Saturday, January 15, 2011




The worst vice is advice

and I’m not certain I have the right to speak

about a blackhole my light hasn’t entered yet

or even that you have

given death isn’t something that’s lived through

and you still might know as little about it all as I do

here on the near side where the sun is still warm.

But I tried several times when I was young

and once in middle-age

to disgorge myself like a cosmic egg from a serpent’s mouth

finding it impossible to believe in my resentment as a way of life.

Whiskey and sleeping pills for the big events.

And a lot of subjective risks

I took like a samurai committing hiri kiri

so I could live up to my image of John Keats

who always made a gracious bow

at the end of a poem

he wrote on his deathbed in water.

But the worst trespass

against the Bushido laws of anger

when they turn on themselves

is to turn them into the farce

of a tragic sentiment

trying to put a good face on its flaws.

Things don’t have to be that severe to be true to themselves.

You don’t have to put barbed wire around the rose

to protect it from its thorns

or die like a rodeo clown

to keep the moon from being gored on its own horns.

You don’t have to add your darkness to the darkness to brighten the light.

You don’t have to snuff the shining to see a better way through the night

than the door you’ve been knocking on from the inside

on the threshold of your homelessness

as if you had already died

and the news was late in coming.

The trick is

not to expect chaos to come to your rescue

but to outwit death like the mystics

and find a way of dying that kills you into life.

I’m sixty-three this year

and I’ve had a lot of friends and lovers

I was expecting to die of old age among

kill themselves along the way

and that’s even before I consider those

who died of natural causes

and the usual accidents

for the best of reasons




making gestures of sympathy

at the wake of a dead absolute.

No meaning to life?

No response to yours?

No direction to go in

that hasn’t got its head up its ass

like the beginning of the end?

Can’t tell the difference between purpose and panic anymore?

Did you set out looking for a new continent

or a northwest passage to fame

and after you drowned like Atlantis

one night in a storm

those on shore

who watched you go down

ended up naming a lifeboat after you?

Tired of the squirming bag of skin you’ve been living like a snake in?

Time for a new straitjacket on the corpse in the coffin?

Is your Sisyphean avalanche still trying to crawl back up the mountain

like a country bumpkin

to the laughter of sophisticated pyramids

amused by upstart civilizations

that haven’t learned how to outlive themselves yet?

Has the loveletter that wished you well in leaving

evaporated like the ghost of a snowflake in the mouth of furnace?

I know how despair can make everything go mad but your sorrow.

How space can suddenly convulse

into a seizure of glass

and turn your face into a lunar landscape

where yesterday has nothing to do with tomorrow

because nothing ever changes the way you look at yourself

when you’re more brittle than the mirror you’re holding up to nature

to see if there were any defining feature

that was better than the creature you are?

I know you don’t want anyone listening in on you

but that doesn’t mean

that it still isn’t crucial to be heard from time to time

like a man living upstairs you’ve never met

opening a window.

I saw a man jump from an attic window

and land on a white picket fence

when I was ten.

At seven in a garage I was trying to break into

I found a Salvation Army major in full uniform

hanging by his neck.

I didn’t know what to say then

and I don’t really know what to say now.

Exotic memories of a deranged childhood

whose first transgression

was its own innocence.

The way you take your life

says a lot about how you lived it.

Suicides always seem to come in through the back door

of their own house

when no one’s around

and leave by a window

as if they’d stolen something from themselves

and everyone else

that no one could put a value on

and no one would ever get back.

Come on now.

Take some time with me.

It’s not running out.

There’s only so much

and then there’s forever.

And we’ll all be dead soon enough anyway.

Every tree baby bluejay and blade of grass.

All the onceness of life in its mystic specificity

all that sacred indelibility

gone just like that

in a hundred years or so.

A watercolour in blood washed out by the rain.

And here’s something that might make you mad enough to live

or give you pause in your extinction

while you’re waiting for the next asteroid.

All suicides are control freaks

who insist on having the last word

like the silence they impose on all of us

that cannot be taken back

like the ad hominem of a bad argument.

Suicide is a nuclear winter

that can’t be aimed at any one species.

