(show oldest first)

from December 16, 2020

(this is a poem
which like the old joke goes
may just mean that the lines end
before the sentences do)

you've been dealt a bad hand;
born with a brain so desperate
to keep you safe
to ward you away from
a world full of dangers
that it overshoots;
a barrage of warning flares
that sets the landscape on fire

(even a lovely garden of career
one you bought seed and supplies for
and worked and worked
tilled soil
sowed seed
dirt under fingernails -
those fucking fear flares
burnt that too)

and one day (back with
the fires tamped down)
we found each other

but, what am i?

sometimes a lonely guy to be around

sunday school taught me
the view from God's throne -
(the unreachable vantage point that persists
even if there's no butt in that chair)
and the only feeling that matters
is to keep any other feeling
in line

my own fear fire was laced with brimstone
and even now i can't can't can't
be willfully responsible
for letting situations go wrong
(that brings damnation
eternal and hot
and unmakes me)

so i live in responsibility
and I love in admiration
both proceeding from the outside in
- but what if love needs be the inside out

when we found each other
i loved your laugh and your love
...and i'd help you play that hand you were dealt
now i'm haunted that maybe
I was just another bad draw

(there is no end here
this space left intentionally blank
for us to write
what comes next)

from November 19, 2020

Thought of this poem I wrote in college (trying to woo my crush) which made it onto my "PalmPilot" journal but I also have deeply memorized:
A fire knows
But one sensation
And cannot dream
Of its own cessation

But ice knows
Many voices
Ones that sit stolid
And one that rejoices
The same Palm journal entry has this
Had a bit of an existential crisis last night. (Why do these things usually happen in bed? Guess that's what I get for trying to go to sleep too early.) It framed itself in terms of "I might be dying and aware of it someday"- of course, I'm dying right now, but (relatively) slowly. The thought might have been brought on by Mo's observation that one of us might have to live through the other's death. Which bothers me, but doesn't grab me as much on the reptile brain level. Mostly it's the thought that interesting things will happen and I'll have lost my chance to see them. On the other hand, the planet and even the universe probably aren't immortal in any meaningful way either. Possibly dying on my own time means I'll avoid dying on somebody else's, some giant tragic disaster. 00-3-7
That was probably the train of thought that ended up as my Skeptics for Mortality webpage and then the So, You're Going to Die comic.
Balk's First Law: Everything you hate about the Internet is actually everything you hate about people.

Balk's Second Law: The worst thing is knowing what everyone thinks about anything.

Balk's Third Law: If you think the Internet is terrible now, just wait a while.

from September 16, 2020

Recently I heard someone who said the admonition to "be a human being, not a human doing" was a great reminder for them.

As it is it doesn't land for me. I guess I find worth and value doesn't reside in individuals, it's either an emergent property that arises in group contexts, or maybe it's an objective property of the universe that can only be confidently realized by getting enough viewpoints on it.

Looking back, I think that was the concept I expressed without full understanding in this poem I wrote in highschool:
A rock sat in the woods, thinking,
for many years, of many things.
Realized God and His plan
How to perfect life for plant and man
but it was a rock, and rocks can't speak
so it had to keep it to itself
My feeling is, any self-contained pure knowledge without action or expression is kind of worthless. The noun of things don't matter except as a container for the verbs that are possible, so being a "human doing" is critical, and the "human being" aspect is just a path to that.

But I think other people take something useful and important from "be a human being not a human doing"... can anyone in that group try and express how it works for them?
Thinking further - and I'm going out on more of a limb here - my current theory of what consciousness might be relies on a concept of interaction: that you have a model of the world, and an awareness of your ability to make changes in that world. (Maybe cognition enough to make predictions is relevant as well?) But this is true even for cases like "locked-in syndrome", or when you're asleep: for a sophisticated enough brain, the world that's external to the self may be virtual, like another part of the brain.

There's a thought experiment of the Boltzmann brain - that quantum theory suggests it could be possible - though very unlikely - for a structure of a brain to spontaneously appear, complete with (fake-y) memories and all that jazz. But in my model where consciousness is not a static thing but a state of interacting, the problems presented by the "Boltzmann brain" evaporate. In the model where it's like a real brain, well, I guess it has a few moments of panic as it dies in a environment foreign to all its fake memories up to now. Or if it's just like molecules that drifted together, formed this brain, then drift apart, it's even more meaningless - that fleeting second of awareness was just a mirage.
"Hey, what's the matter?"
"I'm sad because you're going to die."
"Yeah, that bugs me sometimes too. But not so much as you think... ...When you get as old as I am, you start to realize that you've told most of the good stuff you know to other people anyway."
Richard Feynman and Danny Hillis
I think that captures some of my feeling, that an important thing is to find out good stuff and then share it.
Some pretty decentinspirational-ish quotes. Some are thought provoking.

