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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Impermanence

John Constable, "Brighton Beach," 1824, V&A

For B.

It may start with a blow, a deep bruise
that overwhelms the body’s ability to
repair itself and clear the damage. Not
rare: the sharply stubbed toe, a barked
shin. If the injury’s deep within muscle,
close to the bone, muscle can literally
ossify. If it’s far from the heart, leaving
tissue starved (crushed capillaries leak,
can no longer bear up), the bruise may
no longer be a bruise, though the dying,
dusky blue’s nearly a match in hue. You,
now your own memento mori as angry
red snakes crawl up a limb, hissing some-
thing worse: poison in the blood. Sepsis.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Demo

Nicholas Poussin, "The Finding of Moses," 1638

It’s one way to show how software works, but it’s
really about making stories, telling tales. Long ago,
a swaddled babe was found among the bulrushes.

Or, once upon a time, a little girl lived with three old
aunties in a cottage on the hill, and they sent her to
the dark forest to gather mushrooms.
There will be
dangers to face, monsters to outwit or transform,
the heroine must puzzle out a coded secret before
the moon rises—to save her own life, to save her
aunties who’ve been turned into birds, to win a gift
of understanding the crows’ language—or to restore
the lost data in three clicks, so neatly done it seems
like magic. Abstraction, concision, symbolic language
encoded, spells cast. What was Aaron's rod but a
demo, a snaking proof of concept for the Pharaoh?

Friday, August 11, 2017

Windfall

Mark Shirley, "The Old Apple Orchard,
Wisbech St. Mary
," 2008

The old apple tree had never been tended
to (or hadn’t been, for decades)—branches
clotted with suckers almost big as its trunk,
tangled water-sprouts crowned with nests,
all of it too tall, stretched and reaching for
more sun. It welcomed us with a thousand
apples, but before we could say hello the
weight of what it bore sheared off a lateral
limb, smashed a neighbor’s fence. Our first
week in the cottage: what a windfall there
was, the ground covered with apples, bees
and wasps drunk on golden pomace rotting
in the August heat. So this year, we made a
careful reduction. Arborists with chainsaws
took down height and bulk; it’ll take another
two years, more young sawyers in the tree,
more chainsaw and pruning work, until the
tree fits itself better. This year, it’s resting—
only four apples made a windfall, each soft,
fermented, sticky. But the fifth I plucked off
a high branch, more green than gold, and it
came away easy to the pole even if not quite
ripe. A blessing given free; a promise to keep.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Remembrance

Terracotta statuette of a girl playing ball, The Met

A reverse liquid, these bees, swirling
down into a moist leaf-duff bottleneck,
carrying nectar and letters for all our
dead. Our dead, having died before this
rainless desert summer, our dead whose
memory brings another recollection—
the smell of oiled leather. Tack-scent
clinging to my fingers as they clenched,
gripped the pommel tight (the saddle
slipping, rolling, cinch loose)—a sour
old horse trying to scrape me off on the
side of a farm truck. Glove-scent (such
happy magic) as I took it down from a
shelf, loosened the cord that bound it
up around a softball all winter, waiting
for the glove to be softened, reshaped,
until it could do nothing except snag
every errant infield bounce, its deep
pocket a perfect nest for every catch.

And now the sun’s set and the bees have
gone, pouring themselves into the earth.
I’m too parched to cry for my dead, so I
place this near where I saw the bees last,
this crumpled slip of paper; and my fingers
become the cord that binds memory up,
lacing it, becoming the seams, the round
sun burning my palms as we play catch.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Crypsis

Bob Peterson, "Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)," 2011

The little hairstreak slowly rubs its wings,
sliding one against the other. Small magic
the way they catch the light, as if its wings
were old silver dimes rolling across a god’s
knuckles, or ripples in the pewter water of
its genus-river Strymón. I watch as it turns
tails to heads, inverting, headstanding on
a mint blossom. I watch as its doubled tails
settle then dovetail, coin-tricking, cryptic;
so this is how it hides itself in plain sight.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Glossae

sankax, "Common Eastern Bumble Bee
Queen (Bombus impatiens)
," 2010

I watch them before sunset, deep-kissing the
nectaries, brushing up on sweetness to make
a hoard against the shortening days. See how
they press themselves urgent into a blossom?
See them, carpenters small and black as lupine
seeds, as they step onto, then taste the mint?
See them, fat Bombus on the fireweed, pinning
those deep pink flowers beneath furred bellies?
A tongue of light silhouettes last bees pulling up
from their gathering, towards sleep and shadow;
the Clarkia and poppies have shut for the night.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Fishing

Zāhir al-Dīn Ulūġh Beg Kūrakan, Souwar
al-kawakib al-thabita, Samarkand, 1436

A long arc of cirrus, segmented and fall-streak
spined: fish bones in a pale blue sky picked clean
by a westerly.