When you kill yourself

it comes down on all of us

and the sun isn’t seen again for years.

Suicide is a way of passing the buck

to someone else

for an astronomical catastrophe

no one can afford.

You die quick

but the rest of us have to endure your agony

like work you left undone.

The candle has a bad dream

and wakes up

and puts a pillow of smoke

over its face

to stop the light from breathing.

A shattered fortune-cookie isn’t fate

anymore than a cracked egg is a bird.

It’s the same with your heart when it’s broken.

You say the world lies to you

but open your own mouth

and see if your word is as true to the voice you heard

before you spoke it.

Even if life were one long interminable sentence

who could read to the end

of its unrepeatable content

and think that all that was meant

was the endstop of a punctuation mark

that poked a blackhole in the balloon of an expanding universe

like the womb of a pregnant voodoo doll

who looked upon life as a curse?

It’s important not to break faith with your delusions.
If you throw bad meat down a wishing well

bright with stars and fireflies

why should you be surprised

if the only thing that seems true to you

is a fossil of Tinkerbelle?

Come on now live with me awhile longer here on earth

as if you had already achieved your death

and there were nothing left to bind you

to what’s been left behind you

or what’s up ahead.

Let’s live as if rigor mortis had nothing to do with freedom.

Let’s live as if life were a lover who couldn’t care less what we meant

and our thoughts were merely the ashes of the ropes that bound us to the stake

of persecutors who don’t wake up with us when we do.

Let’s live as if it weren’t important

that no one else in the world

ever knew pain as intimately as we did.

Let’s live this once and forever together

as if all our agonies were transformative

and even in the deepest snakepit

where the light is thin

if you grow enough

you can shed the universe like skin

and strut your stuff in a new one that fits you better

than that whale-bone straitjacket with a spinal cord for a lace

you wore in the last one.

Let’s give ourselves all of time and space to shine

and bend the light like Einstein

into a gravitational lense

to keep an eye on our absence

while we disport ourselves among the fixed stars

like homeless delinquents

like firefly freedom fighters

liberating them like captive constellations from their mason-jars.

Let’s throw roses in our path instead of thorns just this once.

Let’s not jump from the same old bridge we did last time.

Let’s not fall to earth again like bitter green apples

that couldn’t get over the loss of their bloom.

Let’s get a little colour on our skin

to go with the autumn

before we give in.

Let’s take advantage of the opportunity

to transcend death

by adding ourselves like a third extreme to life

without expecting our ghosts to notice the difference.

If hanging on has got you down

letting go won’t bring you up.

Think for a moment before you jump.

If you’ve really overcome the biological imperative to live

and you’re as free to go as you are to stay

just like the buddhas you met on the road

and killed along the way

why waste all that power and freedom on the dead?

You can come at enlightenment

from the dark side of the mirror

as easily as the bright side at the front.

No loss.

No gain.

No life.

No death.

What you take in.

What you let out.

The same breath.

You’re the living edge of a great spiritual warrior

without a religion to fall back upon.

You don’t need to draw first blood to prove your sincere.

Among mujadeen

you can be the one that defused the bomb.

Among crusaders

you can be the one that turned around and went home.

You can be a great Zen samurai

and lead an army of grass

up to the gates of the trees

to accept their surrender

like the blossoms of spring

or you can take pity on the living

and add the clarity of your darkness to their night

to help bring their stars out

like fireflies of spontaneous insight.

You can do anything.

If you can’t find a meaning to live

you can make a meaning of yourself

and get behind someone else’s good guess

like a nightwind going in the same direction.

It’s easy to see the rabid madness of the world.

Even if you’ve freed yourself not to be in or of it.

That’s only step one.

That’s not true extinction.

That’s only the ashs of nirvana.

Live a little longer.

Wait a bit.

And you’ll feel the dragon

rising out of its own immolation

with a spirit of serpent-fire

and a wingspan that transcends

the highest and the lowest

the worst and the best

east and west

life and death.

Step two is to see deeply

into the sublimity of human folly

and reanimate your death with desire

to bring the rain

because you know water

is a more generous element than fire

with more staying power to heal

what’s left of the fire

long after it’s gone out.

