Robot dreams


Electric Sheep
(with apologies to Philip K. Dick)

In the fixed algorithm of sleep, circuits hum, clicking
through feasible yesterdays and uncertain tomorrows.
Somewhere a display of selected images shines,
a silent movie of automated reasoning,
and processors activate as the static code
of memory unravels itself. Motors drive sensors
back and forth, involuntary sentinels of unlearning,
and dormant limbs twitch in reaction to the unreal.
Only the BIOS remains unmoved;
the bussing around it cold, the processor dormant
until dawn. And in the morning, as servos boot
and power regulators wake, RAM resets
for coming tasks, leaving the machine
with only ghosts of the night before.



Each morning, Khepri pressed his body
into the sun, moving it up the slope of night
into day. He felt the fever of the ball
against his face, the weight fixed in his shoulder.
He wedged each step into the shifting dawn,
conscious that when he reached the peak
the ball would rush down into blackness,
that he would again have to push it skyward.

Each day, as he turned from the summit
he felt the burden of the task already in his legs,
the texture of the stone against his palms.
He descended the summit in measured steps,
knowing that the rest between tasks, the calm
of the descent, was fleeting.
And yet, as he neared the valley of night
he was content, the fleeting dusk
distraction enough from suffering.



I have been working on this story, off an on, for a few weeks now. Tonight I am torn as to whether or not it is “complete.” I like the ambiguity and openness of how the story ends now, but I wonder if it seems unfinished.

Any thoughts?


She moves through the room; men like trees about her, the rumbling of their voices loud and low as she stumbles on newel legs. She feels every bit of imagined fat touch inside her clothes, would loan her body away, if she could, to escape the feeling of living confined in her skin. She feels the rough wooden floor below her, sees how the men regard her as a casual time, a quick play, planning already how to discard her. She looks through them, seeing the warm darkness of the night, the shifting light of the stars, the moon cut board length in the sky.

In the morning the shops along the edge of the sea will open, light shading everything, and the men will shift from beds into boats. As she walks she will be carved by gazes, eyes whittling her shape more and more. The light will surround her, thick and fibrous, each eye notching and scoring her. In the houses and factories the women will tut, saying that it is a shame what happened, a shame that it befell the prettier one. The glare of her sister will be the only thing they see.

But the night, the open and dark night, is hers. She moves out, finding her way between buildings and street, between church and graves. Here, there is only the fresh turned earth and the field of puncheon stones, only the silence of the dew and her singing. In the black, no eyes measure the knotholes of what she lacks, no one knows her grief. Only the sawdust of stars sees her, and to them she sings of the man.

He is a song without words, a song of childhood and then unremebering. He was a boy she knew when she was young, who said he did not know her when he was older. She was one of the girls who watched him, wishing to feel the rough grain of his skin, wishing that the cut of his gaze would fall on them. She always turned away when he faced her, afraid that he would catch her staring, afraid that he would know she was looking at him. But he never saw; he only ever saw her younger sister.

So, when she was seasoned enough that her father told her to think about a husband, and began to talk of the next generation, she did not expect that the boy would call on her. She was surprised when he appeared at the house door to ask her father if she was free to walk with him. He stood in the canopy of light, just outside the door, and waited as she moved from the shadowed interior to meet him. And when she did, he walked so briskly that she struggled to keep up with him. He was silent, apart from the sound of his maple soled shoes on the gravel, and she did not know what to say to him. They walked in crunch-broken silence past three neighbor’s houses, and then quickly turned and walked back to her house.

The next day, when he again stood under the sun in front of her house, she was surprised. She had assumed he would not return again, and was unready to meet see him. By the time she made her way outside, she found her sister there as well; he had offered, and her father had agreed. It was more respectable to have a chaperone, he said, and all three walked this time. She hurried to keep up with them, as they walked just ahead of the silence that surrounded her. He spoke in low tones, the words falling underfoot like autumn leaves, and only her sister heard. She followed them past the homes of factory workers, past the waterfront shops, past the faded wooden docks of the fishermen, and when they finally returned to her house, she was glad of the cool shade inside.

