Wednesday, May 25, 2011

my head

When I was 13,
I decided to sculpt
a head out of clay.

What the hell?

I was a regular kid,
with no art or knowledge,
but I got it in my head
that I must sculpt a head.

So I gathered up red clay
from that spot in the yard.
And I formed from wire mesh
a substrate and stuffed it
with wads of newspaper
to hold the first smearing.

I worked like a monk
in a trance of oblivion
all that day and into the next.

My head started looking
like something nearly human,
and the third day it took on
a forlorn expression.

I made a strange man,
though I think my first vision
was to shape up a woman.
But women are weird
and my fingers were virgin.

And I could never get it
to proper head size.
It stalled between normal
and Melanesian trophy.

I was proud of my head.
I showed it to my parents,
and as usual they loved it,
like anything I made...
even this depressed
head with proportions
askew and sad features
not quite aligned.

Why in the world
did I have to make a head?
It just jumped into my head
like everything since.

Looking back I can feel
what I felt when my hands
were slimy with clay,
lost in creation,
persuading my Adam.

I was trying to make
something out of nothing.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Whatever the bird is saying
to the fixed fact of his day,
wheedling a reeded melody
or dark-limbed expression
from flute or picolo tongue...

he is turning around what he is.

And if a fish swims in a blue circle,
massaged by a spiraling current...

he is turning to always face his god.

Higher up goes the Ferris wheel,
until it drops the heart to depths.
And the passenger is changing cars,
in mid-air climbing through structure
to get a fix on one revolving view...

he is turning because of drunkenness.

Turning, turning...always to face
the curving fact as it slides away.

when it happens

It's only happened a few times.
And it comes completely of itself.
You can't strain and make it pop
and be there. It is a sly thing.
Nothing else but a chair or sofa
or a floor or a surface of wall
can hold the happening so well...

when it happens.

If God himself stared at his recliner
and that thing decided to show itself,
God would be nonplussed and shaken,
at least I'm almost sure God would be.

It rarely ever comes to me.
But when it does it seems
all things are simply there
beyond any explanation.

attack of the crazy-8s

Made it through the night without waking up at 3 AM. But the dreams! As usual, so wrong-assed and spirit-draining. One of these nights it's going to be different.

I'll dream of Butterfly people who have come to me for help. To save their land from invasion by crazy-8s. Yes, human-sized 8s, bouncing around all over Flower Land...crushing flowers and making noise. Spreading panic and widespread depression (causes the Butterfly people's glorious, dappled wings to molt). The fairest of all the Butterfly girls will beseech me to rescue them all. I will be so cool. I'll amble into Flower Land like Kwai Chang Caine: swivel-kicking, shoulder-slinging, and just Kung-Fuing the shit out of those bombastic, chaotic 8s.

Their greatest warrior, Gol8th, will present his horrible self and laugh at me maniacally, as if he had hands on hips: an extra-large 8 made out of two over-sized ebony 8-balls. Battle ensues. I bounce off his surfaces. My attacks and counterattacks impotent against this hard billiard-ball creature. Bloodied and weary, I glance over at Butterfly girl. She flutters her eyelashes and the tips of her wings. A dewy teardrop hovers in her eyes.

Filled with a new, heroic passion and completely disgusted with Gol8th's arrogance, I try the move on him I've been holding in reserve: I whip out a calculator, hit a bunch of numbers, and get the result that mathematics has heretofore thought impossible. I have managed to divide Pi's first 8 digits by a secret, intuited fraction. My computation has quickly found the terminal number of Pi. And it is not 8. It is 9. I triumphantly step up to the glistening, now-bemused Gol8th. I show him the result. I tell him that 8 is not the transcendent, ontological answer. Rather it is 9!

He begins to tremble, his two black ball halves start spinning in opposite directions. A loud whine and whir fills the air. Finally...Gol8th explodes into billions of tiny octagon bits. All the other regular 8s flee mindlessly. Their great warrior is no more. Their philosophy has been annulled. With Flower Land free and peaceful once more, the king is happy. He declares a feast and celebration. That night Butterfly girl, with a strange combination of shyness and seduction, confronts me under the great Moon Flower. And what happens next will not be told here. Because I don't know. I just stopped typing.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

ever so often

A day might pass returning
breath to contented rhythm:
"I think I'll read a book or listen
again to a Martinů symphony."
A book can swallow shadows,
and Martinů's strange smiling
can bring a pleasant levitation.

