Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Sign from Kumano Jinja

why covet your life,
man of firm futility?
why long to become
what i long to escape from:
a raw heart grated
by ugliness close to home;
the temple bells' sound;
that tense, imperfect balance
as the conscience pulls
the soul in two directions;
and to die at last,
after too long an effort,
in acknowledgment
of one's inability
to reconcile them?

could it be the same feeling
as catching a glimpse
of plum blossoms in the snow?
of a young woman
who will come home an old one?
of a thin-spun song,
perched on a simple, strummed chord,
of severed togetherness?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Two Translations from Carmina Burana

"Fortune plango vulnera"
no. 16

Fortune wounds me fatally;
My eyes are red and swollen,
For the gifts she gave to me
She has perversely stolen.
She’s a lovely sight indeed:
Her hair adorns her shoulders;
But when I reach the hour of need,
She’s balder than a boulder.

I used to sit on Fortune’s throne,
With fame, success, and power;
I was crowned with precious stones
And many-colored flowers.
All the earth was in my sights,
The happiest contender,
But now I tumble from the heights,
Deprived of all my splendor.

The Wheel of Fortune turns and turns,
And I go down, degraded;
Another to the top returns,
Too high to see unaided.
At the top, the King should fear
Ruin’s cold arena!
For written on the axis here


"Cur homo torquetur?"
no. 32

Why is there affliction?
To teach respect for jurisdiction.
Why is there affliction?
For social order and crime’s restriction.
Why is there affliction?
To honor the Crucifixion.
Why is there affliction?
To grant our guilt benediction.
Why is there affliction?
So we feel doubly our conviction.

Only God’s inclination
To His chosen grants elevation.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

anyone would

Why must I send forth
great, wailing sobs of anguish
for people to know
that I'm a bit unhappy?
Seeing a sad thing --
anyone would be sad, right?
If I say to you,
"I'm angry with you right now,"
why not believe me?
Don't make me terrify you
to prove that I feel.
The corner of my mouth lifts;
my nose flares slightly;
my eyes stay too wide too long --
with these already,
with the tension in my hands,
I've said everything.
Am I invisible? Or
am I unbelievable?

Friday, May 08, 2015

To Texas

Every morning
for the past week I've
spooned yogurt into the blender,
thrown in some frozen
raspberries or blackberries or
whatever--an attempt at
eating healthy for once--and I
remember the way your nose wrinkled each
time you saw a banana split, the
combination of milk and fruit aimed
perfectly at that part of you
that feels
digust. And I wonder if yogurt
is different, I wonder if you'd be
proud of me, I wonder
how well you're eating, and how well
you're being looked after. I know
he's looking after you.
I don't know how to say it,
other than I want to see
you every day, but there
are rules, and there are
ways we do things, and I
have never been strong enough to fight
--even if I had known what
I wanted. And I
don't call you, don't send emails, don't
have anything to say, except
do you still hate strawberry ice cream and
what does it feel like
to be happy

Monday, April 06, 2015


Under the broad wings
of the fame-soaked butterfly,
when did you, young man,
learn the confidence to speak,
to contradict a father?


He keeps no promise,
if evil is done thereby,
forswears even gods--
but his father's foolish vows
guards to his own destruction.


The tall, light red roan
and the burnt orange laces:
they are only yours,
but the butterfly roundels
are much more yours, and much less.

Thursday, April 02, 2015


Declare you will allow it;
declare you will permit me:
I will give you my cattle,
god of my health, O Young Bull;
their blood will run down the stones
that form the path before you,
feeding your human children
and giving them nourishment.
I will lay at your white feet 
the whole of my righteousness
and know it is not enough
and wonder, Will it please you?
I offer my crippled self,
for I know what delights you:
not burnt incense or poured wine,
but my suffering and strength,
though if you desired incense,
I would certainly give it.
My mouth praises you to all,
because you open my mouth.
My tongue sings of your goodness,
because you burn it with fire.
Those who forsook you will hear 
and return to you in tears,
for I will teach the guilty
the rightness of your purpose.

You are complete in yourself;
You give, yet you lose nothing.
Build me up on a high hill
like the walls of your city.
Let me watch over the whole
of your land and your people.
Put me where I can succeed,
and then praise me; smile at me;
do not overlook the heart
you have broken and rebuilt.

From the very beginning,
from the hour of conception,
I was unnecessary;
I was convicted of it.
Strengthen my faltering back
with your unyielding spirit.
Teach obedience to me;
brand it on my viscera.
Pierce and divide my torso
so the darkness can escape;
with your agonizing blade,
burn clean the insides of me.
Look away from my failure,
from my futile existence,
and pretend you do not see
what I have done and not done.
Compel with your words the past,
bid with your will the future
never to happen for me
and never to have happened.
Wash the unwashable stains;
purge me with hyssop and salt.
Ransom me from my bloodguilt;
unchain me, god of my health.

