4 Dec 2016

Coda

It begins with death.

We walk over the ash
that is the floor of the valley where
the light is failing, but
night never comes. I keep pace
to move them along. Many think
there is still somewhere to go.

So many questions: I tell
what I can, ask them to
keep the answers to themselves, since
what they say now can't be heard.
Some only weep. I carry them.
A few say nothing as they
gaze at my long, crooked darkness,
searching for a face.

So many pleas: tearlessly
they beg for more time, not knowing
the schedule I must work to.
They're candles on water, a tender light
rippling upon its own demise.
The flicker tells one truth,
but a flame forgets darkness.

Now the way narrows to this solemn crevice
that seems wider than the valley.
In a moment they turn
to face their footsteps, and find
that the speaking shadow was their own.

Inside, they find
etched on cavernous walls
strange signs by many hands,
some frightened, others maddened,
all of them lonely.
Last and clearest is a dignified scrawl:
ONCE I WAS
NOW I AM NOT

What Stone Recalls

Ah.
The long grass whispers
of my coming with that warm,
warm wind while the rain
sings against the rocks,
muddying the red, red earth
that gladly clings to bare feet.

Soon, night—night!—and we hide
from fear behind the fire burning like hearts,
and we drink up that wood smoke, shapeless
ghosts reaching to the sky
circling above. Now I have my woman
beneath the blanket of stars, every last star.

Such sounds, these sounds,
words that hum as they climb
the throat, the sighs, little birds
taking flight from her lips.
How can the stone recall? Still we try
in crude signs for children,
for strangers to say yes,
something like you was here before,
and like they knew this place, they felt
what you have felt.

I remember.

I remember, I see
all of it, though
nothing is mine.
You remember, too? Then
it’s ours. We'll share
what we don't have.

Charon

I guard the way to the Leader's city
from throwaway castles overlooking
the ground that came apart, screaming and thrashing
beneath shells falling. In a land of dark holes
hungry for the grateful dead,
the gravedigger is out of work.

Our heroes have no names.
We stop counting lost friends
when we run out of fingers.
Their flag shines
red painted on their chests,
and golden as metal fingers pointed
at the hearts of the condemned,
hearts strangely like theirs.

Don't leave my side too soon—stay
close enough that I can feel your chill presence
wrest each gasping breath of desperate warmth.
Don't let them know out there that
something still lives, and lay
a brittle hand on my shoulder as I pass
each one your way.

Here I am, blind but for a dead glass eye,
watching grey foxes scamper
among the tumbled stones, all by the bank
of this roaring river. Just as well:
something for the unwilling oarsman
to ferry lost souls along.

We are all so clueless,
so foolish. The Leader
is six hundred miles away,
and Death six inches.

21 Nov 2016

Some Puppets Fly

Can you hear me?
Can you see me?
Sad, because the whine
belongs to some harpy, and
there never was a stranger bird
or a creature so hard to forget.

I am eyes abroad for those
who see all so they can learn little,
and wings for flightless ambition.
As they dictate movement across
these places of yours they'll never understand,
their hands never give away
the presence of their own strings,
suspending wooden forms on stages
too darkened to make out the blood.

Then comes crying out
a ghost-quiet call for an end
to justify means,
and it means: in my world
of shades of grey, static and distortion,
in among geometries I see those marked out,
and the white with which they glow cannot hope
to tell their own truths.

Lock, clearance, weapons free—
still unseen, I transform
a world beneath me. Conveniently,
plumes dissipate along with
errant second thoughts
or pause to question.
Onwards, onwards I glide
over land fertile with tears
sown with graceful arrogance.

The Piece

An empty stage is illuminated. A Man enters stage right. He stops abruptly near centre stage and exits stage right. He then returns stage left and stands for a moment centre stage. Exiting stage left and returning there again with a chair, he sits.

Man    So.

He sighs deeply.

Man    This is not the piece.

Pause.

Man    Well, isn't it? It might just have to be.

