Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Crazy man dancing with fireflies.

Another one trying to shoot out the stars.

I hear the woman next door weeping again tonight.

I don’t know what for.

Desire’s a phoenix in love with water

if that’s what it is.

The torch is plunged into the wound

to stop the bleeding

and the ashes get carried away.

I’ve loved nine women for years

and they’ve all buried me in a different place.

Or saved my skull to consult the dead

about a future that wasn’t living up to the moment.

The white poppy of the moon

bats her eyelashs through the pines.

I’ve never been as innocent as a cynic

nor quite as susceptible

but I remember the pain of separation

like the mirror of the lake remembers lightning

as the most brutal of all its revelations.

And how you can walk in and out of some doors

all your life like faces

without ever opening them

or knowing whose they are.

Everybody longs for the threshold they haven’t crossed.

Poor stars trying to live up to their radiance.

Wondering why it’s always behind them.

Why the dreamcatchers never get finished

and love ends up like some kind of cold fish

swimming through endless windows.

Music from far across town

this late at night

like a ghost answering a seance.

It rises above the trees like smoke

and disappears into the moonlight.

Someone’s trying to bloom in fire.

It happens but it’s rare.

I take a firewalk down memory lane

but all my cremations seem no more to me now

than the shadows of candles

and though I feel intimately removed

this afterlife of mine is not scar tissue

whether things got over me

or I got over them

no matter.

Attachment too is a Buddha activity

and though passions that once

made even the trivial sacred

and the impossible slight

have transformed

the hot blue flame of their hydrogen

into the carbon and oxygen

of more sustainable intensities

the selflessness of my impersonality

is not aloofness or indifference or exemption

or the consolation of wisdom won by acclamation.

Time distills the spirit out of all things human

and you can delight in your past

as if it were the future of someone else

who lives it like the unfolding

of leaves in the spring

that shadow the ripening apple

until it tastes like the tears of the autumn sun.

Joy and compassion

and the lucid spontaneity

of staying improbably ageless

again and again and again and again

as the years rejoice in the young and old alike

climbing the ladder of the tree

from so far down in the dark earth

they’re beyond the reach of its ancient roots

and the utmost of its aspirant branchs

scratching at the windows of heaven.

And then most amazing of all

someone comes to the window

and parts the veils

and like the last line of the last act

just before the curtain call

you fall.

You fall toward paradise

as if you’d failed

and had to do it all over again.

But if your heart needs healing

offer your love up like a transplant

to anyone who can use it

and your mystic eyes to the stars

that want to see through them

what their light looks like

from deep inside

the expanding vastness within you

that can hold all that shining

like the sky or the sea embraces

all kinds of its own weather

without ever overflowing the brim.

The skull you drink from

like a wishing well

in the desert watersheds of the dead

is a cup without a horizon.

A real mirage with imaginary water.

A seabed of shadows on the moon.

Low-tide at noon.

Providential midnights when it’s full.

But if you don’t like

what you’ve been hearing about yourself lately

when you stop to listen

to what your saying

and don’t recognize the voice

you’re speaking in as your own

hold your ears up like conch shells to the oceans

that have never heard a recording of themselves

and carefully watch their faces.

And if you make the same stupid mistake

you swore not to make again

learn to recycle your ignorance

so you can save a bit of wisdom

for the rest of the world

to remember what it was like once

to be alone in Eden

with no one else to rely upon

and all you had to add

to the conversation of the rivers

that flowed out of it

all you had to share with your solitude

and boundless emptiness

was your unaswerable longing

even as it was being shaped

by their waters

into the form of the unimaginable.

Into the form of a woman

who tasted then

and tastes forever now

of the original light

of spontaneous creation

however many worlds

and lives and years and nights had to pass

before you first saw her

and felt your afterlife condense into a star.

Crazy man dancing with fireflies.

Crazy man dancing with fireflies.

And it doesn’t matter

there’s no one here

to understand my delight.

Crazy man dancing with fireflies.

It’s hard to read me in so little light

but when you fall asleep

it’s the world that dreams

and though I feather the wind

with firebirds of desire

and write loveletters

long into the night

that grow like the graceful tendrils

of ink dissolving in water

whatever the sign of the season

there’s no bitterness in the vine

and no departure in the reason.

Though I’m a leaf with the wingspan of autumn

even in the dead of winter

the phoenix is green

and by late summer

there’s a crazy man out dancing with fireflies

down by the Tay River

who is too carried away

by the picture-music

of what he hears with his eyes

and sees with his ears

of all that he’s been and will be

alone together with everyone forever

in love and out

full cup and empty

eclipsed and forgotten

or charged with the radiant urgency

of fireflies after the rain

to care what any of it might mean

when they fire the valley up for a moment

like blasting caps in a beaver dam

that’s flooded the road.

