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Poems of contemporary life and society, and its discontents,
including some satirical pieces.
Abandoned TV

 When, in disgrace

with fortune and men’s eyes,

 I all alone beweep

my outcast state ...


Sonnet 29, William Shakespeare


On “Culture” and “Society”

Real People. Not Actors.

Breaking News

The Things You Learn on TV

The Confessional Age

In the Land of Nod

The Dog Years

No Who There

The School of Heartlessness

The War on Error

On My Way

Nothing Doing


Tanker Truck Koan

A More General Malaise

I'm Somewhat Fond of You


She Said She Needed …

After Finding the Book She Asked About

Thinking the World of You


Like Water


Leaving It

Last Windy Night

Somewhere Over

You Only Have Yourself

Poetry and Its Discontents

Our Outcast State

God? The Author? Who? Is Dead

Hail Poetry

Deconstruction, Mon Amour

Relationship Status

Poems of Love and Sorrow



Workshop Vitriol

Problems with the Conceit

W – A = P

The Poet Explains Why Medea Did What She Done

It’ll All Be Over Soon

The Zombie Apocalypse Sounds Pretty Good ...

The Ephemerist


Balete for a Plague-Year Christmas

Apocalypse Can Be Fun

Shadorma: November 2016

This’ll Break Your Heart

A Winter Song

J Writes Memorial Sonnet for M

After Auld Lang Syne

Down the Hill

On “Culture” and “Society”

Real People. Not Actors.


The promise draws us in. Like some rare birds,

these real people sightings thrill. And though

endangered, advertise. In those dwindling herds,

we see ourselves – an awkward, flightless dodo.


In their mundanity, they sell us cars,

and ooh and ahh and say unfunny things,

mere passenger pigeons, average avatars

who fragrance rooms and live like burger kings.


But actors all. Get real! they know they’re on,

perform their role, concerned with how things look.

But who is not in this panopticon

of Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Facebook?


Exeunt real people: take a bow.

Lights, webcam, action! All are actors now.

Breaking News


@Magic Realism Bot, June 13, 2021

There is a flower in California that is 60 times sexier than you.


We interrupt our coverage of fame

and famine, tech stock decline and who’s whose,

and wars and what she wore, the football game,

and fires, quakes, pandemics for breaking news.


A California flower, scientists say,

is sexier than you, and by a lot.

Subjects preferred the bloom to a roll in the hay.

Compared to yerba cali, you’re not hot.


“Precise new algorithms,” MRIs,

and triple blind tests gauged desire to “pluck it”.

Some fault the study’s value, cost and size.

The leader of the team, a Doc Leaf Luckett,

shoots back, “We could have worked for a Nobel Prize,

or to benefit the world, but, you know, fuck it.”

The Things You Learn on TV


You are an electric vehicle.

          — Nissan commercial


The news is not. And History runs shows

on treasure hunters, ancient aliens.

Discovery, hmm, in a purple moon.

Nat Geo favors cute mammalians.


Science schools us on secret Nazi ruins,

scrap kings, and, for the intelligentsia,

The Explosion Show. Though Sesame Street’s fine

on PBS for the adolescentsia.


The ads provide the sole instruction,

and second person teaches me RE me:

the side effects; the lifestyle, unbeknownst,

I live. The Nissan ad provides the key.


I need a charging station for my skull

because I am an electric vehicle.

The Confessional Age

My own confessions are nothing like the son's

who steals his mother's dresses and who wants

to marry his ex-friend's new wife, a nun

once, though right now she pats her paunch. "The bun

in this here oven ain't either a' yours," she taunts.


Those who display a suitable remorse

receive the absolution the audience

allows, and Jerry Springer's long dead horse

gets flogged in his closing thought's grandiloquence.


The private publics in this age, the skin

between is slit and from the fissures squirt

coils of intestine and gore like gelatin.


The reflex is to gag as we avert

our gaze when we see entrails in the dirt.

In the Land of Nod


And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord,

and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.

     — Genesis 4:16


It’s two or three am, you think,

and try to clear your eyes, to blink.

The adverts peddle something cheapie,

and you are getting very sleepy.


Unclog your sink, or clean your car,

they’ll solve your problems, fade that scar,

parade poor children till you’re weepy,                        

and you are getting very sleepy.


Then play-act muggings sell alarms,

or anything short of firearms.

More sex, less gas, it just gets creepy,

and you are getting very sleepy.


By dawn the ads have changed a bit,

but still push buy, obey, submit.

You can’t resist, a counted sheep,

and you have always been asleep.

The Dog Years

Obama’s dog should not be on the news,

I think while watching footage on TV;

it trots! it jumps! it plays! it takes a snooze!

