52 SONGS

...the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life...

Friday, March 31, 2017

26. Grid

A grid thrown over a snapshot
helps the art student sketch
and enlarge the image it depicts:

A badger burying the carcass
of a cow. When finished,
the student submits her work.

The instructor returns it. A.
Time. Forgetfulness. The end
of civilization. Eons hence,

the sketch is recovered, a burn
in a layer of the technosphere, &
after study displayed under glass.

A placard, white font on black slate,
accompanies the object, to help
museumgoers along the way:

"Unknown species tends to another
unknown species. Artist unknown.
Method of composition unknown."

25. Windy Night Tanka

Bush by the front door
spasms like fire, like a child
shaking off spiders.
Eaves sing, open windows bring
dark, cool movement to the rooms.





Wednesday, March 29, 2017

24. Beauty and the Beast

I enter the gate leading to the mansion.
Treetops up there are pushed around.
I know where I'm going. I'm afraid,
but I like to read, and what I've read
tells me there are words in words.
In my cloak, my shape is one thing,
a certain title. I shall be stripped of it,
against my father's will, against mine.
One of mine. There is more than one voice
giving commands. Obedience is
a choice among voices, among paths,
among different untried wants, cold
and heat, safety and death. Safety is death.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

23. Desert Cinquain

After Adelaide Crapsey

One hears
the distant cry
of ghosts above the sage.
One imagines coyotes pause
to listen.

Monday, March 27, 2017

22. Currents

The obstacle predicts the angle of the flow,
if speed is also factored, which, of course.
Volume I imagine would be a key part
of the equation, with gravity filling out
the whole enchilada. Gravity's big.
I don't know all that much is what I'm saying.
The melted cheese flowed seemingly slowly
from my fork, around its tines down to my lap,
with more volume than I'd want on my new
corduroys, let alone those I wore specifically for
a first date. My face I bet was grave.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Saturday, March 25, 2017

20. Written in haste,

composed over years, I made what I could
in the time allotted, which seems to be ever

abundant even as my span in it
decreases, like the space between walls

in an industrial trash compactor
in the belly of a DS-1 orbital battle station.

There are men with money making decisions
we'll have to live with, friends.

I make decisions we'll have to live with.
I need to get the transmission out,

use the comlink, let the people know
before I'm mush.

Yeah, I'm screaming--
in joy, in pain, why not both.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

19. Vocation / Vacation


The idea that's coming into my mind,
attached to this title, is one that is better

than my given vocation, at least as
currently conceived, can with the energy in me

muster. I need a vacation. Somewhere warm,
with waves, and three books. A bed in a room

on the second floor, with windows thrown open
and screens to keep out insects. Three records

for the turntable. Margaritas. No alarm clocks.
No clocks at all. No conception of time. Time.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

18. Variations


Right outside my window -- a small tree, then
golden poppies, a brick path, nasturtiums,
sidewalk, greenery, and the carless street. 

-

Next to my window there is a small tree,
golden poppies, a brick path, nasturtiums,
sidewalk, curb, gutter, and the careless street.

-

Outside my window, there is a small tree.
Beyond it: poppies, brick path, nasturtiums,
sidewalk, and the street, currently car-free.

-

Outside my window is a dying tree.
A brick path, poppies, other flowers frame
its slow decline for all who look and see.  


Illuminating my window is a tree
that sways in sunlit air and yet is dead,
or dying: Leaves gray, branches thin, no birds.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

17. Observations


The credenza that holds the tv and turntable
also holds a lava lamp and land-line phone:

Four devices outdated but sleek: The base
and top tip of the lava lamp are the same

dully sheeny silver as the base of the turntable
and the phone base station and phone's trim.

The tv's all black, reflective of the piano
and black, night-time window. Music,

like a pair of discarded mattresses
leaning against a black wall show up on

the screen. They resolve into clarity
when I turn my head toward them:

"The Entertainer," on the left.
Piano Adventures on the right.

The lamp above them, turned off, is that same
silver mentioned earlier in this poem.

