Tuesday, August 17, 2010




for Dave Richardson (a.k.a. Fuzz)

a friend

who is suffering terminal cancer


Some people just hurt too much

to want to go on living

and others are just angry

that they were ever born.

Sophocles at ninety

handsome rich athletic genius Athenian

at the end of a superlative life:

Never to have been born is best.

And I forget which caliph it was

Abbasid or Ummayad

Al Mutakkil perhaps

but after a long life

full of women and conquest

with the soul of an Arab poet

and the mind of a Persian knife

and the honesty of a Tuarig warrior

who knows that life

is sand and wind and water and stars

at the height of the Islamic empire

said in a letter at the end

for all the privileges of life he’d known

he could count no more

than thirteen days of happiness in all.

Makes me think.

Makes me wonder.

For years I’ve tried to shake the shadow

of what these people might have seen.

Perceptive men.

Not fools.

Is there nothing in the heart of life but sorrow?

The phoenix dreams of fire

and wakes up in its own ashes?

No joy in the mere sentience of being alive?

The bread of life we all labour for

a harvest of thorns?

That much suffering

nothing but a purposeless torment

impersonally perpetrated

by a self-fulfilling absurdity

that doesn’t know about us?

And what do we know about

the intimate individuality

of all the ants

we’ve stepped on in a lifetime?

Are the symbiotics of death

the same as those of life

or is life a bacterial parasite

that thrives on our breath

like a dying atmosphere sickens the earth?

One hundred and fifty million years of dinosaurs

gone with the impact of one stone

ten kilometers wide out of nowhere

sucker-punching the Gulf of Mexico

and knocking the wind out of the planet.

And you can line up the skulls of the hominids who died

on their way to us like masks that were discarded

trying to find one that would fit us

like the Medicean brain-cap

of Brunellesci’s dome

on a rainy Renaissance cathedral in Florence.

But it’s arrogant and presumptive to think

they ever had us in mind

like some distant future

that would one day return

to drink from the same river

you can’t step into twice

and see in the false idols

of our own stone-cold faces

thousands upon thousands of the dead reflections

that blossomed and perished long before us

like apple trees and harvest moons

and Pithacanthropos afrensis robustus.  

We still consult the bones of things

like prophetic skulls

that look to the dead for answers

the living can humble their questions to

like a catastrophe to the crisis of surrender

that is the lesser of two evils

at the crux of the matter.

We’ve come a long way since yesterday.

From Clovis point to ballistic missile.

From St. Paul to Paul Pot.

From Attila’s brother Atolf

to Adolph Hitler.

You can say what you want

we’re still more at home with war than peace.

You can put out fire with fire.

You can put out pain with pain.

But there’s something suspiciously inferior

about a bigger brain

that lives in a skull-bound interior

like a grain of wheat or sand

and understands less and less

about the universe within itself

the more it expands.

Show me the apocalypse

that’s the antidote to the Big Bang.


Show me the serum

that’s poison to the poison of the opposite fang.

You can’t pour the universe out of the universe

to put it out like an arsonist in a volunteer fire-brigade.

There’s no inside or out to it.

There’s no red neon sign

glowing like hell

above an emergency exit

and if there ever was an entrance

to the garden of Eden

those gates to paradise

closed behind us long ago like water

without leaving any stretchmarks or scars.

But what is most appalling

and dangerously liberating of all

is to see how little human values

amount to anything more

than the intimacy of a few random fireflies

and unstable atoms

with the abysmal darkness behind the veils

of the visible universe

that conceals the black matter

of its unknown origins

by attributing its beginnings to hindsight

so that life could only be experienced

moment after moment after that

as a kind of afterlife

without a future.

Before the earth was called earth

it collided with another planet called Thea

and they made the moon

and it was stillborn

and upon the earth

there was one great continent

from pole to pole

called Pangea

that eventually broke up

like Humpty Dumpty’s skull

that wasn’t cosmic egg enough to cover

the whole soft head of the earth

in synarthritic sutures of bone.

Everyone’s been trying

to get it together

on their own ever since

changing one shape for another

jumping from one skull to the next

like evolution.