Not news! Nothing it does will ever be.


Not news it doesn’t match the P.C. profile beast:

a rescued mixed-breed amputee with mange,

and diabetes, molested by a priest

then dumped behind an S.F. needle-exchange.


Not news it’s chewed up Sasha’s take-home quiz,

or that it growled at the mayor of Winnipeg,

or paused in the Rose Garden to take a whiz.

Not news it’s often humped Pelosi’s leg.


Until it talks, splits atoms, converts the Jews,

this dog don’t hunt. Not news. Not news. Not news.

No Who There


There is no me….There's just things happening.

And there are clusters of tetrahedrons moving around together.

            – Jim Carrey interviewed by E reporter at New York Fashion Week


Jim’s words are strange, the meaning hazy;

the reporter’s eyes go blank a sec, like,

“Wait, that seems crazy.”


She resets, asks something more runways-y,

says “the world today …” – pure star-preach bait.

But he stays crazy.


You’d think by now not much could faze E

reporters ‘mid the froth and glitter.

It’s all so crazy.


The words don’t track: not silly, lazy,

not fash-celebri-trivia

they love like crazy.


Go query Beyoncé about Jay-Z,

one feels the audience demand,

we’re gossip crazy.


But look, change POV – upsy-daisy! –

it’s quasi-zen, quantum physics-ish

and not so crazy.


Yet from fields and forces, matter mazy,

we pop and think “that model looks hot”.

Just how hot? Crazy.

The School of Heartlessness


Life, when not a school for heartlessness, is an education in sympathy.

— Susan Sontag


I go to school to learn the rule

and have no time for play.

I must sit straight, and learn to hate,

and practice everyday.


It's like a race; there is no place

for weepers or for fretters

since sick or well, we are compelled

to learn the sums and letters.


I learn to dread, to turn my head,

to count and cut and color,

and all the art to make my heart

yet harder, colder, duller.


And when, by fate, I graduate,

don’t mope, or cry or question.

For tears of woe will only show

you haven't learned the lesson.


The War on Error

The email bled about some kid with AIDS

who wanted me to forward tragedy

to everyone I know: apparently

Bill Gates will ship the kid an Escalade

for every million names that get the plea.

The premise is absurd, and yet, this hoax

convinced the guy who forwards stupid jokes

to send me this, a tangy irony.


Who started this? and why? No cash is swindled,

and one would think the chronic prankster’s thrill

consists of hearing the whoopee cushion’s trill

and watching while the gravest cheek is kindled.

Perhaps theirs is like that itchy kind of rage

to use a mountain stream to dump the trash

or paint the Mona Lisa a moustache

that makes them vandals of the info age.


We must resist these errorists who sow the spores

of urban myths, half-truths, and rumors of rumors,

to fester, swell, metastasize like tumors

until the truth lies dying from its sores.

And yet, we errorize ourselves, don’t we?

from cozy tales of Santa and his elves

to the million easy lies we tell ourselves

in our complacency, complicity.


So I emailed a counterstrike to joker nerd

wherein I scolded him to check his facts,

to think — and think again — before he acts,

though I was diplomatic with each word.

Then I attached a link to,

so he can vet before he mails that crap.

In the trenches, I’ll still watch for falling sap,

the email chime of that next letter bomb.


On My Way

Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?

—  Sesame Street theme, Raposo/Stone/Hart


Gas station mini-mart cashier:

Uh, sir, you’ll need to buy a map. Right there,

by the chips. For real? No local map? No joke?

I’m sorry, dude, just following rules, I swear.

Maybe if you bought something? A Coke?


Man on street corner:

Well. Hmm. Is that the street with Taco Bell?

That way, I think. Down Main, bless Jesus’ name.

Have you found Jesus, sir? He saves from hell

those who believe His blood can wash our shame.


GPS navigation system:

Continue on Marine for seven miles . . .

turn right in point two miles . . .turn right on Courts . . .

recalculating . . . drive eleven miles . . .

turn left in point two miles . . .turn left on Quartz . . .

turn right on Hyssop . . . continue . . . right on Sweet . . ..

You’ve reached your destination, Se-SAM-ee Street.

Nothing Doing

Go out and sit on the lawn and do nothing

'cause it's just what you must do,

and nobody does it anymore.

— Fiona Apple, “Waltz”


It’s not an art, exactly, but it’s lost.

I’m filling up at the Gas-N-Go QuikMart;

the liquid crystal numbers climb. Low cost

it’s not. An art


of doing naught could surely still the heart.

