A Volunteer from the Audience

“There is no invention to it, there is no trick, there is no fake; you simply lie down in a coffin and breathe quietly.”
Harry Houdini

For my next trick . . .
a volunteer from the audience
to be sawn in half or disappeared in a cabinet.
Pick your poison.
Please remove the largest slice of currency from your wallet.
Please submit your most priceless effigy to my recursive folding.
Please regard your garmenture as a casualty of prestidigitation.
Upon your reemergence: the customary gorilla suit . . .
Pick a card.
Lovely Assistant, please hold the effulgence from my pocket.
Please pull harder on my effulgence, my effulgence is long
and coheres to my dichotomies.

And now, a well-oiled universe . . .

This was a precursor to our conjunction.
Ah, but it appears I have already gone tacit.
No matter.

I will expire through the corridor of your ovation.
You may remove your gorilla suit backstage after the show.
Yes, it smells of the ancient sweat of my last Lovely Assistant.
No, it is not made from real gorilla.

Stop asking stupid questions and kiss me.
Don’t you know why I picked you?
When I was very young, you taped a sign to my back:
“Kick Me”.
And then you kicked me,
supposedly because the sign told you to do so.
It was that solution to your loneliness I found so winsome.

From that moment I knew I would need a theater for my act
and an act for my theater.
I had it all planned . . . that I would disappear you
and reappear you.
Really, it was you who created me,
and I have been waiting here for you,
extracting my very everything from this top hat.
A bunch of rabbits, some tickertape, the pomegranate.

Did you enjoy my cabinet of changes?
We’ve come a long way, we two.
Things are always changing into other things
on the Orpheum circuit,
but we have no secret names remaining,
just those words we’ve always used,
my germinisms, your view halloos.

The legerdemain of your tongue moored
atop the journey staff
in a gunnysack of language.
Small words: wealth enough for a traveling life.
Toll money and victuals.
So, what could I say to shake the wind?
That I held the tiny stem of a fine white rose
between my forefinger and thumb
like a demitasse
and your petals opened?

Here in the halfdark
your hands are desert wasps
mating street urchin knuckles with choir boy fingernails,
availing our bodies’ androgynies
like a knitter casting on stitches.

I like the way we’ve been shuffled together:
the enantiodromia . . .
You play your tarot like poker,
all bluffs and tells,
veterinary misdirections:
tender against the lion’s teeth
like a harper of the uvula,
then the Rupture
and the Tower roaring off its crown.
The ecstasy of falling . . .
your scarlet shoes in the sky
heel-clenched and castanetting,
a last loud fuck for Babylon
as the brimstone burns.

At the ceremony of the broken wand
each of our deaths
is a hanging ballet,
chrysalides head down
in the water cell, shivering.
We pull our Useless Science up around us like a blanket,
breath quietly
from each others lips.

For the final act . . .
all those things we have been to each other,
discreet materia and connotation,
suits and signs and signifiers,
a dim sum spread out across the table
waiting for the hunger the road discards
as it wanders.

But on your command,
the sky leaps down
like a little white dog
caught licking the plates,
and you
appear me.

You are the magician,
after all.

[See Note On This Poem]


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The Family Business

for CM

“A young man in the dark am I
But a wild old man in the light
That can make a cat laugh, or
Can touch by mother wit
Things hid in their marrow bones . . .”
W.B. Yeats, “The Wild Old Wicked Man”

We have an old man who lives upstairs.

It’s my fault, really, I said he could stay.

One day he arrived at our doorstep, it was the middle of February, and he was dressed as an inebriated Santa Claus.

He said he’d come looking for the perfect dusk-licked breasts
that could be rude to shadows like petulant Cassandras,
but suddenly burst into the flight of doves
startled out of a ruptured storm gutter,
that cooed cherubically when you cupped them in your hands,
for big beautiful nipples that stared into his eyes
like the brown cow irises of sunflowers, irresistibly textured,
as though the fingertips could impregnate with the slightest touch,
for the thick pubis like a moment of wooly black godthought
before the orbing out of heaven and earth,
and for thighs that were like miles and miles of a lost highway
stretching around to the dark side of the moon
where they waited to be ridden for the hushed secrets
of their long cloistered lushness.

He wanted a navel like an eggcup, lightly downed
and perched over a little slope of stomach, and hips,
vast hips like the bearing cliffs smoothed and shaped
by that fat-fingered breadmaker, the devastating sea,
hips that could hoist up the plateau of a wilderness
into a freshly risen Eden.