Show me your hidden wisdom;
teach me the truth that you love.
Offer to me the safety
of sure affiliation.
Direct the bones that you broke
to run and climb, to rejoice.
Command me to hear gladness,
for as you will, I will do.
Create me in your image
and teach me to dwell in peace;
let me once more feel the joy
as when I first heard your voice:
joy shrouding my nose and mouth,
stealing breath from my body,
in the glaring white sunrise
that was your hand reaching down.

On the morning you felled me,
you offered to help me up;
on the day you destroyed me,
you shaped me to your liking.
Whether my eyes are blinded –
what does that matter to me?
Whether you are perfection –
does something like that matter?
If you say that I am clean,
I will surely believe it,
for your word only is right,
and yours is the only law.
You chose me to answer you,
and I have made you my lord.
Thus, if you are worthy
and if you are not worthy,
I will place my confidence
fully in your worthiness –
so be worthy of my faith.
Grow strong on my confidence.
Let my fortitude feed you,
my idol, god of my health.
Bid me forget my sorrow,
and I will win you Heaven;
command me to feel gladness,
and I will surely obey.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Tanka (for Tametomo)

A thousand ages
may have come and gone by now,
yet see on my skin
the name of those who died out
rewritten in bold colors.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Fall

my language has no words
and my culture has no gestures
with which to demonstrate
the intense sincerity of my self-abasement
when I am confronted by your worth
(when I am confronted by my incomplete understanding of your worth)

there is no comparison I can make
to you, the superlative,
except to say inadequately
that you knock the sense from me, like the cement
(pummeled into the lower back muscles of a fallen child
when she slips on the sidewalk)
steals her power to breathe

this love that is more than love
encumbers you, but although I build up
walls for me to slam into, although I weave
nets to catch me, I am locked in orbit


when I was small, I threw myself out of the top bunk
to learn what it felt like to fall
but I could just have waited
to meet you


new and strange to contemplate:
my thoughts are not Myself—
the constant stream of reactions to my experiences
can be my enemy

—can be my tool,
can be irrelevant, is not Me
anymore than my hands are Me
or my memories, or my reflection
or the contradictory set of behaviors
acquaintances lump together and call by my name

and maybe I only exist
in this moment,
maybe in two minutes my body will be made
of a new combination of atoms;
when I pull back, I can no longer see
where I end and You begin, or if
I and the chair are not the same, after all

and maybe I have a soul,
new-created at my conception or as old as Saṃsāra—

—but total nonexistence seems just as likely


There will be a moment
when I don't remember this anymore
when its effects are lost
in the vast complexity of all action
and my mind is empty, or
is full of other things

In this loneliness, this isolation from pre-made meaning
I will find
a kind
of freedom that no other freedoms
the delight
of drowning, suspended, head covered, feet stretched out,
in the seeming infinity
of my own agency

If I dismantle my barbican, overflow
my baileys, I will scrape myself raw,
I will expose myself to a rain of sulfur
but I
will move, after a long wait, I will
move, I will no longer be too large
for my skin

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Week 38

Hurt people hurt people

I remind myself of this as I watch you on the sun porch,
your belly swollen with potential and your forehead
pushing in toward itself
Each word you spit designed to slice me up, designed
by you and by some other, some other
who designed you
Serene, I say nothing to your tirade; I let it hit me,
and part around me, a great wind blasted at a pillar
of rock; your barbs are blunted
I see what they are, little pebbles of hate

and I remember the times I have
hated, the times we sat
on the sun porch and held sweating glasses of iced tea
Every word I have spat
when my helpless arms grasped
at nothing and my insides were stolen
Some people worry for the child in you but
I have faith

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


The heat makes everything more real:
the sweats are sweatier today;
the stark dark hairs are hairier,
the fats more lipid, more opaque,

and through leftover water drops,
the seeing sun steams oil from us:
humanity is raised at last,
a rich exchange to swap for sun.

The sweat, the hair, the fat, the waste—
and age beats down like summer heat,
the sun made redder by the breaths
of human thousands, damp beneath.

I turn my face against my sleeve
and breathe the smoke my sleeve has caught,
which we were given lives ago
in sharp defiance of the gods.


I see you, sometimes, in a face,
in young men hurrying with tasks
or pushing through the crowd in pairs,
too vivid for me and too fast.

You dart across their irises
and through the muscles of their cheeks;
I hear you echo when they laugh,
ineptly hidden, out of reach.

How many of us have you passed
without a touch, without a word?
We’ll never find out what it’s like
to be these men, intense, secure—

but even they can’t see the homes
you build and vacate in their eyes:
we never know about ourselves
until you’ve left us way behind.

Friday, July 25, 2014

I'm not a liar

Every word of truth was spoken
by my hands as they pushed the window open,
as they pushed the window shut;
every sincerity pulsed pain
behind my eyes, tensed
in my forehead.
If you can't read what is written,
if you can't hear what is declaimed,
come into the amphitheater through any
of its many doors,
and learn another language, one spoken
under the breath, one written
in the tiny spaces between each word,
where there is little room for the cut-out tongue
to sing.

