Monday, July 4, 2011


for Deb

I’m tired of talking

about all the shit in life

without mentioning the flowers

that transform it into something beautiful.

I’m weary of trying to be irrelevant

so I can feel I belong

to something bigger than myself

that doesn’t make me feel small and wrong.

A train whistle.

A car alarm.

An ambulance on the far side of town.

Three arbiters of harm

but no nightbird singing for the joy of it

and I’m sick of being the poet

who is writing all of this down

by an open window

at three o’clock in the morning

listening to drunk lovers on the street

rage over which one cares the least.

Who’s the beauty.

Who’s the beast.

I’m lonelier than I’ve ever been

living in this abyss of a mind

that sheds its shadows like a snakepit

hissing like the background cosmic radiation

of a universe at the beginning of its afterlife.

But I’m handling it better

than I thought I could

at least for the moment

like a fish that used to swim through tears

learning to swim through glass.

I flatter my ass sometimes

by thinking I’ve grown wiser over the years

but it’s a crazy kind of wisdom

that makes me feel

as if my highest ideals

were making a fool of me

and all I can say is Let them.

I watch myself with wry amusement

getting older around the periphery

and I’m determined to age gracefully

without lying to myself

about being forever young.

I keep track of my face

like a sign of the weather inside

and I’m discovering new stars

through the cracks in the mirror

all the time.

Death can take what it wants

but I’m not going to give it up

as if it was his

not mine.

So I live as if I were ageless.



And I look back upon my youth

as a bad dream that was as often

wounded by the truth

as it was healed by lying.

I was nurtured like a voodoo doll

on rooster blood and whiskey

without knowing who it was

they were casting the curse upon

and why

but when they crucified the angels

they stuck like pins in my eyes

to blind someone I’d never met

and had nothing against

I saw the first full eclipse of my heart

without any sunglasses on

and I began to cry like a chandelier

when its last lightbulb goes out

for all of us.

And you’d laugh at the little boy

who’s still trying to get a piece of me

behind my back after all these years

as if it were me

and not my old man

who was a bad father to myself

up to the age of seven

when he abandoned his four children

like a raging alibi he had to live up to

to explain his perpetual absence

as the best thing he could do for all of us

and he’s been perversely right ever since.

I’ve found more mercy in the darkness

than I ever have in the light.

There are hidden jewels in the ashes.

And though the heart may be soft coal

that glows in the fire

like an exhausted fable of human warmth

deep underground among the roots

of my radical upbringing

I’m still a diamond-mine

of adamantine insight

that keeps one eye on the stars

and the other on the darkness

just to keep things radiantly real

between the fireflies and the streetlamps

and the secret arsonists

with hearts as big as fire hydrants

trying to unionize my volunteer fire brigades.

I oscillate between compassion

and savage indignation

at the state of the world

it’s getting harder to assume I’m living in

like a wavelength of life

that’s learned how to shed its skin

like the cataracts of the old myths

that tried to paint what they saw

on my eyes

like flowers in the sky

on the lens of a refracting telescope

under house arrest

like the rest of the universe

for staining the absolutes

of a bad guess

with sunspots of relative knowledge.

But I still prefer

the spontaneous clarity of creative expression

to the nuclear urgency

of the grailquests going on

in the hadron colliders of science

trying to make a blackhole

disgorge its singularity

like a cosmic egg

that hatched in the belly of the serpent

and turning scales into feathers

gave birth to the endless origin

of a universe in the shape of an oxymoron

that roars like a dragon in its sleep.

And though I’m as enamoured of the stars

as I’ve always been

I have less of a tendency

to underestimate the creative potential

of a single match

in a cosmic mass of hydrogen

to explode like a Tunisian souk in the face

of an inflammable bureaucrat.

And as you can see

by the way I’m writing this to you

I’m still willing to whore the truth a little

for the sake of a good metaphor

but that’s a psychological hazard

of what I have to do

to live with my unlikeness

to stars and flowers

because I was created

in the image of a god

no one can know anything about

like a posthumous father who didn’t die in the war.

And just as you once said I would

I’ve destroyed a promising career in poetry

for the real thing

though I often wonder if that means

I’ll die alone in a crowded garret

like the tragic farce

of a literary cliche

trying to compare

the drool from my fountainmouth

to the dew in the dawn of a new day.

Now I spraybomb my poetic graffiti

on the sides of the empty boxcars

that pass for my train of thought

on the wrong side of the tracks as always

and when they’re sidelined

by a red light up ahead

I undo their couplings

like handcuffs and co-ordinate conjunctions

that belong to the cosmology of an old universe

that fell under its spell

like gravity and grammar once did

and free them like roads and rivers and mindstreams

to make their own way in the world

without turning my art into a weathervane

to ascertain

if the true meaning of madness

makes any sense at all to the sane.

And I don’t know why

after all these lightyears alone in the abyss

trying to make contact

when my heart reaches out

to someone like you

it’s always in an extraterrestrial language

that starts with the ambidextrous hieroglyph for love

as if that were the one-word native tongue

that says what can’t be said for most of us

and is the hardest of all to speak.