Then it passes just as expected.
Ever so often two eyes returning.
Ever so often the musical shadow
of a smile becoming a visioned rose.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

exception to the rule

Matt Dioguardi is one of the few guys posting poems who is not full of himself. I'm a worst-offender. Matt is a model of well-adjusted attitude. He doesn't take himself seriously. That's like discovering an exotic new life-form in the middle of a bustling city.

Lord have mercy! What is it with male writers (big- or small-time)? We think our junk would cause God himself sit up and take notice. It's not just our profound, world-altering poems and stylistically strutting prose. It's our smarmy opinions on any given topic. We think we actually know stuff. We want the women-folk to take us seriously. To be in a certain awe of our penetrations into the nature of reality and of our subsuming experience into breathtaking poetry! "Hey, baby...I'm gonna make you float like an angel or jump like a beatnik!" Or if not stunned, at least be extremely impressed.

Female writers, for the most part, offer their creations with a measure of humility. They don't seem to be one-person parades blaring trombones or throwing glitter confetti over their own heads. Us guys are nuts. We think we're so damn cool we don't realize how utterly stupid we look.

But Matt...well, he is someone to emulate. His opinions are measured and sober. An attractive self-deprecation casts, ironically, a more compelling light on his utterances. His poems are made available with no fanfare and no expectation that anyone should have an orgasm or epileptic fit over his creations.

Cheryl & Janet Snell

These sisters are talented! Cheryl is a writer (poetry and prose), and Janet is an artist. Their books reflect this -- Janet's compelling, expressionistic paintings complement Cheryl's poems. Those paintings make the noise of the world instantly go silent...haunting, improbable, fascinating, complex images. Those poems cast to the reader quixotic observations, existential moods, amorous enigmas.

Janet's solo work has also been exhibited in galleries.

Cheryl's novel is set in India and is gathering good reviews.

Here's the link to their cool blogspot Scattered Light:

a breath felt

A fever of gobsmacked days and nights...
a swollen confusion from listening alertly
to a whispered voice only imagined...

That voice is drifting from an unknown shore,
where night trees consider tremulous waves
rippling below gestures of an unmonthed moon.
It could be a vague sketch by Edvard Munch
come to transient life in the pigment of being.

Sometimes the world has too many worlds.
But strange eyes drift to meet strange eyes.
Ventures on winds of dissolving then making.

But it's not real and could never gain traction
on the underside of lightfall or inside a clock.
So drink to things that have no explanation.
Drink to drunkenness, to all unburdening.


A breath felt. From a corner of knowing.
The air is moving from a gift of knowing.


It sounds almost real....

dada haiku

The wind performing
through small bones of my wind chimes --
monkey gets the joke.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Wanting the Moon

A poem by Denise Levertov (1923 -- 1997)

Not the moon. A flower
on the other side of the water.

The water sweeps past in flood,
dragging a whole tree by the hair,

a barn, a bridge. The flower
sings on the far bank.

Not a flower, a bird calling
hidden among the darkest trees, music

over the water, making a silence
out of the brown folds of the river's cloak.

The moon. No, a young man walking
under the trees. There are lanterns

among the leaves.
Tender, wise, merry,

his face is awake with its own light,
I see it across the water as if close up.

A jester. The music rings from his bells,
gravely, a tune of sorrow,

I dance to it on my riverbank.

I wonder why this poem has such an effect on me? I wonder why, in contrast, all those poems I read today on the webpage of Poetry Magazine sucked and made me want to smash chunks of granite on my head? Made me want to bite my own teeth off? God...they were awful. This poem is so wondrous that I don't know what I'm going to do. Except read it over and over until I go blind.