One fang stings.

One fang heals.

The assassin plays doctor to death.

The doctor cries over what the assassin feels

and the dead get their coffins off their chest.

Step three is seeing the finality in transience.

The crazy wisdom in the absurdity of our ignorance.

The complicity of our innocence.

What’s unindictable about our guilt.

How lame a blessing is without a curse.

How the best emerges from the worst

like a waterlily from a reeking swamp.

Torn down like pillars of quicksand

with the world on your shoulders

like hair down your back?

Beaten up humiliated scorned by the bullying world?

Violated and dispossessed?

Thieves in your treasure-chest?

Lost touch with your self-image

like a snake that’s lost touch with the last skin it’s shed

or a river that runs down a windowpane like rain

trying to make it back to the sea

without getting to the roots of anything?

Tired of witnessing what’s irrational about rationality

and losing your mind over it?

All your noble ideals gone slumming with their counterparts

and you’re left like the jack of hearts

without a punchline in the parking lot?

Tired of coming home

to the immensity of your loneliness

and finding out you’ve been robbed in your absence?

You don’t have to be these shadows of yourself

behind closed doors

taking pathetic stabs at the tragic

to turn a voodoo doll

in the likeness of yourself

into a clown that doesn’t feel real.

There’s no history of the future you haven’t lived through

that hasn’t already absolved the mystery of you in tears.

Not afraid to die

isn’t the same thing

as having the courage to live.

It may well be the birthright of a suicide

to raise its own assassin

like a messiah of the dead

come to convert the living

with the jaw-dropping prophecies of prophetic skulls

preaching the original sins of a new religion

trying to rise to its feet

and fall toward paradise

with an umbilical cord around its neck

knotted like a noose

instead of a cross

but suicide is an indefensibly human excuse

for thinking life is what is happening to you from the outside

like a battered planet

or the great sea of life

were picking on you personally

like the tiny embryo in the womb of a drop of water

hanging on by a thread of itself

to the tip of a blade of stargrass

in a categorical hurricane.

Sensitivity makes you sensitive.

A house divided cannot stand.

Neither can human nature.

That’s why the waters of life

everywhere in all forms

at all times

in every space

in every face

just like reality

or the mind

all share the same features of being

in the same mirror

on the same wall.

Life isn’t a privilege a right or a choice.

It’s a calling.

Everyone’s life

is one among myriad answers.

Infinite petals of the efoliate rose.

Life summons everyone in their own voice

like the light of the sun and the moon

in the accents of the flowers.

Five petals open.

One flower blooms.

It’s the same way with our mouths when we speak.

Or this dream that keeps urging us to wake up

and see for ourselves

whether it was lying or not.

Life is the kind of hidden treasure

you can’t know the value of

until you seek it.

The longer you look

the more the search is worth it.

Please brother.

Please sister.

Hear me like an echo of starlight in your unremitting gloom.

Hear me like the creeking of a floorboard in an upstairs room.

Listen like the flowers listen to their dark root

or frightened children in the dead of night

listen to the wind

as if they lived in tents.

Don’t waste your suicide on death.

Die deeper into life than you’ve ever been before.

Whether you’re walking in sand

or walking on water

they’re all just waves of your own mindlight

making mirages where you can bed down for the night

and show your face to the stars

like the good omen of a full moon without nightmares.

Don’t snuff the light.

For every life that goes out

we’re all cast into a deeper darkness

than the shadows we wandered in before you appeared.

If the dead look less lonely than the living do to you now

peacefully composed and ordered under their gravestones

in close company with other books in the library

wait awhile

let the story run on a bit.

Take the dead silence for a muse

and let it inspire you like the night inspires your eyes

to be the genius of your own life

and mustering your courage

like an extreme form of desperate trust

let your feathers say jump

and your falling take flight

like the master of a new medium

like the lonely heroine of an original beginning

who has nothing but her own wingspan

for a true horizon

and the wind beneath it for a map.

The dead haven’t learned yet

how to take the example of her creative freedom

without turning it into a crude simulacrum of the cliches

that despair of any happy ending

that doesn’t compare with their own.