Later, as the sun tucks away: a fat fading contrail
flashes rosy as a brook trout’s belly.

Tonight’s waxing moon: a weight for a cast-net
big enough to catch all those star-bound fish.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Tare II

BRIyyz, "Graffiti covered car at Weyburn Pool,
just north of Weyburn Sask," 2006

The container’s empty. A barge, perhaps, or
a truck, or a covered hopper, the middle car
on the train that’s pinned me down behind a
flashing crossing sign. All these empty things,
still with their own weight. The heaviness of
emptiness, lessons for the mourner: the tare
weight, now, more than what was contained.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Chamaenerion angustifolium

Magenta-flowered fireweed, from "Boreal Forests
in Alaska Becoming More Flammable
," photo by
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The late afternoon
sun plays its kissing game with
their frilled corollae.

Each inflorescence
swaying in time; the south wind
waltzing blossoms, bees.

First to revisit
after the blast zone, the char;
reseeding this heart.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Padmapani

Hand of bodhisattva, holding a lotus bud with
blossom, Gandhara, c. Second - Third C. BCE

Broken at the wrist, the body gone—but
wholeness isn’t a steady state. All bodies
transform like this representation of god:
breaking, broken, vanishing bit by bit until
our mud and dust is compressed to stone
by the weight of time. Art turns that mud
into the compassionate one, still holding
a lotus, its grace moving, transcendent. I’ll
join those who set flowers and fruit at its
feet, offer up thanks that its beauty hears,
won’t be separated from, all our suffering.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Holy Saturday

Rembrandt, "The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp," 1632.

The shadows falling across translucent skin, shrunk
tight on a cheekbone. Shadows pool, lap at an arch
above it, hide in a hollow in the flesh beneath it. An
absence of moonlight, if painted. Absence of oxygen,
if cool to the touch; it’s lilac, not rose, in this garden.

In “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp,” every
man paid for their portrait, save the corpse. Money
and art made them memorable; money and art will
make us forget our deaths, even as we see its proof.
(Dear ones, at twilight we’re tidepools, not gardens.)

Money, and art. Still, there’s joy even in this sealed
tomb, in the unremitting absence of light. Tenebrae
performed in a room full of holy treasures: not the
gilding, or art, but the faithful who know how dark
the darkness will be, and yet keep singing, even so.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Nest

A few days post-fledging and it’s almost gone:
no longer a soft secret eggcup, just remnants
of lichen and down, emptied. One baby only
this time, not the hero twins Anna’s hummers
so often hatch. I saw it, tucked in its thimble,
needle beak pricking the air to catch mother’s
scent; saw the mother returning, her belly full
of slurried nectar and spiders to pour into gape-
mouthed baby. The mother returned, always
returned, until a day when no one was waiting—
the nest loosened and open as if in bud-break.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Haruspex

"In its large definitive Castle-series Italy issued in 2001 a stamp from Piacenza, and used an ordinary postcard for a FDC-cancellation. The card shows 'Il Fegato Etrusco' [The Etruscan Liver]. ... The Etruscan Liver is a 2nd century BC object originally used mainly for divination and now housed at the Museum of Piacenza."

In this body, I cannot see the full shape
of the sky, or see past the curved bow of
the ocean’s horizon. I’m as blind as you
are, as any of us are, touching each face
in turn to try and find our kinfolk in the
pile of dead. So I turn to what I’ve been
taught: how to take a living creature, kill
it in a way that will please any god who
still listens, and search its steaming guts
for a foretelling. The liver’s where to look,
but the one in my hands is smooth as a
glass mirror. All I can see in it is my face,
reflected, the color of wet earth; all I can
see are my hands, covered with its blood.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Las Vegas Valley

Chris M Morris, "Rainbow Gardens from Lava Butte,
South Las Vegas Valley in background," 2012

The temptation’s to imagine a city gone,
surface pristine, unmarred by subsidence
and jitter. To look at red rock sandstone,
the tops of the ridges, transport myself
there and back to a bird’s eye view eons
ago, as if I were a red-tailed hawk riding
thermals from the valley below—sparse
settlements, blending in with the earth.
The temptation's to fictional idylls of this
place, in that past, while the magma stirs
underneath pavement and glitter, deep
under carpet, our bare feet: the shifting
gyre of our ever-mother who secrets the
largest crystals, reserves her liquid gems
for the next racking cough or burning sigh.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Laundry