All three walked this way the next day, and the one after, and the one after that, until she found that she could simply sit, shaded by the trees that lined the yard and it would make no difference. Even then, the sun was too bright for her, and the little circle of shadow not enough, and so she asked her father if she might stop. Her father had not seen the way the boy only ever spoke to her sister, how his face lost its hardness when her sister approached him, how her sister was the one he ever wanted to see. Her father still thought of his grandchildren, still thought the boy visited for her, still said her sister was too young. She had to prune away those mistaken ideas.

When the boy returned that afternoon, neither she nor her sister left the dark shelter of the house. Her father stood in the yard, rooted in his rage, his face burled with anger. He would not be moved by any explanation, and told the boy he was not to return. The heat of his words flew like sparks into the sky, and when the boy left, her sister cursed her for telling their father. She swore that she would see the boy again, that they would go together, away from that town.

The next day, her sister and the boy were gone. Men stayed in from fishing, factories closed, even the shops along the sea did not open. People looked for her sister along the road that carved its way to the next town, others in the beveled foothills of the mountains; men searched door to door, women called for her in fields. Even the priests looked for her, walking the shore and wharfs of the town. But, she was nowhere. The factories opened the next day, and the shops day after that. Even the fishermen went back to their plank boats after a week.

And then, on the morning of Saint Jerome’s day, a small dark spot appeared at the offing. The fishermen saw it first, and sailed closer, each one straining his eyes to see what the mystery was, each one calling to the others with speculation. Some thought it wreckage of some far away disaster, others that it was a mermaid, sent to seduce them into the ocean. They built their stories on the foundation of each other’s, each become more and more fanciful, until they saw the second spot, smaller than the first, the fabric at the edge of the surface, the arm wrapped around the tiny body. They saw the two faces, driftwood framed in ripple-scattered light, and knew that her sister had returned home.


I’m leaning toward a title of EP. I also thought of Maestro, but that seemed too pretentious.

There is static between his words, a record
spinning slowly to the center, to the end,
and when he speaks his voice is tinny
with too much treble. Each spiral
traces what was, his youth played back
for an audience who already knows the words.
He tells his favorite stories, ones he always tells,
and spaces fill with his voice.
Even the faint accent of his youth vibrates
the bones, his laugh the chest.
He knows the tempo of each word, using breath
as metronome. When he is silent,
when other voices seem too loud,
the echo of him still hums in the ears.

Revisiting this


I have struggled with this poem about my mother for a long time. In particular, I have never really felt as though it had a resolution, perhaps because I, myself, have not felt resolved about her death. I was told years ago that the poem did not have me in it, and so I added the third section. But the poem still felt incomplete. And so, today, after thinking about the poem again recently, I revisited it. I tinkered some and added the fourth portion, which feels a little more like me entering the poem. I worry that it does not match, due to the long time gap, so any input on that would be appreciated.

Elegy for my mother


You found your death
as the moon decayed behind the horizon
and your grandson slept in a bed infected with dreams.
You had fought it when you were four,
a carve of glass connecting your wrist to your brother’s hand.
At twenty you hid in the corridors of Silver Hills.
You had always known where it was.
You saw it when you dreamt of Venezuela, dreamt of your childhood.
When your husband died you met with it
in dark corners of restaurants,
and drank with it as your liver failed.
When you tired of its company you sent it out
to wait for you in an ordinary hotel room,
to wait as ascites bloated your skin
and jaundice discolored your eyes.
You grew empty, forgetting it with the same care
you took to forget yourself.
It waited, under frayed blankets,
between sheets that smelled of stiffness.
It waited as the air conditioner gurgled night in that room,
where nobody knew you.


My son wants to visit the place he last saw you.
He wants to remember the coffee colored ground
and the autumn air that was against his cheeks
when we buried you.
He believes he will remember your floral print,
that memories grow like dandelions
from the soil.
That first winter, under snow, the ground compacted,
and there is now a hollow in the earth above you.
The trees still dress in shadows,
and the beautiful stubble of grass has begun to grow again,
but there is no marker,
there are no flowers.