I’ve failed to grasp anything I ever sought

so I reversed it

and developed a talent for letting go.

I burned my starmaps

and let the seeking go on by itself

and forgot what I thought I was looking for.

Most of the time.

I may not be enlightened starmud

but you always had a way

of almost making me believe

you could see me shine.

And I hope I did.

And I really hope I did

because one of the worst things in life

is to love someone

and make your heart

the gatekeeper of the flowers

they’ve opened up in you

and not let them look upon their work

like an art that can only be mastered

by breaking your own timing and discipline.

If you get the inside out down to the last drop

the only way you can be sure of a cure

is if the grail is empty.

At least that’s what I used to tell myself

whenever I thought of you

and let the fire follow its own smoke to nowhere

as if that were a better place to be

than wherever I was at the time.

Like me tonight here

listening to the predictable emergencies

scream like banshees

at the windows of a dozy town

with only one funeral home

that’s been in the family for a century.

I hear the hushed whispers of the ushers of the dead

treading softly on plush carpets

to muffle any sound of life

that might wake the corpse up

as if they were escorting him to his seat

with flashlights in the dark

and telling him to enjoy the movie

he plays a bit part in

for the rest of his afterlife.

I don’t know why

this should make me angry

but it does.

And hearing you’re ill.

That your beauty is in jeopardy.

That all your butterflies

are learning to adapt to the darkness

like industrial soot

as your lucidity recedes

like a comet in passing

that doesn’t portend the beginning or the end

of anything the earth is overly concerned with.

Life and death issues that go on in the grass.

Tiny horizon events

with blackholes

in their frames of reference

as if some thief

just stole their portrait from the Louvre

where it used to hang

and discovering it wasn’t known enough to sell

dumped it like a black velvet painting

in a garbage can

that can’t tell an Andy Warhol from a Rembrandt

though the ants

live well off of both.

And what I don’t understand

is why nature is always smiling

like a pothead in harmony with everything

when the spider tears the wings off the butterfly

as if it were opening hatemail

and not a loveletter from God.

As if razor wire had been used

to make a dreamcatcher

and blood ran like roses down its thorns.

And all the mirrors in the room

were works in progress

in a house of horrors

that’s been gentrified

by flowers that bleed like glass

that’s learned to hold back its tears

like a watershed deep in this desert of stars

that weaves its magic carpets

out of the lifelines

that flow like the themes of lonely rivers

into the wavelengths

of great believers and deceivers like us.

When I think of what’s happening to you

I’m more convinced than ever

that mind is just a mirage

in a bag of water

with nine holes in it

keeping track of the time

like a waterclock

that never wakes us up in time

to get ready for life.

The moon beheads her own reflection

and dumps it like a goat skull

down the unreal waters of a wishing well

no one can drink from

when I imagine that even space

must be overwhelmed

by the intensity of your solitude

when you feel what your body is doing to you

is worse than any rapist

but it isn’t considered socially acceptable

to scream or haemorrhage in public

though your eyes accuse the gods of being liars.

I’ve never known what I had to say

until I’ve said it

because as Dogen Zenji pointed out to me

verbal expression is not thought.

Thought can be the alloy of image and sound

but it’s not elemental.

It wasn’t born

with the same potential

for picture-music that hydrogen was.

It’s a warm-up act for better voices

than the most exacting discipline of reason

could ever dream of having.

And besides

we were always sidereal enough

to realize that a straight line

is only an inexperienced curve

that hasn’t been given enough space and time

to bend its innocence like an arrow

to a flight path without a star map.

You were Deneb in the constellation of Leo

your birth sign.

I was the bad neighbourhood

of a rogue zodiac

born on the wrong side of the tracks

with a couple of houses missing

and homeless stars

with no myth of a return address

shacking up at the back of the rest

to hit up on their own shining

with no fear of arrest until the morning

when the sun rose like a wrecking ball

to tear down the building

like that house we lived in

where I first showed up on your threshold

they torn down and turned into a Giant Tiger parking lot.

Ten years since we’ve walked beside each other

but when I saw you the other day

and how tortured your body was

how shrunken and twisted

by the pain of the humiliation

and the outrage

of what has befallen you

as if Lyme disease

were one of the plagues of Egypt

and you were one of the lean kind

that followed the harvest

of the honey and wheat

your body used to be

like a second full moon in October on the wane

I didn’t see a scarecrow.

I saw a blue heron walking on the water

with a psychedelic cane

decorated in auroras of paisley

that shimmered like the northern lights

and I immediately saw

the hippie had not died in you

and though you were absurdly wounded

you still preferred chasing your visions

like waterbirds disappearing into the distance

off into the sidereal aloofness of a mysterious god

who keeps putting different faces

on the same namelessness

as if all the shadows and echoes of everything

in existence

were the sacred syllables

of the one voice that keeps calling out to all of us

as if we were all alone together in the same lifeboat

looking for a lighthouse in the fog.