He said he had followed a star.
He pointed up and across the street to where a yellowed street light flickered.

I liked the way he ogled my wife, as though he could have done great harm if he weren’t so old, so destroyed.

His words were luxuriant oils, ointments of indulgence.
And we, whose habit it was to cherish, but never use, exquisite things,
must have longed to feel our decorous little humilities grow smarmy.

I invited him in for dinner, and he never left.

My wife was less enthusiastic, but I told her: I am a poet and must do such things.

Since, she has grown used to the old man, almost. When she goes into his room to remind him to take his medicines, and he pretends he’s dead, but that his bedcovers have fallen aside to expose his withered genitals, she is no longer shocked.

She enjoys reading his latest suicide note, and does so aloud at his bedside, shifting her weight from foot to foot as if standing near an ancient radio’s buzz as her favorite program comes on.

She tells me, “They are like two old prunes stuck together in their sugars and one horrible little strip of discarded bacon left in the pan, unworthy of breakfast.”

I worry that this may be my fate someday, as well, but I don’t tell her. I have not decided whether she looks upon the old man’s genitals with empowerment or disgust.

Our son, who is four, doesn’t understand—is the old man an uncle? A grandfather? Sometimes the old man makes him explode into giggles, other times, ball in terror. Our refrigerator is plastered with crayon simulacra depicting the old man’s daily exploits in utterly Homeric fashion.

The other day, I caught the old man dragging my boy up a hillside with a large hammer and a railroad spike.

“What is going on here?!” I panted as I caught up to them.

“We must nail his foot to the hillside. Come, grab his other arm.”

“You will do no such thing, old man!” I said.

“It is to honor our father, Lame Vulcan!” he replied, quite astonished at my objection.

“He who has been toiling so long,
sweat-stroked and sooted in the shithouse of heaven!
Forging and plotting, pounding in the heat, crafting
little tongue-petalled flowers out of colored tissue papers,
all the while feeling the mad weather in His shins!

“He has been cuckolded again, and His anger breaks
the wings of moths over an anvil!”

“No it doesn’t,” I said curtly, grabbing my boy.

“But his limp, his limp!” whined the old man.

After ten minutes of arguing, we finally compromised. We all affected a ceremonial limp on our way back to the house.

My wife looked up from her gardening at three ages of limping men heaving their disagreeable legs along like sledgehammers through the bleached solemnity of the street,
each with his own special countenance of miseries,
feeling his heart banging
like a toy cannon firing diamonds
at a charging brigade of uniformed chimpanzees
pedaling artificial currencies . . .
feeling: newly born.

During the holidays, the old man talks only of the devil like he was a fallen comrade, evokes his name at the beginning of meals in a lewd forgery of grace, digressing and digressing as the mashed potatoes turn into snowballs.

“. . . and the time that you explained to Eve that the penis
was like a kind of fruit
from which you must suck the seeds
to fully enjoy its sweetness,
and she was willing,
for she so liked the sweetnesses of fruits . . .”

Then he’d grind a lump of coal in a parmesan cheese grater and sprinkle it over his cold food, and then he’d begin to chew, painfully, like a sagged Holstein.

My wife’s parents dislike the old man. They say nothing, but I can tell they think he’s a kind of infidel. This alone is probably a good reason to keep him.

The old man will sit in his room into the wee hours, just him and the dog, to whom he tells mournful stories of lost love, and they lean into each other weeping copiously and howling like wolves over their pageant of salt.

The dog licks the old man’s tears from his cheeks and nose, each lick like lighting a candle for the dead, and the old man laces his fingers into the dog’s fur and kneads her loose gray skin. I walk by the open doorway with a midnight bourbon, and I too want to be among the weeping and furry, but I don’t go in.

Last month, there was an evening he didn’t come down for dinner, and as we ate by ourselves, he leapt from his bedroom window and fell to the ground like a pocked chunk of moon right outside our dining room. We looked at each other in silence for a second, then the old man gathered himself up into a moose of contusions and oozed in through the front door.

He was wearing a now crushed and disheveled pair of wings fashioned out of coat hangers and bed sheets.

“No thank you, I’m not hungry,” he mumbled leprously as he limped past us and back up the stairs, although we had not asked.

After dinner, I went up to his room with a plate of food, and he told me he was busy circumnavigating his bed, and that he planned to write a novel about it. He has put on a fake Russian accent.

“I vill be za first person vith a fake Russian accent to circumnavigate his bed and write a novel about it,” he explains with a kind of stoic, cold war heroism.