from September 9, 2020


While Mowing
A thought occurred in my front lawn,
and I paused my heated mow.
"Wouldn't dandelions be so lovely
if they were only hard to grow?"
--published in Eucuyo '91, Euclid High School's literary magazine

Of course, the second part of this storyline won't be written now. It's a shame I don't get to see what happens. But everybody dies, and there will always be places and experiences missing from anyone's life – the world has too much beauty and adventure for one person to see. I will miss marriage or children, blossoming careers and lives moving on. But I'm not alone in my life being cut short, and I think my time has been pretty good.
Truly inspiring article from a person who won't live to see the end of quarantine. He also expounds on these five points:
  1. the importance of gratitude
  2. a life, if lived well, is long enough
  3. be vulnerable and connect to others
  4. do something for others
  5. protect the planet
I know I have trouble with "be vulnerable", there's no shame in it but I don't deeply grok its value.


from April 25, 2020

poem emerging from the fog of drifting asleep:

Unlike This

In a world not too different
from this one
I'm the person
fluent in telling you
things you need to hear

from November 3, 2019

Poem I wrote in high school or college, then thought lost, then found 2 years ago, then forgotten that it had been unearthed:
A rock sat in the woods, thinking,
for many years, of many things.
Realized God and His plan
How to perfect life for plant and man
but it was a rock, and rocks can't speak
so it had to keep it to itself
I'm fascinated by it as an early instance of a thought I later had, how the interior lives and origins of things matter so much less than their surface interactions...

from August 10, 2017

the claims you've made on love-
i think it must be sin.
(as if the deepest
part of me
was found six inches in!)
(an unearthed poem I made way back when, experimenting with PoV....)
I think there's an awful long way for adventure games, interactive fiction, whatever you want to call it, to go. And I hope that more people will come into that field from outside the computer field. Up until now, it's been rather like, well, imagine if everything ever written on a typewriter had been written by the guys who invented the typewriter.

from May 3, 2017

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I- 
I took the one less travelled by, 
Tripped over a branch, and broke my nose 
I hear America singing, and doggone 
if someone's not flat. One of the tenors, 
I think. 
Open here I flung the shutter, 
when with many a flirt and flutter
Traversed that curs'd bird from the week before
I shot it dead, and then it drop upon the floor 
Now, the Raven 'nevermore' 
Two roads diverged, 
but the one I wanted to take had a detour sign on it, 
dammit to hell. 
A rock sat in the woods, thinking, 
for many years, of many things. 
Realized God and His plan 
How to perfect life for plant and man 
but it was a rock, and rocks can't speak 
so it had to keep it to itself 
an ant crossed the sidewalk 
in its busy little industry 
i saw reflected the laws of 
god and man 
'enough of this' I thought 
and crushed its tiny head 
--I had been searching through old scanned school papers for these, when I found them in a one of the PalmPilot journal entries I slapped on my website, in a 1997 memo called "Old Poems", so I think they date back to college or high school.

I'd been thinking of the rock poem a lot. One way of framing arguments I have with my conversation sparring partner is that I tend to focus on the surfaces things, or more specifically the interactions they can have, while to me he seems obsessed with how things really are through and through, in a deep interior way. It's interesting that as far back as 25 years ago the idea that interactions and communications are what give interior lives meaning.
That sparring partner also trotted out the psychological figure of the puer aeternus, eternal adolescent. The fact he considers the label absolutely damning while I think it's, I dunno, incomplete but descriptive, and with it's pros and cons, speaks to the other parts of the profound differences in our outlooks.

(Also looking at the latin phrase it reminded me of 1997 The New Yorker reviewed the Blender of Love (there really was a lot less going on on the web back then) and I had to look up what "puerile"meant when describing my editorials. I was mildly offended, but hey, it's The New Yorker and they cut it with "somewhat".)

from march 2015 new music playlist

Ok month for new music... 4-5 stars in red. A lot more instrumental stuff than usual.

--from http://dogscantlookup.com/post/115268609033 ...

"C'est la Vie!"
accepting that
"this should not be!"
but coping
more stoically; philosophically--
"C'est la Vie..."
A poem I wrote 7 years ago...
I had forgotten about it, but really it was the same idea I rediscovered recently, the concept that if you expect life to be suboptimal, and stop demanding that it live up to all of your momentary hopes and expectations, it can be easier and less scary when small(ish) things do go wrong -- SNAFU usually won't lead to FUBAR.
[On worrying about "Skynet" scenarios] Humans are going to die on this planet. We're not going to go through a wormhole to another galaxy; it's just not going to happen. What will survive on our behalf is AIs--if we manage to create them. That's not problematic, it's desirable.
Alex Garland, talking with Wired about his new film "Ex Machina".
I really agree with his point here. (Also, is he getting a dig into the film "Interstellar"?)