I can’t do one thing, much less none; I’m tossed

between the Muzak, pumping, the ads that dart


on screens above each pump. Some line’s been crossed.

Mercor ergo sum* updates Descartes.

I buy a hose to tape to my exhaust.

It’s not an art.

*I buy therefore I am


(with apologies to Allen Ginsburg)


I see the best minds of the next generation netted, webbed, walled,

their faces booked, their profiles uploaded, outdated, updated

again as if all histories were cleared

and the only timeline theirs;


who wander as data in screen fields, hunted and stalked,

tranquilized by the opiate of the pupils,

scanned and spammed and scammed and tagged

and tracked and shackled and linked-in to work the data mines;


who drink their sappy pap from the cold glass high definition nipple of an app,

for their iPhones have become the windows of their souls,

posting pictures of their breakfast Cheetos and scrambled existence;


who tumblr into pornhubs and google themselves until they go blind,

who can diarize their lives 140 characters at a time;


who rain the viral wormy malware of their hate

down upon the just and unjust,

the newby and troll, senior citizen and child;


who follow the ISPider god within the webs,

ruled by the terms of service synoptic fiber gospels,

which they never read,

for mail and email it created them

and saw that it was good and liked it,

giving the blogosphere dominion over them;


who wander the flamed out wasteland crying “ask me anything”

while the crowds inquire about nothing safe for work;


who fade with each moment into their virtual spaces

while avatars and second lives become more solid,

who drive distracted without a flickr of hesitation

into the big fat reality of the garbage truck

and for maybe fifteen minutes become the next meme.

Tanker Truck Koan


Just say, how will you walk?

— Zen Caveat from The Gateless Gate


From the offramp, I turn onto Mt. Vernon

and pull in behind a tanker truck,

cylinders of tarnished chrome-like steel.

On the slightly convex mirror before me

the words “Inedible Food Grade” are printed.


As I follow down the street, the mirror

seems to pull all around into its center:

cars, broken streets, taco stand, stray dog,

used car lot, drive-thru convenience store.

I am not there, or I am at the eye,

the blindspot, the singularity.

But hovering, sublime, umoved by the pull

are the words “Inedible Food Grade”.


I try a few times to change lanes and pass,

but other cars interpose themselves,

travel too slowly, turn or brake erratically

for good reason, or bad, or none.

I hope to view the tanker’s side

to see if there is some explanation

for the words “Inedible Food Grade”.


At last, not far from my destination,

I pass and see no words along the tanks

and only Trucking Company on the cab door.

I have my answer and, keeping eyes upon the road,

smile and bow my head in gratitude.

A More General Malaise

I’m Somewhat Fond of You


I see you there. I often do this time

of day, that way you are, just kinda there.

And I, a poet, think perhaps some rhyme

of praise’d be fun, while you sit unaware.

Your eyes and face and hair are pretty okay.

That slouch, that shoulder shrug, has charm, I guess.

The jeans, the graphic tee exude a cachet

of decaf, of, of nothing-specialness.


At work, in a twelve-inch terra cotta pot,

along a balcony wall, there’s this plant thing:

bamboo-fern-succulent basic whatnot.

Someone said, “Dracaena,” which has a nice ring,

pretentious, though. And then one day it dawned:

that it was missing, and I was somewhat fond.


However deft and sly the badinage,

the lips that kiss each word into the air,

or hands that sculpt each phrase or spill of hair,

the thought and eye will slip to décolletage.


It's more than how the neckline's dermal plage

invites the eye to calculate each curve

by light and shade that makes our discourse swerve,

however deft and sly the badinage;


and more than how what blooms from cinched corsage

is buttressed, battened, girdered, trussed and offered

to gaze (or hand?) like simple fruit. So proffered,

the thought and eye will slip to décolletage.


It's all unreal, a cinema montage

of look, and look away, and look and then,

since frame must follow dark, a look again,

however deft and sly the badinage.


For what's imagined in each bright mirage

or at the corner of our eye reveals

desire, and why despite sincere ideals,

the thought and eye will slip to décolletage.


Her catalog of beauties, her mind sublime,

she's rhythm, rhyme and grace, but time to time,

however deft and sly the badinage,

my thought and eye will slip to décolletage.


She Said She Needed
a Metaphysical Breast Enhancement

That afternoon had been dull, slow, hot, vague.

The word “sultry” came to mind, though I admit

the weather wasn’t that, and neither was she.

Wishful thinking, now I think of it.


Iced tea is the thing to drink, and that we did.

With it, each moment of ennui is clear.

She spoke about herself, her job, her clothes

with the hustling cadence of an auctioneer.