There is such an openness to these lines. Such a welcoming volume of aesthetic suspense and wonder. An evening tableaux quivers equivocally, with images sliding into tenuous emotions, then back again into natural forms. I won't fall into lazy reading and call this a dream. This poem is pitched in a different key. Into a tone of language-as-art...and emotion creating a world. This poem does not collapse the telling-space into a boring self-absorption. It opens out. It opens out. There is such room here for the reader to live and breathe.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Return of the jerk

A week ago, I wrote this piece of wholesale celebration: "Poetry -- how I feel about it this morning." Today, I'm feeling irritable again about certain poetry. I'm back to my cranky self.

Of course, the odd thing is this: should an unpublished writer of poems be disgorging so many words about poetry as an artistic and psychological phenomenon? Why should his blathering on the topic 1) be of any value and 2) be read at all? Well, writing this present piece is a way for me to kill a little time. That will have to be justification enough.

I think poetry is a form of expressive art, akin to painting and music. I do not think poetry is a forensic or diagnostic science strutting across short lines in a sterile and sober white uniform. A poem should implicitly sing the colors of being, instead of presumptuously jotting down a prescription for wisdom-pills.

There is a lot of godawful poetry being written. I've written my share of lame junk. The danger is when a poet is convinced he has seen the light, especially a glaring, clinical luminescence. When his poems become expositions on how to understand life in some technical sense.

Loosen the fuck up. A poem -- as a specie of art -- should be an adventure for the reader. Like going to an action movie or mystery or tear-jerker. An experience for gobbling popcorn and slurping a soda pop while reading. The reader should be entertained, almost to the point of drooling or hyperventilation. Not lectured in a know-it-all tone, like in one of those black-and-white hygienic films for high school in the fifties.

Language, in my opinion, is essentially a goggle-eyed voodoo priest spinning around in a mysterious circle, with spazzy sparks flying out of his crazy feather bonnet. And a poem is where this delirious shit really gets to hit the fan. Don't hold it in -- those juicy, ancient, psychotic suppurations of being-into-words. If you do, you'll puff yourself up while your verse begins to dry and crack with sane saying.

Isn't life a kind of blind dance? Doesn't it flow in a sort of incantatory cadence? Aren't peculiar harmonies infecting the conscious melody? Here's a piece of free "wisdom" -- no one has the first clue what existence is. I think language is aware of that, deep down. A poem is where that ignorance gets to do its spontaneous modern dance. An improvisation of feeling and fuzzy thoughts coloring the white sheet in expressive pigments, building up forms of suggestive melancholy or transcendent yearning.

Sure. That's a formula for garish indulgence. So be it. At least it will make a stanza sing into the dream of life. And not a poised diagnosis gleaned from reality's x-ray. Let the bones sound their aching laments. Let the vague viscera tremble into bleeding words.

Life is a Mood and a Question. I happen to think a poem should be moody and suspenseful. Soberness and knowingness make a poem wince. Language is a form of chant. Always has been. A poem should intone, with sympathetic and intensified cadence, the high-strung syntax of being. A line of words achieves expresive symbolic power when surprising juxtapositions -- astonishing duplexes -- erupt from dubious trances, from the field of rich metaphor.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

the haunted violin (for Constance Stadler)

A piano sustains our granular need
to fall between fragments of wonder.
Octaves echo human feelings, yes,
but more, the lure is abstraction.

A violin is already haunted with voices --
the plaintive songs of mountain spruces.
Can you hear secret winds in the timbre,
like a common tune of all fibered beings?

I have seen that youthful picture of you,
rapt in communion with a violin. I can hear
an imaginary tone sostenuto, with vibrato.

Nestled under a chin's held nod,
a violin almost resonates bones
and the pulse of animate plasmas.
Inner harmonics carry much saying
on the tip of a bow's touching tongue.
I've heard something in your poems
beneath the words, a world of feeling
and thinking along the fretless neck.
Those tones converge aesthetically,
becoming a philosophical sonata.

Yes, I think language is like a haunted violin....

The trampled dust remembers footprints
of lithe leopards and the upright walkers
who lean toward jade-cool distances
of mountains after hot savannah suns.
Teeth rot, flint sparks, and tears burn.
Childbirth shrieks under hanging clouds.
A modal story chanted on quivering lips
becomes lamentations to astounded gods.