from poem of the moment

"C'est la Vie!"
accepting that
"this should not be!"
but coping
more stoically; philosophically--
"C'est la Vie..."
--a poem I twittered the other day; I'm trying to use "C'est la Vie" as a bit of a mantra to preempt or quench these little bursts of frustrated outrage I experience on a regular basis.
Such a pleasure of autumn, to kick back on a Sunday afternoon or night, put on a football game you don't care about, websurf, maybe sleep...
New favorite dumb car name: the Nissan "Murano". Because "Idiota" just didn't scan.
a massage can have a message, but a message can't have a massage
J.Brown:"You don't have to do no soloing, brother, just keep what you got- Don't turn it loose, 'cause it's a mother."-best drumsolo advice
Nice, got a ticket for tonights soldout-record-breaking Red Sox game! (Why do I never have my Sox hat or sweatshirt when this happens...)
Kevin S points out that soldout-record-breaking game SOUNDS cool, but people at the next night, or the next, etc etc, will have it too

from gravy trains to nowhere

Poem of the Moment
been down these roads
a long while now
saw a lot of friendly faces
working it all out

too many times
i've been finding easy gravy trains
making those gravy train angels
sweeping our arms
facing the sky
laying down by the side of the trail
A rough recreation of a "Paul Simon lyric" I read in a dream last night. The most memorable part was the idea of making "snow angels" in gravy, and how that plus the "gravy train" was a metaphor for taking romance too casually, and too much for granted.

It seemed a lot more meaningful in the dream.

from happiest (a poem)

I want to write about those times when I was happiest;
those times when good fortune seemed to alight on my shoulders
and the sky was smiling down on me with a grin the size of the world.

(When asked what had satisfied him most in life,
  Man Ray -- photographer, painter, sculptor, innovator --
  said "...I'd say women".

...I'll say women.)

High School summer nights;
heels over head for the German girl--
--my last simple love. Late nights outside
the home of her host family...
(Maybe I broke one heart to get there.
  Maybe not. In either case it was worth it.)
...leaning, pushed up against the cinder wall that
was still releasing the heat absorbed in the day.
standing, leaning, but legs splayed,
the German girl standing between them,
leaning in close herself.
Kissing, and kissing, and kissing, and kissing.

In a month I'll notice she stops closing her eyes
but now, this moment: I was happiest.

Years later. College.
That beautiful girl with the curly long dark hair.
So assured. Sitting in that white and black
director's chair. Her shirt off. Leaning back.
Those beautiful breasts. Knowing a dozen guys
on campus whose envy at that situation could
knock down the walls of that brave little dorm room.
Thinking that this time could be the time
it was going to work, was going to stay working.

Her leaning so far back, letting herself melt into that moment.

That cheap chair would break in minutes.
And that damn carousel of a romance would spin away
from me by midterms. But that moment: I was happiest.

Finally. Years after college.
A midwinter escape to the Jersey Shore with
you and some friends. (The Russian chick, and
her husband, but they're a different story)
Together the four of us had run away, just for
a short while, a break from the workaday life,
But more than that, I thought all the old cycles
had broken. The old patterns of finding and
loss washed away. I tasted some salt from the
ocean water. I wrote a heart and our initials
in the damp sand. My college drinking buddy
and I had found something more in each other
and I thought that was all there was to find.

It was a moment, a moment that held the end
of needing other moments: I was happiest.

Oh Darling.
Now, this moment.
You say that you're leaving.
Maybe I don't understand why.
Maybe I understand all too well.

Kundera wrote of poetic memory. That's what I inscribed
in his book that I gave to you: "to finding a place in
poetic memory". But I thought...I thought it would be
more about being poetry. Less about being a memory.

Aw Darling.
Maybe we'll each find more times, other moments.
Maybe I'll be happiest again.

I don't know and I can't know
but right now I miss you more than anything.

from city of broken dreams and glass

(1 comment)

He Asked Her Name and For A Light
This was the city of broken dreams and glass.
He was against the wall and the war.
She had high hopes and boots.
She aroused suspicion and men.
He bought her story and a beer.
She dropped her cigarettes and a hint.
They left together and their fears behind.
--A poem I half found and half wrote at
this Words & Stuff page on "Zeugma"

Link of the Moment
Atlas Comics presents The 25 All-Time Greatest Covers of American Comic Books. Click on each one for a larger image and a description of why it was chosen. Some interesting choices there, with a big emphasis on some of the patriotic covers that came out during World War II. The page of rejects is kind of amusing, no commentary though, I suppose most of them speak for themselves.

from florida reunion filler day 3

Final Florida Filler Update: Florida has a surprisingly rich selection of radio stations, the spectrum is really packed. There's a narrow band that includes normal top-40, some alternative, some New Wave 80s for Mo, some Electronica/House for me, and NPR for both of us. Is Florida that good, or does Boston's selection just suck that much?

