Friday, July 25, 2008

On Beauty,

or A Few of My Favorite Things,
or Error as Architecture

An oily snow mound in a parking lot. The frame of an old car in a junk heap. The way your lip curls up when you sleep revealing your upper teeth. The artificial green coloring of the frozen spinach that rubs off on my fingers. The eye of the crippled homeless man at the bottom of the escalator in Grand Central Station that rolls back. My judgments. The things she said when angry. The show that was stiffly acted and tastelessly directed. The thoughts I thought when lonely. The words I excised from this poem just now. My tastes. The way she named her experience friendship while I named mine love. The warts I burned off my toes in fifth grade. The way the wedding ended too early and nobody was ready to jump into the river. My desire. The things I turn from. The sudden movements of my mind. The things that turn towards me. The introduction of disorder into the system. The melody without shape or arc. My training. The ugly ass tie my friend wore the other night. The fatness of Americans. The atomic bomb. My discriminations. The proclivity for blood in human relations. The persistence of ignorance. The genocide. The difference between wise distinguishing and naked awareness. The nay-saying mind and the yes-saying spirit. The slave humming her song in a tone of utter despair.

All thoughts are God’s thoughts

All thoughts are God’s thoughts.
Even the wrathful ones,
Even the wicked ones.

All thoughts in all minds at all times.
Even behind the empty eyes,
Even inside the TV heads.

All thoughts are God’s thoughts.
The end times are near,
Not everyone will be saved.


The steak is rare and blood red.
Your suffering is raw and tearful.
What is felt is passed around like so many invisible handshakes.

Mother’s mood is in her milk.
Father’s desire is in his genes.
What becomes is in the seeds of the universal oak tree.

I eat the steak, I drink the milk,
Through my being all things are transubstantiated,
I take on the suffering, I embody the desire,
Through your being I am converted.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Freak City

for Williamsburg

We are the people you sleep with
Moon scattered nights among the records
Obliterating boundaries in our worship
Our forms will live on forever until they pass.
Others look to us for limberness of limbs
For a sign of universal relaxation
In the way we wear our muscles and tattoos and shoes.

We are the people who get dragged home
This routine of expansion and contraction
Of sleeping until sleep is exhausted
Of proving that yes still works best.
There is a hidden basement downstairs
Where our angry hearts beat on strings singing
Don’t bond to the tides if the tides are not what you want.

We are the people who have invented UFOs
Telling our stories to keep you afraid at night
Our cross-currents of heartbreak and selfishness
Our riverside romances do not die easy.
Others wish to see if we float like witches
For a sign of the reality of damnation
Don’t look now if you want to go on believing as you do.

Monday, July 14, 2008


When my life flashes before my eyes,
In that famed final moment of lucidity,
I am convinced that what I will see is not
My first kisses nor the birth of my firstborn,
But rather the hundreds of times I have given
Directions on the streets of New York

To wayward wandering fellow-travelers,
Who stand with their upsidedown maps
And their clueless, terror-stricken faces,
Suddenly staring at the holes in our reality,
At the flickering of the substantiality of space,
At the streetlights beckoning us uptown.

To get to the Public Library, one walks west
From Grand Central along Fifth Avenue,
To find the Carousel in the Park, one winds
Southeastwardly from Sheep Meadow,
And to find Brandy’s Piano Bar, one sings,
“On East Eighty-Fourth, between Second and Third!”

The sherpas have the mountaineering skills
But I have memorized the subway map.
The guides have strewn the land with signposts
But I possess the toy box prize secret decoder.
And when my mornings are labyrinths, my fear
Becomes my tool for unraveling spirit-in-action.


These are the days of our exuberances,
Of our enlightened and neurotic qualities,
The blindness of Cupid.

These are the movements of our minds,
Of our prejudices and our self-confidences,
The cunning of Daedalus.

These are the dreams of our reality,
The fabric worn so thin as to become a hole,
The death of Zeus.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Portrait of the Universe as a Young Man

It is the process of gestation,
An abstract phenomenon
That is hereby depicted in plain
Words, straightforwardly.

The adherence to the thoughts
As they arise, the stripping
Off of the layers and the muck,
The modernist mumblings,

The ego disguised as genius —
For only Tumult, Son of Thunder,
Knows well the whirling dervish
And dances well into the night.

