I don’t understand myself, nor do I know myself, nor
can I explain or prove who I am to anyone else.
All I know is that I’m a man who let his out-
of-state Driver’s License expire and who
does not have his original Social Security Card,
(issued at birth?) or a copy of said document,
to obtain which one must have an unexpired
Driver’s License, which requires, of course, a valid
Social Security Card. I needed something to get me
on a plane at LaGuardia. I did have a Birth Certificate,
and when I slid it tentatively under the bullet-proof
Plexiglas window at the Brooklyn Social Security Office
and said “What about this?” to the unexpectedly
sympathetic and ontologically sophisticated young
Asian-American man scanning my application
for a replacement card, he looked at me and said:
“This doesn’t help. This just proves you were born.
We need proof of your continued existence.”
I threw up my hands and looked down at my body,
as if to say, Well, I’m standing here, aren’t I?
I admit I have not done much with this life.
I have failed at love, let down my friends,
ignored my best instincts and given my worst ones
free play, but for better or worse I have continued
to exist. Because if I hadn’t continued to exist
I wouldn’t be contemplating all the joys and deep
satisfactions of non-existence, as I am right now.
I don’t imagine the dead are required to show papers
at every river crossing, or that only those with valid
photo ID are allowed into the caldron, or the
harpsichord concert, as the case may be. Often I wake
at 3 a.m., I wanted to tell him, with the night terrors,
scrambled fears of death, which would be one
of the privileges conferred exclusively upon the living,
and often I wish I could forget myself completely,
forget the fragile, worried, rabbit-hearted self
that seems to run my life, forget the whole
nightmarish mess—I wouldn’t have that
feeling if I hadn’t continued to exist, would I?
It’s true, I wanted to confess, I have no children
to mirror me into the future, and mostly I only
half-inhabit the poems I’ve written, a ghostly
uneasy absence floating just below the lines.
In fact, from the Buddhist perspective
I don’t exist, but neither do you, nor any of this.
A luminous emptiness is all there is.
Instead I tell him I just want to visit my parents,
for Christmas, in Nebraska, for christsakes.
Which was no help.


–from Help Is on the Way; first published in The Gettysburg Review


Mostly they live in the dark
underwater weed-slithering
currents and worry about

being swallowed up by their
more furious brethren.
Some of them have eyes

perched atop long thin stems
like flowers. And some
have forty or fifty arms

pocked with suction cups
to help them stick to things
and will squirt black

clouds of ink to keep
themselves concealed. Others
resemble subtropical

dottybacks or scaleless deepsea
gulper eels, with their
velvety bodies, zipper teeth,

and whip-like tails. The fearsome
dragonfish—likewise the
viperfish, hatchetfish,

and bristlemouth—all find their
corollaries in the Red Sea
of my heart. Even

the phantom glass catfish,
entirely translucent except
for its intestines,

is no stranger to my feelings.
The unforthcoming among them
behave just like shovelnose

stingrays who flop right down
in the bottom-ooze and flick
the muck up over them.

But some of them, when they
swim too near the surface,
find themselves suddenly

exalted, lifted and flying
through the air, wind-filled,
sunlight-sharpened sky

expanding around them, high
above their proper element—
birdclaws sunk into their backs.


–from Sea of Faith; first published in The Southern Review



I’m so wildly unprolific, the poems
I have not written would reach
from here to the California coast
if you laid them end to end.

And if you stacked them up,
the poems I have not written
would sway like a silent
Tower of Babel, saying nothing

and everything in a thousand
different tongues. So moving, so
filled with and emptied of suffering,
so steeped in the music of a voice

speechless before the truth,
the poems I have not written
would break the hearts of every
woman who’s ever left me,

make them eye their husbands
with a sharp contempt and hate
themselves for turning their backs
on the very source of beauty.

The poems I have not written
would compel all other poets
to ask of God: “Why do you
let me live? I am worthless.

please strike me dead at once,
destroy my works and cleanse
the earth of all my ghastly
imperfections.” Trees would

bow their heads before the poems
I have not written. “Take me,”
they would say, “and turn me
into your pages so that I

might live forever as the ground
from which your words arise.”
The wind itself, about which
I might have written so eloquently,

praising its slick and intersecting
rivers of air, its stately calms
and furious interrogations,
its flutelike lingerings and passionate

reproofs, would divert its course
to sweep down and then pass over
the poems I have not written,
and the life I have not lived, the life

I’ve failed even to imagine,
which they so perfectly describe.


–from Sea of Faith; first published in The Southern Review


Strange tubas in my ears and the fat
yellow light lolling across
the boardwalk doesn’t
exactly help and of course
elephants lumbering
through one’s thoughts
remembering where they
must go to die is not
the pleasantest of situations
either and the ocean
what can you say about it?
It hardly knows itself
but there it is the one
and the many waves all doing
whatever waves do, lapping
doggedly at the shore,
making a splash, lending
themselves unwisely
to human metaphor,
the whole earth meanwhile
spinning through space
like a basketball on the tip
of an idle god’s finger.
People stroll by eating
hot dogs, heroes, corn-
on-the-cob, wildly purple
bursts of cotton candy
and other members
of the colorful, hard-
to-believe food groups.
Well, some of us do a pretty
decent job of amusing ourselves
here where the land
meets the sea and music
empties the air
of silence. This is what
we crawled up out of
four hundred million years ago,
and this is what
we’ve become now that
we’ve dried ourselves off.
Creatures so fearful
of death we’ll actually
get on a rollercoaster
just to calm ourselves down.
This is the much needed
transfusion of the outer
to the inner world.
Elephants, tubas, fat light
falling across the bathers
asleep on the shore
of the Atlantic  Ocean.
Their children splashing
each other in the freezing water.


–from Sea of Faith; first published in Poetry