The predators get eyes

and everyone learns to hide

on the dark side of their seeing

reversing themselves

like a lot of soft attitudes

under the hardening shells

of the turtles and cathedrals

the world stands on

like quicksand cornerstones.

But one look into the unrelenting depths

of the highs and lows

in the abyss of the dragon’s eyes

and you stop making distinctions

among myriad lucidities

and earth-born snakes take to the sky

like circumpolar constellations with wings.

You look at the stars

and you see fireflies.

You look at the fireflies

through a reflecting telescope

and you see stars at the bottom of a well

looking back at you

in awe of the impossible distances it takes

to reach the nearest human. 

The shadows teach you

as much about life as the light

and wisdom that hasn’t been enlightened like a star

enhanced by the deepening night

is the last asylum

of the shore-hugging fools

who feed it like a fish-farm.

They cultivate their minds

like deep seas

that aren’t ready for life.

They nibble at it in little dainty bites

like crustless cucumber sandwiches

systematically arranged

like keystones in a Roman arch

leapfrogging across the landscape

like waterclocks and aquaducts.

They go on and on like haikus

that won’t take no for an answer.

The moon on the Tay river.

The date-rape drug in my drink.

And since they’ve learned to think

they’ve forgotten how

to chug the whole river in a single gulp

without getting in way over their heads

and drowning us all in self-pity

as if it’s for sure

it’s a shame we were lost

washed out to sea

in the undertow

of a sunami of tears

and there weren’t enough time after us

to measure the cost of our absence in lightyears.

But I can easily see

how nature keeps a budget

and we’re an unnecessary expense.

It’s cold.

And it makes sense.

But this is precisely how things got

so brutal and empty inside us in the first place

even the elements couldn’t endure for long.

It’s one thing to be a god

but it’s wholly another

to survive against the odds

of your own creation.

You don’t need to ask a church about that

like a blind witching wand

twitching for holy water

when the mystery of life

shines out of the darkness in each one of us

like the divine truth

of the godless fact

we call intelligence

and look upon life

as if it were the last act

of a dangerous imagination

that left us on our own

in a huge empty room

with strange lights

moving across the wall

and the portraits of dead insights

outside in the hall

casting shadows under the door

like threatening loveletters

from someone we never think about

and don’t really want to know.

Dilemma paradox the human condition predicament

ambidextrous oxymoron

how haven’t we laboured

to anesthetize our pain

by trying to define life

in the abstractions we draw

like the last breath

of unsuccessful exorcists

giving up the ghosts

of our suffering

by looking in the mirror backwards

and giving them names as they disappear into the abyss

like birds into their adventurous homelessness?

All of space is contained within each of us.

All of time.

The whole of the beginning that never ends

and the extremities of the end where everything begins.

All you me her them

so many faces blown from the black boughs of dark matter

like Japanese plum blossoms

torn from the orchards of the moon like eyelids

that couldn’t keep hid

what wanted to be known

like a flower in a waking seed

or the universe that is engendered by a human

and disappears back into him like a dream from the night before.

And we do this every day and night

of our lives upon this earth

like breathing.

We take things in.

And we let them out.

We’re like the full moon

when it lies down upon the waters

whole in the sky

but scattered on the waves

like feathers waiting for a bird that knows how to fly.

Death is the dark inspiration

that muses on the possibilities

of realizing life within itself

like the potential of an undiscovered poet

suddenly coming to light.

Life emerges like a star deep in the night

like a firefly at the window

and it is we who are expressed by it

not the other way around.

It lives its way into us like earth and water

like a river

like a wind

that dances like a mad dervish

in a frenzy of stars

when he discovers he’s just another mirage in the desert

drinking from the eyes of his own reflection

to achieve illumination.

On the peripheries of life

he suffers his destruction as a circumference

to be centered in creation.

Enthroned in the circle

there are no gates or windows or doors

no paths or roads

for anyone to pass through

no locks on anything

no keys

no delusions

no chains

no starwalks on the way to enlightenment

no body to cast off

as if you could turn your back on matter

no spirit to put on

like the tantric stovepipe of the Mad Hatter.


there’s no more need

to seek liberation

than there is for a thief

to steal from his own house.