He shifts in the chair as if edging towards the audience.

Man    I mean, stories are really just strings, you know? Bits of emotions, ideas, atmospheres, sensation—

He stops himself and begins to sob.

Man    What I think is, every telling is a thread of that story. Each time it's retold, you have a new fragment of the piece, and each piece can be done in all kinds of ways—

He is becoming exasperated, visibly irritated with himself.

Man    No, I don't mean just adaptations and so on. What I mean is that every piece has its own colour, and—what? What colour is this piece? I suppose it doesn't have one, not yet. The theory kind of falls over, then, doesn't it?

A Voice is heard off stage.

Voice  A sort of red.

Man    I'm sorry?

Voice  The colour of the piece. It's a deep, dull red, rusty like dried blood, almost brown.

Man    Pain.

Voice  Real pain. The inability to express something without a name.

Man    Right, a sort of red.

He rises to exit stage left before turning to speak once more.

Man    But this, this is not the piece.

12 Nov 2016

Outwards

Now out of woods that inspired
fear but wouldn't keep you,
where to, new creature?
You're ripe for ruin, suited like your cousins
as bones left buried by this force
you've yet to name.
Where do you go now?
The plain now laid out
is set to swallow you, but
as it happens, you're out for blood.

A Movement

Incomplete and unfulfilled—the pleasant couple—
fall into long shadows late summer casts
daringly, piercing a dew-heavy new world
of still air, escaping warmth.

11 Sep 2016

One Line and Two

Three minutes is all it takes, but the wait feels like thirty.
One line and the road ahead is as it was, potholed with unseen twists;
two lines: that route diverges right before us into a foreign forest.

One it is, one line, the one wanted, half expected.
We continue businesslike down that way.
What's a life here or there?

An Honest Attempt

I tried writing about the time I
watched from among a small crowd
a man die. The man died. We just looked on
as life crawled out of a body
that became no longer his,
turning to each other slowly, entranced
as we tried to understand
what happened—
but mostly,
why.

I couldn't finish what I started, not
because it was too much
but because it wasn't true,
not remotely, not the slightest bit. How insincere
to write about what I hadn't known, had never felt,
untouched, an unscathed experience.

I should stick with what I
know—good advice—and write
about all I have:
dreams and rain,
composites of the two.

I've started to feel that this life is
a sum of intention, confession,
work in progress for an honest attempt.
Shame that honesty doesn't pay well.

28 Aug 2016

The Day

It won't be the hottest day of the year
and I can stand humidity, the choking,
the cloying—that's not it. There's something else
that I can't put a finger on. It's not just me, either—you
can hear this tension in the voices outside
under the mad sun that makes dogs
skulk between islands of shade.
This is what precedes
apocalypse, surely.

Car horns argue in between near misses
up to traffic lights given white-hot pupils by
glints of fierce light. Set after set of lidless eyes look on
to dare, to mock
beneath the heaviness beating down,
making slaves of us all.

I made a comment about the air
pressure, something about a storm front,
treading the water of a shared fever dream
back to high-school geography. Rain falls unseen,
restless wind stirs furtive trees, and
that bastard sun breaks through the sea of clouds,
breaks through and hides away again in glaring feints.

Heat makes people act strangely, she goes, remembering
home—brings out the anger. I know it too well,
shifting,
    sweating,
        bristling,
            burning with some insatiable passion.
I could take a life just as well as I could make one.
I'll hold out to see what night brings,
and if the world does end,
there couldn't be better day for it.

Wanderer

When night falls, we emerge
drifting, part of the cloud
of only seemingly lost souls.
        Weave around
    one                another,
        and
    stumbling, laughing,
        find your place;
                        just as well,
                        it finds you.

He comes from the east—no,
is it east where he's heading?
I look at him:
Who are you?
He only smiles.

I mean, he looks familiar, has one of those
faces—you know the kind—a man of the world,
man who says little of what he's seen.
Through that keyhole is a vivid room.
Locks tend to leave us wondering.