The old man has a nasty habit of calling on us. He takes his wind-up alarm clock and throws it, concussing and clattering, down the stairs where it finally comes to a rest, buzzing obnoxiously.

I bring the clock, silenced, back to his room, stomping up the stairs, and peer into his eyes like a saber-toothed tiger ready to take dictation. He is working on his will again.

“I am leaving you the Family Business,” he says.

We’ve heard this before and doubt very much that there is such a thing. We’ve become accustomed to nodding along with his proposal with suspicious affection. I nod once again.

“Yes,” I say, “the Family Business.”

“It is important to me,” he goes on, “that you do the honorable thing, run the business well and pass it on to your own children when you have grown too old, and they have grown old enough.”

We have, politely, asked the old man what sort of business the Family Business is, but he has been reluctant to tell us out of the fear that we will try to persuade him to alter his will.

But, this time, he is ready to tell me. He has even put on Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony as mood music and erected some makeshift spotlighting out of table lamps and scarves.

“It is the Business of Making,” he dramatizes.

“Ah,” I say, “so . . . now I can become the Count of Monte Cristo.”

“You are always thinking of revenge,” says the old man with an expression half smile, half frown that negates itself, “but that will pass.”

I leave the old man to his Dvorak and go back downstairs to tell my wife. “But you already make things that come to nothing,” she tells me.

“Well, I’m afraid we won’t be able to sell the Family Business and retire early to Florida, as we’d planned,” I say and then realize I am still carrying the old man’s clock in my hand like a loser at the game of Hot Potato.

Last night, my wife rolled over in bed with the moonlight sitting on the floor behind her, impassively. “I think we should get divorced,” she said.

I was frozen. I tucked the blankets around my shoulders like a poultice.

“We should get divorced, and then, then I will marry the old man, and then you can live in the upstairs bedroom growing mad and hairy. While the old man sleeps in this bed, I will creep upstairs to find you playing dead, your cock lolling out from beneath your covers. There will be a suicide note on the nightstand, and I will pick it up and read it out loud like a grammar school teacher in horn-rimmed glasses with three buttons worth of cleavage:

Oh, let it be known that I died, a weary old man
in need of just one outrageous night of fucking,
just one moist night of love inside the fist-tight cunt
of a younger woman, so that I could keep drawing breath.
And so, like Shelly’s Ozymandias, I say—
Look on my works, Ye Mighty, and despair.”

I blinked, and the heat started to come back. That night, my wife and I were happy we’d met the old man who came looking for the perfect dusk-licked breasts.

My fingers played upon her body like the fingers of a man who can play Chopsticks on a piano, or maybe the melody half of In the Mood, but nothing else . . . doesn’t read music. But it is a good song, and I play it with enthusiasm, and she was willing, so I played on and on, verse after verse.

We were both as ravenous as Grail Knights at a feast, just come back empty-handed again, famished, dirty, and raw, brandishing new wounds like scanty, slutted fox pelts.

We heard the dog howling her rendition of Old Man River into the numb plasters of the house, and the house reeled and creaked its heft about, dancing like a sequoia in the earth’s lap to appease the obstreperous wind.

Our son slept in his tiny bed, gigantic, like a dragon sleeping on the strange gold of its dreams, and the old man sank into his freshly-circumnavigated bed like a baby sinking deeply into a plushly-furred Russian hat, picked up a pen to launch the fast ships of his novel into its rosy-fingered dawn, and wrote:

In za beginning . . .

[see note on poem]


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Revolt among the Cabbage Heads

He lived in the belly of a golden furnace,
and every morning he would collect his charred teeth
and string them through their cavities into a necklace.
Then he would speak at us all in whalespeak
and reek conspicuously of sea water.
We despised him for his ecumenical airs.

“Am I not the sun?” he would say,
skulking with his painted chieftain cheekbones.
Then he would die with that toad-lipped gasp,
his eyes becoming pebbles in puddle bottoms,
black and glassy through the ripples of our tears.
Blood would spill out, orange and ochre,
making a rouged corpse of our landscapes.
He made janitors of all of us this way.
And just as quickly he was born again,
tooth necklace rattling, sucking wind
through the harmonica of his gums.
“Am I not the sun?”

But when she came
there was a great hole to fall into.
Everything in her was an echo.
We were in love with the night for what we could tumble through.
In her silver chambers she would recline like a doll,
her mouth, that delicate O, unclosing,
waiting for us to put what we were inside it.
We had many words in her
until he returned, until
his bony fingers parted her lips,
his gaze like a shellac as he opened her.

