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


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.

Pravda – a Found Poem

George Frederick Watts, A Sea Ghost , 1887
George Frederick Watts, A Sea Ghost , 1887

His skin, his blood was failing
One had the same feeling as before:
the grim knowledge, two lives
unknown rivers flowing, two hearts;
pieces, files, official papers
erupting from distant cabinets
rained down, aflame in a grim hour…

Heavy fog on the Black Sea,
Gas lights out in Moscow.

The other choice was to begin to notice
The speeches, the press, propaganda,
to have always been struck, exhumed
by ironies of histories, its fatal incisions,
invoking God’s help: Help us! –
such does the wall of God surround
intolerable village republics.

More at the palace gates
than peasants crushed by a revolt;
more than soldiers marching though,
but specters uttering his name as
provocation when a party know-how
(one of their own dissociates
a triumph-and-monument minister)
walked around and around the mad man.

Far away.

They’d  fired upon a few during a storm
shouts swallowed by the squall
men, aspirating bloody foam,
dark stain of hand-picked sailors
covering the lower deck.
Shipwrecks could receive
some last revultionaires;
it had been arranged before.

These were ignored, laughed at
no hands left to help sort out
the tangles of a year of terror.

Expect none by sea – stop
Three assassinated in Moscow – stop
He’s done breathing in a Kremlin apartment – stop.

They came when a bomb exploded
below a fretted archway.
They were nearby already, likely.

It’s Serge, one said,
recording the remains,
flesh bleeding on broken marble,
witness to the confused stare of a child
forsaken in the shadowy doorway
still in a nightgown.

Cheer up! he said to small and motherless
Alexandra and he sent a message
to the abbey when more small
causalities came forward.

I have been to Moscow and – stop
I have seen the Abbess – stop
She is of no ordinary vein
in her hooded habit
of pearly gray – stop
Oh, holy bosom of the motherland! – stop
She’s got beds for all! – stop.

Lips like red blood droplets on fresh snow –
I am the hero of heroes.

He tugged at the abbey bell,
was angered when it clanged,
mocking ringing, haunting him
the rattling of the ship
where they’d thrown their
officers overboard.

He’d heard them whispering
in the Black Sea fog
the dead – dredged up, dragged back
on a dark passage, wandering
ghosts at the palace gates.

It makes him sick to read about
one mad moment, one necessary misstep
in the paper – where is their power?
The ministers assemble in  the dark
They cackle without action.

Now an oldish man – an illiterate peasant
collects the pages of half-burned files
raining down upon his wheat fields
sailing in on crosswinds to this No Place –
another intolerable village republic.

Thoughtfully he puts pieces together
uniting the war torn pages, lives.

In his life’s winter yawn
he remembers a time when
many a young revolutionary
called himself a soviet.

He saves the papers of a comrade
celebrated in the Pravda,
all of them intact and stamped.
The dark haired boy in the photo
a sailor, or a spy perhaps
could be his own Alexi
who dreams always of Paris.

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.