I say how it's funny, that
some strangers we've already met.

No, but he calls it chance.
Some folk call it fate;
me
, he goes, hand curled
towards his heart, me,
I call it chance. You, me,
all of us here
—his hands widen,
shaping a sphere—all chance.

24 Jul 2016

The Running

See him on his way
and ask, where to tonight?
Take a murmur, take a smile and watch
the river move on—first in anxious trickle,
pacing before the long,    smooth    flow.

Man in the valley feels a warm wind
on breezeless, cool days that send him back,
first mind in daydream before body in sleepwalk,
the weak following the weaker.
Man in the valley is deepened by his host,
knows his place there, before which the crude path
that strays and leads astray.
For all the sense of home, every visit finds him at loss,
memory sparse, dotted along the way
or gone, gone, taken by the thicket.

Blame the mind, this mindand not the molecule.
The ritual is of a pilgrim
without a god. He carves these channels
with drops all counted out—listen, you can
hear them—ticking softly
in gentle rhythm, clock of the poor:
the sound is wish minus means.

Just as before, gliding
down and around, he sinks on,
down into the sea.
Roll, run as blue suns do.
Shimmer, glow and burn out
until the next comes along.

What Reaches

Keep among us, will you? Stand here
where these hands that reach from every side pull,
pull you away as something lurks beneath, looking to lunge.
There are no answers, no words, nothing
but another grasp—just another
silence, only separated by breath
captured in cold air.

The road only goes on. Bridges welcome gaps, and soon
buildings begin to fall, their stone returned
to frame these fields, give teeth to hills.
It opens up only as it should do—as it pleases,
at length, cadenced in coarse song.

We begin to see,
like that axe the poet mentioned breaking
down the wall, tearing open a gap
to let light pour in.

Then:
brother, here's that lake.
Its edge seems to expand
up and out the valley,
drowning us gently after all
but the final few words are shared,
before night commands silence, more silence.
The weary can only obey.

See the sun off, shedding cobalt
veils over a sky still moving,
and yes, the reshaped clouds chase new prospects
as if in soft reminder. Just stay
until the golden wake, stay
and keep watch until the warmth returns,
warmth resting in oblivious wait

—for the coming of that restless
blind hunter we always speak of,
owning a thousand and one speculations
and people we used to know.

20 Jul 2016

J.

You left this strange cold
before I entered. Voiceless,
you taught me silence, a stillness
children seldom feel.

25 May 2016

Passing through Third Heaven

The sun owns the sky, blue by right, blue like
wild flowers in their dust-paved villages dotting
slopes draping a hundred hills, the valley
made of gold, painted on horizons.
Within reach—eyes tell
a different story—the hoard is there to steal.
Smiling, I know I could.

Closer are the square white shapes
cradling shadows, standing still
before the sun's glare among the
rivers and pools of little linen figures,
this or that many thousand
lives seen from above,
at a distance, becoming ants.

All the while I lie
back, away from it all, briefly comfortable
in the shade a hair apart
from scorching heat, the reality of it:
gods like me don't know
what to make of petty successes.

How many years did it take?
How many miles has it been over land,
sea and sky, on feet in burdened strides—
and what cost most, through anguish carried by
doubt, wind on a tired back.

Still, onwards to new horizons and old
haunts for me to lord over
with my impermanence. What is instinct's
choice—Benares? Lima? Singapore?—so
these cases are half-packed, always waiting,
this person half-done, never settled.

4 Apr 2016

To Accept

You made a career of it, impressively
gnawing on the hand that feeds
down to the bone, no concessions,
for that creature called the greater good.
Colour Judas impressed.
I know the old boys sit, proud
of how you perfected the art,
the rest of us on lookout
for a truant morality.

I sleep by hedgerows and on park benches,
waking with only half-remembered
dreams of it all falling graveyard-quiet,
every loose knot finally
slipping. Ashes to ashes,
as they say.
No report, forecast, projection or
analysis can quantify the beauty of it.
The production only becomes
more refined with each
turn in my mind.