But one good guess deserves another

and it’s as wise to be kind to your delusions

as it is foolishness

to try to grasp the truth

without keeping one eye on the facts

and the other on compassion.

So I hope you’ll forgive me for going on as I do

about things I know nothing about

but thinking of your death

has ripped a hole in me

and all the stars are pouring out

like a parallel universe looking for space

and I’m trying hard not to cry

for the death of physics as we’ve known it

without going insane.

I’ve been trying to turn a sandstorm

into a windowpane full of stars

as the tears fall

like slow glass from my eyes

in a vain attempt

to lighten the room up with chandeliers.

But it’s just as dark as it always was.

And I’m just as angry at a god

I don’t believe in

for not being there

and think it’s probably better

he shouldn’t exist

inconceivably or not

if he’s behind this lottery of death

that keeps coming up with all these ways

of killing us

as if there was nothing about being a human

that had any more individuality

than hydrogen.

What was it about our original creation

that god should have so run out of breath

or inspiration

he couldn’t get past death

in the making of us?

Why can’t we live forever

like the angels and the demons do?

They aren’t struck down for good

by wars and cars and cancer.

What’s wrong with us?

Is there a gene missing from our embryos

like a long pause

at the end of the unfinished sentence

where god forgot what he was going to say

and we had to make it up as we went along

the rest of the way on our own

against the odds of ever getting it right?

Stars gods

the strangers we are to ourselves

what haven’t we tried to second-guess

witching for water with lightning in an open field

like rootless trees

trying to get a foot in the door

of a habitable planet

that’s more abbattoir than arboretum?

And I’ve lost count

of the number of holy books

I’ve thrown into the fire

but the fire hasn’t gotten any wiser.

And no matter how many nights on my own

I re-read the shadows like letters from home

I still haven’t found my way back

to where I began as the child

of a sungod and a Mayan calendar

that were always

one tiny firefly of apocalypse

shy of cosmic doom.

Attired in space and time for the occasion

one size fits all

like a funeral.

Infinite richs in a little room!

The rain on your window someone left open.

The pearl of the moon

that’s been growing under your tongue

like a secret you’ve kept to yourself for ages.

And there are corners of life

where we all sit at right angles

to the writing on the wall

like a dunce among sages

with more than a hundred and eighty degrees.

Everyone has their selfless and selfish reasons

for being who they are.

The blossom doesn’t have to look very far

to find its own roots

mired in the starmud

that feeds the dead to the living.

What goes around comes around

and everything is looping

so way ahead is just behind us

and we who inch along in the present

keep getting lapped by the future

like the tortoise by the hare.

The one who wins

is the one who doesn’t keep score.

The best of archers always hits the mark like rain.

It aims for a lot of zeroes.

An abundance of nothing.

The spine of the arrow

already in the heart of the yew tree

that’s fletched it with singing birds

and draws it back like a compound bow

and lets it go to follow its own path

to the dead center of wherever it might be found.

When the heart isn’t a flight plan

it’s a blood-bath.

But you’re missing the point

if you think it’s a target.

You’ve only got one eye open.

This short breath of life we take

like footsteps we follow one after another

isn’t a long road to a narrow one-way door called death.

Death isn’t the return address of your mother.

There’s no wandering threshold

of homesick prodigal sons

returning to the flocks of their fathers

like one lost black sheep among a hundred.

There’s no third eye of a needle

to squeeze through like the caravan

of a fat rich man

trying to bribe his way into heaven.

It isn’t the last night of a cosmic insight

though I’m sure we’d all enjoy life more

if we approached it like a last meal

with the appetite of a condemned man on death row

instead of turning a feast into a last supper

as if the wine of the thief

didn’t turn into the blood of a god

deep in his cups

lamenting what he’d come to.

Eloi! Eloi! lama sabacthani?

My God! My God!

Why hast thou forsaken me?

The nightbird in the tree on a hill of skulls

never stops singing to the dead.

And there’s always a voice

in the mouth of the prophetic head of Orpheus

that knows how to charm its way into the underworld

to retrieve the coin lost to the river like the moon

from the river

without asking for anything.