We stood steady as pews.
We stood with our bodies buried underground,
our cabbage heads in her moonlight.
The words rolled out of her, across her still tongue,
those words so familiar to us.
And we sat silenced with bitterness,
the subjects of another dawning,
as he smiled like he’d just harrowed hell,
turning toward us with his brilliantine regards.

Inside us, the green things stirred their engines.
“Am I not the sun?” he said, taking back the words
from her lips like a young bird.

How had we come to speak his shame song?
We stared at her, so dead, beautiful as a shadow
dampening the ground.
We did not weep. We did not move.
We watched him limp his broom legs over the hill,
and he was gone.


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Slaying Humbaba

Could you please not speak about his death, I said.

Who is being spoken for? you said.

I am speaking for him, I said.

But, you said, it was the coarsest ocean that you damned him with.

Well, I sputtered, the forest was filled with all that violent chirping, it was shimmying down the trees with its sashes.

But, you said, you took your ax to it like a trooper.

I am not the one to blame, I am speaking for him.

But, you said, who is being spoken for?

Should we just eat stones then? I said. Should we gnaw the salt out of the ground? Obviously there’s nothing left for us but to become single celled organisms bringing our hesitant evolution to the New World on three ships named after women!

Hmm, you said, and all this to delay the question?

I said, in doing this I am speaking for him.

Speaking for whom? you said.

Let us just agree to disagree! I yelled.

In no time at all your first ape will come, you said, but you will still have the question to haunt you.

I will speak for him, I said.

What will you say? you said.

What? I said. What will I say? I shall say . . . I shall say I am speaking for him, of course.

And all the apes will turn to you, you said, from the postures of their cities and cry out, “Who? Who?”

And I shall say back to them, I’ll say, “You know damn well who!”

But they won’t be satisfied, you said. You will just be breeding an evolution out of your own dissatisfaction.

What? I said. Who’s dissatisfied?

Whomever’s being spoken for, you said.

You are the one who’s dissatisfied! I screamed.

Who am I? you said.

But I saw where this was leading, yes, I saw just where this was leading. So I withdrew my sacrificial knife and, wordless, slew Humbaba.

You already did that, you said, looking at me as if I was absurd, but I had no more use for words, and I went on slaying Humbaba without end, scowling at the spoiled hilt of my blade.

[See Note On This Poem]


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For Every Action (Some Detritus on the Trinity)

for Steven Pinker


The evening news cleaves to the palate of the television screen and cringes off a gauze of static. A man watches. There are holes in the ozone layer. Irradiation of the planet. Ice melting, coasts will disappear, landmasses rewritten by water.

There is a new cable channel devoted to floods.

And so, the man is seized by thirst and decides to drink all the water his house has to give.

There is, among the pipes, a fear of dryness.

There is a neurosis of pipes that the house inherits, and the man inherits the brain of the house as heads inherit the structures of hats.

Tree roots could be sipping at the pipes. Tree roots care nothing for the hermetic dignities of buried things, for the issues of alien conveyance. Tree roots are patient diggers, descenders. They take everything that’s wet. It’s the ideology of tendrils. The will to refreshment.

Yet, above ground, all limbs, the trees are willing distortionists. They waver and bow to the sun and wind in supplication. But they will never let go of their earth.

They are, ultimately, Social Darwinists. All nature’s creatures are Social Darwinists.

Except men.

The man’s approach is less scientific. A man, faced with the need to drink, sees will as a petition to satiation. A catalog gathering names designed to convince, ultimately, by its magnitude. There is faith in men that mountains can be moved and thirsts satisfied. We do not know how this will happen, only that certain circumstances can dictate it.

Such religiosity mystifies the apes, of course, who are at one with the trees.

Men are distinct among primates for the severity of their tree envy.

Indeed, men are innately suspicious of anything with the capacity to outlive men. And men love to kill things, especially when the killing of said things can be argued (by men) to disprove human animalism.

(As the man drains his house’s faucets with his lips, a small pond mysteriously forms in the back yard.)

The apes have always felt that faith is not a reply to science. On the other hand, they believe that science is not a reply to fact.

They are, after all, the bastards of evolution.

But the occupation of the man’s thirst, like an avatar, is only getting harder to bear. His throat feels like a bonfire of condors or a caviar of spiders’ eggs.

He drinks faster.

(The pond in the back yard becomes a lake, and then a sea.

All the land of the earth is being swallowed by water.)