And I didn’t think I was being cruel not to pity you

when you told me point blank

you were dying

and I understood your clarity

didn’t have enough time left

to commiserate with people who couldn’t handle it

and there weren’t enough gardens to go around

where the living could seek sanctuary from your fate

by closing the gate to their own.

In the unlikeliness of this life

that evaporates like an atmosphere

into the vastness

of every single breath we take

like a planet that isn’t massive enough to hold it

I’m glad we were lovers

and that among all the bills

and fights about nothing

and immense reconciliations

we got a chance to look at the stars together.

I remember you one night

bending over to pick wildflowers

at the side of the road

and your blonde hair

looked like the ghost of a willow

in the moonlight

and caught like a doe in the carlights

I saw a glimpse of life

that wasn’t so much eternal

as it was profoundly perennial

in the form of a woman

that went beyond beauty and love.

And I knew the flowers

knew more about it than I did.

I stood by the car

like a stranger watching

a sacred ritual he doesn’t belong to

and isn’t holy enough to disturb

as you filled your arms

with towers of blueweed

and plumes of white sweet clover.

And that smile on your face

as you walked back to the car

like a cover girl

that had just been airbrushed

by grace.

And though I didn’t fully understand it then

that jewel of a night

became a koan of insight

that has burned in me

like the eye of a dragon ever since.

And it doesn’t look through a glass darkly

into the terrifying immensities

and dwarfing transformations of life

as if the heart and the mind

were illegal immigrants

in a hostile universe

looking for a birthright to be.

And it’s not a crystal ball

without a past or a future

or a blackhole without an event horizon.

It’s not a gravitational lens

that bends the light

to its way of seeing.

No one’s put wings on it

like an orbiting telescope.

It’s not a third eye

or the holographic projection

of a pineal gland

painting pictures in space

to amuse the mind

and keep it from going mad.

I don’t know what it is

and it’s unlikely that I ever will

but it doesn’t look upon

the evanescent intensities

of human experience

with the severity of a dream

that nothing we do or say

can wake us up from.

It’s the clarity of the stars

that last summer

we ever looked upon them together

not as distant sources of light

but as a spiritual kind of weather

that only migrating birds know

and trees and flowers

letting go of their blossoms and leaves

and seraphic lions rising in the east

and two humans

stopping at the side of a country road together

to be silently astonished by the beauty of the night.

The starmud and the mystery.

It’s that softness of earthly light

that gathers around intangible things like form

as if it would protect them and keep them warm awhile

by wrapping them in one of its veils of lucidity like skin

that fits each of us

like our seeing fits our eyes.

Like our vision fits the stars.

Like our dreams fit our waking aspirations.

Like life fits the personal history

of the cosmic mystery

into every cell

of the most fallible of human hearts

like a summons to explore their lives

with courage and longing and wonder

like a message in a bottle from an island universe

we sent out like the light of a star a long time ago

like a loveletter we mailed to ourselves

in case we never got back this way

and someone were to ask where we went.

Or fireflies in a mason jar as big as space

wondering where all the light’s coming from.

Or love fits the shoreless ocean of awareness

into that teacup of insight

I had of you that night

and that wounded scythe of a smile

well-pleased with its harvest of flowers

turning into a question mark

by the time you got back to the car

as you wondered out loud

whether it would have been better

to leave them on their own.

I didn’t know what to answer then

but if you were to ask me now

I’d say every constellation

would be made an orphanage

of nameless lucidities

if someone like you

weren’t out gathering them up

like New England asters in the starfields

to make this cold palatial place

feel a little more like home.

And I’d point to the point

at the bottom of the question-mark

that makes up the head

of the sphinx that sits like Leo in a desert of stars

And I’d say

You see that?

That’s Deneb.

Do you see how

she answers her own question

like an exclamation mark making

a deep and gracious bow

like a woman bending

to pick flowers by the side of a road?

That’s a first magnitude star.

That’s a lion of compassion

that can kill you into life

without leaving a scar.

As above so below

that’s the totem of a woman I know

who could heal you like a hunter

who poured all her ferocity into love

like rainbow-flavoured psychedelic sunshine

like moonrise in a wishing well

that wasn’t the blood sacrifice of an Aztec skull

but a cross between a pearl and a rose

as if the universe were one big oyster shell

that didn’t treat people like dirt

it was trying to wash out of its immaculate third eye

because they were spiritually grubby and hurt.

That’s her star.

That’s her spirit.

That’s the fire of a feline avatar

who could see in the dark

how frightened and helpless people are

to open their eyes like her

and shine

and then showed them how to do it

as easily as the full moon moving into her sign

like the sail of a lifeboat

like morning glory on the vine

by the side of the road

into the great mystic bay of her heart

as if she were gathering flowers

by the armful.

She could draw blood

and sharpen her crescents on your psyche

but when you tasted the wound

you swore you were drinking wine

in a big busy kitchen

full of hungry misunderstood street kids

and hopelessly homeless poets

with Aphrodite.