And everything’s so nimble with light

so vital and effusive with joy

so mysteriously near and always

all darkness all pain all sorrow

all that’s lost and weary

and fearful of ever being found again

of being loved or despised

is absorbed blameless into bliss

like a tender intimacy

into a great vastness

that lives within us all

even as we disappear into it

like the sky in the heart of a bird.

Or just before the soft flare of moonrise

through the leafless veils

of the glowing birchgroves

on that far hilltop

where the pioneers

used to bury their boys with a view

a night just like this

as illusory as it is real

suffused with a spirit of water

that heals the wounded swords

the bruised flowers

the fevered promises

that are offered to it from the bridge

between this shoreless delirium

and the next.

A presence that’s always flowing away

like a mindstream among the stars and fireflies

with the power of time

and the effortless wisdom of change

that makes the going stay

and the perishing persist.

A night just like this.

A momentary kiss

that keeps faith

with the eternal flames of the fireflies

that adorn the darkness and waters of life

with indefineable joy

in the exuberance of the mystery

and unspeakable trust in the onceness of forever

and an abiding intuition

that even the fiercest thorns of pain

that have tasted first blood

and greyed the hearts of their lovers

can never be estranged

from the beauty of the rose.

A night like this

The great abyss

lucidly alive with its own shining

and a woman’s eyes

and a crazy man dancing with fireflies.



How to write poetry in a snakepit

without getting bit.

It’s easy enough to prophecy

from the bottom of desert wells

on mountaintops

in prison

and it would be sheer mercy

to be torn apart by Daniel’s den of lions

or swallowed by a whale

instead of being consumed

for what you believe

by maggots and tapeworms.

Parasites have no sense of a noble death.

But how do you write poetry in a snakepit?

How do you weave flying carpets

out of diamond backs

that strike out at anything that moves

as if their fangs couldn’t help it

you were born with the reflexes of a loom.

What wipes the blood off the crescents of the moon?

Where’s the antidote to the toxic tatoos?

Why all this treachery deceit and meaness?

Is it cool to shine with a reflected pettiness?

Almost fifty years

half a century

I’ve been sitting here doing this.

Trying to listen to what the stars are whispering

over the universal hiss of primordial assholes

who’ve been there from the very beginning of the myth.

In an ugly world

beauty isn’t just a mesmerist

in the eye of the beholder.

It’s a dynamic form of protest

that can kill someone into life

without a weapon.

And it’s hard enough

trying to understand war on the molecular level

the slaughter of the innocents

the loveless obscenity of its pornographic expense

the way it snatchs lives

like scraps of children

off their parents’ plate

and leaves them hungry for the rest of time

and try to reconcile it with a unified field theory

of infinite worlds within worlds of wonder

each with a cause of its own

and a monopoly on the means of its laws

to insist on being itself.

But if you want to see hatred and delusion

on a quantum mechanical level

as it is here up close and intimate

look into the faces

of twenty of your friends

and then turn the mirror on yourself

as if you had your finger on the trigger of the moon

in a game of Russian roulette

with intensely unhappy strangers.

In an ignorant world

insight isn’t just the usual suspect

and wisdom its unwitting accomplice

and the facts their DNA and fingerprints.

It’s a way of splashing acid in the faces

of illiterate extremists.

A way of teaching them how to read

from the burning books they’ve banned

like a child’s eyes

in the name of God.

It’s the most humane way of planting

improvised roadside explosives

that will blow them into kingdom come

like a field full of ripe poppies

milky with snake serum.

All snakes are addicted to their own venom

and speak of it as if they were the fountainmouths

of a secret elixir in the hands of a great magician

who once worked miracles for the pharoahs of Egypt

before that bastard Moses showed up and ruined everything

by throwing down his rod

to see whose serpent was bigger than God.

Snakes are full of penis envy

and you can’t train them to bite other people

or regurgitate the cosmic eggs they’ve swallowed

into a litter box.

And it took years and tsunamis of tears without eyelids

to learn how to be mastered by the skill of it

but the first trick of learning

how to write poetry in a snakepit

is knowing how to turn their scales into feathers

and putting wings on them

without them knowing it

shed them like dragons of old desire

heading south from a cold-blooded climate

like the souls of the dead in the bodies of birds.

Don’t let yourself be hypnotized

or turn away like words

from the eyes of snakes

but remember you can’t live like a fly

and write like an eagle

and turning your pen into a talon

with a firm grasp of the issue

as if it were a neck you’ve pinned down

with a witching wand

look them straight in the eye

and ask them how many children had to die

to keep them safe?

Then drop them on the rocks below

until they learn how to die for themselves.

And it’s crucial

to keep the universe

at the room temperature of fire long enough

it burns like dry ice on their skin.

