Category Archives: Poem

What strange and ancient things might we find beneath the ice?

If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am only for myself, what am I?
If not now, when?

Nature is not good, only proto-good.
-Paolo Soleri

Epistemic status: literally a dream

I awaken.

I am in the desert, alone.

I see the ribcage of a long-since-dead animal. I see a long row of such bones, twisted in a way that reminds me of - but is definitely not - the double helix.

I know what this means.

Evolution, on the margin, always eats free energy, to make more energy-eaters. It is a race with no upper bound, and there will be no victory. Instead, the cosmic commons will be exhausted by resource-claimers with no plan to do anything with the resources. Not that there will be anything left when the race is over.

If I do not take the next step in the dance of life, my line ends. I am just a corpse along the way.

If I do take the next step in the dance of life, then I do no better than life.

And if not now ...

Then I look again. Instead of bones I see a railroad. For longitudinal bones, metal tracks laid by the hand of industrial humanity, stretching in a straight line towards infinity. For ribs, the crossties that allow the uneven ground to support those even rails.

I know what this means.

The economic logic of global capitalism. Another race towards infinity, leaving nothing. Quarterly returns. Goodhart's law. Accountability and automation replacing judgment wherever they can, culminating in a Disneyland with no children. The symbol of this, the train, no natural place for the line of tracks to end, stations but no terminals, stretching on forever.

I look again. I see a road.

I awaken.  Continue reading

Confutatis and cold comfort

On a recent morning bits from Mozart’s Requiem were playing in my head, and when I got to Confutatis I began to translate it in my head:

When the accused are convicted

To the acrid flames sentenced

Call me among the blessed.

I pray supplicant and prostrate,

Heart contrite as ash.

Show care for my end.

And I felt a strong desire to grant these prayers. My first impulse was to identify - not with the prayer, but the one to whom the prayers were directed. My first thought was not, how much like my own sentiments, but how terrible it is that someone might think I wouldn’t rescue them from the flames.

And then I remembered that I don’t have the power. I can’t just call everyone among the blessed. And I cried.

An acquaintance - not yet a friend, I think, though we have mutual friends - has been going through a very tough time, and meditating on their struggle, I wrote this poem, drawing again on my self from several months ago. So it’s not quite about them - as usual, I write the poem I’d have liked to read from someone else: Continue reading

Fragment of an Oz Ymandias

The prompt, from an Australian friend of mine (quoted with permission):
Screen Shot 2015-11-07 at 10.22.50 PM

A first class traveller in a bespoke suit just got ushered into the line in front of me as we were boarding and everyone's bags were being inspected. He reluctantly opened his fancy gold carryon to reveal about 100 immaculately packed noodle soups and a Thermos of hot water. Play on playa
-Leah Ginnivan

A first class traveller in a bespoke suit
declared one hundred soup-of-noodle tins
immaculately packed. Also en route
a Thermos of hot water. He begins
to open up his golden bag, a mute
attest to un-self-conscious frugal mores
which yet survive, stamped on this rich man's mind,
from hands that fed him, hearts as sweet as fruit:
In other travelers' minds, encomion:
"O suitably-attired-in-bespoke-suit:
Bring on those soups, you playa, and play on!"
The travelers board the plane, slowly alight
on seats assigned, with baggage stowed. The run-
way smooths their vessel's passage into flight.

An offer

A follow-up to my poem about Saruman:

Had you but let me teach you of those arts you so despise,
embraced your inner fire and the attachment that you fear,
forsaking calmness, self-control, the stillness you revere,
we could have left this world behind, ascending past the skies.

Continue reading

Two free verse poems in the bitter aesthetic

I’m in Portland, OR right now. I came here to try to absorb by some osmotic process the local culture of self-cultivation, people engaging in projects not because the projects are useful or justified, but because they want to. People living out their aesthetic vision for their lives. But when I got here, I found that it is not Rivendell, where lonely Elf-friends can heal their wounds, but the Shire. You can visit and be welcome, but you won’t really be a part of it. It’s not Elfsongs and stories and public feasts, but people living out their private lives in communities. You can visit a person in Portland, but you can’t really visit Portland.

Continue reading

True friendship is being counterfactually hugged by vampires

Justice, reciprocity, and the trader principle

I continue to be pleased and surprised by how much and how strongly I stand by this poem. I keep wanting to bring it up in conversation, as a summary of my feelings on friendship and what one true friend owes another. This post is an attempt to make these ideas more explicit.