If the wine’s gone bad in the grail

pour yourself out on the ground if you must

but trust your emptiness

like the new moon in the old moon’s arms

and you will be filled up again

and life will heal itself and thrive in you

like a new word added to your vocabulary

that just like water in a running stream

or the wind in the leaves

through a birchgrove at night

doesn’t know when to shut up.

There’s no rapture in death.

Death isn’t a joy

that’s caught up to itself

breathless with anticipation.

The mountain when it speaks

isn’t any less sincere at its peak

than it is at the bottom of its valley.

The same is true of water and mind.

It’s the same in the shallows

as it is in the depths.

Aren’t all your senses

all your thoughts emotions insights intuitions

all the arts and skills of your heart and mind

your imagination

your prophetic vision

whether another cosmic storm’s on the way

or it’s just another spider

crawling across

the flat eye of your television

thinking the earth’s still round.

Aren’t all these curses gifts and blessings

evidence enough

of the way life takes compassion on itself?

Maybe your next breath

is a holier inspiration

than death ever could be.

You breathe in.

And the dead look upon you in awe.

The questions themselves might be the answer

to why people are walking around on the earth.

And this agony of being with climactic interludes

might be the life of a play

with comic relief

composed by a tragic hero

with a sense of humour

like a pantomime for the blind

after he tore his eyes out

enraged by what they’d seen.

But trying to understand yourself

isn’t like trying to explain laughter

to an audience of skulls

and the compassion that follows insight

like fruit follows the blossom that’s flown away

isn’t just a matter

of lowering lifeboats for lemmings in a bad dream

or being kind to the weather when no one else will.

You can cut your heart out like the core of an apple

you bit into when it was green and bitter

and spit it out

like the wisdom of a snake

but you can’t cut the tree out of the seed

anymore than you can stifle the creativity of your worst mistake.

If your life isn’t a reflection of anything worth seeing

maybe it’s time you learned to paint.

If you can’t stand the sound of your own voice

listening to itself anymore

maybe it’s time you learned to express yourself like music.

If you’ve burned your feet on life like your last firewalk

and the dark jewels you trampled into the starmud

hoping they’d turn to wine

don’t shine anymore the way they used to

when you held them up to the morning like grapes on the vine

maybe its time to bring your own to the wedding

instead of pinning all your hopes on water

like tails on the donkeys of all the miracles

that didn’t come true.

You might get higher on death

than you ever did on life

but don’t fool yourself.

You’re just changing one dealer for another.

And life’s been clean for five billion years

overcoming itself

like the evolution of an addiction

to an addiction

that craves nothing else

than your present state of mind.

Just because you feel like a big star

that gravitationally imploded into a black dwarf

that warps space into a circus of mirrors

that make a farce of the light

doesn’t mean you’re any less of who you are

or you’ve lost face on the dark side of the moon.

If no one’s ever lifted your veils

to look into your eyes

and feel the shining

maybe you’re Isis.

Maybe you’re the Queen of Heaven

and your star

is tatooed on the palms of left-handed sailors

who look to you to keep them from drowning.

Or maybe you’ve been looking for togetherness

in the dismembered body parts of your son-consort

blazing like Sirius on the distant horizon

like your last measure of hope.

There’s no stream of conciousness

in which you can wash your life away

in the waters of death

as if it were all one long incommensurable sentence

that’s having trouble dealing with punctuation.

There’s no black river in hell

in which you can wash the light off

anymore than a star can keep a secret from the night

or a period can interrupt

the flow of your thought.

If you meet the Buddha in the way

and you’d rather die than kill him

don’t try swimming through stone.

Listen to the mermaids singing to you

about love and the sorrows of life.

But don’t just listen with your ears.

Listen with your life.

Drown in the sublimity of the music

that tastes like the meaning of tears

and fall upon the rocks

you’ve been summoned to

like water that can’t be wounded by their voices.

It won’t help to weave another straightjacket

out of your elaborate choices

that isn’t so long in the sleeves

so you can fit right in with the rest of your peers.

If you don’t like what you see

when you look at your reflection in their eyes

be a light among mirrors

and realize

that one man’s face is another’s disguise

and there are deathmasks walking anonymously among them

that don’t look like anyone

until someone puts them on.