A fugue spreads its overlapping grammars --
horrific moons of nightmare and lunacy,
with interwoven spells of amorous magic.
The slow thunder of lost ages drones
till drunken grapes are grown for dancing.
A city scatters dazzled peacock colors
in a rhythm of silks and furtive gestures
curling through tales of sacerdotal night.

War shudders iron and trembles bronze!
Sunsets drip blood, seas lash great galleys.
Lepers are cast out, slaves are collected.
Swords tear flesh while empires are broken.
The music of madness pounds in temples.
Marble and thought are veined with power.
Logic chases tortoises, many plagues bulge
eyes of the hopeless waiting for graves.

Shuffling and lit by Faustian torches,
alchemists spill atoms onto the future.
Momentum, inertia, and star tubes follow --
a god seeks shelter, quaking at trumpets.
Then mind so awake stares in its mirror
and threatens mystery with didactic words.
Awake and pacing in books and lectures,
the mood soon sings an aria of freedom.

The cursing eye opens -- suspicion and envy.
The world is a symphony of machines and hate.
Millions murdered by shrapnel and death camps.
The tissue of time has been rended, worn thin.
Yet even in tomorrow's fogs and confusions,
a note is sounded with compassionate bowing.
Souls gather round it, caressing the wounded
and almost pray music to an impossible god.

Deep in the fine grains of curvaceous telling,
in the resinous mixture of sounding substance,
in the haunted pleading of a violin's soprano...
the old song keeps time with our words on paper.

Monday, May 9, 2011

my friend, the lawn mower

This acre of rough ground undulates in vegetative psychosis -- the grass not really grass, but evil-green tufts of troll hair erupting from the dark netherworld. One year (naive me), I got the bright idea to spread pre-emergent weed killer. The next day, I heard sarcastic snickering rise up from the spring ground. It would take gamma-spectrum irradiation to subdue these sinister roots.

My yard is odd...

If I just walk around the yard in silence, I look like a pensive, dramatic fool. I can't even think straight. My "thoughts" ooze out into the bored air only an inch or two in front of my dimming eyeballs. Then my thinking falls to the ground, impotently. Me just walking around the damn yard trying to figure out the nature of my being is so stupid. Nothing ever comes of it. A waste of time. I end up staring out at the vast cotton field, which is waiting for some farmer to slice it up into new furrows. Staring out at the field is like thinking about nothing. Damn...

Things are different in the yard when I'm with my friend, the lawnmower.

I don't have nor will ever buy a riding lawn mower. How preposterous! When I see someone on a riding lawn mower, the aspect of utility dissolves from my consciousness. Instead, before me is some kind of clown circus act. Yes, a preposterous, bumptious haughtiness. Like a skeleton walking around in a top hat. I laugh involuntarily, as if something is tickling my viscera.

I'm the kind of masochistic guy who will always torture himself through summers with a walk mower: sweating, panting, nearly heat-stroking. The mowers last two or three years on this rough acre. Until the last one I bought. He is my special friend. He has lasted four years now, and I think he will keep on going. Four years -- starts first pull every time. No exception.

He was pretty beat up after last year's sessions. I sent him to the shop for a complete makeover: new starter rope, new spark plug, new throttle cable, new front wheel (it had cracked and wobbled all last summer), oil change, blade sharpened, a weld to take care of a missing motor-to-frame bolt, welds to mend the back struts supporting the handles. Now, he is restored to health for the new, grueling season.

He has 10-inch rear wheels, which makes my previous self-propelled mowers look like mediocre idiots. He is not self-propelled. He is Tim-propelled. But those rear wheels provide a wonderful, almost graceful leverage of motion and impulse of momentum over this rough ground and mutant grass.

May I introduce you to him? He is a Craftsman Model 917, 22" cut, 6 HP Briggs & Stratton, side-discharger. We don't bother with a grass bag -- this is not suburbia.

Thinking takes on a whole new complexion when I'm mowing in the stifling heat with my friend. The yard and the air become an envionment of contemplation. He churns out a din of fabulous white-noise. I can think when immersed in white-noise. Images, notions, memories, and possibilities arise through the droning aural dimension. I said I was thinking. It's more like observing this stuff as it drifts around inside my brain. On the outside, I'm sweating and pushing. On the inside, I'm floating off to worlds of melancholy or delusion. It's great!

