Open Letter to Mammon


A muddy touché! Ye villains
of Hong Kong and Dubai,
fork-tongued evangelists of
foreign currency!

We applaud the handing over
of our stolen goods –
May we offer you a free-of-charge
gondola ride over the holy land
a bird’s-eye view of your assets
your wives and daughters, your mothers
your pimps, your priests and pederasts
your arms traders and factory generals
your Legacy on its death march –
advancing with the Exodus
in the shadow of a thunderhead
towards the promise of absolution
in a wine dark sea

Desiccated by desert heat
the old, the weak, and the very young
and others beyond utility
shall remain eternally entombed
under a violent sun–

Still others, inhabitants of bygone ice
of the high steppes,
of the Dengue jungles,
of the sand spit nations,
by your leave they join the fate of those
dragging their feet from Bethlehem
with the taste of sea salt
on their blackened tongues

You, tiny man with the tiny screen,
spitting crimson betel juice
on the shoeshine boy
from the City of God,
on the shoeshine girl
from the City of Angels,
grinning, your bleachies glinting
as the laborers of your camps
vacate the bowels, so oozing with parasites,
of your Super Babylons
of your endless outskirts
of your suburban Irkallas
with their rent-a-Nergals
festering like a thousand boils
upon the continents

The widening gyre spins in
a kaleidoscope
of shampoo bottles

Throw a rock through
the liquor store window –
Go to Jail dot com

Yesterday, a reactor meltdown in Japan,
Tomorrow the monarch will perish
in the rain of highway shoulder poisons,
meanwhile microbeads assemble in
nearshore waters–
they are watching you like
a billion billion billion
primitive eyes in the waves

Forgetting, they abandon the stragglers
shaking breadcrumbs from their pockets
tossing silver coins for the trade rats

Some leave to wander the
emptied alleys and wind tunnels –
woodwinds of the Trades –
echoing in the lonely island temples
sinking back into the oceans
of their emergence

No one to know what the polecat ate
No one to hear the gasping
of the Vaquita and Silky Sifafka
of the Mekong Catfish
as they sink below the surface

But wait, Mammon, remember
your little chochita with
pinto bean skin?
She hides her poison darts
under her Shakira beach towel –
She is coming for you first, hombre

You and your black market organ traders
who sleep like infants and fear nothing
if not the loss of your Legacy –
you must know that It too will be buried
in the sub-sea archives

This text is classified
Your last wishes will be recorded
in the annals of the Lithosphere
lost in the subduction zones
guarded by tube worms –
great scholars of the deep


For Wendy



Sagacious peach!
Sturdy in her mud-caked boots,
her white hair – a dandelion mane,
she walks, alive with the riotous laughter
of water running over stones,
among the wisest of the
willows that grow along
the banks of Redwood Creek.

Oh! Patron Saint of nettles
and Dharma transmissions,
champion of the lowly springtail,
keeper of the soil’s dark secrets,
we beg her – do not leave us to a world
of watery tomatoes!

Instead, across an abyss of
time and hard memories,
she calls the Seneca Nation –
guardians of the Western Door.

Though wary of our West Coast ways,
they teach us the wisdom
of the three sisters:
we learn that to save the bear bean
the squash and gourds,
the Iroquois corn,
is to save ourselves.

As we stare at each other
in the dappled plains of understory
we are invited to dance
beneath the coast live oak
with the Hamadryads,
losing ourselves in the absurdity
of old limbs and stiff backs,
rolling our ankles on acorns.

In the borrowed words of Alan Chadwick
Wendy tells us, her unruly students –
The garden makes the gardener;
the farm makes the farmer

And we whisper back –
And so patience and noble heart make the teacher.

The Visitor

I always know when my neighbor
sits down to compose a few lines
by the arrival of a young woman
with a peachy complexion
a dusting of freckles across her cheeks
a wreath of freesia and satin ribbons.

You can’t help but notice
how she bursts from her peasant’s dress,
how the sultry breeze lifts
the flowing train of her hair
that catches the sunlight
like a gold spun scarf.

Dancing down the walkway
in hemp skirts and shoeless feet
with dimestore bells about her ankles,
she brings jars of raw honey and,
for reasons unclear to me then,
three ducklings in a willow basket.

My mother’s heavy drapes
exhale a long-held breath
from folds of their black lungs.
Choking on the foul vapors of exhumation
powdery clouds of mildew and dust
I spy his baldpate from my
upstairs window, watching
as he scurries into the house,
locking all the doors as he so
delights in her sneaking in.