The man’s thirst is increasing.

We cannot explain why this is happening. We know that the increase in thirst is connected to the increase in water, but not how. There is no use intellecting about where it goes or where it comes from.

Floods are no time for philosophy. Philosophy requires parched libraries paneled in lacquered, kiln-dried wood, volumes filled with slivers of paper, compendiums, all sewed into rows like little thought seedlings, and left utterly unirrigated.

And to the trees, who excel in their drunkenness, whose imbibing is a kind of static ballet to inaugurate the flesh, all of man’s beloved texts are no different than postcards of lynchings.

“This is all the fault of the plumbing,” the man grumbles, and continues to drink as his house bobbles about in his backyard sea.

Maybe the man is being victimized by a strange leak that hides undetectably in the cornices of his cerebral cortex. The concept of retention has become muddled somehow.

The house has been a great protector, but it could be like a parent who, unable to fix its own leak, breeds leaking children. The man is a child in the womb of his house. He’s living the oral life.

There is no reason to believe the explanation will be anything but biological.

“Can thirst be buried like trash in a landfill?” he wonders amidst the surging of gulps.

And now, there is no sign of dry land anywhere—only the little house and miles of sea.

And the man’s thirst.

Thirst is a meaning for a life. An activism, if you will. But wild waters are dissatisfied with containment. They are not mere genies. Water expands over everything, when properly fed. It devours through its capacity to yield and its inability to cease.

The hunger of water is the lord of the earth. Water always takes the lion’s share, and water takes even the thirstiest man in the end.

Thirst is only a ladder leading down into the ocean, a method of anchoring. Distraction from the envious cliquing of waves. A ritual drowning. Surrender to the arbiter of matter.


But, on the other side of the world there lives another man in another floating house who is not in the least thirsty.

In fact, he is annoyed at looking out his window at nothing but water every day, at the bleak inundation. He is annoyed at the nauseating reeling motion of his home and the smell of gull shit pouring off the roof and coagulating in the storm gutters.

Yet, it’s up to him to drink enough water for the earth to be revealed.

He doesn’t even like water, feels it encourages a pageant of absences. He takes his scotch with two drops (for the bouquet), but that’s it.

The task is rather daunting. But I wish he would stop dragging his feet. It’s not like he has something better to do.

The gulls are piled three deep above him, pecking each other to death for roosting rights. He turns the faucet a bit, and the water comes out brown and moaning. Two months ago, he lost his basement to a school of grouper.

He lets a shot belch into his old fashioned glass and gives it a swirl.

Wasn’t there a story about Heracles being deceived by a bottomless cup?

Didn’t Socrates die from the feet upward . . .?

At the end, he was nothing more than a nearly stilled bust, still chirping.

The man would rather die from the head down . . . his face growing numb, his eyes glossing over while his legs dance a jig to the abundance of fatality.

The human body is mostly water, thinks the man. We are castaways in our own skins, tiny islands coming up for air. Our lives are brief episodes of staying afloat.


Somewhere else, a third man has cultivated the entrepreneurial spirit and built a boat and a family and a zoo. He spends his time trying to lose birds to a roost he cannot even see.

He’s a patient maniac.

The dodos are conspiring in the hold to plot some distant extinction like jilted suicide poets. The cows and pigs and sheep are just happy to be alive and uneaten, for now. The rats and mice are dreaming of the underbelly of a civilization about to take root. They dream of marvelous sewers.

The man is standing on the deck watching his beard grow longer and waiting for some sign of wings.

One day, the bird-man succeeds in losing a bird.
Then another bird comes back ready to make a twig nest in his beard.

He thinks to himself, “Ah, I have outlasted God! The world will soon be mine!”

As his eyes comb the waves for the protuberances of mountain tops, he fantasizes about the architecture of races and the unsinkable ark of will triumphantly bobbing above the depths, a spec of flotsam, unpalatable . . . immune.

A tiny paper crown worn by the Lord of Thirst.

But deep in the ribs of the ship an ape is spitting, “The king is dead, long live the king . . . .”

[See Note On This Poem]


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A History of Bitings in the Domesticated Universe

A dog bites a man.
A man says, “A dog bites . . .”
but a dog bites a man again before a man can say more.
A dog stops biting a man as if to invite a man to speak.
A man, as if on cue, says, “A dog bites . . .”
but before he finishes a dog does bite.
A man is bitten by a dog as if, for want of saying it,
it became a thing.