Monday, March 20, 2017

16. Luke 19:1-ff

Here comes the one they call Jesus, the crowd
that follows him around blocking again
my view. That's why I'm climbing this old tree:
To see what others see in a man without
home wife children or property, without,
they say, much but authority to speak
in a voice that quiets mockers, heals the sick.
I hope, in short, up here to get the news,
to learn if it's true, assess for myself what's what.
Being laughed at is nothing I don't know.
My name means pure. I do my job each day.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

15. Short Eastern Sierra Poem #3


A psalm furnished the words to a praise song
we sang in high school, at Trinity Presbyterian Church,
over many Wednesday nights:

I lift my eyes up to the mountains. 
Where does my help come from? 
Landscapes like this help me want to believe

My help comes from You, maker of heaven, 
creator of the earth. We catechized like this,
in melody, in suburbs built away from but relying on

mountains--for water, if for nothing else.
We lifting our voices with the band never thought
of this connection, or I never did.

Beginning the descent into Owens Valley, heading south
toward Bishop, I see again how mountains via snow
melting to aqueducts lead the highway,

which leads our car carrying bodies made
mostly of water--mostly invisible, thoroughly helpful.
By helpful I mean constitutive.

By thoroughly I mean essential. By invisible I mean
internal, except for when a body cries or spits
or sweats. By mostly I mean in the main.

By bodies I mean myself and my wife and my children.
They like me have thirst, their help is all around them.
The figure in the song is spiritual, physical, possibly literal.

14. [Removed for submission]

.

13. Short Eastern Sierra Poem #1


From memory, in no particular order, from years
driving to and fro along the 395:
The yellow dome in Olancha (maybe not Olancha
but the other outpost next to it) beside a dinosaur,
a motel, maybe; "Good Jerky" on handmade signs;
the mysterious portrait of horses on the billboard
just south of the Crystal Geyser plant;
the Alabama Hills west of Lone Pine east of Mt.
Whitney (which peak it is I can never identify) northeast
of Owens Lake, with more water than normal this year;
Independence and the earthquake and the historical marker
marking it; a turnoff and information station reserved for
an ancient bristlecone forest; the zig-zag up the mountain
spurring off Whitney Portal Road; Manzanar,
the barracks at Manzanar, the visitors center,
the remains of the Japanese garden; the herd of Tule Elk,
absent from view at designated wildlife viewing turnouts
in recent years, despite my eager scanning; Rovana,
with the first letters of its street names spelling out
Vanadium; Bishop south of it, and less south
the Paiute Palace Casino (tip: buy your gas here);
Round Valley (tip: stop at the vista point on your way up
and look); Tom's Place across from Sunny Slopes
below Rock Creek camping and Mosquito Flat
and Mammoth, where we went, behind which
my dog Dorcas had her last big outing, one that
probably was what did her in: After too many days
of too many miles in too much heat, she tried
to chase a deer, and her legs collapsed. I carried her,
my beloved, with my backpack full of gear
the last three miles of the hike to the car,
how I hope I'll be carried--metaphorically,
no, literally--when my body begins to fail:
to a familiar coach where awaits a bowl of water
a treat and a driver who loves me.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Van Jones

This is a good interview: 'Look, I really need your help. I’m still a follower of Obama and her husband. “When they go low, we go high.” That’s us, that’s who we are, and I am not going to let [Trump] take that from us.'

Bear witness,

if nothing else:

"that woman in the photograph should know that we see her."

Nicholas Kristof

A woman who had been bleeding for 12 years came up behind Jesus and touched his clothes in hope of a cure. Jesus turned to her and said: “Fear not. Because of your faith, you are now healed.” 
Then spoke Pious Paul of Ryan: “But teacher, is that wise? When you cure her, she learns dependency. Then the poor won’t take care of themselves, knowing that you’ll always bail them out! You must teach them personal responsibility!”

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

12. San Luis Peak


We were walking along the skirts of the mountain,
after dark, moon full, taking a path through clusters of oaks.
We bent our necks to keep our heads from hitting branches.

We were new to each other. The walk had taken time,
more than we had calculated. In the shadow of each tree
our sight left us. A large creature in the dark stopped us.