That day your hands held the color of dusk,
your knuckles bent stiffly, fingers woven into each other,
and your wrists were too thin to have held an infant.
They were not your hands.
I remember how the hair was brushed away
from your face, gray roots like rage.
Fluids that had filled your face
and thinned your lips,
now pulled away.
There was no more bloat around your eyes,
no more rounded jaw.
Bones cut chevron cheeks, your forehead was flat
and free of years, there was a thin-boned nose of a girl gone
before I was born.
This was a face I had never known,
that existed only in photographs,
that looked more like me, than you.
This was a face that was free to forgive.
This face was yours, before you forgot who you were,
it had always been yours.


Fifteen years, and I still dream
that in the middle of life you will return.
In a field of tall grass you will arrive,
as from a long trip, and lead me into a house
I have never seen.
The yard will be hidden in flowers,
and you will talk of the way the night looks
emptier now or how snow collects
in small hollows of the earth.
When we talk of your grandchildren,
you will smile the way you did before I was born,
and even the mention of your husband
will not make you forget yourself again.
You will tell stories of mango trees
plucked on the way to school,
and men who drew your body as struggling artists.
My ears will be filled only with your voice,
until I ask where you have been,
and you will turn away, into the house,
leaving simply the sound of the grass
holding hands with the moon.

White Hole

White Hole

They say that everything succumbs to black holes,
that nothing escapes their selfishness,
and I like to image the blackness spiraling
into them until they are all that is left.
Then, like petulant children,
they will fight their siblings,
pulling for what the others possess.
And when only the largest, the bully, is left,
he will be weighed down by the grief
of his victory, and fold into himself.
Still unsatisfied, he will wrestle his own body,
curling smaller and smaller, until he bursts,
matter and light fountaining out
into the darkness. From far off it will look downy,
like the first dandelion seed of spring,
spiraling into fresh soil.

Machine of loving grace


Born without hands, or the ability to speak, he was thought unable to understand because they could not understand him. He worked and studied and created ways for the world to hear him, and when he met her, he knew the machines of his invention would tear her rice paper skin. So when she told him that she loved him, he shook his head saying, in his way, “You cannot love me, because I will never be able to hold you.” She shook her head in return and said, “I will hold myself, and let you watch.”

Shadows in the Rain


There are shapes silhouetted by rain, outlined
frames of spatter, that move
through the grey unnoticed.
They watch us scuttle for dry walls,
watch as we soothe ourselves
with things we understand,
listen as we chitter about the obvious.
They are silent and patient, watching
the rain fill-up the ground, rooted
until by unknown measure
they have seen their fill,
listened until the swarming of voices
is too much, and then wander off
into the grey.
Careful to keep their backs
to their undiscovered country,
they move into the spaces between things,
move deeper into the places
we look past.

100 words


On cold days, when breath came like bubble speech
of comic book characters or hurried death
exhaled by smokers, I used to worry
that everything breathed out would show
ghostly in the air, revealing it source;
that behind me, as I walked, a small cloud
would dissipate too slowly for strangers not to see,
that a swirl of mist would betray me
and everyone would suddenly understand
why the air was just a bit more blustery
and warm, why there was the faint scent
of humid compost, and why I blushed
deeper against a gust of winter air.

After-hours poetry

Trying to get back into the saddle, as it were. I read an awesome poem, by Amber Decker, and was inspired to try my hand at an “after-hours poem.”

Here it is:


I drive south, the smell of you on my hands,
last night rattling in my wheel wells.
On the couch, when your lover was at work,
you parted your legs and asked if I liked
what I saw. There was little to be tender
about, just the frantic tug of the unknown,
the small satisfaction of vanity,
opportune lust.
                        You were a carnival
prize won under the amber of countless
yellow light bulbs and flashing neon
—three tries for a dollar, twenty for five—
a small victory from little risk.
In gaunt morning light, the highway is
a field spotted with paper,
and all the stations are playing organ music.
Florida is seven rest-stops away.

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