I wondered if behind her listless eyes

a vast machine spun monolithic gears;

I felt the creaking workings all around:

ghost mills run by infernal engineers.


She sipped the last of her tea, considered her watch,

and dropped the line into the monologue,

off-hand, like that, and lightly touched my knee

as if wiping my jellied bones and grist from a cog.


After Finding the Book She Asked About


She calls to borrow

the book, an anthology

of French Decadent writers

we’d discussed in passing

a week or so before.

Says she can come right over

and does. I let her in,

ask her to sit while I retrieve

the tome from a back room.


Apparently, for it is apparent,

in the interim

she has taken off her clothes

and now half-sits,

half-lies on the couch.


It is often the way.

In my absence, though brief,

decisions have been made,

actions have been taken,

postures have been calculated

and performed.


Now, it is not so much

I would have disagreed

with such choices or feats,

had I been consulted.

In fact, I might have offered

to help.


But things have advanced

without me,

and I feel a stranger,

an interloper

who has stumbled upon a scene

meant for someone else.


“Oh, excuse me,” I say

and retreat down the hall

to the back room

and sit among the shelves of books.


No doubt conclusions

will be drawn,

resolutions made

and executed in my absence.

I do not say they are correct,

but who can tell?


Things go on,

without my knowledge

or consideration.

In a while, I will hear

the opening

and closing

of a door.


Thinking the World of You

The postcard has a photo of the earth

as seen from space. The image is so small

the quarter on my desk can slide on top,

eclipsing all we know, or ever will.


And all around the dark of space: serene,

self-satisfied. Within its glossy pitch

contorting shapes reflect — the room, my face.

When studied close, the only star’s a scratch.


The card is postmarked somewhere else, though date

and place are smeared. And at an angle, skewed

just so, suggesting casual deceit,

the only message: "Thinking the world of you."


For and after JL


like a jeopardy answer it comes as a question

though i am too slow on the clicker

to get alex to call my name

and i am glad for i have forgotten

what the answer which is a question is


you must know geography and presidents

as if you have been struck on the head

and the doctor needs to check

if you are oriented to the here and now

what is the sargasso sea who is polk


basic science literature history

and knowing word origins helps

what is arsenic who is poe

what is the great depression

what is the trivium


but long before the game is over

i am out of questions

so i have to bet big in final jeopardy

and i have the answer i have it

but answers that are answers are always wrong

Like Water


“Like water,” smiling to herself she said,

eyes angled right and up to inner space.

Then seeing I had lost her thought’s quick thread,

she paused, and wore her Mona Lisa face.


“I need to be like water,” she breathed at last.

She’d hiked a mountain to a waterfall,

observed the flowing over, under, past

the round or jagged stones, at play with all.


A Taoist view, I noted, but the creed

was one she didn’t know. Her friend had thought

she quoted from Bruce Lee. But we agreed

that wisdom’s where we’re open to be taught.


I worried then, but didn’t tell her so,

she’d need to draw from water’s wise advice

beyond the light and lilting flex and flow:

it sometimes must be steam, and sometimes ice.


She smiled again, her hair a dark cascade,

and made to leave, the reasons that had brought her

satisfied. The change her absence made

disturbed — a dryness, then a thirst — like water.


Open parenthesis, the freeway curves

in sallow morning sun as radials

strum asphalt chords to universal hum.

Exhaust of coffee and combustion serves

to lull and brace attention, vehicles

to ride the morning's pleasant tedium.


The day becomes the day, the work, the rite,

the job, and afternoon wears toward night.


Like ants disturbed, the swarms emerge to spar

and stream out from the glass acropolis.

The rusting sun's face glares from every car

when, nearly home, some bald, anonymous

neighbor greets with a chop-like, singular,

stiff wave as if to close parenthesis.

Leaving It

The tired teller counted out the cash.

She’d asked, indifferent, if he had wished

to close the account. He’d wanted, first, to say,

“Don’t bother,” but that would have sounded rude.

His moment’s silence meant “no” to her, it seems,

because she asked if there was anything else.

The car was blue and old, and would be left

behind once past the cities. Seven hours

got him to a meagre town that felt like outskirts.

The “center” was a café, across the street

a five-room motel where he stayed two nights.

And then he left the car and started walking.

Two hours out he hitched a ride with nothing

but what could fit in the pockets of his clothes.

His name, a name, then faded from reports,

pay rolls and mailing lists, or memory.

Last Windy Night


The window panes

ping and judder

as you await

sleep, calm, something.


The power’s out;

the only light

silvers the room

from the moon’s wing.


What can one do

but think or sleep,

when restless winds

stir up our dust?