There is a transactional model of doing good to others, whereby one immediately receives some benefit. There is separately an idealistic model where one tries to help people simply because they are good. There are also some bridging categories in between, and I think various types of friendship are intermediate categories.

Continue reading

For You

Not for what you have ever done for me,
Though you have helped me past what I can pay,
But for the person you appeared to be,
Nor do I for some later help that may,

Though I expect it will, and more than now,
Accrue to me, nor work that I admire,
But that within, the source that could allow
These things to be, is all that I require.

And if you could or would no longer do,
Or be or seem like anyone to see,
Not who you could have been, but just for you,
For you, you now, you then, because to me,

The things you did, the things that I expect,
Themselves are only signs unworth true pride,
They are not beautiful, are but correct.
The beauty is in what is signified.

That which you are, I learned from what you do:
Not yours, not these, not all of this, but you.

Wasted Talent: Parody

Sometimes my friends post things on Facebook that are just begging for a response in verse.



This road, it did not lead exactly where I thought it led.


Actual road. I took a few of the unofficial trails that cut through the woods between the various office parks around here looking for the coffee shop and ended up one cul-de-sac further north than I wanted. This was an ultimately rectifiable mistake, I got my coffee, and had a beautiful walk.


The guys smoking on that loading dock were pretty surprised to see me emerge from the woods so I'm guessing they don't get too many passers-through.


Cream and Sugar Not Taken

Two trails split off past the office park,
And sorry I could not go both ways
In the time allowed for a coffee break -
So the cruel reward for a path mistake
Was to finish the day in a drowsy haze -

I looked down one as long as I could,
And it seemed quite straight and kept up well,
But it veered before I thought it should,
So I picked the other, what the hell,
It looked about right, though I couldn't quite tell
Its course, since it passed right through the wood.

On the trail I took I found that soon
The overgrowth cast shadows black.
Oh, I lost a good part of the afternoon
Winding around, and not too soon
I found myself in a cul-de-sac.

Two stevedores smoking, both jaded guys,
When I emerged from the woods that day,
Betrayed their sudden frank surprise,
Which I could read in those veteran eyes,
And told me the coffeeshop wasn't that way.

I backtracked doubletime to the fork,
To rectify my first mistake,
And by the end of my coffee break,
I'd bought my coffee and come back to work.



Downtown, Bethesda, Maryland.
Waiting for the Tripper Bus

This is the season, affordable routes out of town
This is the season, affordable routes out of town, now

She rides a Bus Tripper, one way ticket, yeah
It took me so long to find out, and I found out

She's in Bethesda, she's waiting for her bus there
She's in Bethesda, she's waiting for her bus there, now

She rides a Bus Tripper, one way ticket, yeah
It took me so long to find out, and I found out



 Light purple cummerbund
You know you're my only one
Don't need no date to the prom
When I've got a light purple cummerbund on


Light-purple cummerbund, you're the one
You make black-tie lots of fun
Light-purple cummerbund, I'm awfully fond of you.


Light-purple cummerbund, smile of smiles
Your color can be seen for miles
Light-purple cummerbund, you're my very best bund, it's true.


Every day when I make my way to the gala
I find a little waist-sash who makes me the dapperest fella.
Light-purple a-durple cummerbund

Light-purple cummerbund, you're the one
You make black-tie lots of fun
Light-purple cummerbund, I'm awfully fond of you.

Frost 2

Prompt 1:

Off to go cross-country skiing on a frozen lake.

Response 1:

My facebook friends will think it dope
To ski where there is not a slope
Upon a flat and frozen lake
Whose fish have long abandoned hope.

Prompt 2:

Finger Lake: skiid across. In a snowstorm.

Response 2:

The sky astorm, the air asnow,
By ski is how I wish to go.
No one would find me should I fall
Until the spring sun's melting glow.

Perhaps it seems bizarre to all,
but since my car is light and small
I harnessed it to pull my rope,
Ghost-skied the whip, no work at all.

My Facebook friends will think it dope
To ski where there is not a slope
Upon a flat and frozen lake
Whose fish have long abandoned hope.

My cold and weary hands will shake
If I ride long without a break.
I must reach land, or ice, though deep,
under my small car's weight will break.

The lake is lovely, dark, and deep,
but I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.