“But I said it after the dog bit me,” thought the bitten man,
“How could I be blamed for provoking the bite?”
A dog stopped biting a man and then started again.
Not to be interrupted, a man said, “A dog bites a man!”
even though he was, by this time, well bitten,
bitten well past “bites,” rendering his statement senseless.

A dog ceased its biting of a man as if to clarify any residual doubt.
Suddenly, a dog bites a man . . . again . . . as if for the first time.
“A dog has no regard for tense!” cries a man being bitten.
A bitten man encourages a dog to bite him since,
being bitten, he must be worth biting.
“But once I was unbitten!” complains a clearly well-bitten man
with a known history of bites.
This is not so, for even in the first line of the poem,
You were bitten by a dog, but in the present tense.
“Yes, but before that I wasn’t being bitten,” said the man being bitten by a dog.

No, from the very beginning you were being bitten.
If you think back, before you were even a man, you were being bitten,
and before the bite, there was a dog, but it all happened in the present tense.
And before the dog there was the letter A, which is reminiscent
of the beginning of the alphabet, and also
signifies the oneness of the dog. In fact,
even before the dog bit you, there was another A
signifying one particular man, perhaps at the beginning of manness,
like an Adam.

A bitten man cringed as he was being bitten by a dog whose task, it seemed,
was to bite a man, for so it had been written.
“Why did you bring me into such a world,” winced the man,
a dog bite being given from a dog’s mouth to him,
as would seem to be the way of the world, as it has always been.
What other world would I bring you into?
“Well,” said a man as a dog bit a man who said “Well”
as a dog was biting him as he spoke, “at least a sort of world
where I could be a man with a name, a name such as Adam,
before there was a dog, and a dog was biting me.”

This certainly flies in the face of Nature!
For it was clearly written that a dog was the primal subject,
that biting was the original action, and that a man was,

after all this had become, the object of the action of the subject:
a dog bites a man.
And so it did. And does.
For it was written. And so it was.

“Can you at least make the primal dog stop biting me?”
said the man speaking and being bitten as a dog bit him
in a prolonged act of biting a man who could speak
and be bitten by a dog at the same time.
That you are not content with this world seems
an affront to language. But I suppose I could have said,
a dog had bitten a man, although beginning
in the past tense does not seem correct,
for if I had begun in such a way,
this would imply that something happened before this,
and that is blatantly impossible, and I would know,
since I wrote it all, beginning with:
a dog.

“Couldn’t you have written, ‘A man is being bitten by a dog’?”
squealed the man being bitten by the very dog that bit him.
I could say that now, but not then, for it was not written that way.
There’s no point in worrying about what was,
such are the complexities of tense.
A dog bites a man. A man squeals. There!
It happened again, and again, it is too late to do anything about it.

“Yes, yes . . .” said the man just bitten, full of the pain
of being bitten again and again by a dog in all different tenses,
“but the pain, the pain! This biting is hell, regardless of the tense!”

Ah . . . .
You have made something that transcends the dominion of tense
over language! That sits like a stone unchanging,
or like the beginning of a poem in which A dog bites a man
is written and cannot be unwritten
from the beginning, where it sits
like an unchanging stone.
This pain, if it could domesticate language
as language domesticates what is written,
then it may be able to domesticate the dog,
which, like everything written, is domesticated by language
as it is written.

A man’s eyes light up. A man bites a dog.
A dog yelps, then sits and hangs its head.
“I have domesticated the dog!” said a once frequently bitten man
who had evolved into a once frequently bitten man
who is no longer frequently bitten, although it was once so,
and so it will always have been.

“Whereas once I was the one acted upon, now I am the actor.
Whereas once I was in pain, now I am not.
I have become to the dog as you were to me
before I domesticated the dog with pain.
By giving pain, I domesticated the dog,
and by receiving pain I domesticated the language.

“With the dog and language and pain,
which is now rapidly fading from my memory, at my disposal,
I conquer the barbarian, tense!

“I am a man. I call myself Adam! I have a dog,
I have a language—all is born out of pain.
So, what you gave to me, once an affliction,
has freed me from suffering,
as it has freed me from tense. So . . .
I stand here, newly made . . . what now?
What else is there in this universe awaiting domestication?!

