out of the sleep you’re thirsting for,
bees make honey in the chambers of your pumping heart.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

You think you are looking for me, but I am looking for you

My brother builds a fire. The stars greet its sparks as equals, 
light years apart, saying we will stay up all night watching, 
watching as you sleep somewhere, enfolded unaware in the 
blanket we wrapped around you with our minds as if in ceremony. 
We will travel before dawn comes to this desert. Tracking you.


Wind shuffles your tracks as a chaotic sand painting; your distant scent, 
mingled with the sweat of a thousand others who know nothing of your 
direction. The wind says you are lost and no one knows. So now—we 
track what you search for, the shifting shape of desire and its flight. 
We go by night, scenting still, a map of the unseen world in our minds.


How futile is it to cling to the face of this rock once you’ve fallen? 
After all, poetic death is priceless. Or would it be death? What if you 
could fall like a leaf, or an outstretched wing, down into the world below? 
Then, it would be creation, it would be birth. You would separate the roots 
of the atmosphere into night and day so that conception and thanksgiving 
would happen again and again, seed become light, the tree of the world 
above, reminding you of itself. This is why you let go. Or rather, jump.


Follow the river when you find it, don't let it stray from your path! 
Listen to our thoughts; not those that close in to unravel your way, your 
power, beauty. Don’t die of slow thirst, don’t let them tear you apart 
when they find you. Stay alive! Keep running till you catch this scent!


We built this fire waiting for you.
We marked the trail with pollen bright as middle daylight.
We wait for you behind this wall of water, drums in hand,
playing songs of secret homecoming.