The clocks have stopped;

you count the beats

and breaths until

another gust.


The Santa Anas

amuse themselves

blowing trash cans

down streets and wait


for the needed spark

they can feed, fan,

to finally burn,

if that is fate,


burn the city

to the water line.

You find yourself

outside, smell brine

and smoke, feel wind

through clothes and spine

while dawn ignites

the whole skyline.

Somewhere Over


Now click your heels, say after me,

“There’s no place.”

Learn to face

the light spring rain, the storm’s debris,

the sting and honey of the bee

with equal grace,

and click your heels, say after me,

“There’s no place.”


Ripe field of wheat, a broken tree:

the storm’s chance trace

skips antique vase,

and where’s the z on that marquee?

So click your heels, say after me,

“There’s no place.”

You Only Have Yourself


The Japanese maple outside the window,

three leaves and one unraveling

hummingbird nest

from naked,

rattles and whimpers,

boughs switching each other

in the waft of a waning Santa Ana;

the flat tones of a bamboo chime

clunk a hymn of hollowness.

Poetry and Its Discontents

Our Outcast State

Address to Poets Local 309


I feel I must report, since rumors rain,

a poet that we know was booted out

of the Blands and Nabob bookstore off of Main.

I ask for calm: heads cool, my friends, hearts stout.


He read a work with words not apropos,

it seems, to family-friendly atmosphere.

Deaf to the artistry of that bon mot,

the management threw out our hapless peer.


Some want to read and get banned, too. Reject

this plan. We gain no crown of laurel leaves

nor lasting joy by striving for effect

that any teen vulgarian achieves.


Nor do I hold with those who wish to top

the feat by heaping outrage or sheer numbers

in bookstore aisles, or screaming agitprop

through lamp-lit streets to shatter bourgeois slumbers.


Superfluous, redundant tactics these,

for we are seldom welcome anywhere:

our work gives pleasure leavened with unease,

requires some thought, has made no millionaire.


Friends, Poets: this world's but half our life, our mouths

stained red by a graver kingdom's pomegranate.

For now, we'll write, and making, live our nows

until we're booted off the whole damned planet.



God? The Author? Who? Is Dead

For J.L. and D.S.


The Jatravartids believe that the universe was sneezed out of the nose

of the Great Green Arkleseizure. They live in permanent fear of a time

they call The Coming of the Great White Handkerchief.

— Douglas Adams, The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy


Each word, each line accretes to form a pearl,

and sweetens still to embryo, then girl.


Believers feel secure despite dull night:

all truths and values God will underwrite.


Believers feel assured about invention:

behind it all the spark of writer’s intention.


Now all deflates like some make-believe soufflé;

it’s boundary conditions and language play.


So take the tender child and guillotine it

because the “author” really didn’t mean it.

Hail Poetry


He who does not understand the game,

abstains from the weapons … .

— Horace, The Art of Poetry


Do not take up the piercing blade

until the game’s been understood:

just wise advice, for one’s own good.

The fool alone is unafraid.


Yet mobs flail spears round undismayed,

the field strewn with gashed flesh and wood.

Do not take up the piercing blade

until the game’s been understood!


The stadium crowd does not upbraid,

but cheers the fools in brotherhood.

The game has changed. If so, I should

not stand, instructed, well-arrayed.

Do naught? I take up the piercing blade.

Deconstruction, Mon Amour


Magic Realism Bot @MagicRealismBot

A university student owns a long lost book of Derrida on the subject of your heart's desire.


And having read that book, it’s more

and less, my reader, I’ll confide,

than you expect: a door

that’s always and already wide

and just as much a bore

as your heart’s desire for

that transcendental signified.


Deferments, supplements abound,

those feints and dreamy strategems

of yours are hidden/found,

your roses traced to unthorned stems

and back into the ground,

love’s premises each drowned

by its own empty theorems.


Impressive, dense analysis,

oh sure, but empty as your glass,

the memory of her kiss

(and now you’re thinking of her ass)

– and yet I can use this:

yes, see your Beatrice

as a beautiful but earthly lass.


To deconstruct affairs like yours,

and metaphysics, et cetera,

a trick of matadors:

just wave the cape, and then, ah ha!

It’s play, and the crowd roars.

Ignore Jacques’ nevermores,

and go and find your petit pois.

Relationship Status


I'm more interested in the relationship between river and rivet, than between river and bridge.

                                                           — Douglas Messerli


So pea and pear and pearl would be, are in,

a relationship

that’s based upon some letters, written signs

and their ordering.


But pea, for instance, relates to soup, a hue,

a sensitive princess

in a fairy tale we can not understand.

What is the moral?