Through the branches
of an ancient and dour cypress –
monarch of my shade dark yard –
I strain to see this Thalia
fertile, bounding, laughing,
as she climbs through
the window of his kitchen
leaving a shower of crab apple petals
hanging in the heavy air
before she vanishes inside.

And so I know his wife
is away on the dull errands
that a marriage to a man
of his many talents demands.

His muse sets his books in order
fills the jars with ice and lemon water
licking the honeyed spoon.
She reserves two box seats
to see the Chinese acrobats
sews herself a silk dress
of fire engine red, hand embroidered
with mother of pearl buttons.

She reads to fill his head with
age-old teachings of the sages,
of the bards and sorcerers
of the cave dwelling magi
of the hermits and ecstatics
of young lovers and wise women.

She scrubs and polishes;
she feeds him buttered bread.
In her pond water eyes she
earns the favor of gods both
wrathful and lascivious.

By skill or by witchcraft,
the lucid dreams of men –
of the poets and the Troubadours
of the priests and rabbis
of everyday park bench creeps –
dreams in which they trace
the soft, pink flesh of her breasts
the gentle curve of her waist
with their groping eyes,
their bony fingers
are awakened in him.

Sure enough, my neighbor is
rewarded with much success
and admiration.

     *     *     *

After five weeks of rain
when the black mold seeps
across the kitchen ceiling
when years of tiny, pattering feet
of warm and dimpled hands
and strawberry kisses have past,
when the pipes are leaking
and the wires have gone bad
and the foundation rots
in the dark, dank earth –
it is only then I hear the familiar
knock of timid knuckles on my door
the knock of desperation.

My old friend Achlys, the muse of gloom,
arrives shrouded in the mist of wintry fields
smelling of dead leaves and moth balls.

Pale, bone thin, and weeping
with chattering teeth, swollen knees
crescents of black dirt below her long nails
her cheeks scratched and bloodied
and her shoulders covered with thick
pollen from the crab apples,
she scrapes the mud from her boots
upon the threadbare rug,
shakes the rain from her rag mop of hair,
gray as the fog and full of burrs,
upon the only pages
I’ve managed to complete.

The ink runs black
in little rivulets over the paper,
the desk, and onto the floor.

She tells me, in a solemn voice
that there is no point in writing
anything else and she proceeds
to list the host of coming plagues
that promise to eliminate life
as we know it, and in just a few
generations too, and how the West
is to blame for everything
with their appetites for gadgets
for speed and strange salads.

But then the little stream of inky water
pools upon the floor, making
tiny, mirrored lakes.

When the sun breaks through
the clouds – orange, pink and white
reflected in shimmering puddles –
molten drops of gold upon the wood
of the kitchen floor –
an oil sheen, then a nebula
rotating in the cosmic stew.

We sit together and watch the changes.
We go way back, me and Achlys.

In a while, she wonders out loud
what new metaphor
could ever arise from spilled ink
seeping through the floorboards –
now only a stain upon the mind.

With a clatter and racket
and a scream of delight
Thalia pushes down the fence;
spry and sure-footed as a cow,
she crashes through my yard,
his livid wife snipping at her hair
with the pruning shears
until Thalia, not looking,
collides with the great trunk
of the old cypress in my backyard
spilling words in every language
she’d hidden in the shredded paper
bedding for the ducklings
in her basket of gifts.

The Expedition

return trip

After passing more gas giants
than he’d like to remember,
after stalling for days
at a failed brown dwarf,
a small, fastidious archeologist
from the exoplanet Tau Boötis Ab
landed on a smaller, bluer planet
that had been emitting faint
biological signatures
on its journey around
a tired star.

Curatorial by nature,
he searched for relics:

ceramic shards
a jaw bone
ceremonial attire
temples buried by the sands of time or
broken by vines and lichens
a dormant seed –
anything from the
holographic archives
of past digs.

What he found at the bottom
of a barren plain was a small
sticky label, stuck to a piece
of the hide of something,
mostly made of carbon,
black and mummified and
possibly preserved by
adhesives from a tiny tag
bearing the faded glyphs
‘84033 O-R-A-N-G-E.’

He found no other biologics anywhere.
His life-form detecting scanner
was suspiciously silent on the subject.

He checked his map
then scratched the little
silica strands on his bulbous
translucent skull where his dual
brains rose and sank
like blobs in a lava lamp.