It is the schoolboy become artist,
The transformation of the human
Into the cockroach or the sun
Or the sunset or the mulberry,

Into the whole luminous shebang,
Sanity still intact, if possible,
Raw heart extended and exploded,
Guts spread out upon the pavement.

It is, simply put, the process of
Becoming, this so-called work
We do on ourselves, constantly,
Tirelessly, our observing minds

In headlong effort to represent our
Inner landscapes of convergence,
Not to save one from the empty wheel,
— to point it out, to calmly cry out,

Look! there is no other, there is no
Black hole, there is no you-dream,
There are only our quotidian saviors,
Only coffee, and perpetual gestation.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Nearly Any Task

for Cara Jane Francis

My work ethic, a purely habitual thing,
Wants me to write a poem this afternoon
And so sits me down at my desk to work
At which point I get a g-chat from a friend —
"PAUL!" she cries,
"I need to find spiders and flies I can eat!"
She asks me, if I'm not too busy, to catch
A spider or a fly for her and keep it alive.

Well, I'm also busy learning Bob Dylan's song
The Man in Me at the piano, and opening my shades
To let in the light and making coffee and reading
The poems of others and adhering to my
Strict discipline of extraordinary laziness, which,
A fellow writer told me, is what the poems require.

There is the story of Milarepa, the great Tibetan yogi,
Who was instructed by his teacher, Marpa the Translator,
To build a house, and after Milarepa completed the house,
Marpa, in that baffling guru way, told
Milarepa to tear it down and build another,
Which, not without despair in his heart, Milarepa did
With single-pointed concentration and devotion.

The path is relentless. Listening closely to
The dictates of mind, to basic goodness,
Staying the course, for whatever unseen reason,
In whichever frightening direction,
Is easy enough when the task is arachnid-catching,
Is even easy enough when a lifetime of laziness is
The Big Idea, but proved more challenging
When my girlfriend asked me to build her a house
And my mind jumped to the moment when she'd
bid me tear it down.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Where Does It Come From?

or Basic Goodness

I want to behave like the radio station
That’s coming in pitch-perfect, without distortion,
Without the fuzz and white noise of ignorance,
Without the screaming of the used car salesman,
Every car must go!”

I’d like to behave like the Mozart that woke me up
This morning, the minuet, the oomp-pah-pah, oomp-
Pah-pah, the dancing feet of dead aristocrats,
Well-tuned and in-tune and tuned-in to
The music of the motion of the swirling —
Every song must sing!

The impulse to extend one’s self in speech,
To write an email, to proffer the poem,
To pluckily strike up conversation in the deli
With the stranger who looked your way, briefly,
“That Fage yogurt is the bomb, right?” —
Every word must utter!

Where does it come from? The positive
Instinct, the right word, the all-glorious
Intunement with one’s world, the sense of clarity
That seems to stretch back to Central Station,
Where all broadcasts begin, where all waves are born —
Every spark must spark!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Drawer of Circles

"The life of man is a self-evolving circle, which, from a ring imperceptibly small, rushes on all sides outwards to new and larger circles, and that without end."
-Emerson, from Circles

Who we are dictates how we ought to live.
A series of concentric circles,
Heaven-bent on perfection, enfolding
Circle within greater circle upon further
Evolution of circle-culture and gene-helix.
And I learned something new today
About why my body shimmers with panic
Even when I'm not doing anything.

So then. We ought to live like circles
That roll and leap levels and tumble down hills,
That need help up mountains and that
Fall down and collapse in on themselves too.
We ought to live like the odd geometry we are,
Like the hand-shaped hands and heart-shaped
Loves and tender-colored days that we are,
We ought to live like the stories we wish to tell.

Who we are dictates how we ought to live.
The spontaneous expression is the field
Of experience — Delicately, sensitively,
Skillfully, with Euclidean precision, we trace
Our ever-widening circles with our own hands,
We meet the world, join arms, and folk dance.
But the rub, I ironically tell my student, is that
The human hand could never, not in a million lifetimes,
Draw a perfect circle, not even with a forceps pen.

When I say this, she picks up her pencil and tries,
Promising me that she can, that she can and she will.