A Frivolous Clown to his Love
You sit alone there in the stands,
Performance then you clap your hands.
I am the one to make you laugh
Though now you'll think that I'm quite daft

For I say you're the one for me
The love for the bringer of glee
Tho' I might seem rather too bold
I can offer you joys untold,

A rubber nose in store for you
It's made in red, held on by glue,
Too big blue shoes, upon your feet
True Love that will never be beat

A splash of seltzer in your face
Pancake makeup on you will grace
A strange cone hat, polka-dot tie
Baggy huge pants, to you drawn nigh

And balls juggled, and noisy horn
rorar of the crowd, smell of popcorn
if these pleasures thee may move
Then come with me and be my love

Kirk Israel
Written for Mrs. McLaughlin's 11th grade English (Grade: "93 - A: good idea / Meter seems forced in places - not as smooth in some lines") I think the assigment was to make a poem based on "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love".

from poets

i often wonder
what exactly is the difference
between "good" poets and "bad" poets
two lines, like a ticket counter--one labeled GOOD
and the
     other BAD
and which one am i in
and if it matters
for while everyone it seems
would like to be "good" it seems
to me
that the "bad" poets
have a better time of it
they can write for
greeting-cards and get money
or write advertisements
for if you measure
a poet's relative ability
by how he can change lives
the "bad" poets win
hands down
using little sing-songs
that run through your mind
and that make people BUY!
that is why and how the "bad" poets
change your life
AND "good" poets
usually aren't really good
until they're dead
chilled and rotting
what good does
it do you then?
--Kirk Israel, published in my High School's annual literary review, Eucuyo '90. This is the poem that I threatened to use here when I kisrael'd this other one, surprisingly used to open the review. Its only saving graces come from the way it rips o...I mean, reflects the cadence and attitude of Don Marquis and his "archy & mehitabel" works, which I was (and still am) very fond of.

from an ode

I hate pasta
I hate quiche
but what I hate
the most is feesh

smelly feesh
rots in a bag
smells so bad
it makes me gag

really nasty
not fit to eat
why do folks think
they're such a treat?

two big eyes
they stare at me
they always stare
but never see

swimmin' feesh
constantly take a bath
that is what
makes me laugh

for as they bathe
all night and day
then what the heck
makes 'em smell that way?
     --Kirk Israel, published in my High School's annual literary review, Eucuyo '90. They must've liked it, they closed the review with it. If I'm feeling masochistic I'll post the poem that opened the review, also by me.

from four poems

My life is my hand
The whorls of my fingers...
a prayerbook,
or a map-

My hand, my life, holds a novel,
pages smelling of the book's history;
words smelling of the book's birth-

textured like green polished stones

Found Art
He is brilliant, yes, but evil. So evil I
despair of comprehending him. This man
doesn't want to murder his father and
possess his mother: he wants to murder God
and posess the cosmos.

All voices told me "no"
a chorus with the tides
like a mute echo-
echo, first hope
of sun and dirt
a single hope
set in the cliff-face
written in ancient script
chisled with tools
of steel sinew muscle
bone clay stone flesh

There is nothing more to be said
There is nothing,
more to be said.

There is...
nothing more to be said

--things I wrote in my poetry class with Peter Richards at Tufts University (found on a dot matrix printout) Not sure what I think of them now...a bit gimmicky maybe. "Found Art" was taken verbatim from a Usenet post, later I used it as the basis for Unspoken, you can see some other things I've written as well.

from muse

O trumpetman, unswallowed song
your yellow-down bluesound dogface to confound,
sing sweet what you knew aloud,
          sing your very funeral shroud-
                    the death of you, you know?
          Known to now.

O saxman written on your reed
history shades of black and awhile,
purr the pregnant, poignant prose and call me home.
          purple-rich tone at home and roam
                    you're ash in the kingdom
          rubbed to sooth word-struck wounds

O drummerman solid boatsman mighty armed
steadfast slip over cymbal stream and
scythe in your hand, you can.
          back bone of a notion
                    spine of the time
          fertile ground for the sound.

Breathe as the trumpetman breathes.
Blow as the saxman blows.
Beat as the drummerman beats.

--A poem I wrote in college, I should look up the season. I think the instructor (Peter Richards) thought it was about the best that I produced that semester, but to me it seems a bit contrived. The discrepancy between other people's idea of which poems of mine were best and my own is one of the reason I consider myself mostly a prose guy.

Incidentally, I found a stash of old papers and things I had saved, so there will probably a bit more of the selfindulgent navel-gazing on this site for a while. I'll try to keep it lively.

Quote of the Moment
If you could understand it, it wouldn't be poetry.