Poetry is an oxymoronic pursuit

of the highest by the lowest

in a conjoining of mutually engendered opposites

and the lowest will always sting

the way you feel

like Paris stung Achilles in the heel

with a poison arrow

or Hades contracted a snake

to kill Persephone

so he could rape her in the spring

and drag her down below

like the corpse of an anti-romantic necrophile.

If you don’t want to hold a grudge like summer

so that even the earliest of your flowers

are inspired by the muse of grief

tear out your hair like Medusa in a fit of rage

and realize it’s better to go bald

that try to get the cowlicks out of mop of snakes

that never wear the same hairdo twice.

And always remember

it isn’t just the angels

who keep their places like baby teeth

under the ancient stone of the pillow

where you lay your head.

It’s not just the apple-trees

that have to worry

about who they let slide into their orchard beds

but there are rattlesnakes

under the rosebushs as well

that can smell you coming with their tongues.

And if you’re at all spiritual

don’t be naive about illumination.

The light fans out in all directions

like the wavelengths of snakes

thawing like knots combed out of the locks of the spring.

If you want to sit full lotus

in the middle of a public snakepit

and think of it as a private shrine

keep in mind that the same light

that opens the gates to heaven

like the eyes of the flowers

falls into the blackhole skull sockets

of spiritual Calcuttas as well.

If you want to be a lamp unto yourself

you hold up to the darkness

on a vision-quest

remember that creative enlightenment

is radiantly omnidirectional

one mile east is one mile west

and the same firefly that reveals paradise

is a traffic light at a crossroads in hell

that never turns green

and that the worst demons

like the crumbs of celestial dreams

you broke like bread

to share with those who had none

love to gather in the corners of your eyes

like spiders weaving dreamcatchers

to ambush the butterflies.

And though it might seem tempting

to take Medusa for a muse

when you’re trying to write poetry in a snakepit

remembering she’s the death phase of the moon

with immediate access to oracular powers

but it’s just as hard to learn

how to go down on her without turning into stone

as it is to look back on Sodom and Gommorah

without turning into a pillar of salt.

Consider the quality of the inspiration

and its source

and think before you drink deep

from her Pierian spring

like black cool-aid from dixie-cups in Jonestown.

There’s a darkness deep within you

that the light doesn’t know anything about

and it never goes out like bright things do

because it’s the long night

that gave birth to the stars

out of its own emptiness

as it did me and you.

It’s the black mirror

that shines more deeply than the white

once your eyes have adjusted to the clarity.

All the muses are bottled water

compared to its oceanic expanse.

It’s much better to sail your paperboats

like cherry blossoms

downriver to that

than it is to ask a snake

to inspire you with serpentfire

so you can write lovenotes to a sparrow

as if she were sitting on cosmic glains.

Snakes are all throat and no voice

except for the occasional rattle

but what they entrance

they swallow

and there’s no more music

in your whole notes after that.

You’re poetry goes flat as a gutted shell

or the shedding skin of a used rubber

and you’ll never get it up again in your afterlife

even if you sprout wings on your heels

like Hermes Trismegistus the Thrice-Blessed.

Pegasus is dead.

Long live Icarus.

Even tarred and feathered for flight

by an abusive muse

I know it’s hard to live like this

refusing to eat shit

and call it your daily bread

or waiting for manna to fall from heaven

like an airlift from a spiritual foodbank

that doesn’t understand flesh and bone

when you’re a species all of your own

trying to write poetry in a snakepit

and they ask what you do for a living

and you say

I paint and write

among things with two gashs for eyes

that squirm and coil and flare and hiss and spit and bite

out of the pure spite of their snake-nature

no matter how well Orpheus picks the lute

or the snakecharmer fingers the stops of his flute.

Expect to get bit

but don’t be ashamed of it.

I’ve lost track of the number of wounds

I’ve had to suck the venom out of

as I could feel my nerves numbing out

like the unempowered lifelines

to the lights

of a city off the grid

as a night of cold came on like a slow glacier.

And I’ve got so many puncture marks

all over my body

I feel like a cross between a starmap

and a popular voodoo doll on a good day

and a birthday balloon for porcupines on a bad.

Crush a few skulls with the stone of your heart

if you must

but even if the Sufis are right

and you take on the characteristics

of anyone you’ve been around more than forty days

even trying to write poetry in a snakepit

and this is of paramount importance

whatever you do

don’t grow scales on it.

Don’t look for a quick fix

but build your tolerance up slowly

as if your poetry

were the bloodwork of a syringe

that breathes in

as if it were taking a deep draft

and deliberately takes its time

like a good wine

to push back.

Don’t try to regulate the heart

of a warm-blooded mammal

with the rheostat of a reptile

or you’ll wind up writing

haikus and heiroglyphs

that read like the lines of vipers in the sand

and no one who’s ever written poetry in a snakepit

like an antidote to an ancient poison

will ever forgive you for or understand.