My lawn mower is my friend. He gives me something tangible to hold onto during sweltering existential summers. He helps me cut through the absurdity of living with an acre of aggressive, stupid grass. With him purring just ahead of me, who knows? One day I might think up the answer to a question that no one would ever ask.

Friday, May 6, 2011


Van Gogh

I'm thinking about how irises seemed to me when I was five years old. They seemed to have such presence to my little mind and wondering eyes. It felt like they were trying to say something to me, in a hermetic language.The intensity of color, the complexity of form appeared as eruptions from the unknown into the realm of quiet breathing.

Although I didn't have the words for it at the time, this is exactly the impression: I was in the presence of strange beings who projected a higher spiritual significance. It's good to have a couple visionary experiences to fall back on, when time has faded the ability. The luster remains in memory -- not as nostalgia but as reclamation.

"philosophical" reverie (or -- letter to Fatima)

Have you noticed how things are there --
a flower, a building, an illness, an emotion?
There with such a blithe and rooted being?
Even the objects and manias of night dreams
are woven into an incantation of substance.

That flower you strolled past when not thinking,
just looking into its soft register of form and color...
that building of concrete, aluminum, and glass,
just considering its textures, reflections, volumes...
that illness when pain comes into our strange bodies,
just lying in a clarity of fevers and time deferred...
that emotion like music swallowing blood and bones,
just letting it have its duration of voracious appetite.

And yes, the areas and plots where a dream happens,
just wondering vaguely why you are a character there.

But given all those things as givens,
have you on occasion gone beyond
this rooted trance of days and nights...
leaned toward a structure suspiciously
hiding behind veils of mystic shyness...
glowing without light, subtler than Kant
or Schopenhauer or Heidegger or Derrida...
a semiotics without shape or suggestion,
only breathing an untellable significance?

I think you have gone beyond things of there.
That's why I'm writing you my peculiar fantasia.

Poetry -- how I feel about it this morning

On other days, I have been an opinionated, arrogant jerk about poetry. This morning, I'm a bit loosey-goosey.

I've had it with experts on poetry who think they know what's what. It boils down to this: people write what means something to them, according to their way with words, and offer it as a gift to others. Why get bent out of shape if someone's poems aren't your cup of damn tea? Don't read them. A person will improve through a slow, private, organic process or they won't. But surely not through some cranky pronouncements or some hare-brained technical manual.

I secretly think that a person is born with a flair for words or is not. I secretly think that a poem is received as worthless or as profound according to who is reading it.

People like different stuff. If someone finds value in a velvet Elvis canvas, well, that's what they respond to. If someone else appreciates Rembrandt, Monet, or Picasso, well, that's where it's at for them. Taste follows no rules. It is what it is. Or it is what it becomes through a slow, unfathomable process.

Instead of trying to teach another how to write “proper” poetry by laying down rules, maybe a better plan of action is this: simply suggest that aspirants to poetry read a lot of verse that posterity has smiled on. It boggles my mind to try imagining a poetry class, where the instructor says: “No, no. You didn't write a good poem. Here is how you should have written it.” The “improved” item will now belong to the instructor, not the student.

Good grief!

Poetry is many things. Therefore, it is not one thing. Ha!

It can be lush and sentimental. It can be dry and “important.” It can be sensible or absurd. It can be amorous or political. It can be mean-spirited, jazzy, or quietly thoughtful.The only thing it should strive to be, besides a personal expression, is communicative. Even then, that communication will arc to some while not reaching others.

To think that poetry should be this and not that is silly. It also might be symptomatic of an ego on the fritz.

What in the world is at stake, anyway?

Poetry, like painting or music, has its effect and meaningfulness according to who is reading, viewing, listening. A painting from a master will impress those whose lives have led to a certain sensibility. Others will look on confused or irritated, preferring instead a fast landscape by a street amateur. A vast symphony will bore some to tears – they would rather listen to a drunken polka. That's what they LIKE.

It's all about what different individuals like. There is no rule book or universal prescription about what is correct and about what is wrong with poetry, painting, or music. Life is a fabric of many colors. So is poetry.

Anyway...this is how I think about it this morning. Tomorrow, I might be a jerk again. :)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Rolling pastures spread through southern Missouri.
A person can be affected driving past the fields.