You took everything from me.

Thank you.
I try to find some way to
describe it with the words
I'll never get to tell you about the feeling,
the freedom, chasing the moon across an
untouched field on a cloudless night.
I walk until I can no more, settle
against a tree and silently exchange stories
lit by an audience of pinprick stars.

Yes, I know
this is the game, these the pieces, here
the result, inevitability:
the one thing shared.
Keep fighting the good fight, will you?
Leave me to find some place far
enough from your miserly hand,
the storm reaching across
a sky housing it patiently.
I see myself finding this
placid lake, some modest paradise
as I know a man once did,
nestled like the warmth between breasts,
crests belying a valley's bliss.

Maybe there by the water's
edge I'll come to terms
with my own frayed ones.
With patience,
my thoughts reined,
a self subdued, all like
the pebbles resting contentedly—
with no stamp,
unaddressed,
I'll write the letter
that says everything.

Dunedin

Modernity, nervously
grip the sooty edifice with steel arms
and glass outfits. Straddle
wind-rattled closes and bridges
crossing underworlds, the tangled limbs
of wild lovers exchanging
smoky kisses as they writhe, writhe
in stony bliss upon the heath.

Street becomes river beneath the downpour,
regular visitor, always startling.
Weary slabs seem sunken to unseen depths,
cobbles in stubborn formation among
these old drainpipes, gargling black serpents
climbing the coarseness like iron vines.

Night: your field of lights collected
waver as if still only candles, caught
inside sojourning droplets wishing
to wait out that sullen half-dawn—uncertainly
dim, eternally grey,
still like your hilly perches, yet
ever-moving as the chill
cutting through them.

A thousand tongues tell
new travellers the tale
of the city of stone, stories
set in forgotten wynds
and on sleepy old back roads—hazy,
blurred by drink, coloured by every scent.
Resident ghosts whisper of pasts
kept among the rugged pages of sandstone
volumes in the library maintained
by every wry smile, each weather-wrought thought.

We move, we sleep
in the myriad around
proud crags, earthy throne
watching over, peeking around
this corner and that.
We come and go, near and far
and now back again, knowing
what but not why. All the same,
here we are, home.

17 Jan 2016

Untitled

I

These streets have
no names, turns without corners,
unseen, known like home.
The only landmarks in these alien parts
are these familiar footprints I
come across, treading over
as if it will provoke
answers out of the reticent earth
in this twilight of reason.

Some breed of fear moves
beneath its midnight pool whose
ripples I can see, but even now
sight, out of oath, betrays me.

II

Here inside the darkened palace, doors
outnumber keys.
Rising stairs somehow
descend to places where instinct's broken
compass knows no north.

Paces whisper down
the hallway I seem
to swim along.
The only light is on
my back, casting
the long shadow of
uncertainty. I recognise it now.
I've been here before.

All doubts weighed,
resistance met in kind,
I found humility in surrender
as I drifted among liquid hours.

When will I meet myself?
When will I—
I?
When I understood, I laughed.

III

We left time some way
back when it slipped from our grasp
like some plaything
out of the curious hand of
a wandering child,
now out upon the expanse.

Beneath the holographic sky,
we became ourselves.
The storm clouds didn't take the stars
with them when they left.
Here is infinity.
Let's take our time.
As long as the journey lasts,
it never ends.

IV

Where did it all begin?
We've been here so long, though
the way we came is now hidden
behind peak and valley, the way out
over some unmade horizon.
Between is a fine stroke,
the halcyon madness
on a painting without edge or centre,
the painting we'll never finish.

Man for No Seasons

I find myself in San Diego, a safe distance from L.A. and that surreal hollowness I find more stifling than the heat. I already miss the open-aired isolation of Alaska, a world away from Texas and yet otherworldly compared to the rest of the country in some oddly similar way—something I'd never admit to any Texan and probably not any Alaskan either.