We could hear breathing, thick and wet and halting,
a heavy scrape of feet on the hard-packed, dry earth.
We hadn't told anyone where we had gone.

We waited with our own breath silent as the evening,
we waited till our eyes regained their vision, till we saw
that what blocked us was no danger. And we moved.




Tuesday, March 14, 2017

11. [Removed for submission]

.

Ben Franklin's opposition to German immigrants

"Those that come hither [German immigrants] are generally of the most ignorant Stupid sort of their own Nation…. Not being used to Liberty, they know not how to make a modest use of it… I remember when they modestly declined intermeddling in our Elections, but now they come in droves, and carry all before them… They begin of late to make all their Bonds and other legal Writings in their own Language…and I suppose in a few years [interpreters] will be also necessary in the Assembly, to tell one half of our Legislators what the other half say; in short unless the stream of their importation could be turned from this to other Colonies…they will soon so out number us, that all the advantages we have will not [be] …able to preserve our language, and even our Government will become precarious."

- from a letter he wrote to a friend in 1753

Monday, March 13, 2017

10. Skateboards


My brother had one with clay wheels.
I vaguely remember it. It was loud
and amplified the tiniest ground
irregularities into joint-rattling jolts.

My first one came from K-Mart, an orange
"Moto-board"--plastic, narrow, with molded wings
over each of the four wheels.
I glided on urethane across the white driveway.

The next one arrived under the Christmas tree.
It had a fiberglass deck with pictures, beneath
a rough finish, of waves and surfing: a collage,
like the kind my sister made for her walls.

After that, I can't say. Something I bought
off a shady acquaintance from the neighborhood,
likely, one of the dudes who hung out by the ramp,
smelled like pot. The ramp was at the dead end

of a street sloping downward, twelve feet wide,
a quarter pipe. I once flew over its back
and landed head-first onto a plywood sheet
resting flat on the ground behind it.

Lightning shot through all my limbs.
Though I stood up I thought I'd broken my neck.
That ramp was eventually chainsawed to pieces
by a neighbor angry about the dudes.

My last board of consequence was a Rat Bones.
I rode it at Del Mar Skate Ranch, I brought it
to college. I used it to get to poli-sci my first
term there. My only A, which I didn't deserve.

*

The sound of kids skating down streets
of my canyoned neighborhood echoed like
a mobile cataract of water, an indicator
of energy directed for no sake, its own.

Update on our experiment in democracy

"[This] bill provides yet another stark reminder that in the United States today, the Republican Party stands almost entirely united in its campaign to suppress the vote."



Saturday, March 11, 2017

9. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011)

Bridge of Spies (2015), which came second,
which I saw first, revealed to me

that the Cold War's threat
of nuclear annihilation, one main thing

keeping me from sleep
my early teenage years,

was a game played by little boys.
I have raised boys and was one.

I know.
Tinker, though, is text-as-game,

as all texts could conceivably be
understood (this one not excepted),

it too a story of little boys,
its sophistication fun for those with skill

to follow its moves, as I like to think I am.
(I confess I looked for a synopsis

halfway through, movie on pause.)
Complexity in thought

yields preservation of the faculties.
So some studies suggest.

But by what? Five years? Ten?
There are no mothers in the movie,

no fathers. What drives the principles
is longing for love. Is that it?

Are the white nationalists now
holding our country in thrall, who

separate mothers from children,
change maps for the sake

of electoral advantage, gather troops
and funds for undeclared war, lie and

lie and lie moved to do so
because they loved someone

who didn't love them back?
These men who appear to us as if

out of a vacuum, with no history
we remember, are they like Smiley,

standing at the window,
at a Christmas party, looking around

for the one they claim to love?
There she is, outside, in the arms of another.

He turns away, his lower lip tucked in,
slightly, his eyes newly wet.

He is stricken. He makes plans.
He's the hero of the movie.

What's his history? What's empty
inside him? Where are his kids?