It’s one thing to know how to fly

like an angel

but it’s another altogether

to know how to lose your feathers

like a bright demon

in a dark human  

and fall toward paradise

as if there were no up or down to heaven

and no way in or out of hell.

Life’s a magician that can’t break its own spell

like Prospero broke his wand across his knees

and drowned his book

to get back to more estranged realities.

From the moment we were born

it’s all been one long last look

to see where we might be going.

But what effect does death have on time?

The past and the future

both suckle at the breasts of the dark mother

that sustains them like the Milky Way of the moment

on the nectar of gods and ghosts

to keep them from being swallowed up by time.

The old gods

might eat our gravestones 

and think that they’re well served

if they gorge on their own children

dip the bread in the wine

and say it’s flesh and blood

but there is something

so unmystically specific

about our bodies

it’s hard to go on cosmically barefoot

down the long road ahead that fits us

like one pair of shoes for all.

And it’s as oxymoronically strange

as everything else is

but the only continuity in a world of change

is change itself.

That’s what we are.

That’s what we do.   

That’s what intelligence is.

Change trying to get a fix on itself

like a star in eleven dimensions

and an infinite number of parallel universes

where every atomic nuance and possibility

of who we are and aren’t is true.

It’s how everything we ever knew

and will be

happens anew.

How the atoms give birth to the galaxies.

This mind we have now

full of thoughts and feelings

we think of as our own private possessions

though all we’re ever doing is grasping at butterflies

and setting up bird nets for the wind

constellations to entrap the fireflies

this mind

is merely a rumour of life in the sun.

A lamp in a tent seen from a far hill.

It rains

and every drop is an insight

of light and water

cleaning your leaves

and easing your roots

as you flow upward like a fountain

to kiss the sky

and summon the birds

to put their singing voices like music

to your words.

We can say it.

We can play it.

But that doesn’t mean

the insight the music or the water is ours.

We’re not the message.

We’re the expression of the moment

in a cosmic medium

and then we get to be something else

that is us but not ours.

What we see in everyone

and everything else

is the face we see in the mirror.

There are as many strangers

as there are friends

in everyone’s reflection.

As many lives as there are deaths

in every breath we take

as many saints as sinners

as many losers as winners

as many lovers as those

who know what it is to live without love

making up alibis about why they’re alone

sitting at a computer screen

as they used to sit at an upstairs window

looking down at the street

longing for something they’re too proud to need

that would ennoble their solitude

with the inconceivable ending of it.

Julala Din Rumi once wrote that he had

spent his life

knocking on a door

looking for answers.

The door opened.

He was knocking on the inside!

We ask a question

and wait for the answer.

But we don’t recieve the answers.

The answers receive us

just as a river makes its way to the sea

with news of the mountains

and what it’s like to fall from the stars

in single drops of rain

and then be gathered up again into the flowing

as if our separation

had only advanced

our coming together again with a new zeal.

All those threads of water

woven into the one sea

like a single great tapestry

that’s just as quickly undone again

by the moon or Penelope

like a wound that never mends.

We might leave the solar system

like a deep space probe

when we die

looking for signs of sentience

beyond us.

And you might feel

like a cold lonely machine on Mars

roving across a desert

millions of miles from home

under the purple sunsets and pink skies

of a strange planet

looking for water and life

like Kilroy was here on a rock.

And you might see things

that no one’s seen before you

that will change like the light

when it passes through an eye

deep into the starless darkness of a human being

that transforms imageless illumination into seeing

so that the light reveals more

than just that which was hidden.

But even if you should feel sometimes

you’re just whistling to yourself

alone in the dark

as you make your way

like a solitary explorer through a new mindscape

that doesn’t wear a body like a battery pack

don’t think that we won’t be listening

to what you send back

like a postcard from the edge of nowhere

that hasn’t lost touch with home.

Like the dove and the crow

released from this ark of flesh

that carries two of every kind

to look for land

across the wide vast depthless expanse of our gaze

flatlining on the horizon of an unappeasable flood

we’ll be waiting for the crow to come back

with a sprig of olive in its beak

to let us know that you’ve found

what we all seek.