Cows huddle in small groups to gossip and moan
of exquisite boredom and of concern for calves.
Morning light falls against the contours of old hills,
casting blue shadows from several forgiven trees.

And there -- a small quiet watering pond
scouped out to catch one tree's reflections.
If you look with eyes that are quite moody,
the pool's utility turns into a vessel of lights
offered to you for nothing more than wonder.

There is more to see on the wondering drive
than rolling pastures through southern Missouri.

If you look with eyes that have cast off moods
and schemes of tomorrow or even this later day,
you might see something as vast as the hayfields --
a property owner's consciousness sown and spread.
This acreage far-fenced quivers up its ocher harvest,
as if compelled by a bass voice in an open-air opera.

This voice of implicit sounding is corded like roots
twisting through decades, wrapping 150 years.
The deed passed down from a blue-gray wartime,
heirs spreading slow consciousness fertilizing fields.
This land is theirs, by god -- the fences are strong.

These pastures are iron-clad in the grip of vast privacy --
natural law blood-engraved on a leatherskin contract.

A loose soul roaming or driving past the bounding hills
has a much different mind, one of shadows and fiddles.
He eyes the undulations of a Missouri lord's great estate
with dark glances lowering, cast below a gypsy's brow.

How is it some people are so solid in the world?

He chins his invisible violin and sparks a shadowed tune --
an unheard dirge, an adagio about his distance from titles
and estates of consciousness, about his equivocal reaping.
A weightless line of measures from this poet of floating.

And that distance is irreconcilable. He'll never be situated
or walk his land with a spiral staff of near-religious totem...
or breathe in the dank musk of a great field's aromas.

The footloose gypsy must trespass gently into visions --
a much different harvest of time that perhaps has meaning.
He weaves his impressions from seed to full bales of scything.

Copyright 2011 -- Tim Buck

Sunday, May 1, 2011

soirée macabre

Salute! no answers and the end of all asking!

Now let's all touch our goblets of nightshade and drink.
Then sing to the shocked moon veiled in superstitions.
Yes, we're already ghosts so why dread the grave?
We'll lock arms with lucky imps and skate on thin ice,
where winds catch our throes of all peevish caution.

Now mingle and mix and dance if you know how.
Even if you don't know that might be much better!

Dash all your pocket watches down on granite markers.
What better way to wake up those without bitter time?

Oh, by all means. If you must, go ahead. I won't smile
with too much wrinkled irony on my lips that like kissing!
Go ahead, if you must. At least until you shrug it off.
Go ahead and build a world until teeth fly from gears!

Until then the rest of us will compose morbid ditties
and dance like lunatics on the eve of incarceration.

Everything is trapped inside a ponderous bubble.
We're already floating and we don't even know it.
Let's float on this one night like moods of old martyrs.
I'll fill up your goblet till the night staggers laughing!

* * *

Crows crack the startled morning clouds,
and fragments scatter down into dells,
mixing with river mist and hermit smoke.

Last night was extreme and worth every minute.
Once every year, it is good to drink nightmares
and scream at bones beneath our strange skin.

Copyright 2011 -- Tim Buck

elegant journey

She must hold words in the palm of her hand --
round magic forms glowing, weighted with telling.
From deep veins of time and memories of substance,
she has conjured these colors of blown-glass words,
and they are hers by right of Russian reflections.
She has lived in kindred literatures of uncovering,
revealing surfaces and subtleties of life in words.

And then she learned English.

Language is distilled into potency,
like the ambered vapors of brandy,
when a secret agent's pen burns
through English words and grammar.

She distills it to a supple eloquence.
She brings English to spirited brilliance.

Joseph Conrad came from Polish idiom,
next door to Russia, a cousin tongue.
He sails beneath our worn air of words,
his fabric stretched on masted grammar,
silken and catching such complex phrases
on the freshening zephyrs of storied saying.
The natives are beguiled, bemused, awed.

What is it with her and him and language?!

When I read her words given to me in English,
my eyes find traces of an older, elegant life.
It's as if these English words had journeyed
across a sea of higher plasmas and breezes.

Copyright 2011 -- Tim Buck