What can a rose be

if it never sheds its petals?

Or a tree

if it begrudges the wind its leaves?

It’s good to look up sometimes and feel the stars on your skin

dancing like angels on the head of a pin

or the riot of thoughts in the head of a human

who understands that heaven’s always been as close as that

not lightyears of insight away

and opens the door from the inside

out of compassion for the living 

and lets the whole of the night in

like a guest playing host to himself.

Take a look around you.

It’s the best show in town

and the ticket was free

even if you had to pop in

through a flap in a circus-tent

you learned to call mother.

The life of the mind is a feast of awareness.

Whether you’re sitting at the head

below the salt

or begging scraps down under with the curs

you’ve still got a place at the table

that’s as big as a universe

that’s been personally reserved

just for you

and you should approach it with good spiritual manners.

You should be as grateful as time

and as gracious as space

and exalt in the company of all things

as if you were among friends.

You should accommodate yourself like space

and embrace everything you are and aren’t

as if you were being a good host to yourself

and sit down with the least of us

as you would the most

and laugh as if it weren’t always winter outside.

Too many shoulds I know

but I’d rather get them off my chest now

than later say when it’s too late to say them

I should have.

I’d rather sit down at the table with you now

while we’re alive

while there’s still pain and beauty and insight in our eyes

to laugh at what we’re living

or cry over the disappointed lies

than wait for a knock on the wall

and try to believe it’s you.

I don’t want to break bread with your ghost

at a seance or an exorcism.

No one ever brings much to the table

when they sit down to talk to the dead.

No salt.

No wine.

No bread.

The living aren’t left out like the dead are.

Whenever you see people gathered together

and you’re not one of them

that’s because they’re all lonelier than you are.

It’s our separation that brings us together.

It’s our solitude that makes us all one.

It’s a uniqueness we all have in common.

It’s like the strong rope of a river

being unwound by a precipice

into a million little weak threads and drops of water

each one measureable and self-contained

feeling how lonely it is to be falling through space

bound by nothing to nothing but the nothingness around you. 

Each one of them reflects the whole of the universe

as if they were millions of tiny eyes

though they can’t see it

in the same way our eyes can’t see themselves.

You say you’re trying to find yourself

but who’s doing the looking?

Your looking for your lamp with your lamp.

Fireflies with fireflies.

Your mind with your mind.

Water doesn’t grow a witching wand to go looking for itself.

Green bough.

Dead branch.

Same song.

Even when we’re standing alone like whole notes

without any flags to surrender

how can we ever be separated from the music

when even the silence plays its part?

You can’t pour the universe out of the universe.

You can’t rise up like a wave

and sucker-punch the sea.

You can’t take your own life without killing me.

Without killing the trees the birds the flowers the stars

that depend on you to see what they are.

There’s never been a river that flowed out of itself

like a bloodstream.

There’s never been a mind

however far out at sea it might be

in bad weather

that’s ever returned to shore

whether this side or that

like a lifeboat

without someone in it.

Let go.

Put it on auto-pilot.

And let the wheel turn you for a change of direction.

Take that bit you’re teething on like a nine millimeter

out of your mouth

and learn to speak for yourself

in your own accent.

Why harness Pegasus to a deathcart

and then envy the birds their inspiration?

Does the eagle envy the swan its wings?

The depth of the valley of death is a measure

of the height of the world mountain we climbed.

The brighter the light.

The deeper the darkness.

And the victory is only worth so much as we had to overcome

to achieve it.

So even in full eclipse

when you’re lost in a sea of shadows on the moon 

and you’re emotional life

moves you like a snakepit of dangerous portents

look around for the nightlight nearby

that’s casting its spell on the darkness.

Take the highest and the lowest of yourself

and bring them together like the winners and the losers

who engender themselves like opposites

and let your contradictions consume themselves

like the snake that ate so many birds

it sprouted wings

and flew away

not like an eagle with a snake in its claws

not like predator and prey

obeying natural laws

but like a dragon of life

a sage of blood

with light in its veins

one of the fire-swallowers of life

who bring the rains.