“I am the great domesticator . . . .
The universe awaits . . . .
There is, I say, in the universe,
one dog, one man, the now quite distant memory of pain,
the more recent memory of domestication.
These I call Things . . . .
I am the great domesticator of the universe . . .
which bears the mark of my domestication
like a memory of pain
reverberating into the infinitely domesticated distance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ”


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Self-Portrait in Canine

I’ve trained myself to walk
like a three-legged dog,
but to be still for you,
to imitate porcelain, reflect you back in white.
You may preoccupy me with your shelf dust.
I’ve trained my mouth to sound hesitation, near absence,
the light tap tap tap of calloused paws against tile,
invisible creeping, ghost around the house.

I’ve trained my snout to sweat
and be blacked as an ashman
hauling himself home from work in the evening.
He opens the front door to greet you and the light inside
bastes over him, haggard,
a small, ambiguous protrusion of the night.

Long ago, as if a piece of coal
lay in my stomach digesting,
I learned to howl . . .
another nuisance in the house of gravity,
and everything in the heavens
was another thing I’d never know for sure.
It was then I began
to lap water with my rubber shovel
tongue waggling inefficiently,
to slop it out to the side
like a necktie from a twelve hour work day, loosed
and thrown askew to palpitate
and drizzle impugningly.

Even before you knew me
I was curled up by your back doorstep,
regaling your personal moonlight
(which you had slept through)
with my psalmist snores and whimpers,
pretending to never wake,
dreaming a one-eyed dream . . .
tall cattail reeds bending down to feather my nostrils.
The vegetation’s purring about its moistures.
I sit, sipping the sweet marsh sweat of the abandoned salt marshes.
Strange birds’ vocables hang heavily, fruits
ripening downward from their umbilicals.
The baroque odor of a world mulching itself, bombastic
and utterly lovely.

This is the place where a trail of three
paw prints shambles away.
Where a lone limb, in offering,
rears up its hairy totem
to love and frustrate the sky.

[See Note On This Poem]


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Polka for the Recently Exhumed

(from Frontier Accounts from the PoBiz Boomtowns)

for Jack Spicer


We’d all come wearing our cursory overalls,
some to dress the dead, others,
with tatty-handled grave shovels—
jobless, destitute,
each with his own ambiguous
suspicion of the ancestors—
victims of the seasons, all.

Turned away at the soup lines
We’d no other method of knowing the dirt
than to act like trees and root down
and sway, nagging the wind
as lovers carved pierced hearts in our sides,
satchel-and-pail boys swung on our eyebrows.

I tried dropping off all my hair
as if to say “Out To Lunch,”
but I couldn’t escape the cutlery of the buffet crowd.
Names and vulgarities seized my flesh.
“I am not a book yet!” I screamed
over mouthfuls of green wood and sap.


my shovel has drooped with liquor
smattering its liquory breath over my shoulder
trying to sneak into some soil, ashamed,
envying the sobriety of pick axes and screwdrivers,
dragging its barbed chin home in the gravel
as it slurs its drunk shanty at the street’s bared nerves.

It’s a small village, so small it adheres with only one hallway.
Hallway—there’s a word that can be reiterated indecently . . .
hallway slithering shut its peeping doors, hallway unmentioning.
I tell my dismal-eyed self—Hey, this was where you always wanted to be,
but it’s preoccupied with its sugar pills
and whispers pederastically—sweet, so sweet.

All day long the grass rolls over everything.
The grass is a fucking juggernaut.
It calls me Daisy and slaps my ass
as it swaddles by—always being born.
Everything here is being born.
The dead have been sequestered into extinction.


Tonight is the night of the secret musics!
. . . frocked up and instituting that old ritual of exhumation.
Courtesans everywhere—maypoling the lampposts,
achieving diminuendo at the halloo of the lamplighter
who roves about, entirely aflame,
brickbatting the sleepers and catcalling,
igniting the lamp stamens osmotically.

We dance our agency of employment,
night-streaked, moon-sopped.
The shovels buck and dive, shuffling the land,
centipede feet creeping along Death’s sleeve,
fresh heaps of dirt growing by the gravesides,
fresh corpses emerging, eager to be buried again!


I don’t claim to understand the dead,
I simply bring them their hotcakes and praise their lumberjack sense of fashion.
They’re like children who always want to hear the same tales
of Paul Bunyon and John Henry passing from the world . . .
that nocturnal humor, its profane beat and creak . . .
oars rowing inevitably out to sea.

Some jokes only make sense posthumously . . . .
Those oars are really just the fog’s dentures
trying in vain to masticate
the space the boat occupies . . .


The reminiscence of the dead
is a dredging for mudswallowed bodies
just folded beneath the next leaf of the family album.

Etched into the album’s moccasin flesh
it reads, Welcome to the New World.