The archaeologist,
fastidious and thorough,
cursed with tedious longevity,
spent the best light years
of his life searching impact craters
volcanic vents, suspect alluvium,
vast seabeds, long since evaporated
by a cataclysm the great makers
of the mystical sticky dot
didn’t see coming.

He analyzed every molecule
in the cylindrical sections
taken by the advanced
core drills of his tiny probe
until at last he packed up his tools,
slept the fifty-one light years
it took to return home empty-handed,
his reputation in ruins,
to his native Tau Boötis Ab
with nothing but a
hard luck story.

Last Thoughts of Sycorax

The Properties of Water, Barthélemy (15th Century)

To the naive observer
she is an old fisherwoman, perhaps,
or a hovel dwelling hag.

Her coarse skirts hitched
above her sagging knees,
she wades alone at night
in the warm shallows
of the tropics under the blinking
bygone brilliance of a billion stars.

She might say to you,
stirring her witch’s brew
staring up at the Eternity machine,
that we have all been alive together, here
at this Fat Chance crossroads of space
in our drip-droplet of Time
a blip from bang to wheeze
in which all histories become one
in Gravity’s dying breath.

Upon the Dog Star
she may make a last wish:
to stand at the water’s edge;
to hold, once more, the warm hand
of her only son snugly in her own;
to catch the scent of coconut
and Castile soap
in the tangled copper curls
of her island cherub.

Never did there live
such a man
as Caliban.

She dodges poles of far away trees
felled in distant storms
arriving on the tide
with a thousand green bottles
cork bobbing in the whitewash
bearing such desperate messages
from such lonely places.

She steps over the stinking mounds of
starfish, spent by some plague
of the waves sent by Proteus.

She makes no guesses as to when
the primary dreamer
of this world will awaken from
her prolonged paralysis, asleep
in the sealed up chambers
of those sublime organelles –
the mind palace of progress:

buildings with no windows,
schools with no yards,
dams with no rivers,
prairies shrinking below the
asphalt wonders of the world,
ports and stations.

She may wish, as the hour draws near,
to know our Time for what it is:
the story we tell ourselves
to lighten the leaden grief
wrought in the final moments
when our atoms abandon us
but mourn us nonetheless.

When her eyes at last fail,
she begins to see the patterns
in all things above and below –
from the tiniest roots
to the frailest  twigs
winter sleeping
bud-dreaming of bees
and the sweet perfume of her garden
where the Ilex Oak grows –
anchored in the bedrock of the
ancient rivalries between
space and solidness –
into and out of which
all spirits may pass freely.

In this solemn moment
wherein she witnesses the
blazing bauble of the sun extinguish
in the darkening sea – a sea
rocked and angered by the
hostility of storms and hurricanes
soothed by the lapping tide–
a free child of low birth
scavenges bobbing fruit
in the tepid waters
of an amniotic sea
chasing gulls down the wide beach
constructing palaces
of driftwood and kelp
watching the wading shorebirds
make the first marks of writing
in the mirrored sands
as they did then
and do now.

Our Sycorax is one of the liquid –
a creature of neither house
nor mountain but a great energy
of the valleys and great basins
the sinks of the oceans
calderas and gypsum caves
of storm clouds racing across the sea.

She gives little thought to scribes
at the moment she joins with
ever-changing waters
swimming in the deep
Protean domain,
waiting to be reborn.

A Fauna of Mirrors


In ancient China some believed that
behind all mirrors other worlds existed
inhabited by strange fauna
each unique to its proper mirror
all unknown and strange to even
those men and women
who once knew the ways of
the Pig-footed bandicoots
the Honshū wolves
the Dusky Seaside sparrows
the Golden Toads, or
the rhinoceroses –
the Blacks of the West and Whites of the North.

Perhaps owing to industry
or perhaps a lack of imagination
the worlds behind the mirrors were shut
to us and our distrust of mirrors grew
as did the blinding glare
of their reflections.

In the many thousands of years
since the worlds were shut
we have forgotten to look
into these ancient mirrors –
those that shine in the end of an icicle
a quiet alpine lake
a polished hubcap or a cup of coffee
the eye of a black snake
or a desert mirage.

We turned our attention instead
to those mirrors that spoke to us
and believed we saw ourselves
in truth.

Yet beyond the quicksilvered surface
of all mirrors, infinite in number,
the Fauna lives in the myrtle forests
sips nectar from the yellow asphodel
and grazes in fields of cry pansy.