The pear is linked to its tree, with or without

a partridge there.

Or the way its juice ran from her lips and chin

that summer past.


Now Doug suggests, for him, the interest lies

at the level of

the letter, spelling, and not what seems semantics.

I’ve oversimplified.


Or Doug has: the river-bridge association

is more complex.

Their meaning, history is language, plus

they share some letters.


Each pearl’s a word, or word a pearl, whose face

reflects the pea,

the taste of pear on her lips, the pearl you kissed that night

upon her ear,

the web we weave with every thought and sign,

a labyrinth,

the constellations in the desert sky,

how way leads on

to web, and web to wed, a status needing

constant updating.

Poems of Love and Sorrow

King Roderick I: What are you loo-loo-looing about?

Hubert Hawkins: Oh, I'm not loo-loo-looing, Sire, I'm willow-willow-wailing.

from The Court Jester (1955)


Those poems of love that coo like a dove

are not written by the smitten today.

And when love has gone bad, neither maiden nor lad

will bother to author a lai.


“Good riddance,” you laugh, “it’s nothing but chaff;

there’s no wheat, and no meat, in that stuff.”

So critics will wag, and the cynics will gag,

on the saccharine schlock of such fluff.


The critics will cry (please don’t ask them why),

“Give us stichs on which to discurse:

give us social concern, but keep Keats in his urn;

give us dense, incomprehensible verse.”


But the root of the rot is not in the plots

of the scholarly sots and snobs;

the blush got the shove: since the summer of love,

the heart’s not the part that throbs.


It has been said that romance is dead,

an old hat stored in attic rafters.

But holding and kissing aren’t what’s missing,

but the soreness before and after.


These days the consumation’s on:

the youngsters “whut-up?” and hook up on sight.

They skip the mumble, the awkward fumble:

no need – no need to write.


And after the bang, there’s nary a pang:

“Good game! My name?” they part.

No hearts to contuse, so ain’t no blues:

no drooling, no mewling, no art.


Those poems of love that coo like a dove

are not written by the smitten today.

And when love has gone bad, neither maiden nor lad

will bother to author a lai.


One of the most prominent mouthpieces of Iran's hard-line government, Kayhan, a daily newspaper that is frequently critical of moderate publications, accused [a poet] of being "a member of the CIA " whose work promotes "sexual … and intellectual promiscuity....”

    — Los Angeles Times, 8/7/07


Dear reader, I admit one charge: I am

intellectually promiscuous.

I’ll spend one night with some hot, nubile thought,

the next with an older, more experienced.

In fact, I’m usually juggling half a dozen,

and I can’t count how many I’ve had.

I’ve tried and savored thousands of positions.

My tastes are simple, dear, I like them all:

the slightest notion, a dewy sentiment,

the flighty whim, and wildest guess, and yes,

the plump belief, the self-absorbed conceit,

a sweet surmise, the tedious suspicion,

the tentative conjecture. I love to watch

nymphet hypotheses and pop the quaint

question that makes a real theory of them.

I’ve picked them up in libraries, on streets,

at work, in discount stores and coffee shops,

and sometimes even at a poetry reading.


I will admit to that, and to no more.

I have one wife; I am not with the CIA.

(or, The Postmodern Poet)


By the flash of sparking wheels and lightning coil,
the bones are laid, the sinews stretched and strung,
and organs rigged; the flesh is stitched and hung.
A switch or two is thrown, dials set to broil.


But look: the background's cardboard, paint and foil;
the gadgets don't connect; the cables flung
around the floor writhe out to klieg lights slung
in the rafters heating what smells like meat on the spoil.


Throw back the sheet to see the creature, and retch.
The madman's knitted bone to bone, and skin
to patch of skin without a plan or sketch
as if he'd never seen its living kin.
And no amount of juice or eloquence
will stir the butchered jumble to life or sense.


(First published in The Formalist, 2004,

as a finalist in the Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award competition)



Workshop Vitriol

for Don, who asked why


Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenies

Occultum Lapidem.

— Alchemical Motto


The workshop where the Stone is sought

still fumes with colored smoke,

with odors that delight the tongue

or prick and burn and choke.


From furnaces and flames are piped

the spirits made sublime,

then, cooled, liquesce in swelling beads

that fall in the fullness of time.


In vials and bowls the acids swirl,

to clean, dissolve, transmute

the mundane substance of the world

to what is absolute.


The crucible will melt, then boil,

the nugget found or mined:

mere elements are purified,

but soul itself refined.


Impurities are burned away,

till purest metals pool,

which when combined in measured parts,

reveal the secret rule.