8. American Haiku

     Kerouac said don't fret
over syllables: Show us
     the man on the bike

in early spring you wish
     you were in your car
at the light, aging.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

7. Poem

2016 was warmer than 2015
2015 was warmer than 2014
2014 was warmer than 2013
2013 was warmer than 2012
2012 was warmer than 2011
2011 was cooler than 2010
2010 was warmer than 2009
2009 was warmer than 2008
2008 was cooler than 2007
2007 was warmer than 2006
2006 was cooler than 2005
2005 was warmer than 2004
2004 was cooler than 2003
2003 was cooler than 2002
2002 was warmer than 2001
2001 was warmer than 2000
2000 was the same as 1999
1999 was cooler than 1998
1998 was warmer than 1997
1997 was warmer than 1996
1996 was cooler than 1995
1995 was warmer than 1994
1994 was warmer than 1993
1993 was warmer than 1992
1992 was cooler than 1991
1991 was cooler than 1990
1990 was warmer than 1989
1989 was cooler than 1988
1988 was warmer than 1987
1987 was warmer than 1986
1986 was warmer than 1985
1985 was cooler than 1984
1984 was cooler than 1983
1983 was warmer than 1982
1982 was cooler than 1981
1981 was warmer than 1980
1980 was warmer than 1979
1979 was warmer than 1978
1978 was cooler than 1977
1977 was warmer than 1976…

25 warmer years
14 cooler years
1 the same

Every year since 1985 was warmer than any year on record prior to 1980, except for 1945. 

The source for this poem is here. The source is owned by the government. It may not be available to you much longer. Look while you can.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

5. Cheap Seats

Pitch it to the cheap seats
I was told So I did I think
it landed like a baseball
in a plastic cup of beer

The people in the cheap seats
get what they pay for say the
people in the front row
who wouldn't know

4. Make-up poem

I missed yesterday. I'm sorry.
I'm here now, and have to be

before the days, unyielding
in their one-after-the-otherness

become irredeemable, unyielding.
The situation's like Lucy's,

in the chocolate factory, standing at
the conveyor belt, unable

to stop the stuff from coming,
lacking capacity to meet its speed.

In this analogy, the chocolates on
the conveyor belt are the days,

Lucy's attempts to manage them,
for which she's being paid, are me

making poems, her giving up
and eating some and putting others in

her hat, a way to speed up a failure
the audience is encouraged to laugh at.

In this analogy, Lucy is me.
I'm Lucy.

Friday, March 3, 2017

3. Backyard Sitting, Sipping

The day stood open, sky like clear
water, jet the color of fish
in a serene, sun-soaked lake.
Cup in my hand, half-full,
hand extension of will, unexamined
in habit and action—Thought through,
but not by me.

My arm lifts the cup to my lips.
The open door’s a hinge in the system,
encouraging, allowing movement
and vision avenues into other worlds.
You inside, the sounds you make
as you work a recognizable grammar,
a voice. Your love: engine-
flowering energy, troubled but present.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Lord, have mercy on us,

sinners.

2. Sketch Based on This Evening's Events and their Accompanying Thoughts

When Paul plays hoops with us,
He uses his solid body to screen.

I’m ok for my age at slipping most
Picks, except for his,

And tonight I wrenched my neck
Running into his immoveable bulk.

I drove home feeling as if my neck
Were no longer up to the task.

I listened in the car to Marc Maron
Talk to Raoul Peck about James Baldwin.

Un mundo es la cabeza.
And by cabeza I mean my mind.

I hope, and am pretty certain from
The talks I have of late with my wife,

That this isn’t true.
I still feel right about my positions.

I would like to feel right about hers.
In the car

I tried when I remembered to lean
My head on the head rest.

When home she was in bed.
My kids were in bed.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

1. Ash Wednesday

Here comes one, and early, too:
Young woman, forehead-smudged
Prior to most people’s punch-in
For the day. It’s been years for me
Since I went to that kind of church.
I don’t feel more without without
The mark, but I miss it anyway, 
The way it said to anyone I passed
Past sins are absolved, resolved
Into product of energy exchange. 
Entropy. Decay. Which means
The external mark, misread by more 
And more, though temporary, is etched
Within on stone softened by water.