Thursday, June 26, 2014


Put your mouth on my face and understand me,
see the faces in my face;
slide your hand through my hand,
for I am a specter

Put your lips on my forehead, put your mouth
on me, and understand, beloved, you
who have listened and obeyed, who learned
from our teachers

Ask me your questions; I will give my answers;
they don't match, and oh

I never wish to frustrate you,
who loved me, who were never
so beloved as I

and I know, I know but it was not in my nature
to love, and how much less
can I regret the coldness of my heart
when the path led me to Liberation

(yet love came to me, too, in my turn, and was overcome)

But my words are merely an abacus, so put
your mouth on me,
open it wide and red,
and understand me, beloved, for I
am a specter

Friday, May 23, 2014


Last night, in my dream
I saw faces I never
touched, never took, and
now I have awoken; I
have still not seen them
since the life before I died

I know what they were—
the bone-deep tolling
of the Gion Shōja bells:
the cold, beaded dew
on the morning glory bud

Now, for the first time,
as has so often happened,
the morning has come at last

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


This is the week
that all the lilacs bloomed,
bursting out too quickly for me to say
that they unfolded.

Their heavy, sweet smell,
wet with newness,
unrolls across the city, a tapestry
embroidered with May.

I touch them;
I brush my fingertips across each cluster
as I pass, lift them to my face and breathe,
overcome by the feeling of home,
by the idea of belonging.

But I do not belong
to these lilacs; they are not mine;
this house is not mine; this land
is not mine; it is only part of this city
that is also not mine,

and the house with the lilacs
where I lived long ago

was not my home

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Not a Symphony

I don't want to get better at handling my feelings
I just want to not have feelings anymore

I don't want to spend another afternoon facedown on the floor, wet spots forming in the carpet--
my tears and, uglier, my wet, wide breaths

I am fat and dysfunctional and unpleasant to be around
and I'm lonely but I fuck people up.

I am trying to write this but
the ink is smudging in the teardrops on the page--I'm literally crying on all my work
and its not even interesting or beautiful, it's just pathetic

I drank all the wine we have in the house and
it didn't do anything, I only stumbled
through the garbage can and smeared cat vomit
on my hands because
I'm crying too hard to walk straight

I live in a pile of cat vomit
my life is disgusting
everything I own is made of particle board
and I never get to go outside.

I'm not even an interesting character anymore
I'm a cliche
a mom from the 60s who drinks martinis and hates
her vacuum cleaner

All this pain and I don't get anything out of it
I'm not writing a symphony, I'm not painting
a portrait, I'm not even writing shitty
poetry, just scribbling this down in
ugly ass handwriting, while I wipe snot
out of my mouth-breathing face with
my other hand

The salt in my tears stings my skin--how
have I cried so much and never noticed
that before?

I have nothing that is worth anything to me
it's all just thick-smeared garbage, and
it's heavy, and I

I wish I could go outside, spend more than ninety
minutes without looking at a screen, breathe
air that doesn't smell like dishes that
haven't been washed in weeks

Monday, April 28, 2014

Long-Legged Spider Keeping Up

Of a deeper color than jade
is the pond by the road,
cupped between spring-forested hills
in Michigan, where I pay rent now,
and I would give my jade
and my emeralds, if I still had them,
to belong to these hills and to this pond
or to the fruit of the trees.

I belong only to the road:
each cornfield I drive by cuts neat rows,
even-measured furrows into me, running
endlessly beside me, like a long-legged spider
that barely, mercilessly, keeps up.
And I ache for a home
that I never was born to, for a country
where I never belonged,
homesick for a people whose language
I understood but could never speak without
an accent--
a moth forbidden
from crawling back to its chrysalis.

Beneath the corn and the soy is the soil
I call mother, in whose warm muddy realness
I dream of immersing myself,
hogs and Holsteins lazing over me,
spread open to the unobstructed Iowa sky--
in Minnesota or Illinois, in Wisconsin or Missouri,
somewhere just off I-80 or I-94,
not farther than you'd drive for a fill-up or for
2 for $2 bratwurst

becoming, finally, one of a million farms,
each unique yet indistinguishable among
the million--and all the shame
of realizing I have no use for their uniquenesses
gone with my face, gone with my name.

I love her like no one else could,
this placid mother
who turns her tits to face her litter,
all born knowing how to suck,
while I stare at her spine and wonder
how I never learned this trick,
this skill that automatically comes with being human,
a buy-one-get-one-free at the Farm
and Fleet. I don't think
these softball-dusted girls, these sunburnt
boys in white t-shirts, know her face--
too busy sucking to look up. But I

have spent--oh, decades now--
imagining what her face might look like
if she smiled on me. And if I had money I could buy
a John Deere tractor, but I could not
turn myself into one.