The oil of vitriol is chief,

its workings manifold:

an ore immersed will be undone,

and what is left is gold.

Problems with the Conceit


when that shall vade, my verse distills your truth

— William Shakespeare, sonnet 54


The poet will — of Stratford, Rome, Duluth —

declaim his lover’s beauty, and his skills:

“When that shall fade, my verse distills your truth.”


To those long hence, the charm of jacks and jills

will seem as fresh as May, until fall’s curse,

when that shall fade. “My verse distills” —


that’s proud; so then it betters what was worse?

We’ll let that pass, for I fear time’s serenade,

when that shall fade my verse;


for nothing, not this, can always evade.

Night comes, the blushing sun you’re staring at,

when that shall fade.


So ask the time until the requiescat,

for that’s unknown, unlike the end. Forsooth.

When? That.

W – A = P

Words without action is just poetry.

— Prof. Arnold Schwarzenegger, USC


A new aesthetic ideal is set, but how

to write (an act), or must the act come after?

“‘The sage acts without doing,’ says the Tao,”

a friend suggests while upstairs there is laughter.


O for a Muse of inaction! or I fail,

as if Parnassus’ peak were but the first

of steps to airy slopes beyond time’s veil.

Such poetry can not by man be versed.


To versify and not to act, or not,

for to refrain is act itself . . . . Our breath

is act – perhaps the ceasing of our thought

is poetry: a poet after death?


Perhaps that’s what old Will was thinking of

when he scrawled he “never writ” and “no man ever loved”.

The Poet Explains Why Medea Did What She Done


I think I understand as we who work

a simpler, lighter, less – um – lethal craft,

with laws, behind which consequences lurk:

we must take thought when we prepare a draft.


She was divine, in part: a niece to Circe,

grand-daughter of a god, endowed with light.

One might thereby explain her lack of mercy

as callousness of gods. But that’s not right.


For knowledge, and skill to use it, must be learned.

In Colchis, then, she studied common lore

and hidden truths, and tried what she discerned

as her father/king decreed, for peace or war.


So, discontented with the use of skill

which makes all things seem tokens, coin or tools,

she dreamed escape. One sees how Jason might thrill:

such drive, and handsome, no doubt. She breaks the rules.


A dragon, fleece, quick flight, et cetera,

then married, then some kids. They’ve built a life.

But then, dear Jason, true to formula,

desires to make some king’s young daughter wife.


The marriage vow, once a promise, now debt paid;

the heir who is a child, is just an heir.

Her story’s significance begins to fade;

it all feeds Jason’s rise, to get him there.


The poet knows, if one cheats or is untrue,

the spell isn’t broken, the contract null;

for one is bound, and one must follow through,

when the precious tenor becomes the vehicle.



It’ll All Be Over Soon

The Zombie Apocalypse Sounds Pretty Good Right Now


The thought of suicide is a great consolation:

by means of it one gets through many a dark night.

                             — Friedrich Nietzsche


The fantasy is dark, no doubt, but listen:

there is a kind of ruthless justice playing

(if you can just get past the charnel frisson)

that’s satisfying now. I’m just saying.


The board is cleared quite fast: the careless, rash,

unwary, unprepared are gone in days.

Survivors in this gravest monster mash

will pay for any lapse in dreadful ways.


Though mindless, hostile, steered by appetite,

the humans pre-lypse can’t be stopped, legally.

With zombies, bring your chainsaw, dynamite,

shotgun, and hew, blast, boo-yaa! Feel free.


So yeah, such thoughts – see that maskless space case?

In just a sec, a zombie will be eating his face.

The Ephemerist


Nine centuries of history lost to the unholy inferno

Headline of story on fire at Notre Dame cathedral, Daily Mail, April 16, 2019


An ember hovers high above the roof’s

collapse. Between a blink’s inception and

its end, the glimmer vanishes. Such proofs,

that no two atoms, stacked, will ever stand.


And if one could reach out to snatch the mote,

and more, somehow preserve its heat and light,

and store, display above descriptive note

near Homo Habilis, a trilobite?


Such tokens left behind by the present’s sharp

advance, the drill that bores itself, the charms

we hope are magic, wire plucked on a harp,

nostalgic songs, are wails of fire alarms.


These bits of bone, paint, stone behind a glass,

we mourn, desire, because they must all pass.



The stone’s immune: the pathogen can find

no suitable receptor, no kink to catch,

no lock to use its key, no place to bind.

It can’t infect or spread; it can’t attach.


The stone exists but is not permanent.

It can be worn away by wind-blown sand,

tide, stream, be subject to mere accident:

to weather, earthquake, or a human hand.