Benedicto de Jesus, "Laundry Night," 2015

Around the corner, the faint grape Kool-Aid
smell of mountain laurel; leaning close then
backing off: a bee! Woodpeckers on a palo
verde, a pair, chittering at me as a warding-
off. It works; I keep walking. Around another
corner, vent and a body blow: linens baking
in some industrial dryer, hauling me off my
feet backwards to a limbic, layered memory.
Chinese laundromats shimmed between old
apartment buildings. A rust-pocked delivery
van, double-parked, fat as a sturgeon, doors
propped open for its dry pale roe: bundles of
threadbare cloth napkins. Secret halls in one
hotel where small women trundle past, carts
heaped with soiled sheets taken for a future
transubstantiation: from blued and starched
cotton, to a bed where we’ll cast off our own
laundry, consecrate one another with our skin.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Peepshow

Samuel van Hoogstraten, "A Peepshow with Views
of the Interior of a Dutch House," c. 1655-60

This is where the dry people live, so poor
there’s nothing to finger in pockets save
their cracked fingertips, pleated, rugose.
Here, the palest eyes shutter tight against
noon, all mirrors covered in mourning for
moist breaths lost at each exhalation. The
desert of no-touch, every body wrapped
within a sheet of plastic. Protected, here.
These boundaries. Dry people, so thirsty
they cannot think. Parched not quenched
as they drink it in with eyes, not mouths.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Anna’s

Ken Clifton, "Anna's Hummingbird on nest," 2008

Spiderwebs, gathered in a skein then drawn out
by the needle of beak. One tap, and a push: she
sticks another bit of moss in place, patchworked
with lichen, a hidden nursery where she’ll warm
her warrior children until they hatch into endless
appetite. Her body burns off a scrim of frost. She
nests, shivering, held by her private compulsions,
the small goddess waiting for her twins to arrive.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Heartwood

Glen Scott, "Ice Explosion," 2006

I walked over a ridge, and saw what we’d heard
the day before, thinking it was transformers that
had blown: full-grown fir and spruce, shattered
where sap froze and burst them, splinters staking
outlines around each fallen tree as if some drunk
carny axe-thrower’s fever dream had come true.
The science I read later, about the fluid mechanics
of these deaths, was impenetrable. All I absorbed—
sapwood’s osmotic streams became the point of
failure; heartwood, impervious, then blew apart.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Paracas

"Paracas textile 179," c. 2500 BCE,
via the Gothenburg Collection

The air that held what songs were sung was
descant, desiccant, wicking all singers' breaths
away as each chanted those bundled corpses
down into a dropped, earthen womb. Wind
blew across each singer’s mouth, all becoming
reed flutes piping over those who died; sand
scoured mouths dry, little cups waiting for a
rinse of maize beer after singing. This desert
by the sea parches every body until, husked
in pierce-work cloaks, they become seed corn,
dried and stored for a new season’s planting.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Faience

Bowl, earthenware, painted in blue
on opaque white glaze, 9th century

It was no accident that slipped tin
and lead onto an earthenware skin—
rather, a someone who knew how
to bring the white clouds down to
sit on the clay. One trader may buy
up the whole lot for its novelty, no
telling, but the maker had a bigger
game in mind. Tin for Jupiter, lead
for Saturn, fired hotter than a kiln,
forge-hot, melting Venus’s copper
cestus if she’d let it; and then slow
to cool. Alchemy turned the pottery
gloss white, the perfect ground for
figures and brushwork—something
tough enough to take the flame and
not crack in two, and yet a thing too
fragile for a trader’s carpet-packing.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

7:03 PM

T. Luong Son, "Một Buổi Tối Ở Quê Nhà /
One Evening at Home
," 2010

That pot-holed asphalt, a patchwork basin
caching the neighbor’s porch-light. Outside
my bedroom window, it’s raining; cars pass,
shushing themselves as they go, and I recall
when I was six, how I’d watch a single slant
beam travel, play chase along my bedroom
wall. My world now is a platinum print, all
silver light and pitch-dark shadow. The child
I was sits with me; we count the cars going
by, as they play their magic lantern shows.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Commedia

Peeter van Bredael, "Commedia dell'arte Scene
in an Italian Landscape," date unknown