I look up and down the pittering lamp light and think—
we are nothing but turkeys
shrewishly awaiting the advent of a new cataclysmic holiday.


Some native chanteuse just muttered,
“we will all become the white man.”

And, as if by incantation, the long prows split the shore,
and lo and behold—
indigestible polka music like a damp ballast of blackbread
is served in quintessential silence all along
the promenade of the language barrier.

The dialects are mutually horrified,
but dinner persists on the gristly ohm of its hungers—
the tearing of flesh, the sucksmack of chewing,
providence and consumption . . .
the pilgrims remarking on the many alien uses of corn
as the tribal elders exchange stoic looks of dread.

[See Note On This Poem]


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A man threw himself on the ground face first.
“I am gravity,” he said.
The people passing by on their ways to places had to step over him.
Soon they started taking him for granted.
The man took this as further proof that he was indeed gravity.
“People have always taken gravity for granted,” he chuckled to himself.

Of course, before long, he grew tired of being gravity for everyone.
“Let someone else come down here and be gravity for a while,”
said his mouth as if it were chewing on a balled up sock.
He thought if he could only just lift himself up and then throw himself down again,
right in front of a crowd and with a good bit of drama,
then people would stop taking gravity for granted.

The problem was, being gravity, he certainly could not defy gravity.
What would become of a universe if it were to behave in such a way?
Logic was driving him mad.
But at last an idea came to him.
He started hassling particularly heavy people that passed by.
“Pssst. Hey you, just think how much happier you’d be . . . without gravity.”
“Wow, it must be hell to lug around all that weight!”
Heavy people soon became enraged; they had found a scapegoat for their woes.

The heavy people conspired to do away with gravity.
One day, as he released his muffled babble into the throng,
a contingent of especially large people grabbed him and hoisted him
up into a tree. They lashed his wrists and ankles to the branches.
They yelled, “Go ahead, gravity, go ahead and fall now, just you try!”

Gravity delighted to hear his name on the lips of the fat.
Tears fell down from his eyes.
“Look,” said the fat, “he’s really a storm cloud that slipped and broke its back!”
“No!” said the man, “No! I am a man, I am a man!”
But the fat merely put up their umbrellas and walked away
feeling lighter with each step.


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You’re just a featherhorse—
you’re no “Pegasus”.
I can see the paste slopping out at the creases,
wings that don’t lift or flap,
and if I’m wrong—
leap off that precipice
and fly.
I hope your feathers have dried!
Or that some swooping fart of Zeus
will catch you in its craw
and steal you off to heaven.

Goldenboy is long gone
with that hideous head—
but the blood still gnashes
at the earth like a cicada brood.
The monstrous corpse,
crocodile torso
quivering anciently—
looks almost human,
almost a goddess . . .
or maybe a dead-papped whore.

May the gods bless her—
holy muse and mother to us both.

You. For all your plumes—
there’ll be hard-heeled riders,
horesetraders jabbering of shanks and sheen,
grimy palms assaying your balls,
twitching to nail iron to your soles,
spurs for those wings wanting to be windspun souvenirs,
a succession of hands at your nape
tugging you toward the next glorious

You would be better off
fat and hairy like me,
big footsteps, broad hands—
free to drink at leisure from the clean rivers,
recline against the green of the hillsides
where the winds sit,
free to watch the dawn rise up
and forget it as soon as day.

Huge and free—
no heroes, no breakers, tamers, or golden bridles,
too giant, too wild for the wants of men,
useless, utterly useless
and invisible to them all.

Everything I am will end up on some stump of an island
pinned beneath a volcano or left
miscellaneously where some asshole
can forget his murders into it.
Memories will die in me,
die around me.
Memories cannot survive the ones like me
(there are such ones . . . but you wouldn’t know).

No eternities.
You can have your eternities.
They’re just another leather throne
with straps for equestrian fingers only.

can grasp nothing.

Blow off then—
but when you’re done stomping and braying,
try to tell somebody my name,
try to tell them,
if they come upon me in the woods asleep
to go and roll a mountain over me . . .
if they think they can.
You’ll see what use you really are.
Your oblivion is your voicelessness.

Mothers and muses . . .
Just another encumbered atmosphere bearing down,
and below it, not even an Atlas,
but a railroad spike, flat-headed for the hammer,
I will sink each year
three more inches through the bloody clay.

When I am swallowed
absolutely into the belly of this damnable world . . .
Vicious Old Fossilmaker . . .
you won’t even remember
I was born your brother.

[see note on this poem]


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