We, too, can be broken, worn down from without,

like stone, or mountain, or the pock-faced moon.

But we grant germs the gates through our redoubt,

before the virions subvert, dragoon.


So hate and fear, like any virus, spread,

unless we are immune as stone, or dead.

Balete for a Plague-Year Christmas


Let’s join the Christmas dance.

Though breaths come labored, sing.

Step light as death knells ring,

crowd in and take your chance.

Let’s join the Christmas dance.


Say “merry,” “joy” and bring

the gifts and everything

to lull us into trance.

Let’s join the Christmas dance.


Death leads, with scythe aswing,

the danse that cuts our string.

A toast to tinsel, a final glance,

let’s join the Christmas dance.


Apocalypse Can Be Fun


It does one good to contemplate the end,

to laze in this bright, red-tinged autumn

before atomic winter, spend

an hour or six, while we still got ‘em,


to watch extinction-level meteor

streak down in HD 3D from space.

(Hey, should the pizza be meaty or,

like, veggie? Oh, should we be saying grace?)


Magnetic poles reverse, solar flare,

super volcanos: what is nature’s deal?

Fear robots, aliens from way out there,

or satanic dragon, seventh seal.


Though global warming’s hot right now,

we prefer a zombie-lypse, timequakes.

So much to think about, but how?

Oh yeah, we’ve got commercial breaks!


We’re back: perhaps an accident at CERN?

The heat-death will be here before we learn.

Shadorma: November 2016



rise above the peaks,

swell and boil,

blister, fold

in malignant fungal growth

while valley towns sleep.



stream in bright banners,

crude emblems,

vague symbols

of small desires, petty fears

as sleepwalkers clash.


The clocks toll,

barometers tell


until spark

and thunder shatter all sleep.

Then the flood arrives.

This’ll Break Your Heart

Stationed in Iraq for eighteen months,

his tour extended twice, a native of Rome,

Georgia, Specialist Bills, on his last bomb hunt,

was just one week, two days from going home;


in a trailer park, twelve miles northwest of Reno,

Jessica (hair long enough to use barrettes,

just six months out from two grim years of chemo)

sang, “’Morrow I’ll be seven,” mid-pirouette;


and just outside a Ralph’s in Riverside,

a box of mixed-breed pups (such sweet sad eyes)

were hours from swift adoption to abide

in better homes and gardens all their lives;


when a meteor the size of France

destroyed the Earth and all inhabitants.


A Winter Song

The pine trees creak with cold, their thickened sap

rising, if at all, bitter to the boughs;

the frosted boulders brood, like broken vows,

half-sunk into the slope’s dark, muddy trap.

The fogs that seethe along the torn gorge floor,

a gangrenous limb’s fetid perspiration,

congeal to mists, then icy condensation,

infect both bark and stone with hoary spore.


A Santa-hatted drunkard slumps, deceased,

at the wheel of his Taurus, sprig of mistletoe

drooping from the rear view. The hood is creased

by the trunk of a mammoth pine. The radio

is silent for once: forgotten, cold, released.

The ghost of Christmas passed 4 weeks ago.



J Writes a Memorial Sonnet for M


Iguana fair, without no hair…

— Mike Cluff


It was a simple, but oft-requested verse:

absurd and wry, an off-the-wall snapshot

of human nature, as much about sound

and language, like all true poetic thought.


Two decades ago, he stopped reciting it;

perhaps he felt it a trifle, a game,

and yet it is so much like the work

in the last books he put to his name.


And so there’s a loop in my thoughts of

“Iguana fair, without no hair…”

and yet I can’t recall what comes next,

and that’s fitting, I know, to be aware

despite the certainty of rhyme or anapest,

when a poet dies, we never hear the rest.



After Auld Lang Syne


There is an exhaustion even of glitter,

when the silver flecks on sleeve

or glistering on carpet

are no more than dust

to be swept with an impatient hand,

when even the motes

upon her shining cheek

or in the fold of an eyelid

do no more than glint

the heatless ember

of a star long dead,

old light again reflected.

Down the Hill’s Dark Slope


Where do thoughts go when others begin to crowd?

Where do those exiles retire from the fight,

those monarchs of a moment, once so proud,

when from "king of the hill" they fall from sight?

Perhaps a few will mount campaigns once more

to claim the peak, that moment’s point of view:

the mind's Napoleons from Elban shore

whose reigns must always end at Waterloo.

And are those thoughts the same since first in mind?

Or politic impostors that ascend

with masks of joys we hope again to find,

and so avoid the battle's wrack and rend?

Where does everything forgotten go?

Once down the hill's dark slope, we do not know.



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