There they are, the Columbines and Harlequins
playing behind every Doctor’s back, and here we
are, indentured, pressed into service, legion. If
we’re a hundred, or a hundred times a hundred,
it makes no difference. You and I, wearing dull
black, sweating as we pull the drapery back, un-
furling backdrops. It’s us who’ll loose the knots
on the ballast of ponderous argument, sandbags
to tie the rococo confection down. Even tasked
with curtain calls countless as the stars, we’ll do
our job, dash through hidden crossovers to haul
away that gold-braided bloody velvet, reveal the
troupe—roses tossed, as they take infinite bows.
And while that job’s doing, we’ll whisper its end.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Willamette

Daniel E. Coe, "Willamette River Historical
Stream Channels, Oregon," Oregon Department
of Geology and Mineral Industries

Small things that I’ve carried from my last
home—a finger-worn post oak acorn, the
seahorse husk of a gulf fritillary’s chrysalis—
don’t figure in my dreams, here. The turbid
water won’t hold my reflection, but holds
instead its pale centenarians, white-bellied,
mud-veiled, as they nose its soft silted bed
for those secrets a river would keep to itself.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Aeolus in Las Vegas

Theodor van Thulden, "The Works of Ulysses:
'The Greek sailors open the bag, given by Aeolus,
containing adverse winds.'"

If we whisper “Ozymandias,”
apotropaic magic to bring all
haboobs to bear on our new
monument makers, we do it
knowing the wind’ll hear us.
An inclined slant of a wall of
mud and sand, an exhalation
of a collapsing thunderstorm:
the blowing grit scours paint
right off a car, etches mirrors,
mutes every gilded entryway;
will strip the mall palms bare.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Ulna

Derzno, "Hohler Fels," 2011

An exhalation, detoured at fresh hollows
where quill knobs had marked the spot to
place the awl, pierce the bone, open “o”s
for fingertips. Breath takes wing in a rising
half-note, descending overtones, like bird
song. Who disassembled the eater of the
dead, pulled its feathers out until barren
bone gleamed, then thought to call down
the sky and sing through it? Who put this
bone flute in a midden, broken, buried, as
we’ll all be, when all our songs are gone?

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sedōka January 15 2017

A gull, washed in gold
as it lifts into sunlight—
in a moment, gone from view.

This morning finds me
in sleep’s shadow, as I watch
for those birds you’ll never see.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Huītzilin

Alan Vernon, "Female Costa's
Hummingbird
," 2011

Eye to eye, she tells me wring
more sweetness from the sun,
bring it now. She cannot wait.
Outrunning her shadow costs
her; at night, she won’t sleep,
she’ll step into a future death
just a little, her torpor a ruse
to outwit the killing cold. As I
make fresh nectar, I tell her a
story—the ancestral brothers,
kin to the god of war, skinned
for the glory of kings. She has
no truck with that, imagines a
new home to nest in—a royal
beating heart, exsanguinated,
extirpated by the same beak
whose feather-tongue kisses
the red dahlia, the sunflower.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Appropriate

Inka-Chincha jar with human face and corn feet,
1450–1532 CE. Photo by Ernest Amoroso, NMAI.

There’s nothing I can say in my own
tongue, with my own tongue, within
my imagined memory. I have a sugar
cube clenched between my teeth for
the glass of tea my great-grandfather’s
ghost needs. The bitter taste of what
I can’t say: it’s not appropriate; don’t.

So I’ll use my oldest silver to borrow a
cup from other poets, beg a mouth to
speak. How I’d spit sugar, appropriate
their heat to warm my dead beloveds.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Maya

Antoine Vollon, "Mound of Butter," 1875–85

These are special, these effects. As
I pass through the magicked mirror
and out another side, become light,
my doppelgänger sees what I don’t:
how CGI ants swollen on honeydew
feed their imagined queen; pools of
code where cellular automata swim,
breed. Presence, here, is an artifact
shaped by attention paid elsewhere.
I gaze, touching metal not wood, as
the shining simulacrum places silver
coins on my eyes, the better to see
something that’s not quite me with.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Unmoored

Cai Guo-Qiang, "Saraab, Endless," 2011;
photo by Hiro Ihara, courtesy Cai Studio

In this fog, it’s unclear where the
anchor lays. Pulling on the frayed
rope, and everything yielding, so:
nothing at the end of it. The wash
of gray-green harbor water licking
the bow, or the blood-rush in my
ears, I can’t tell which; they sound
the same. Unmoored, I drift past
the harbor’s mouth, so far past I
can no longer hear my own voice.