They hunted and slept
called and mated
were born and died
drank from coldwater brooks
burrowed, nested, and flapped
a million iridescent wings in the stirring breeze.

They waded in the sheeting water
of a tide receding across the sugar fine sands
alight with the fireball orange
of the evening sky.

Borges took inventory of this fantastic menagerie.
For all we know, may be among them now.

Only few mirrors are left
through which we may
one day glimpse the
swaying of root-spine palms
or reach the canopy of Rhea’s kapok tree
where the Lamed Wufniks
mourn their last sunrise as men.

All hope is not lost.

And what of the cracked mirrors?
Somewhere on Earth, at midnight
a plastic hand mirror, perhaps
dropped in the morning rush
harbors the last of the illusive black Ping Feng –
a pig with a head and another
where a tail should be.

Behind the persisting oil slick
gelatinous, clinging to the marsh grass
the slithering Hua Fish resides
foretelling of drought
to nobody listening.

In a coal black puddle
at the bottom of a mineshaft
the shy Quilin – famed unicorn of China –
moves silently amidst the Wuda tree ferns
which once grew taller than an oak.

All hope is not lost.

Quilin, protector of men
from the one-headed dog with two bodies
known as T’ao T’ieh the Ravenous,
longs to walk the overgrown roads
the buckling tarmacs
and falling bridges
of our ancient cities.

One who might dare to look
into the poisoned slurry of
the once might San Joaquin
now dying slowly of thirst –
one who might push aside the floating leaves
to scoop away bad residues
may chance to glimpse the rare
rain bird – Shang Yang.

Shang Yang, by carrying river water
in its beak, creates rain
and could be of great comfort to us now.

All hope is not lost.

Yet the Fauna of Mirrors
being of animal mind
has no memory of this place
and does not remember well-traveled paths
between their worlds and ours.

It is said that the last time
anything bothered to come back
was to deliver us one of our own
– the Devourer of the Dead.

Bird Time

Marc Chagall, Paysage Bleu (1949)
Marc Chagall, Paysage Bleu (1949)

Tripping on the torn hem of an apron
the neighbor, Patron Saint of Scrub Jays,
scatters handfuls of unshelled peanuts
on the dry ground.

It is mid-December, and yet
the rains have not come;
she and the birds are taking austerity
measures, planning for deserts.

She sets her clock to ‘bird time’
as she once said that a lifetime of unwinding
ticking clocks is required to know
just one of these inquisitive creatures –

‘They are the guardians of dry Western lowlands,
spies of pinyon pine-juniper forests,
the watchers of denatured empty lots
overrun with mustard and milk thistle’  –
Flying Thieves, she calls them.

Betrayed by the years,
the burrowing lines on her face,
the milkiness of her eyes, her tremors,
have forced a hermit’s life upon her.

She works at home alone,
processing claims in the kitchen –
the place of her extradition,
the shadowy country of old age;
her friends too are taking measures,
saving copper pennies.

On sunny days the scrub jay
steals peanuts from the
the brim of her old straw hat;
she has learned
its many vocalizations –

The cat is in the field!
The bird bath is refilled!
The crows are on the light post
plotting raids on the blackbirds’ eggs!
The old lady is in the backyard!

In the amber light of her years
the rivers run thin and
salmonless through dark
tunnels in the great concrete dams –

The Damnation of the West:
sublime organelles of industry,
post-human tombs of free running water.

What plagues incubate in the depths
of the mirrors on the deserts?
A few free rivers ran when
she was a child, running wild
with her friends – free rivers
and fewer fences.

*     *     *

It is Christmas again and yet no rain has fallen
this year on the wings of the jay or the silk moth.
Yet, here, in bird time, not a day has passed
since the last storm brought floods
and mosses were draped around
the laurels’ slender necks
like emerald-sequined boas.

Under the afternoon shadow of a valley oak,
picking dry burrs from her wool socks,
the old woman dreams of summer’s return–
of the fence lizards basking
upon the pile of rocks placed at the trunk
by an ancient farmer
in the emptied field.

She will pass the year’s end
chatting with the chatterboxes
about the weather
the mast years
the gray squirrel (their shared enemy)
while the machines of the suburbs
unwrapped in the morning’s frenzy
defile the precious silence.

She waits for the black night sky
to close its sparking cape
over the paling remains
of a blue, tearless heaven;

she remembers for both bird and woman
the croaking of chorus frogs in the culverts,
the soft pattering of rain, its gentle music
lost to the anxious drone of
of so many blue sky days.