The money will run out soon, though. I drink from any wealth I might possess like water from a tap. I never learned to handle finances and, never settling down, out of sheer habit treat every advance, paycheck and royalty as my first, or last. I'm all the more aware of it as I try to navigate through the mall and pass by all those seemingly as lost as I am, like peacocks with all the colors of their shopping bags, lurid arrays of feathers. I wonder what kind of bird I look like to them with my rough edges and wandering gazes.

I am a writer by trade, at a point in my life now at which it seems clear that writing is the only thing I can do. Newspaper columns, magazine articles, travel guides, radio plays, shorts for anthologies, critical essays, lamppost poetry—everything I can, anything I ought to, I do. Sometimes I worry—foolishly, I know—that I will string together so many meaningless words that I will find myself with nothing to write and will be forced to come up with some convoluted new genre in order to survive.

I return to the motel in an attempt to escape, futile though it may be, as it is still a boat on the open sea for one who cannot stand the water. The unfailing Californian sun finds its way through the shuttered blinds to give the room a burnt brown hue, and so it feels like a cocoon to me. Soon, as for a pupa, it becomes unbearable and I must release myself from it.

Even when I stop at a single place I must encircle it so as not to feel pinned down like an insect by a collector. I drink at a couple of bars I haven't yet visited before quickly tiring of them. Walking down the main street, I feel shuttled as if drifting on through Disneyland, from location to location surrounded by cardboard cut-outs, set pieces, images of manufactured idylls that almost seem to carry price tags. I trudge along the distressingly clean (manicured?) beach, careful with drunken steps not to fill my shoes with the flawless sand.


I should admit that I drink often, which is to say constantly. I eat only as I need to, having little interest in food. I cannot, even after having traveled for days on end, sleep more than six hours a night. I do not dream, or rather if I do, I cannot distinguish it from what I endearingly refer to as reality. The best understanding I have of that notion I take from what others have told me.

I don't frequent any kind of bar in particular; they are the gas stations and rest stops along the road to anywhere as my last drink fades. Many know better than to engage with me in conversation once they see the look inadvertently asking, Can you break this spell or are you here to perpetuate it? This drastically limits one's social life, as what is left in my net are the most curious, unusual and out-of-place characters, food for my soul.

I've met a transgender bank robber from the East Coast (whose drink of choice was a lime vodka). There was the man who'd fled to Canada to avoid the draft, only to enlist as a Mountie (tequila, straight). Most recently was a former bull rider who retired after a shattered hip, a man who insisted his grandfather was the last true cowboy (Coors and only Coors).

A fellow I once met on my way somewhere—I can't recall if it was Tulsa or Topeka—had called me a man for no seasons. True, I suppose, because seasons are given to change. I'm a stranger in a strange land, and the two negatives cancel out one another. What I'm left with is an absurd sort of oneness, the only kind I believe it is possible for me to experience in this lifetime, and so I am grateful for it, if begrudgingly so.

I once overheard a man, a psychoanalyst perhaps, explain that the human mind craves the stimulation found in new environments and experiences. For him this meant the importance of vacationing somewhere new each year or to have one's child learn to play a musical instrument.

Myself, I realized then that I had a surplus of this precious stimulation, that my life was a carousel of painted-on smiles at check-in desks, the arid departure lounges of regional airports and miserably familiar bars. It all batters my brain like artillery fire, and so I write incessantly to direct this inflow of reality back out again. Here I am, scrawling this confession of sorts on a series of napkins in an overly comfortable restaurant as I wait for soup.

To feel stuck in time while never remaining in one place is a bizarre thing I have yet to find the words to describe adequately. I am a man for no seasons. It isn't wanderlust that drags me here and there, far away and then back again, and it isn't the promise of work either. What moves me is something as invisible yet pervasive as the wind, to the point that when I feel a gust, I feel it is time to go.

Goodbye, San Diego. I'll see you when I see you.